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Unknown God, Known in His Activities

Incomprehensibility of God during the Trinitarian Controversy of the 4th Century


Tomasz Stępień and Karolina Kochańczyk-Bonińska

What can man know about God? This question became one of the main problems during the 4th-century Trinitarian controversy, which is the focus of this book. Especially during the second phase of the conflict, the claims of Anomean Eunomius caused an emphatic response of Orthodox writers, mainly Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa. Eunomius formulated two ways of theology to show that we can know both the substance (ousia) and activities (energeiai) of God. The Orthodox Fathers demonstrated that we can know only the external activities of God, while the essence is entirely incomprehensible. Therefore the 4th-century discussion on whether the Father and the Son are of the same substance was the turning point in the development of negative theology and shaping the Christian conception of God.

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3. “You Worship What You Do Not Know”

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3.  “You Worship What You Do Not Know”

At the middle of the 4th century AD, the discussion on consubstantiality of the Son of God significantly changes because of two new figures: Aetius and Eunomius. They represented a new approach to the problem of Divine generation to such an extent that their contemporaries considered them as a whole new group of theologians, which were called Anomeans or Eunomians. It is worth mentioning here that, if the remarks of R.P.C. Hanson are correct, it is hard to say that in the first half of the 4th century, there was a movement or group that perceived themselves as Arians.298 This time we have a group of the heterodox that can be distinguished by the convictions they shared. However, there are two main issues that they had in common with Arius: they denied consubstantiality of the Son of God, and, what is more important for the subject matter of this work, the central issue of their theology was the problem of how can we know God.

This new theological approach was initiated by Aetius. He was claimed as the first one who attached himself to the Aristotelian philosophy and, as H.A. Wolfson notes, the fight as to the proper use of syllogism began.299 Aetius was also known as the author of the thesis that to know God as unbegotten means to know his οῦσία.300 Although we have the text of Aetius’ main work – Syntagmation, this work is so schematic and difficult that it is impossible to comprehend the meaning of large parts of the text without references to Eunomius’ Apology, where most of his thesis was repeated by his disciple.301 It is, however, worth having a closer look at this text, as it contains interesting claims on the possibility to know God’s essence. ← 89 | 90 →

3.1  “Ingeneracy” as a positive attribute and the essence of God

Although Syntagmation is often described as a work full of syllogisms and a kind of an Aristotelian turn in theology, Aristotelianism of Aetius is problematic. L.R. Wickham notes that if we try to see demonstrations which this work contains according to the standard definition of syllogism, none of the claims of Aetius is presented as a deduction from two premises. So we can call those demonstrations “syllogistic” only in a broader sense in which all deductive proofs are syllogistic.302 Moreover, all presented points are not introduced in a fashion where an argument logically follows from the previous one; it resembles rather switching from one issue to another.303 Nevertheless, he wanted to set his work in a particular fashion, which is based on pure reasoning. It is significant that although Aetius wants the reader to be assured that his work is “based on the mind of the Holy Scripture,”304 he never quotes any passage from the Bible. Therefore, he shared a very optimistic view on the power of human mind, which alone, without the aid of faith, can demonstrate that the Son’s essence is different from the Father’s.

In Syntagmation, we find frequent claims on the transcendence of God the Father. He is “superior to any cause” (πάσης αἰτίας ὑπάρχει),305 superior to origination, surpasses every nature, and, therefore, God cannot be even called self-caused. Simultaneously, we have a precise indication of the essence of God. The term “ingenerate” (ἀγεννήτος) plays the central role because it allows to know who God is and it alone properly names His ← 90 | 91 → essence.306 Aetius treats “ingeneracy” as the very name which is intrinsic to the substance and is revelatory of the essence, which cannot be ascribed to God on the basis of any human observation.307 He boldly and in an explicit way argues that it is not only the concept of a human mind:

“If ingeneracy does not represent the substance (ὑπόστασιν) of the Deity, but the incomparable name is of human imagining (ἐπλνοίας ἐστίν ἀνθρωπίνης τὸ ἀσύγκριτου ὄνομα), the Deity is grateful to those who thought the name up, since through the concept of ingeneracy he has a transcendence of name which he does not bear in essence.”308

The word “ingeneracy” is a privation, as it signifies the one who is not generated, but Aetius does understand this term as negative only in a certain aspect. He argues that if we apply a privation to God’s essence, it would mean that we apply some kind of non-being to it, and he clearly confirms that the terms which we use are intrinsically linked with the essences which we name. Therefore, he claims:

“If ingeneracy is revelatory of privation in respect of God, and ingeneracy were non-entity (μὴ ὂντος), what kind of reasoning would deprive the non-existent of a non-entity? If it signifies reality (ὂν), who would part God in his real being from himself?”309

It seems that Aetius argues that the term “ingeneracy” cannot be predicated of God only in the negative sense, because it would signify something which does not exist (or is non-being) in God. If “ingeneracy” is non-being, there is nothing “ingeneracy” can be applied to. On the other hand, if it designates something real, “ingeneracy” is an intrinsic property and cannot be separated from God – it is who He is. The only possible conclusion is, then, to admit that “ingeneracy” is not a negative property but rather a positive one, and it also cannot negate any positive property, since God cannot lack who He is. ← 91 | 92 →

Those explanations confirm that “ingeneracy” is a positive predicate, but what exactly Aetius means by that claim? R. Mortley suggests that in order to understand that we must turn to 4th-century Neoplatonism. He finds similarity of fragment 16 not only to Cratylus (as Wickham suggests), but also to Dexippus, who comments on Aristotle’s Categories.310 There is similarity between Aetius and Dexippus who discuss whether the negation of attributes can reveal substance.311 However, negation usually does not provide a good definition, because if one wants to define something in a negative way, he can enumerate what this thing is not practically indefinitely. But Dexippus notes that there are some cases when a negative definition can provide a good grasp of the essence, when one can be sure that there are only three options. He gives an example of “indifferent” which can be defined as something that is neither good nor bad.312 A. Radde-Gallwitz notes that Aristotle’s definition of the substance is also an example of this kind of a negative approach, but he also observes that it is very unlikely that Aetius knew Dexippus’ commentary, because the latter does not consider using such a definition in theology. Moreover, it seems that Aetius completely misunderstood Dexippus’ argument.313 Therefore, this does not explain how to understand ingeneracy in a positive way, and we must investigate further.

Aetius continues his explanation in the next argument by trying to define what exactly can we name in God when we speak of Him in a negative way, ← 92 | 93 → and he does that by interrogating whether ingeneracy may be a condition/possession314 (ἕξις) or privation (στέρησις):

“If privations are abstractions of conditions (στέρεσις ἕξεών εἰσιν ἀφαίρεσις), ingeneracy in respect of God is either a privation of condition or a condition of privation. If it is a privation of condition, how should what is not present be counted as present to God? If ingeneracy is a condition, a generate essence must have existed first, in order that thus acquiring a condition of being, it may be named ‘ingenerate’. If the generate participated in the ingenerate essence, having undergone the loss of its condition it will have been deprived of generation. Its essence would then be generate and ingeneracy would be a condition.”315

The key to understanding this fragment is the meaning of a condition (possession). L.R. Wickham notes that opponents unanimously see here the influence of Aristotle.316 In Categories, when discussing quality, he described condition (ἕξις) and state (διάθεσις) as the first kind of quality. Those two differ because condition is something which can be easily changed while state is “being more stable and lasts longer,”317 and, therefore, the definition is: “It is what are easily changed and quickly changing that we call conditions, e.g. hotness and chill and sickness and health and the like.”318 Aetius assumes that ingeneracy is a kind of quality, but we can also see why he uses condition instead of state, which seems to be a more reasonable choice when speaking about God. He wants to put a stress on changeability of God’s essence, since in his eyes, the Orthodox position is nothing else than the application of a change in his essence and it is a condition which changes more easily, so ingeneracy would be a contingent property of God’s essence. ← 93 | 94 → But the argument starts with a very important “if,” which suggests once again that what Aetius means is that condition be treated as abstract from the essence of God and that is exactly what privation means. He sees two possibilities here: first, ingeneracy could be privation of condition; (στέρησις ἕξεως) second, it could be a condition of privation (ἕξις στερήσεως). By linking the concepts of privation and condition, Aetius wants to describe two kinds of movement – losing or gaining an attribute. God must either have lost a quality of generacy (positive condition), or must have acquired a negative condition of ingeneracy, which in this case is the absence of this quality. L.R. Wickham explains it with the example of being bald: “baldness is either the lost state of having one’s hair or the state of having lost one’s hair.”319 In the first case (privation of condition), we return to the conclusion of the previous argument and God who has lost the condition of being generate, cannot be something He is not. In the second case (condition of privation) arguments are applied to the Father and the Son. If the Father has acquired the condition of ingeneracy, he must have had the condition of generacy first, and then privation of that condition can be acquired, which is absurd. In the case of the Son, if he participated in ingeneracy, he would have lost his condition of being generated and could no longer be called the Son. This is also absurd since the Son cannot have both the generated essence and the condition of ingeneracy.

