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Knowledge, Language and Intellection from Origen to Gregory Nazianzen

A Selective Survey


Anna Usacheva

Epistemological theories of the patristic authors seldom attract attention of the researchers. This unfortunate status quo contrasts with a crucial place of the theory of knowledge in the thought of such prominent authors as Origen and the Cappadocian fathers. This book surveys the patristic epistemological discourse in its various settings. In the context of the Church history it revolves around the Eunomian controversy, Eunomius’ language theory and Gregory Nazianzen’s cognitive theory, where the ideas of Apostle Paul were creatively combined with the Peripatetic teaching. In the framework of Biblical exegesis, it touches upon the issues of the textual criticism of the Homeric and Jewish scholarship, which had significantly shaped Origen’s paradigm of the Biblical studies.

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Actual knowledge is identical with its object.2

After a brief excursus into Aristotle’s concept of ‘actual knowledge’ Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor in the first chapter of the book Retrieving Realism describe, as they call them, the modern contact theories of epistemology characterized by an attempt to re-embed thought and knowledge in the bodily and socio-cultural contexts in which it takes place.3 Taylor remarks that these theories launched primarily by Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Wittgenstein do not depend on ancient philosophy, and indeed, as we know, these modern thinkers very often decisively rebelled against some of the ancient concepts. Yet one cannot help noticing a certain parallelism between, on the one hand, Aristotelian holistic and multivocal ontology and epistemology broadly applied and developed in the Hellenistic period,4 and, on the other hand, some of the modern epistemological and hermeneutical discourses bridging textual, historical, philosophical, linguistic, socio-cultural, ethical and anthropological contexts and frameworks.5

Speaking of the epistemological discourse of the Hellenistic epoch and the period of Late Antiquity6 the following cluster of problems should be mentioned. An enigmatic provenance of the Corpus Aristotelicum entails questions concerning the reception and hence interpretation of Aristotelian legacy.7 Since recent scholarship suggests new readings of Aristotelian treatises and rethinking the impact of Aristotelian concepts on the Hellenic ← 13 | 14 → and Christian philosophy and theology,8 it also appears to be an ideal time to rethink and question patristic texts in terms of Hellenic epistemological and methodological discourse developed in...

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