Thursday, February 5, 2015


Response: Hofer on Beeley on Hofer, 'Christ in the Life and Teaching of Gregory of Nazianzus'. Response to 2014.10.53

Response by Andrew Hofer, Dominican House of Studies, Washington D.C. ( )

Version at BMCR home site

Christopher Beeley of Yale University wrote a review for BMCR of my Christ in the Life and Teaching of Gregory of Nazianzus, Oxford Early Christian Studies (Oxford University Press, 2013). Previous to that book's publication, he had invited me to submit a conference paper, which was a small portion of my study, for his edited collection Re-Reading Gregory of Nazianzus (Catholic University of America Press, 2012), and he had read an early version of my book manuscript (acknowledged on p. v of my book). I admire his scholarship on Gregory of Nazianzus in many ways, and I followed in his footsteps, so to speak, by working on Gregory under the same dissertation director, Brian E. Daley, S.J. In a published review, I called Beeley's first book "the most important study on Gregory Nazianzen's theology available in any language."1 Given Beeley's past kind encouragement and my respect for his work, even when he and I disagreed on some matters of interpretation, I was surprised by the tone and content of much of his review of my book. I am happy to give this response, since I believe his review misrepresents my positions at some key points. Beeley especially targets Chapters 3 and 4; I will focus on his review of those two chapters in order to clarify my book's argument.

Chapter 3 is on the "The Mixtures of Gregory and Christ." My detailed study challenges the oft-repeated claim that Gregory is borrowing Stoic terms for his mixture language. Beeley compliments my adjudication of various mixture language schools and then states: "without explanation, he [Hofer] prefers the Aristotelian notion of mixture as the predominance of the stronger over the weaker." Beeley here overlooks an important distinction in my book. I argue that Gregory is influenced in some ways by Aristotle, and uses the language of predominance, but does not use the precise Aristotelian notion of predominance for his mixture language (113). Stoic mixture language does not do justice to the transformation and the spiritual realities at stake in Gregory's use of mixture language, but Aristotelian predominance would involve an obliteration not intended by Gregory. I give multiple examples from Gregory's writings, and I conclude a few lines from the end of that chapter that Gregory's mixture terms "fit neatly into no single ancient model" (120).2

Moreover, in that discussion on Gregory's mixture language in Chapter 3, Beeley claims, "Hofer misunderstands my position as a black-or-white choice between unitive and dualist Christological schemes." Beeley has written about Gregory's Christology in five significant studies. I was basing one portion of my argument on his study entitled "Gregory of Nazianzus on the Unity of Christ." There he writes: "Central to the scholarly confusion is the question of whether Gregory's Christology is basically unitive or dualist."3 He concludes in that essay: "Gregory of Nazianzus consistently and deliberately maintains a unitive Christology."4 In other words, I was repeating the dichotomy that Beeley set up in one essay, and eschewing it in my own approach to Gregory's mixture language. If there is another interpretation of his conclusion in that essay, I am sorry to have overlooked it. More recently, Beeley says that Cyril of Alexandria's one-nature formula was taken from Gregory,5 and expresses Gregory's view in this way: "The confession that Christ possesses a single, divine nature expresses his most fundamental identity."6 I admit here that in that same book Beeley does say it is possible, although "less desirable," to speak of two natures in Gregory's view.7 But the focus of my third chapter is not to review Beeley's oeuvre; rather, it is to expose the complexity of Gregory's Christological mixture language, which never has the phrase "one nature" (and seldom "two natures"). Through his distinctive use of mixture language, Gregory prefers to write about the mystery of Christ in ways other than through the terms, such as "nature," most contested by subsequent theologians (93).

Chapter 4 is on Gregory's "Ep. 101 in the Christological Controversy." Beeley makes several charges against me in his review of this chapter. Take the following example: "Hofer refers to Nicene theology as if it required no further qualification, against the weight of the last thirty years of patristic scholarship (125n7)." Beeley's review does not intimate that the entirety of that note expresses appreciation for his argument about "ousia" language, and then gives a focused, slight critique of his statement: "a Nicene construction does not require any fewer qualifications and conceptual gymnastics than a homoiousian one does."8 In that note, I show that Gregory uses the language of "homoousios," never "homoiousios," and repeatedly praises Nicaea. Beeley is entitled to his scholarly opinion about "Nicene" and "homoiousian" constructions; my own stated opinion is that Beeley's assessment on this matter is non-Gregorian.