To understand better these conclusions, we must turn once again to Aristotle’s Categories, where he considers classes of oppositions. He says that one thing can oppose another in four ways: as relatives (τὰ πρός τι), as contraries (τὰ ἐναντία), as privation and possession (ὡς στέρησις καὶ ἕξις), or as affirmation and negation (ὡς κατάφασις καὶ ἀπόφασις).320 We can see that Aetius clearly refers to the third kind of opposition between privation and possession (or condition). But why does he classify opposition of ingeneracy and generacy to be the third kind? It cannot be a relative opposition, because in this case, opposition does not mean that they are contrary to one another. Aristotle gives examples of the double and the half, and of ← 94 | 95 → the knowledge and the knowable. In both cases, the definition of one thing is possible, thanks to the other; therefore, we say that the double is called what it is because it is the double of something (in this case – the half). Similarly, we say that knowledge is defined because it is the knowledge of something (knowable), and, vice versa, the object of knowledge is something that could be known.321 It is obvious that ingeneracy is not what it is because it is ingeneracy of generacy, as the opposition in the sense of a relation depends on something that the two have in common.322

The second case must also be excluded because “things opposed as contraries, however, are never called just what they are, in relation to one another, though they are called contraries of one another.”323 Aristotle gives an example of good and bad, where good is not called good of the bad, and this example shows that contraries are not defined because of a third thing between them, as we will see below. Ingeneracy and generacy do not oppose each other in the fourth sense, because this is a contradiction which occurs in predication and, therefore, “for only with them is it necessary always for one to be true and the other one false.”324

The third kind of opposition may be applied to ingeneracy and generacy because they are the “qualities” of the essence of God, and in this kind, privation and possession (στέρησις καὶ ἕξις) also refer to a third thing. Aristotle gives an example of blindness and sight, which are oppositions in connection with the eye, and says “each of them is spoken of in connection with whatever the possession naturally occurs in.”325 He also explains that privation occurs when it is entirely absent from the thing which naturally ← 95 | 96 → has it, and at the time when it is naturally for that thing to have it.326 Aristotle’s explanations reveal to us why “ingeneracy” is not a negative predicate. When we call someone blind, he is really blind, and although blindness is in him as the lack of sight, it cannot be treated only negatively, because his blindness is not something non-existent in him. We can define blindness because of the absence of sight which is natural, so for this definition to be true, we need a third thing which is the nature of the eye. Similarly, although we define “ingeneracy” as an opposition to “generacy,” it cannot be treated as a purely negative attribute. What Aetius seems to mean here is that God is not “ingenerate” because of the lack of “generacy,” since He was prior to it. Moreover, “ingeneracy” is natural to God’s essence and not something which God can lose.

All those arguments show also that ingeneracy cannot be treated as privation. Since generacy is posterior to ingeneracy, it is rather the opposite – it is generacy which is the privation and loss of condition. Therefore, ingeneracy cannot be understood as merely a kind of quality, but is rather a positive attribute of God, which expresses His essence.327 Aetius confirms his conclusion in section 24, where he puts a stress on treating ingeneracy as God’s essence: “If ingeneracy is privation, privation loss of condition,” this would mean that we admit a change in unchangeable God,328 and in the next section, he also states that ingeneracy cannot be privation in the sense that it is something which does not belong to God.329 Therefore, it seems that in the end, Aetius is rather inclined to give us a negative answer to the question why “ingeneracy” cannot be understood as a negative predicate, ← 96 | 97 → because all possible cases when we treat it in a negative way can be reduced to unacceptable conclusions.

This also seems to be the way how Eunomius understood “ingeneracy.” In his Liber Apologeticus, he states that:

“He is not such [unbegotten] by the way of privation; for if privatives are privatives with respect to the inherent properties of something, then they are secondary to their positives. But birth has never been an inherent property of God. He was not first begotten and then deprived of that quality so as to become unbegotten.”330

Therefore, what Eunomius points out is that in the case of God, “ingeneracy” cannot be a negative condition, because being generated is not an antecedent property of God of which He could be deprived. But what exactly do we know when we admit that ingeneracy is the essence of God? Aetius seems to give an answer to this question in argument 29:

“If the ingenerate substance is indicated along with the essence of the offspring as its cause, since it is precisely the same in respect of all cause it is incomparable essence per se. It does not indicate its unapproachability externally but is per se incomparable and unapproachable since it is also ingenerate.”331

Because of ingeneracy of the Father, he is also incomparable and unapproachable (ἀσύγκριτος καὶ ἀπρόσιτος). The central problem of this passage is the meaning of the term ἀπρόσιτος. Some scholars see here a reference to the first Letter to Timothy (6: 16), where God is “dwelling in light unapproachable,” and, therefore, the term means “incomprehensible” or “unknown.” However, in his commentary, L.R. Wickham notes that such interpretation opposes the claims that were later developed by Eunomius, namely that we can know the essence of God.332 It is also inconsistent with earlier claims of Aetius himself who so strongly defended the assertion that ingeneracy is the essence of God. It is very hard to argue that we exactly know who the Father is and at the same time claim that he is ← 97 | 98 → incomprehensible. Therefore, L.R. Wickham’s interpretation seems to be sound, when he explains: “ἀπρόσιτος I think, then, means here, ‘incomparable/utterly transcendent’, and, so far as the knowledge of God is concerned, Aetius and Eunomius held, I believe, (a) that it is false to say that the essence of God is unknown – for this would imply that God is irrational, (b) that God’s essence is known as transcendent and unique, (c) that there is no knowledge of God by way of mystical communion with his essence.”

Therefore, the knowledge of the essence of the Father does not exactly mean that we know who he is, but rather we know that he is essentially transcendent and unapproachable. Although Aetius claimed that the term “ingeneracy” indicated the essence, the term itself means for us only His absolute transcendence. Such interpretation is also consistent with the next argument, where he puts a stress on the total transcendence of God by saying that He: “surpasses every nature” and that “ingeneracy is not revelatory of essence.”333

It seems, then, that Aetius attempted to complete the impossible task to reconcile the transcendence of God with the possibility of the knowledge of God’s essence. It must be noted that if to know God does not mean to really understand his essence, the term “ingeneracy” ultimately means that we understand His essence as utterly transcendent. But can we say that by such statement we really understand what God is? It seems that we can only accept the name of “ingeneracy” which was revealed to us, and, therefore, all syllogisms in Syntagmation can be treated rather as showing the consequences of rejecting this name, which, as Aetius wants to demonstrate, always leads to absurd conclusions.334

If Aetius really thought that we understood the essence this way, it seems very unconvincing, because in fact “ingeneracy” does not tell us anything new about what God is since it seems to be only a conception of His transcendence. But it is evident that the question of what does it mean to know God becomes the central problem of this phase of the polemic. ← 98 | 99 →

3.2  Worship and knowledge – a puzzling question

In Syntagmation, we have observed a specific way of presenting arguments. Throughout the work, we can identify attempts to perform something similar to the Stoic procedure of reduction of non-simple arguments to the series of undemonstrated arguments, which need no proof because they are self-evident. In section 20, we find one of the arguments categorized as undemonstrated: “not first therefore not the second.”335 Such a way of presenting arguments, almost as they would be answers to the questions which were asked to the author, is very characteristic of the Anomean style.336 This reflects the missionary manner which was used in attempts to convince Christians that the Anomean doctrine was right. We can observe it also in the question which will be analysed in this fragment of our analysis.

