Sunday, December 09, 2007

More on Cappadocian epistemology

From Verna E.F. Harrison, Grace and Human Freedom According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa (Edwin Mellon Press, 1992), p. 39:

Basil defines epinoia in Adversus Eunomium 1.6 and describes how it functions. "After the first thought (noema) comes to us from the senses (aistheseus), the mind's subsequent reflection (tou noethentos epenthumesin), which is more refined and precise, is called epinoian." Our knowledge of an object begins with the sense. Then our intellect analyzes and processes the sense data into conceptual knowledge. This conceptual knowledge is at once more precise and more distant from the object than the original sensation. It is more precise because it analyzes the sense data into various qualities perceived as appearing in the object, such as color, shape, hardness, and size. It is moredistance because the object appears as a simple substratum (hypokeimenon) to the senses, while the intellect understands it as a complex of different qualities.

[JP--Greek transliterated, citations omitted]


The footnote to this paragraph states:

Basil borrows most of the vocabulary and conceptual framework of his epistemology from the Stoics. This includes the concept of katalepsis or comprehensive grasping of the object of knowledge, and also the idea that the human person acquires knowledge from impressions received by the senses whose qualities are analyzed by the intellect. The important categories of the substratum (ousia or hypokeimenon) and its manifest qualities or properties (poiotes) also come from Stoicism....

Gregory follows his brother in utilizing this Stoic conceptual framework. However, he is perhaps clearer in his expression of the implications of transposing it into a Platonic world view. David L. Balas, "The Unity of Human Nature in Basil's and Gregory of Nyssa's Polemics against Eunomius," Studia Patristica 14 (1976) 275-281, addresses this question. He shows that for Basil the one ousia common to all of humanity is the material substratum shared by all other sensible things as well. Gregory, however, regards the human ousia as intelligible and as shared by the angels, though he also recognizes the bodies are consubstantial with each other. As Balas indicates, he even appears to have emended the text of his older brother's Adversus Eunomium to make it agree with his more Platonic position on this point.

As we will see from passages of the Contra Eunomium cited below, Gregory understands essentially the same process of epinoia which operates in human knowledge of sensible objects as operating also in human knowledge of intelligibles, including God. This means that like the Platonists he understand the intellect as having a faculty of perceiving intelligibles analogous to the bodily faculty of perceiving sensibles. This is clear from a number of texts where he speaks of the mind having a choice between contemplating God and focusing its attention on material things.

[JP--some citations omitted]

On the different role of Stoic metaphysics in Western thought, see my earlier posts Spirit as Divine Substance and Stoicism and Western Triadology. Note that Tertullian's concept of spirit as a kind of material is similar to Gregory's idea of a spiritual substratum shared by the angels and humans. However, one can also discern the distinction between Gregory of Nyssa's (Neo-)Platonized view and similar applications of Stoic thought in the more Aristotelian metaphysics found in the West and in Middle Platonism more generally.

As Michel Rene Barnes describes one example (pp. 18-19).
it is Mt 5:8 that provides the scriptural witness to the fact of vision occuring at the endtime. I would hazard to say that the over-all eschatological character or logic of Augustine’s theology as a whole later became so pronounced and structured that a specific witness to the eschatological timing of the vision enjoyed by the pure of heart was unnecessary. As we will see, the eschatological placement of the fulfillment of Mt. 5:8 is something that Augustine shares with Hilary; I will show, moreover, that the doctrinal circumstances in which Augustine invokes the Beatitude are identical to the circumstances in which Hilary invokes the Scripture passage in his work on the Trinity, namely in order to refute a doctrine of the Son’s intrinsically visible and therefore subordinate status.

The corresponding footnote explains:

However, I do not want to leave the impression that an eschatological and Trinitarian understanding of Mt. 5:8 such as Augustine offers is the only possible orthodox understanding of that Beatitude. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, in his sermon on this passage, concludes that the promised vision of God is an interior vision of the restored image of God in us, insofar as we are the “image and likeness of God”. Here the Matthew passage is not an “end-time” or eschatological promise, nor is the object of that promise - i.e., the sight of God - externalized, or as Augustine would put it, a “face-to-face” vision. A Greek position more like Augustine’s can be found in Clement of Alexandria (a statement that is true for many subjects) at Stromata V.1.

I would submit that this is at least prima facie evidence that underlying metaphysical commitments about the objects of knowledge contributed to the increasingly divergent notions pertaining to the vision of God. One can see directly the modifications in the theory of knowledge to fit with the Platonic metaphysics in the East (and despite being more Western in his conclusions on the vision of God, Clement of Alexandria likely initiated those modifications; see, e.g., this work). If nothing else, I think it must at least be recognized that the dogmatic conclusions, particularly regarding apophaticism, in the East should be placed within their proper framework of the Platonic metaphysics, and they ought not to be read onto the West, which operated outside of that framework to a large extent.

5 Comments:

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More of this type of post -- Great & Insightful Info -- THANKS!!!

 
At 10:06 PM, Blogger Lee Faber said...

very interesting; did Gregory's notion of a similar ousia between humans and angels make it into the Damascene? I ask because Scotus does something similar as far as the angelic and human intellects are concerned, and he seems to take a lot from Damascene.

 
At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our knowledge of an object begins with the sense. Then our intellect analyzes and processes the sense data into conceptual knowledge. This conceptual knowledge is at once more precise and more distant from the object than the original sensation. It is more precise because it analyzes the sense data into various qualities perceived as appearing in the object, such as color, shape, hardness, and size.

and

...the idea that the human person acquires knowledge from impressions received by the senses whose qualities are analyzed by the intellect.

Please correct me if I am wrong --

But doesn't this go earlier than the Stoics?

That is, the concept concerning ordinary data of sense knowledge elaborated by the imagination as well as that as far as in order to reach the nature of something itself one must attain the inner truth through the thinking mind; these concepts which existed as early as Heraclitus and Parmenides, no?

e.

 
At 6:18 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Lee:
I don't know, but that's a good question. I'll be on the lookout so I can flag anything the next time I read St. John. There's a related issue I wanted to check on regarding St. John's use of infinity as an energy, so if I get time, I'll keep your question in mind as well.

e.:
I think you are right that the idea is disclosed. I believe Sr. Harrison was referring more to the underlying metaphysics, in which one has a direct experience of the hypokeimenon, the substance or the reality of the thing, but discerns the physis, the specific thing-ness, by the poites. The form of the nature doesn't appear to be immediately impressed on the intellect, only the general substance.

 
At 12:24 AM, Blogger David Waltz said...

Hi Jonathan,

Very interesting post; just moments ago I finished reading through the thread, which has given rise to some old contemplations that have been somewhat buried in the deep recesses of my brain…

I think that many when discussing the nature of God, forget that He is substantial. Though God is spirit, He remains a “substance”. I reject the EO notion of “non-being” when we describe and talk about God. IMHO, the Greek term ousia demands one to think of God in terms of “being”—in terms of “substance”.

In past discussions with a couple of Mormon philosophers, I created a phrase that to my knowledge is unique to myself: “Third Substance”—the two other “substances” being energy and matter. I created this particular phrase to combat the notion that Catholics somehow deny the “substantial” nature of God via the affirmation that God is “immaterial”.

Now, with these thoughts brought back to mind, an old question emerges with them: is the “substance” of the angels and the spirit of man of the same nature of the “substance of God”? If not, would it be appropriate to postulate a “Fourth Substance”?


Grace and peace,

David

 

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