More broadly, Beeley distorts my purpose in Chapter 4 and its distinctiveness in scholarship. In introducing his discussion of that chapter, Beeley writes, "Hofer aims to show that Gregory's letter is aimed almost uniformly at Apollinarian Christology" and includes himself among those who are a part of the "prevailing scholarly consensus," which maintains that Gregory's Ep. 101 "is predominantly anti-Antiochene." Yet, in 2008, Beeley wrote that Eps. 101, 102, and 202 "are almost universally regarded as anti-Apollinarian treatises."9 Beeley concludes his review of Chapter 4 by claiming that my chapter "amounts to a quixotic attempt to rescue Diodore and his Antiochene colleagues from Gregory's opprobrium, based on methods of argument that are shocking to find in a work of higher scholarship." This misreads the intent of Chapter 4. The purpose of the discussion of Ep. 101's ten anathemas is to demonstrate how Gregory, in writing explicitly against the Apollinarians, uses his autobiographical Christology to write against them and all heresies, both previous to and contemporary with Gregory (cf. 129-30). Diodore and his Antiochene colleagues, archenemies to Apollinarius, are not the only people who are alleged in the fourth century to have teachings of "two Sons." Many are said to teach the heresy of "two Sons," and several, including Diodore, wanted to clear themselves of having that charge. As I wrote, Gregory's condemnation of "two Sons" was likely against Diodore, but also with broader relevance against all those who believe, or are said to believe, in "two Sons" (cf. 137-39). Gregory's opprobrium is quite wide, and I did not want to limit it! To label the view of "two Sons" as simply "Diodoran" is to collapse the complexity of fourth-century Christologies, including Diodore's. In fact, in Chapter 4's conclusion I write: "These anathemas [of Ep. 101], at times quite succinct and puzzling in tone, can be read, both as an ad hoc treatment against the Apollinarian threat of Gregory's time, and [original emphasis] a more general statement on Christological principles. Several of these principles touch upon the disputes surrounding Diodore of Tarsus, who vehemently opposed Apollinarius and whose writings were coming under a cloud of suspicion" (150). In short, I give an alternative to Beeley's approach and to that of those who say that Gregory is solely concerned about fighting Apollinarians (129 and 150).

I wrote my book as the first published monograph dedicated to an overview of Gregory's Christology, and I did so through attention to Gregory's autobiographical perspective. Throughout the work, I am in dialogue with contemporary scholarship, and many times I credit Beeley's achievement. At some crucial points in Chapters 3 and 4, I differ from some of his views. More could be said about Beeley's review of my book, but I want to conclude by inviting readers to read the breadth of Gregory's orations, letters, and poems, and the lively debate in publications (such as in my book and in Beeley's important studies) about Gregory's Christology.


1.   Review of Christopher A. Beeley, Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God and the Trinity: In Your Light We See Light (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), in Religious Studies Review 35 (2009): 275.
2.   Lionel Wickham (Journal of Ecclesiastical History 65 [2014]: 876-78) and Morwenna Ludlow (Irish Theological Quarterly 79 [2014] 281-83), in their respective reviews of my book, approvingly state that I do not think Gregory's mixture language should be tied down to any particular ancient school of thought. Similarly, in his review of my book, J. Warren Smith (Journal of Early Christian Studies 22 [2014] 594-96) appreciates my analysis of the ancient schools of mixture language, notes a resemblance of Gregory's biblical images to Aristotelian predominance (with the qualification against obliteration), and describes how I think Gregory's poetic speech moves beyond the precisions of the philosophical schools. For the other reviews I presently know of, likewise quite different from Beeley's, see Xavier Batllo, Revue Thomiste 113 (2013): 662-63 and Anna Silvas, Theological Studies 75 (2014): 670-72.
3.   Christopher A. Beeley, "Gregory of Nazianzus on the Unity of Christ," in In the Shadow of the Incarnation, ed. Peter W. Martins, ed. Pp. 97-120 (Notre Dame: IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), p. 98.
4.   Ibid., p. 116.
5.   Christopher A. Beeley, "Cyril of Alexandria and Gregory Nazianzen: Tradition and Complexity in Patristic Christology" Journal of Early Christian Studies 17 (2009): 381-419, at p. 398
6.   Christopher A. Beeley, The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), p. 188.
7.   Ibid.
8.   Christopher A. Beeley, Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God, p. 314.
9.   Ibid., p. 129.

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