In one of his letters, Basil provides his explanation to Amphilochus of Iconium, a bishop who apparently struggled with the Anomean, or rather (since the letter itself was written relatively late) the Eunomian missionary activity and wanted to know how to deal with their puzzling questions.337 The supporters of Eunomius asked their Orthodox opponents: “Do you worship what you know or what you do not know?”338 There are only two possible answers to such a question, but the goal of the whole argumentation is to reduce these two answers to one. The obvious reply is that “We know what we adore,” and if such an answer is given, another question immediately follows: “What is the substance of what is adored?” Admitting ignorance of the substance causes the claim: “Then you adore what you do not know.”339 If the opponent’s answer at the beginning is that he does not ← 99 | 100 → know what he adores, there is no need to ask any further questions. Therefore, the whole argumentation leads to the admission of ignorance of those who do not know God’s essence. This tricky question is called captious by Basil,340 since it both forces the opponent to answer and to admit that he is completely ignorant of God who he worships. A. Radde-Gallwitz notes that it is similar to Meno’s paradox, but here “enquire after” is replaced with “worship.”341 Therefore, if you know who you worship, there is no need for any inquiry, and if you do not know, how can you obtain any knowledge of who to worship, since you do not know.342 So the goal of the question would be to show the absurdity of the claims of the Orthodox. But I think there is more to it than that. Another goal of the question can be seen in the context of the Biblical passages to which it refers.

Despite of all claims that are present in Christian literature from the time of the 2nd century that Christians have the true knowledge of God, this question bring to mind at least two very important passages from the Holy Scriptures. In the dialogue between Jesus and a Samaritan woman, the Saviour says: “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.”343 In the second fragment, when speaking at the Areopagus, St Paul says that the Greeks have built an altar and worshiped “an unknown God,” while this God is ← 100 | 101 → the one, whom the Christians adore. Therefore, he says: “For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What, therefore, you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”344 Therefore, the goal of the Eunomian paradox would be rather to show that the Orthodox are like the Samaritans or the Greeks who worship an unknown God, whereas those are true Christians who know the object of their adoration. This accusation would have been especially painful in relation to the fragment of the Acts, because of all arguments so strongly confirmed by the Apologists that the Christians are those who really know the truth about God.

But the paradox has one assumption which will be exposed and undermined by the opponents. The Eunomians assume that to know God means to know his essence. If the Orthodox admitted that they know God’s essence, they would immediately argue that it is “ingeneracy,” and this sets the problem of the generation of the Son in the convenient perspective of admitting that His substance must be different from that of the Father. Therefore, the question of what it means to know God becomes once again one of the key issues in demonstrating inferiority of the Son.

3.2.1  The distinction between “that is” and “what is”

Basil’s answer is based on undermining the claim that to know God means to know His essence, since “knowing has many meanings.”345 He enumerates many attributes of God that we know: “the greatness of God, and His power, and His wisdom, and His goodness, and His providence whereby He cares for us, and the justice of His judgment.”346 But the knowledge of the attributes does not allow to know substance, and the conception (ἐννοία) of God which we have is the combination of our knowledge of attributes ← 101 | 102 → (ἀπηριθμησάμεθα). In the following passage, Basil refutes the argument that, since God is simple, all attributes are of his essence. He calls such a statement a sophism, which involves “countless absurdities”347 and asks whether all those attributes are the name of one substance: “And are His awfulness and His benevolence equivalent to each other. His justice and His creative power. His foreknowledge and His requiting, His magnificence and His providence?”348 Since the substance of God is one but names are different and even contrary to each other, they cannot be the names from which we can gain the knowledge of the essence. Basil says more precisely what are all those attributes – they are activities of God:

“But if they say substance is something else, let them not mislead us by citing its simplicity. For they themselves have confessed that substance is one thing and each of what was enumerated was another. ‘Nay, the activities are varied and the substance is simple.’ But we say that from His activities we know our God, but His substance itself we do not profess to approach. For His activities descend to us, but His substance remains inaccessible.”349

At the end of Letter 234, he adds that: “…from the activities is the knowledge, and from the knowledge is the worship,”350 so admitting that one knows the activities is sufficient to confirm that one has the knowledge of who he worships, and this seems to be the core of Basil’s answer. By making a distinction between substance and activities (ἐνέργειαι), he tells us that we can know only what the works of God are, because we can see the effects of his activities in the sensual world. Activities cannot give us the knowledge of the essence, but only of the existence of God. This distinction between substance and activity seems to be very important, especially in the context of Eunomius’ theological methodology, which he exposes in his ← 102 | 103 → Liber apologetics, but it will be discussed fully in the next chapter of this book. Here, I would like to focus on Basil’s approach to the knowledge of the existence of God and its consequences.

Basil repeats three times that we can know that God exists, but two of those texts present a problem in the context of knowing the essence:351

“But I do know that He exists, but what His substance is I consider beyond understanding.” (᾿Εγὼ δὲ ὅτι μὲν ἔστιν οἶδα, τί δὲ ἡ οὐσία ὑπὲρ διάνοιαν τίθεμαι.)352

“Knowledge of His divine substance, then, is the perception of His incomprehensibility; and that is to be worshipped which is comprehended, not as to what its substance is, but as to that its substance exists.” (Εέδησις ἄρα τῆς θείας οὐσίας ἡ αέσθησις αὐτοῦ τῆς ἀκαταληψίας, καὶ σεπτὸν οὐ τὸ καταληφθὲν τίς ἡ οὐσία, ἀλλ’ ὅτι ἐστὶν ἡ οὐσία.)353

In those passages, Basil makes a distinction between ὅτι ἔστιν οὐσία – that substance exists, and τι/τις οὐσία – what substance is. Looking for the source of this distinction, we turn to Aristotle’s Posterior analytics, where at the beginning of the second book, he enumerates the objects of inquiry to characterize the order of demonstration, which passes from the knowledge of the fact to the knowledge of the essence. Those objects are the fact (τὸ ὅτι), the reason why (τὸ διότι), if it is (εἰ ἔστι), and what it is (τί ἐστιν).354 There is a lot of uncertainty in the understanding of this passage,355 but it is clear that Aristotle wants to explain the mode of investigation, which leads from the fact or the recognition that something exists to the essence of things. Throughout Posterior Analytics, he maintains that the perception of the fact ought to precede the answer to the question “what it is.” This distinction also corresponds to the distinction between perception and thought, and the knowledge of the fact and the knowledge of the reason why.356 But the ← 103 | 104 → perception of the fact is not equated with experience, it is rather a perceptual understanding which differs from experience as having universal validity, since it grasps typical features of particular instances. In the passages where Aristotle explains this kind of perception, he uses the term αέσθησις as an apprehension of the universal.357 This, however, is not sufficient to have the knowledge of the reason why, that is the understanding of the essence. O. Harari underlines that perceptual understanding “is not considered full-fledged knowledge since perceptual understanding does not capture the essence of the object, according to its conceptual characterizations.”358 The conceptual understanding, on the contrary, is the full apprehension of an object which really exists, because it is the explanation of its essence.

Aristotle’s explanation of the demonstrative procedure is very similar to Basil’s claims about the knowledge of the possibility of knowing God. The two terms of Basil’s explanation (ὅτι ἔστιν οὐσία – that substance exists and τι/τις οὐσία – what substance is) correspond to the first and the fourth term from Posterior Analytics (the fact – τὸ ὅτι and what it is – τί ἐστιν). If he, indeed, evokes the demonstrative procedure presented by Aristotle, his explanation means that we cannot execute this demonstration in the case of God. We can only confirm that God is, but we can never pass to what He is. What is interesting, the perception of the existence of God can be made only on the basis of God’s activities, which “descend to us.” In Posterior Analytics, the first phase of the procedure can be understood as admittance of the fact which occurs on the basis of certain properties of the investigated thing, just like the eclipse which is the attribute of the moon.359 It is possible that we have a similar mode of ὅτι ἔστιν in Basil’s explanation.

There is yet another thing which can be understood better in the context of Aristotle’s text. This is the expression of Basil’s360 that we can have the ἡ αέσθησις αὐτοῦ τῆς ἀκαταληψίας (the perception of His incomprehensibility). ← 104 | 105 → Is it possible that Basil says that incomprehensibility can be the object of sensual perception? As we have seen above, in the context of the presented demonstrative procedure, Aristotle uses the term αέσθησις as perceptual understanding, which has universal validity. If we understand Basil’s expression this way, we can understand the perception of incomprehensibility as a kind of the universal grasp of the characteristic feature of God. The use of this term also escapes the suggestion that incomprehensibility can be the object of conceptual understanding, which is the grasp of essence. Therefore, if Basil indeed meant to use this term in Aristotle’s sense, he was very precise in saying that we can grasp incomprehensibility in a universal manner, but it is a kind of perception, not comprehension. In other words, we can see with some certainty that comprehension of God is impossible.

