Monday 8 May 2006

Gregory of Nazianzus: the paradox of Christ

“He hungered, but he nourished thousands; he is heaven’s bread of life. He thirsted, but he shouted, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’.... He prays, but he listens. He weeps, but he stops tears.... As a lamb, he is speechless, but he is the Word, announced by the voice of him who cries in the wilderness. He bears infirmity and is wounded, but he heals every disease and every weakness.... He saves even the robber being crucified; he made dark every visible thing.... The rocks are split; the dead rise. He dies, but he makes alive, and by his death he destroys death. He is buried, but he arises.”

Gregory of Nazianzus, Third Theological Oration: On the Son, 11.20.


tchittom said...

I wonder if the reason we don't see or hear this sort of thing any longer is that we've lost a connection to "useful apophaticism"--that mystical theology as a criticism of language has been left to the atheists.

Anonymous said...


You're right that apophaticism has been taken by many as one branch of theology (generally for the pessimists and mystics) rather than as a necessary prophetic criterion for all theology.

But I suspect the main reason why most Christians no longer speak like Gregory, even allowing for historical and cultural differences, is due to the contemporary pandemic of biblical/theological amnesia and illiterateness - not to mention, quite frankly, the paucity of radical faith in the risen Christ who rules the world with truth and grace. Or do not our general milktoast practices conclusively demonstrate that the powers and principalities dominate our lives?

Drew said...

I'm no trained theologian, but this stuff speaks loads to me as a philosopher interested in Derrida...

Patrik said...

One reason a sermon like that is not likely to appear soon is our times preoccupation with historical truth. Anybody speaking about Jesus feel they HAVE to adress Jesus as a histroical reality in one way or antoher. It is something very foundational in our culture's sense of time.

The ancients had a much more direct appreciation of what we sould call "a good story". That is why a great poet like Gregory can so effortlessly tie the gospel stories together with the then present theological discussion.

Anonymous said...

Hi Drew,

Derrida and deconstruction has been a hot topic in theology for some time now, and Derrida himself, of course, was an eager partner-in-dialogue. For sophisticated and sympathetic readings you might try:

Kevin Hart, The Trespass of the Sign: Deconstruction, Theology and Philosophy (1989);

Walter Lowe, Theology and Difference: the Wound of Reason (1993);

Graham Ward, Barth, Derrida and the Language of Theology (1995);

and, hot off the press, an accessible chapter in James K. A. Smith (the keen American advocate of Radical Orthodoxy), Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (2006).

From the Department of Philosophy, try:

John D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion (1997).

But avoid the early and aberrant essay by Mark Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (1984).


Ben Myers said...

Excellent reading list, Kim. Thanks too for the tip on James K. A. Smith's new book -- I didn't know about this one.

I reckon the best book on Derrida and theology is still The Trespass of the Sign by my fellow Aussie, Kevin Hart (who also happens to be one of my favourite contemporary poets!).

Patrick McManus said...


you should also check out James Smith's Jacques Derrida: Live Theory (Continuum, 2005).


Drew said...

Thanks guys...that's a pretty good reading list.

I know some of them, and will delightedly tuck into the others too.

I'm in the middle of Bruce Ellis Benson's Graven Ideologies (2002), which is also very good (although not solely on Derrida).

Ironic you mentioned the James Smith Live Theory volume - I work in the Academic dept of A&U, who distributes continuum here in Australia... if you hadn't already, I would have added it to the list.

And yes, we could do with some more poets like Gregory.

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