3.2.2  Faith and understanding

Another problem of Basil’s answer to Amphilochus is the question of how to understand faith and its relation to understanding. Having admitted that one can know that God exists, but His essence is beyond understanding, he asks:

“How then am I saved? Through faith. And it is faith enough to know that God is, not what He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”361

Basil uses here the same distinction between “that is” (ὅτι ἐστὶν) and “what is” (τί ἐστι) in the context of the knowledge sufficient to have faith. He refers to Hebrews 11:6, where the belief in the existence of God is presented as needed to approach God and receive the reward.362 Basil returns to the problem of faith and after quoting the Gospel (9:28), he says:

“Thus worship follows faith, and faith is strengthened by power. But if you say that he who believes also understands, from what he believes, from this also he understands; or even the reverse, from what he understands, from this also he ← 105 | 106 → believes. But we understand God from His power. Therefore we believe in Him whom we understand, and we worship Him in whom we believe.”363

The interpretation of Hebrews 11:6 has led to a conclusion that worship follows faith, but why in the next phrase does Basil contrast it with the statement that it is the understanding that follows faith, and why it is put in the manner of a discussion, since it starts with “if you say”? This actually is but another paraphrase of the Biblical text of Isaiah 7:9, which in the Septuagint version claims: μὴ πιστεύσητε, οὐδὲ μὴ συνιῆτε (if you believe not, neither will you understand).364 Therefore, Basil evokes here another fragment of the Holy Scripture, which seems to contradict the one that has been quoted previously. It is evident that this fragment supports the Eunomian position that the knowledge of the essence is necessary since understanding is the outcome of faith. Basil tries somehow to combine worship with understanding in the last sentence of this passage, but since such explanation is not sufficient, he continues the topic in the next letter by asking what is first: knowledge or faith.365 Although it could seem confusing, the answer is clear:

“Generally, in the sciences, faith goes before knowledge, but in our own teaching, even if someone says that knowledge must exist before faith, we do not disagree - knowledge, however, commensurate with human comprehension.”366

In the sciences (ἐπὶ τῶν μαθημάτων), belief must go before knowledge, because at the beginning of the process of gaining knowledge one must accept ← 106 | 107 → the truth which he acquired, he must be convinced that it is true. Basil does not speak here about faith in the sense of believing in the truth about God which comes from the Scripture. He rather describes the general mode of acquiring knowledge which is present in all investigations. So this is rather a belief, than faith. To understand, for example, the Pythagorean Theorem, one must have heard about it and accept the formula as true. He must be convinced that it is true what he has heard to start the process of demonstration which leads to understanding. The difference is that at the beginning one accepts it as true because of the authority of someone else, and in the end, when one has understood the theorem, one accepts the truth by the authority of one’s own reason. We can see that Basil presents here the process of demonstration similar to the above-presented passage from “that is” to “what is,” from the partial or imperfect admittance of the truth to the perfect grasp of the essence of the thing, which can be shown by demonstration. Such description of the process of learning goes deep in the ancient tradition. We can find its traces in the famous allegory of the cave from Plato’s Republic. The first step on the way of going out of the cave, the moment of philosophical conversion, is turning away from the shadows to the perception of the sensual things itself. This is the moment “when one was freed and suddenly compelled to stand up, turn his neck around, walk, and look up toward the light…”367 Turning towards true sensual objects is described as turning from εἰκασία to πίστις, and belief is necessary to start upon the road which finally leads to the true knowledge of the ideas (νόησις) – the objects in sunlight outside of the cave.

Plato’s famous allegory was a lesson which was developed by its readers and interpreters, but we also have the testimony that it was known and well understood by the Church Fathers. Probably the best example is Augustine, who frequently referred to the fragment of Isaiah 7:9.368 It can be clearly seen in the fragment of De quantitate animae, where Augustine explains ← 107 | 108 → to Evodius how can we obtain the knowledge in geometry. He makes a distinction between trusting the word of another and trusting our own reason. For some persons, it suffices to accept someone else’s word because it saves time and effort. But the long road of reading and learning, which goes through many sophisms and “swamp or errors,” finally leads to the situation when one has the right and certain reason, free from falsehood and confirmed in truth.369 The difficult road to the true knowledge is very much similar here to the painful process of going out of the cave from the Republic. This also resembles what Basil means by referring to grammar:

“For in the sciences one must first take it on faith that the letter spoken is alpha, and later, having learned the characters and their pronunciations, grasp also the exact notion (κατανόησιν) of the force of such letter.”370 ← 108 | 109 →

For Basil, just like for Augustine, this is the description of the process of learning, but this procedure taken from sciences (μαθημάτων) is different from the way in which we acquire the knowledge of God, where knowledge also could precede faith. Referring to the Romans 1:20, he says that first thing which we have is the notion of the existence of God (ἡ ἔννοια ἡ περὶ τοῦ ὅτι ἐστὶ) which we can have from his works. Those are invisible things (τὰ ἀόρατα), which are manifested in the creation of the world. Since we know that God is Creator, we also accept him as our Lord, which leads to worship. Therefore, at the end of the passage, he gives the order of these acts:

  1. Knowledge of the existence of God.
  2. Faith follows that knowledge (accepting that He is our Lord).
  3. Worship follows faith.371

It is worth reminding what Basil said in the previous fragment: that knowledge can be situated before faith in this process, but it must be “commensurate with human comprehension” (ἀνθρωπίνῃ καταλήψει σύμμετρον). This measure of comprehension expands only to the limit of knowing that God does exist; what is above, it lies beyond human intellect.

After the full description of the ways in which we can obtain the knowledge of God, Basil comes back to the meaning of the word “knowledge” which has many significations (πολύσημόν ἐστι). The main objection is that Eunomians thought up the paradox which relies on understanding knowledge only in one universal (καθόλου) way.372 But a thing may be known in different aspects with respect to (κατὰ): number, size, power, manner of subsistence, time of generation, and substance.373 Basil also shows that such ← 109 | 110 → various meanings of the term “knowledge” are used in the Holy Scripture, but Eunomians “pushing all those things aside, reduce knowledge to one significance, the contemplation of the very substance of God.”374 The examples of two paradoxes of knowing the sand, and knowing Timothy, show that such a distinction of the various aspects of knowing is present in our cognition of sensual objects, and one may claim that one both knows and is ignorant of a thing in different aspects. Therefore, the final answer given by Basil is that we must know what can be known about God, but we must not go further claiming that we know what cannot be known:

“But our position is that we confess that we know what is knowable about God, and yet to “know” anything, on the other hand that escapes our comprehension is impossible.”375

3.3  You are like the Samaritans…

Since the letters commented above were probably a single letter in the form of a memorandum (ὑπομνηστικόν), which was circulated among the Orthodox, we can assume that Gregory of Nyssa knew its content. But in the third book of Contra Eunomium, which he wrote after Basil’s death, he felt that it was necessary to comment on the same paradox of worshiping the unknown. Perhaps, Eunomians were still active at that time, or perhaps he thought that some additions must be made to Basil’s position. After a long comment on the passage from Proverbs 8,22, which was the Biblical basis for Eunomius’ argument concerning the created nature of the Son,376 he discusses the misunderstanding of being only-begotten and offspring by his opponent.377 Then, Gregory begins a long passage on incomprehensibility of God, which is a side path of his demonstration, since coming back to the discussion of the meaning of the term “offspring,” he says: “The argument, ← 110 | 111 → however, has gone beyond what was intended, by following the continual sequence of conclusions.”378

In this fragment, Gregory unwinds an extensive argument with much more radical claims on incomprehensibility of God than we have observed in the answer given by Basil. He starts with the statement that there is no interpretation (ἑρμηνείαν), outline (ὑπογραφὴν), or explanation (ἐξήγησιν) of the essence of God, and he can only affirm that “it is not possible to grasp what is in its infinite nature (ἀόριστον φύσιν) in any concept (ἐπινοίᾳ).”379 Referring to Psalm (144/145:3,5), he says that since the things about God are endless, His essence is even more infinite and, therefore, it cannot be limited in any way.380 By means of nouns and verbs, we grasp the meaning of an object, and it is a kind of an enclosure and limitation. Therefore, there is no name that can grasp the incomprehensible (ἀπερίληπτον) and no word to announce the inexpressible (ἀνεκφώνητον). Naming is impossible when we speak of an object that is infinite by nature and, therefore, “Divinity is greater and higher than names can signify.”381 Infinity and lack of any limitation is crucial here because it is the core of Gregory’s counterarguments in the next passages.

These claims on the incomprehensibility and inexpressibility of the essence of God are an introduction to presenting an objection to Eunomians, which ridicules the ignorance of the Orthodox by saying: “You worship you know not what, if we do not know the essence of what we worship.”382 In ← 111 | 112 → this case, the accusation is not put forth in the form of a question but rather in the form of a statement, which is the conclusion of the paradox, and it confirms that its goal was to reduce two possible answers to the claim that the Orthodox do not know what they worship. It is also noticeable that in this passage, Gregory does not quote Eunomius, because this paradox does not appear in Liber apologeticus, and it is unlikely that it was present in the lost fragments of Apologia apologiae.

In his answer, Gregory first argues that since the Orthodox know what can be known of God, they do know what they worship. He evokes the fragment of Romans 11:33 saying that according to Paul not only the judgements of God are impossible to trace, but also the paths of knowledge are inaccessible. He explains:

“It was this, we suppose, the Apostle intended to indicate when he said that the ways which lead to the incomprehensible are ‘past finding out’, meaning by this expression that this knowledge is inaccessible to human thinking, and that none has yet set his mind upon such an intellectual journey, or indicated any trace or sign of an approach to apprehending the incomprehensible.”383

The only lesson that could be learned from Paul’s words is that the essence of God is beyond any human concept and knowledge. This fragment could be read as a comment on Basil’s words that the only knowledge that we can have of God is His incomprehensibility, and for Gregory, the knowledge of incomprehensibility is sufficient to claim that “We know what we worship”:

“For this reason we affirm in our own selves the ridiculed doctrine, confessing ourselves not up to the knowledge which exceeds knowledge, and we say that we truly worship what we know.”384 ← 112 | 113 →

Gregory, like Basil, confirms that we know the things about God, that is in this case His glory and height and from that we can only deduce His unimaginable greatness,385 while Basil rather thought that the outcome of cognition through attributes is God’s existence. Gregory of Nyssa wants to say that Eunomians only thinks that they know what they worship, while they are truly ignoramuses who do not want to admit their ignorance. Therefore, the truth and worship are on the Orthodox side, and Gregory turns their own argument against them by making an exegesis of the passage from John 4:22. The Samaritans were accused by the Lord of worshiping what they do not know because they imagined God as being tied to a certain place, and residing physically on the mountain on which they had their cult:

“The Samaritans, thinking that the Divinity was contained in some local limits, were rebuked by the words they heard: <You worship what you do not know, and the worship directed at God becomes unprofitable for you, for a god who is held to reside in a particular place is not God.>”386

Therefore, Gregory calls Eunomians “modern Samaritans” (νέους Σαμαρείτας), who by using the word “unbegottenness” as referring to the essence of God and enclosing it in a human concept, put a limit to it, or rather “restrict the divine substance to a sort of locality.” Therefore, Eunomians, while claiming the knowledge, are ignorant because they do not know that “the infinity of God surpasses every verbal connotation or definition.”387 While the Samaritans were wrong in limiting the presence of God to one place, “new Samaritans” are wrong in limiting the essence of God to one concept of human intellect.388 ← 113 | 114 →

In their attempts to answer the sophism or paradox of Eunomians, both Basil and Gregory try to specify what kind of the knowledge of God is sufficient for the Orthodox to claim that they know the one who they worship. Those answers were coined in specific circumstances of Anomean claims that “ingeneracy” is the term which expresses and fully describes the essence of God. However, those claims were not made merely to investigate what knowledge of God human intellect can have. They were used as a tool to demonstrate that the Son of God has a different – created – essence. Although Eunomians claimed that, thanks to “ingeneracy” we can know the essence of God, they were very unclear in their explanation what exactly is the essence of God expressed by this positive feature named with a negative term. Therefore, while claiming the knowledge of the essence, they could not formulate this knowledge, since they realized that the knowledge of God cannot be explained in the mode similar to other “more comprehensible” objects. It seems that Aetius realized that human cognition has its limits, but as the analysis of Syntagmation has shown, he extended those limits to the unclear grasp of the essence as “ingeneracy.”

In the answers given by Basil and Gregory, we can see a conviction that Eunomian claims are not only improper as leading to wrong conclusion about the nature of the Son of God, but they deemed their position as simply unsustainable and wrong. The substance of God must remain unknown since human intellect is unable to make any concept of it. However, we can also see certain gradation of the arguments in the answers of Cappadocians. Basil in a more technical way expresses that we can understand that the substance of God exists (καταληψίας ὅτι ἐστὶν ἡ οὐσία), and thus we can have a kind of the perception of incomprehensibility (ἡ αέσθησις αὐτοῦ τῆς ἀκαταληψίας). So, the knowledge of God, which is sufficient to worship, is the recognition of the existence of God that man gains from His works. Gregory goes further by saying that the attributes of God inform us rather about Him being totally beyond our understanding, and, therefore, to know God means simply to recognize His total incomprehensibility.

298 Cf. R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God…, op. cit., pp. 123–128.

299 H.A. Wolfson, Philosophical Implications of Arianism and Apollinarianism, DOP, vol. 12 (1958), p. 9.

300 R. Williams, op. cit., p. 207.

301 L.R. Wickham shows the history of the text and its two preserved variants, along with the problems of interpretation of the treatise: The Syntagmation of Aetius the Anomean, JTS vol. XIX, Pt. 2, 1968, pp. 533–535.

302 Cf. L.R. Wickham, op. cit., p. 534.

303 L.R. Wickham notes: “I am left with the impression that these are arguments bearing upon a particular theme, arguments which the author has devised and used over a number of years and which he has now strung together in a series.” op. cit., p. 535. A.A. Radde-Gallwitz suggests that the work of Aetius was the response to Athanasius’ De synodis; therefore, he wanted to gather arguments which would reduce his opponent’s view of ingeneracy to absurdity. A. Radde-Gallwitz, Basil of Cesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity, Oxford 2009, p. 90.

304 Synt. Introduction, Wickham p. 545.

305 Synt. 2, p. 540; 3, p. 541 πάσης αἰτίας κρείττων ὑπάρχει; 18, p. 542 οὐσία κρείττων ἐστί γενέσεως; 30, p. 543 ὑπεράγει πάσης φύσεως.

306 Synt. 16, p. 542.

307 Cf. DelCogliano’s discussion on his understanding of this name in: M. DelCogliano, op. cit., pp. 30–31.

308 Synt. 12, pp. 541–542.

309 Synt. 19, p. 542. Εἰ στερήσεώς ἐστι δηλωτικόν ἐπὶ θεοῦ τὸ ἀγέννητον, μηδὲν δὲ εέη τὀ ἀγέννητον, ποῖος λόγος ἂν ἀφαιρήσειε τοῦ μὴ ὂντος τὸ μηδέν; εἰ δὲ ὂν σημαίνει, τίς ἂν χωρίσειεν ὄντος θεόν, ὅπερ ἐστὶν ἀυτὸν ἑαντοῦ.

310 R. Mortley, From Word to Silence, t. II, op. cit., p. 131.

311 Dexippi in Aristotelis categorias commentarium, p. 44, 16. ἵνα διὰ τῆς ἀποφάσεως αὐτῶν τὴν κυριωτάτην οὐσίαν δηλώσῃ. The version of the same problem is also commented by Simplicius, cf. A. Radde-Gallwitz, op. cit., p. 92.

312 This is an example, which comes from Aristotle Cat. 12 a, 20–25. ἐπ’ ἐνίων μὲν οὖν ὀνόματα κεῖται τοῖς ἀνὰ μέσον, οἷον λευκοῦ καὶ μέλανος τὸ φαιὸν καὶ ὠχρόν· ἐπ’ ἐνίων δὲ ὀνόματι μὲν οὐκ εὔπορον τὸ ἀνὰ μέσον ἀποδοῦναι, τῇ δὲ ἑκατέρου τῶν ἄκρων ἀποφάσει τὸ ἀνὰ μέσον ὁρίζεται, οἷον τὸ οὔτε ἀγαθὸν οὔτε κακὸν καὶ οὔτε δίκαιον οὔτε ἄδικον. (Bodéüs, p. 55) “In some cases there exist names for the intermediates, as with grey and yellow between white and black; in some, however, it is not easy to find a name for the intermediate, but it is by the negation of each of the extremes that the intermediate is marked off, as with the neither good nor bad and neither just nor unjust.” (tr. Barnes).

313 Cf. A.A. Radde-Gallwitz, op. cit., p. 94.

314 There is some confusion here because the term ἕξις has different translations. Wickham translates it as “a condition,” whereas in the fragments of Cathegories of Aristotle quoted below a contradiction between ἕξις and στέρησις is translated as possession and privation. In both cases, the meaning of the word seems to be the same, because it concerns the state of having a certain feature or lacking it.

315 Synt. 20, p. 542.

316 L.R. Wickham, op. cit., p. 561.

317 Cat. 8 b, 27–28. μὲν οὖν εἶδος ποιότητος ἕξις καὶ διάθεσις λεγέσθωσαν. διαφέρει δὲ ἕξις διαθέσεως τῷ μονιμώτερον καὶ πολυχρονιώτερον εἶναι· (Bodéüs, p. 39; tr. Barnes).

318 Cat. 8 b, 35–37. διαθέσεις δὲ λέγονται ἅ ἐστιν εὐκίνητα καὶ ταχὺ μεταβάλλοντα, οἷον θερμότης καὶ κατάψυξις καὶ νόσος καὶ ὑγίεια καὶ ὅσα ἄλλα τοιαῦτα· (Bodéüs, p. 40; tr. Barnes).

319 L.R. Wickham, op. cit., p. 562.

320 Cat. 11 b, 17–19 Λέγεται δὲ ἕτερον ἑτέρῳ ἀντικεῖσθαι τετραχῶς, ἢ ὡς τὰ πρός τι, ἢ ὡς τὰ ἐναντία, ἢ ὡς στέρησις καὶ ἕξις, ἢ ὡς κατάφασις καὶ ἀπόφασις (Bodéüs, p. 53).

321 Cat. 11 b, 24–33 (Bodéüs, p. 53). Although it is not easy to differentiate between the first and the third kind of opposition, Aristotle extensively explains why the relative one is not the same with the opposition of privation and possession (Cat. 12 b, 17–13 a, 36; Bodéüs, pp. 57–60).

322 It is possible that Aetius excludes this possibility in argument 16.

323 Cat. 11 b, 33–35 τὰ δὲ ὡς τὰ ἐναντία, αὐτὰ μὲν ἅπερ ἐστὶν οὐδαμῶς πρὸς ἄλληλα λέγεται, ἐναντία μέντοι ἀλλήλων λέγεται· (Bodéüs, p. 53; tr. Barnes).

324 Cat. 13 b, 3–4. ἐπὶ μόνων γὰρ τούτων ἀναγκαῖον ἀεὶ τὸ μὲν ἀληθὲς τὸ δὲ ψεῦδος αὐτῶν εἶναι (Bodéüs, p. 53; tr. Barnes).

325 Cat. 12 a, 26–29. Στέρησις δὲ καὶ ἕξις λέγεται μὲν περὶ ταὐτόν τι, οἷον ἡ ὄψις καὶ ἡ τυφλότης περὶ ὀφθαλμόν· καθόλου δὲ εἰπεῖν, ἐν ᾧ πέφυκεν ἡ ἕξις γίγνεσθαι, περὶ τοῦτο λέγεται ἑκάτερον αὐτῶν (Bodéüs, p. 55; tr. Barnes).

326 Ibid. 12 a, 27–29 (Bodéüs, p. 55).

327 It is clearly stated in the next argument (21, p. 542–543) that treating ingeneracy as quality would mean confusion of the essence and its incidents: “If ingeneracy and generacy are each conditions, the essences are prior to the conditions, and yet the conditions, though secondary to the essences, are none the less qualitatively superior.” Ending his argument, Aetius says: “Since the ingenerate nature imports nothing into itself, how can it be a condition and not an essence?”

328 Synt. 24, p. 543. Εἰ τό ἀγέννητων στέρησις, ἡ δὲ στέρησις ἕζεως ἀποβολή ἐστν…

329 Synt. 25, p. 543. “If ingeneracy shows a privation which does not belong to God, on what grounds do we say he is ingenerate and cannot be generate?” Εἰ τό ἀγέννητον δηλοῖ στέρησιν ηὴ προσοῦσαν τῷ θεῷ, πῶς ἀυτὸν ἀγέννητσν εἶναι λέγομεν, γεννητὸν δὲ μὴ εἶναι.

330 LA 8, 7–10: άλλὰ μὴν οὐδὲ κατὰ στέρηεσιν· εέ γε τῶν κατἀ φύσιν αἱ στερήσεις εἰσὶ στερήσεις, καὶ ἓξεων δεύτεραι. οὔτε δὲ κατὰ φύσιν ἧν τις τῷ θεῷ γένεσις, οὔτε προτέραν ἔχων ταύτην εἶτα στερηθεὶς γένομεν ἀγέννητος (Vaggione, p. 42–43).

331 Synt. 29, p. 543. Eἰ τῇ τοῦ γεννήματος οὐσία συνεμφαίνεται ὡς αἰτία ἡ ἀγέννητος ὑπόστασις, κατά πάσης ἀιτίας τὸ ἀπαράλλακτον ἔχουσα, ἀυτὸ οὐσία ἐστίν ἀσύγκριτος, οὐκ ἔζωθεν συνεμφαίνουσα τὸ ἀπρόσιτον, ἀυτὸ δὲ ὑπάρχουσα ἀσύγκριτος καὶ ἀπρόσιτος, ἐπειδὴ καὶ ἀγέννητος.

332 Cf. Wickham, op. cit., p. 565.

333 Synt. 30, p. 543. Eἰ ὑπεράγει πόσης φύσεως ὁ παντοκράτωρ, διὰ τό ἀγέννητον ὑπεράγει, ὅπερ ἐστίν αέτιον τοῖς γεννητοῖς διαμονῆς. εἰ δὲ μἠ ἔστιν οὐσίας δηλωηικὸν τὸ ἀγέννητσν, πόθεν ἂν ἡ τῶν γεννητῶν φύσις ἕζει τὸ διασῴζεσθαι.

334 Cf. DelCogliano, op. cit., p. 32.

335 I think that similarity can be found despite the fact that we do not have the full set of Stoic rules preserved, cf. B. Mates, Stoic logic, Berkeley 1961, pp. 77–82.

336 Cf. L.R. Wickham, op. cit., p. 536.

337 Amphilochus was Basil’s relative who had worked as a lawyer and had no experience in theological issues before he become the bishop of Iconium, cf. Kopecek, op. cit., p. 431.

338 Ep. 234, 1, 1. Ὅ οἶδας σέβεις, ἢ ὃ ἀγνοεῖς (Courtonne, p. 41; LCL 243, p. 371).

339 Ep. 234, 1, 1–6. Ἐὰν ἀποκρινώμεθα δτι ὃ οέδαμεν τοῦτο προσκυνοῦμεν, ταχεῖα παρ᾽ αὐτῶν ἡ ἀπάντησις· τί ἡ οὐσία τοῦ προσκυνουμένου; Ἐὰν δὲ ἀγνοεῖν ὁμολογήσωμεν τὴν οὐσίαν, πάλιν ἡμῖν περιτρέψαντες λέγουσιν ὅτι οὐκοῦν ὅ οὐκ οέδατε προσκυνεῖτε (LCL 243, p. 371).

340 Ep. 234, 1, 10 (Courtonne, p. 42, LCL 243, p. 373).

341 Cf. A. Radde-Gallwitz, op. cit., pp. 123–124.

342 Cf. Meno 80 D-E. “M.: And how will you search for something, Socrates, when you don’t know what it is at all? I mean, which of the things you don’t know will you take in advance and search for, when you don’t know what it is? Or even if you come right up against it, how will you know that it’s the unknown thing you’re looking for?

S.: I see what you’re getting at, Meno. Do you realize what a controversy you’re conjuring up? The claim is that it’s impossible for a man to search either for what he knows or for what he doesn’t know: he wouldn’t be searching for what he knows, since he knows it and that makes the search unnecessary, and he can’t search for what he doesn’t know either, since he doesn’t even know what it is he’s going to search for” (tr. R. Waterfield, p. 113).

343 J 4: 22. ὑμεῖς προσκυνεῖτε ὃ οὐκ οέδατε, ἡμεῖς προσκυνοῦμεν ὃ οέδαμεν, ὅτι ἡ σωτηρία ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων ἐστίν· (tr. RSVCE). As we will see below, Gregory of Nyssa makes his argument against this question by referring to this passage of the Scripture (CE III, 1, 105–110; GNO II, 39–41).

344 Acts 17: 23. διερχόμενος γὰρ καὶ ἀναθεωρῶν τὰ σεβάσματα ὑμῶν εὗρον καὶ βωμὸν ἐν ᾧ ἐπεγέγραπτο, ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ. ὃ οὖν ἀγνοοῦντες εὐσεβεῖτε, τοῦτο ἐγὼ καταγγέλλω ὑμῖν (tr. RSVCE).

345 Ep. 234, 1, 5–6 (Courtonne, p. 42; LCL 243, p. 371).

346 Ep. 234, 1, 6–9 Καὶ γὰρ τὴν μεγαλειότητα τοῦ Θεοῦ εἰδέναι λέγομεν καὶ τὴν δύναμιν καὶ τὴν σοφίαν καὶ τὴν ἀγαθότητα καὶ τὴν πρόνοιαν ᾗ ἐπιμελεῖται ἡμῶν καὶ τὸ δίκαιον αὐτοῦ τῆς κρίσεως, οὐκ αὐτὴν τὴν οὐσίαν (Courtonne, p. 42.; LCL 243, p. 373).

347 Ep. 234, 1, 14 σόφισμά ἐστι μυρίας τὰς ἀτοπίας ἔχον. (LCL 243, p. 373; Courtonne, p. 42).

348 Ep. 234, 1, 16–19 Καὶ ἰσοδυναμεῖ ἀλλήλοις τὸ φοβερὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸ φιλάνθρωπον καὶ τὸ δίκαιον καὶ τὸ δημιουργικόν, τὸ προγνωστικὸν καὶ τὸ ἀνταποδοτικόν, τὸ μεγαλεῖον καὶ τὸ προνοητικόν (Courtonne, p. 42; LCL 243, p. 373).

349 Ep. 234, 1, 27–31 ᾿Αλλ’ αἱ μὲν ἐνέργειαι ποικίλαι, ἡ δὲ οὐσία ἁπλῆ. ῾Ημεῖς δὲ ἐκ μὲν τῶν ἐνεργειῶν γνωρίζειν λέγομεν τὸν Θεὸν ἡμῶν, τῇ δὲ οὐσίᾳ αὐτῇ προσεγγίζειν οὐχ ὑπισχνούμεθα. Αἱ μὲν γὰρ ἐνέργειαι αὐτοῦ πρὸς ἡμᾶς καταβαίνουσιν, ἡ δὲ οὐσία αὐτοῦ μένει ἀπρόσιτος (Courtonne, p. 42; LCL 243, p. 373).

350 Ep. 234, 3, 12–13. Οὐκοῦν ἀπὸ μὲν τῶν ἐνεργειῶν ἡ γνῶσις, ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς γνώσεως ἡ προσκύνησις (Courtonne, p. 43; LCL 243, p. 377).

351 The third one (2, 10–12) will be commented below.

352 Ep. 234, 2, 8–9 (Courtonne, p. 43; LCL 243, p. 375).

353 Ep. 234, 2, 12–14 (Courtonne, p. 43; LCL 243, p. 375).

354 Anal. Post. II, 1, 89 b, 23–25. Τὰ ζητούμενά ἐστιν έσα τὸν ἀριθμὸν ὅσαπερ ἐπιστάμεθα. ζητοῦμεν δὲ τέτταρα, τὸ ὅτι, τὸ διότι, εἰ ἔστι, τί ἐστιν. (tr. Barnes).

355 The most difficult question is the distinction between τὸ ὅτι and εἰ ἔστι since both concern the existence of the object. See J. Barnes commentary in: Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, Oxford 2002, pp. 203–204.

356 Cf. O. Harari, Knowledge and Demonstration. Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, Springer 2004, p. 130.

357 Cf. ibid., p. 131.

358 Ibid., p. 132.

359 See the commentary of W.D. Ross in: Aristotle’s Prior and Posterior Analytics, Oxford 1957, p. 610. In the 5th century, Aristotle’s commentary was ascribed to Philoponus (the authorship is currently questioned) and the first part of the demonstrative procedure is understood this way, cf. 337, 18–32 (Philoponus, On Aristotle Posterior Analytics 2; tr. O. Goldin, Bloomsbury 2014, p. 19).

360 Ep. 234, 2, 12–13 (Courtonne, p. 43; LCL 243, p. 375).

361 Ep. 234, 2, 10–12. Πῶς οὖν σώζομαι; Διὰ τῆς πίστεως. Πίστις δὲ αὐτάρκης εἰδέναι ὅτι ἐστὶν ὁ Θεός, οὐχὶ τί ἐστι, καὶ τοῖς ἐκζητοῦσιν αὐτὸν μισθαποδότης γίνεται (Courtonne, p. 43; LCL 243, p. 375).

362 This is actually a paraphrase of the original text, and it also resembles other fragments of the Holy Scripture, cf. A. Radde-Gallwitz, op. cit., p. 125.

363 Ep. 234, 3, 15–21. Οὕτως ἡ μὲν προσκύνησις τῇ πίστει ἀκολουθεῖ, ἡ δὲ πίστις ἀπὸ δυνάμεως βεβαιοῦται. Εἰ δὲ λέγεις τὸν πιστεύοντα καὶ γινώσκειν, ἀφ’ ὧν πιστεύει ἀπὸ τούτων καὶ γινώσκει· ἢ καὶ ἀνάπαλιν ἀφ’ ὧν γινώσκει ἀπὸ τούτων καὶ πιστεύει. Γινώσκομεν δὲ ἐκ τῆς δυνάμεως τὸν Θεόν. ῞Ωστε πιστεύομεν μὲν τῷ γνωσθέντι, προσκυνοῦμεν δὲ τῷ πιστευθέντι (Courtonne, pp. 43–44; LCL 243, p. 377).

364 Verse is translated this way only in Septuagint. In Vulgate, it has a different meaning: nisi credideritis, non permanebitis (if you believe not, you will not stand firm at all).

365 Courtonne notes that the letters to Amphilochus 233–236 had been probably a single memorandum which was later divided according to the questions and answers (Courtonne, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 39).

366 Ep. 235, 1, 12–14 ῾Ημεῖς δὲ λέγομεν ὅτι καθόλου μὲν ἐπὶ τῶν μαθημάτων πίστις γνώσεως προηγεῖται· ἐπὶ δὲ τοῦ καθ’ ἡμᾶς λόγου, κἂν λέγῃ τις προκατάρχειν τὴν γνῶσιν τῆς πίστεως, οὐ διαφερόμεθα (γνῶσιν μέντοι τὴν τῇ ἀνθρωπίνῃ καταλήψει σύμμετρον) (Courtonne, vol. 3, p. 44; LCL 243, pp. 377–379).

367 Resp. 514 A-516 C (tr. C.D.C. Reeve, Cambridge 2004, p. 207).

368 In case of St Augustine, the faith is also very often treated as religious one, while he frequently uses credere in meaning of natural belief necessary to obtain intelligere – understanding. Cf. T. Stępień, Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis –Belief as a Form of Natural Cognition in Writings of St Augustine’s, Studia Pelplińskie vol. XLIX (2016), pp. 287–300.

369 Augustinus, De quantitate animae I, 7, 12. “To trust the word of another is one thing; to trust our own reason is a different thing (Aliud est enim cum auctoritati credimus, aliud cum rationi); to take something on authority is a great timesaver and involves no toil. If this way has any attraction for you, you may read in the extensive writings of great and good men what they thought should be said about these subjects as a safe and easy guide for the unlearned; and these men aimed at securing the confidence of persons whose minds, being either too slow or too occupied, could find no other safe road to truth. Such persons, whose number is very great, if they wish to grasp the truth by reason, are easily taken in by sophisms that land them in the swamp of error from which they never or only with difficulty succeed in emerging and extricating themselves. For these, then, it is a decided advantage to trust a most reliable authority (excellentissimae auctoritati credere) and to shape their conduct according to it. If you think that such a way is safer, I shall not only offer no resistance, but shall thoroughly approve. But, if you cannot bridle your eager conviction of coming to the truth by reason (persuasisti ratione pervenire ad veritatem), you must be prepared for long, hard, and circuitous riding, pursuing the path where reason beckons – that reason alone which is worthy of the name, that is, right reason (vera ratio). Not only is it right, but it is also sure (certa) and free from every semblance of falsehood, if man can ever attain to that state where no false argument or specious pretext can make him betray the truth” (Trape, vol. III/2, pp. 31–32; tr. J.J. MacMahon, pp. 71–72).

370 Ep. 235, 1, 5–9. ᾿Επὶ μὲν γὰρ τῶν μαθημάτων πιστεῦσαι δεῖ πρῶτον ὅτι ἄλφα λέγεται καί, μαθόντα τοὺς χαρακτῆρας καὶ τὴν ἐκφώνησιν, ὕστερον λαβεῖν καὶ τὴν ἀκριβῆ κατανόησιν τῆς δυνάμεως τοῦ στοιχείου (Courtonne, vol. 3, p. 44; LCL 243, p. 379).

371 Ep. 235, 1, 5–9. ᾿Εν δὲ τῇ περὶ Θεοῦ πίστει ἡγεῖται μὲν ἡ ἔννοια ἡ περὶ τοῦ ὅτι ἐστὶ Θεός, ταύτην δὲ ἐκ τῶν δημιουργημάτων συνάγομεν. Σοφὸν γὰρ καὶ δυνατὸν καὶ ἀγαθὸν καὶ πάντα αὐτοῦ τὰ ἀόρατα ἀπὸ τῆς τοῦ κόσμου κτίσεως νοοῦντες ἐπιγινώσκομεν. Οὕτω δὴ καὶ Δεσπότην ἑαυτῶν αὐτὸν κατα δεχόμεθα. ᾿Επειδὴ γὰρ παντὸς μὲν τοῦ κόσμου δημιουργὸς ὁ Θεός, μέρος δὲ κόσμου ἡμεῖς, καὶ ἡμῶν ἄρα δημιουργὸς ὁ Θεός. Ταύτῃ τῇ γνώσει ἡ πίστις ἀκολουθεῖ καὶ τοιαύτῃ πίστει ἡ προσκύνησις (Courtonne, vol. 3, p. 44; LCL 243, p. 379).

372 Ep. 235, 2, 1–5 (Courtonne, vol. 3, p. 45; LCL 243, p. 379).

373 Ep. 235, 2, 5–9. τὸ δὲ κατὰ μέγεθος, τὸ δὲ κατὰ δύναμιν, τὸ δὲ κατὰ τὸν τρόπον τῆς ὑπάρξεως, τὸ δὲ κατὰ τὸν χρόνον τῆς γεννήσεως, τὸ δὲ κατ’ οὐσίαν (Courtonne, vol. 3, p. 45; LCL 243, p. 379).

374 Ep. 235, 3, 23–25. Οἱ δὲ πάντα ταῦτα παρωσάμενοι ἐπὶ ἓν σημαινόμενον τὴν γνῶσιν ἕλκουσι, τὴν θεωρίαν αὐτῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ τῆς οὐσίας (Courtonne, vol. 3, p. 46; LCL 243, pp. 383–385).

375 Ep. 235, 2, 13–15. Αλλ’ ἡμεῖς εἰδέναι μὲν ὁμολογοῦμεν τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ, εἰδέναι δέ τι πάλιν ὃ ἐκφεύγει ἡμῶν τὴν κατάληψιν (Courtonne, vol. 3, p. 45; LCL 243, p. 381).

376 CE III, 1, 4–65 (GNO II, 4–27).

377 CE III, 1, 66–102 (GNO II, 27–38).

378 CE III, 1, 111. ᾿Αλλὰ γὰρ ἐπὶ πλέον παρηνέχθη τῶν προκειμένων ὁ λόγος, τοῖς ἀεὶ κατὰ τὸ ἀκόλουθον ἐφευρισκομένοις ἑπόμενος (GNO II, 41, 20–23; tr. Hall, p. 64).

379 CE III, 1, 103. ὅτι οὐκ ἔστι τὸ ἀόριστον κατὰ τὴν φύσιν ἐπινοίᾳ τινὶ ῥημάτων διαληφθῆναι (GNO II, 38, 19–21; tr. Hall, p. 63).

380 CE III, 1, 104. εἰ δὲ τὰ περὶ αὐτὸν ἀπεράτωτα, πολὺ μᾶλλον αὐτὸς ἐκεῖνος κατ’ οὐσίαν ὅ τι ποτὲ καὶ ἐστὶν οὐδενὶ ὅρῳ κατ’ οὐδὲν μέρος διαλαμβάνεται (GNO II, 38, 24–26).

381 CE III, 1, 105. κρεῖττόν ἐστι καὶ ὑψηλότερον τῆς ὀνομαστικῆς σημασίας τὸ θεῖον (GNO II, 39, 4–5; tr. S.G. Hall, p. 63).

382 CE III, 1, 105. ῾Υμεῖς προσκυνεῖτε ὃ οὐκ οέδατε, εἰ τὴν οὐσίαν τοῦ προσκυνουμένου οὐκ οέδαμεν (GNO II, 39, 13–14; tr. Hall, p. 63). In his translation, Hall constantly refers to οὐσία as “being,” or in this case “essential being,” but since the whole argument concerns the knowledge of the essence, I changed “being” to “substance” in my quotations.

383 CE III, 1, 107. τοῦτο γὰρ ἡγούμεθα τὸν ἀπόστολον σημᾶναι βουλόμενον ἀνεξιχνιάστους εἰπεῖν τὰς ὁδοὺς αἳ πρὸς τὸ ἀκατάληπτον φέρουσι, δεικνύντα διὰ τῆς λέξεως ὅτι ἀνεπίβατός ἐστι λογισμοῖς ἀνθρωπίνοις ἡ γνῶσις ἐκείνη, καὶ οὔπω τις ἐπέστησεν ἑαυτοῦ τὴν διάνοιαν τῇ τοιαύτῃ τοῦ λόγου πορείᾳ, οὔτε τι έχνος οὔτε σημεῖον καταληπτικῆς ἐφόδου τοῖς ἀλήπτοις ἐνεσημάνατο (GNO II, 40, 1–8; tr. Hall, p. 63).

384 CE III, 1, 108. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο βεβαιοῦμεν ἐν ἡμῖν αὐτοῖς τὸ καταχλευαζόμενον δόγμα, ὁμολογοῦντες ἐλάττους εἶναι κατὰ τὴν γνῶσιν τῶν ὑπερβαινόντων τὴν γνῶσιν, καὶ προσκυνεῖν φαμεν ἀληθῶς ὅπερ οέδαμεν (GNO II, 40, 16–20; tr. Hall, p. 64).

385 CE III, 1, 109 (GNO II, 40, 21–22).

386 CE III, 1, 110. ὡς γὰρ τοπικῇ τινι περιγραφῇ τὸ θεῖον περιέχεσθαι Σαμαρεῖται νομίζοντες ἐπετιμήθησαν δι’ ὧν ἤκουσαν ὅτι Προσκυνεῖτε ὃ οὐκ οέδατε, καὶ ἀνόνητος γίνεται ὑμῖν ἡ λατρεία ἡ πρὸς θεὸν βλέπουσα, θεὸς γὰρ τόπῳ τινὶ καθιδρῦσθαι νομιζόμενος θεὸς οὐκ ἔστιν (GNO II, 41, 8–12; tr. Hall, p. 64).

387 CE III, 1, 110 οὕτως ἂν εέη κυρίως καὶ πρὸς τοὺς νέους Σαμαρείτας εἰπεῖν ὅτι τῷ ὀνόματι τῆς ἀγεννησίας οἷόν τινι τόπῳ περιειλῆφθαι τὴν θείαν οὐσίαν ὑπονοοῦντες Προσκυνεῖτε ὃ οὐκ οέδατε (GNO II, 41, 13–16; tr. Hall, p. 64).

388 Cf. Ch. M. Stang, Negative Theology from Gregory of Nyssa to Dionysius the Areopagite, in: The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism, ed. J.M. Lang, Oxford 2013, p. 169.