Recapitulation

There is not an attempt in this essay to harmonise Aristotle and Gregory of Nyssa. There are links between Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism.104 Gregory was profoundly influenced by Aristotelian notions of the temporal, the dynamic, the universal and the corporeal. His was a doctrine of embodiment that took seriously the roots of Christian revelation in the historical and the concrete. Christianity needs, then, to read the spiritual, the universal in such a way as not to denigrate or dissolve the historical and concrete. Discovering the eternal and unchanging within the particular and temporal is the axiomatic concern of Christology, incarnation and sacramentalism. Aristotle provides us with a welcome metaphysics of embodiment. The aporetic character of that metaphysics is also significant, for Christianity cannot found a metaphysics on the equation of reason and Being, as

102 'On "Not Three Gods"' in Select Writings and Letters of Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, trs. William Moore and Henry Wilson (Oxford: Parker and Company, 1893), p. 333.

103 In Canticum Canticorum, 15; I, 1117 A.

104 See Booth, Aristotelian Aporetic Ontology.

Gregory reminds us with his emphases on the diastema between the uncreated Creator and the orders created out of nothing. Ours has to be a metaphysics of the saints, not the metaphysics of modernity.105 The incorporeal is always discovered in the corporeal, the invisible within the visible. Furthermore, Aristotle's emphasis upon the dynamism of creation, on time, on becoming, or the teleology of the good life, could all find a place within Christianity's concern with history, the transience of all things, eschatology and redemption. But, more significantly, this essay has been concerned to develop Aristotle's understanding of the relationship between mimesis, metaphysics, ethics and theology (a relationship which hinges on the nature of analogy) through Gregory of Nyssa's theological understanding of allegory as analogical discourse. On the basis of this development several observations can be made about the relationship of narrative both to revelation, in the exclusive sense of God's revelation in Christ, and disclosure, the mediation of that revelation through the Spirit in creation.

What remains and is safeguarded in allegorical reading is textuality itself, writing, the body of the Scriptural text. The letteral (though not the literal, which is already an interpretation), the written, is affirmed in its materiality. The allegorical simply extends the letteral, supplements it in the sense both of adding to it and altering it. It sucks as a child on the textual breast, and as Gregory states: 'the Word ... changes His power in diverse ways to those who eat. He knows not only to be bread but also to become milk and meat and greens and whatever else might be appropriate to and desired by the one who receives him.'106 As such, interpretation cannot dissolve the letteral into the meaningful. As Augustine exclaims concerning the Scriptures, 'The surface meaning lies open before us and charms beginners. Yet the depth is amazing, my God, the depth is amazing. To concentrate on it is to experience awe.'107 The reading shapes and reflects the reader Christocentrically, provoking the desire to understand, provoking the supplementation, the further writing. Language and the circulation of immanent and transcendent desires (human and divine eros) — these remain central to appreciating the relation between narrative and revelation, time, becoming and personhood. That is why we need to explore the work of Lacan, Kris-teva and Irigaray alongside the theologies of Barth and Balthasar. We get confused by our grammar, taking 'revelation' as a substantive. As such revelation becomes an event of making something known. We ask about the

105 See Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, vol. 5, tr. Oliver Davies et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991), pp. 48-140, 'The Metaphysics of the Saints'.

106 Life of Moses, II.140.

107 Confessions, tr. Henry Chadwick (Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 254.

contents of such knowledge. This has led some to view revelation as propo-sitional.108 Theophanous events do occur in Scripture, Gregory is drawn towards them. But they occur within a temporal movement that is not, in itself, insignificant. The theophanous event is the result of all that has proceeded it and will in itself be partial, for it will be followed by all that comes as a consequence of it. It is an event within an ongoing chain of events. The creature 'never halts at what it has reached, but all that it has acquired becomes by participation a beginning of its ascent to something still greater'.109 Moses did not stop in his ascent. The theophanies were stages within revelation, not punctiliar moments of perfect realisation (II.227). Disclosure is an action, not an event — the continuing, generative action of revelation in the temporal and material. It is an action we are a part of and therefore even our attempts to extract ourselves from time and space and examine the content of any experience, moments of self-reflection, are part of the revelatory dynamism. The contents are continually contextualised and, as such, the meaning we give to them shifts, changes. If God transcends our ability to know him even in Christ then divine revelation cannot be the communication of knowledge such as we are used to deducing and inferring from our experience. Illumination can only be the communication of the form, the mediation of God. What we see of this form and what we are to understand by it is akin to the division between sign and meaning in language, in mimesis, which allegory draws attention to. Any contents, any understanding of our experience, is provisional and reinscribed elsewhere, rewritten. Gregory writes: 'This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see him.'110 As such what is revealed in revelation is the nakedness of one's continual desire to see, to understand. What is revealed is an eros that transcends us and our grasp of the created order; and only insofar as desire is God himself in his perichoretic triunity is this a disclosure of the form of God. Illumination as the actio of revelation continues towards a not-to-be-realised eschatological horizon; it is coextensive with vocation and discipleship. The ethics of such a following — and here again Gregory follows in the footsteps of Aristotle — is the ethics of moderation or the mean (II.288—90).111 The teleology of all action is, for both philosopher and theologian, conformity to the Good (II.317—18; Nicomachean Ethics,

108 Most recently Richard Swinburne, Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).

109 Contra Eunomium, III.6.74.

110 Life of Moses, II.239.

111 On the theological importance of following in Gregory of Nyssa see II.252 and In Canticum Canticorum, 12.

Book X) — though, of course, the nature of the Good is interpreted differently for philosopher and theologian. Mimesis, as Aristotle observed, is both the representation of action and a form of action itself, both a making (poiesis) and a doing (praxis). The dreams of speculative philosophy for a coherent epistemology are broken. A complete account of the conditions for the possibility of knowledge is aporetic. There is only phronesis, practical wisdom, the process of getting to know which is integral to the pursuit of the good life. We who live in the age of the Spirit of Christ, within the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit, must speak of, through and by revealedness. The language we employ, the stories we tell, must be allegorised in order to open up a space between what we think we know and what is true, between what Aristotle would call deutera ousia, the socialised concepts which name our impressions of it, and the prote ousia, the substance beyond substance which is God. Allegory brings together rhetoric, aporet-ics, temporality and transcendence. It is a Christocentric pedagogy, a teaching, a spiritual exercise. The reading that surrenders itself, its certainties, its grasp of things, is contemplation, is praying, as St Ignatius and, more recently, Hélène Cixous,112 understood. The final responsibility belongs both to the reader and the operation of grace that rends the equivalence of perception and understanding — that is what allegory pronounces. Gregory concludes his Life of Moses by turning to his reader. '[I]t is time for you, noble friend, to look to that example and, by transferring to your own life what is contemplated through spiritual interpretation of the things spoken literally, to be known by God and to become his friend.'113

If we relate this conclusion to the vexed question which often dogs the story—revelation debate — is it just as theologically and spiritually valid to read Proust as to read the Gospel of St John? — I would have to answer in terms very close to Clement of Alexandria (terms evident in Augustine's Confessions): 'if Hellenistic philosophy comprehends not the whole extent of the truth, and besides, is destitute of strength to perform the commandments of the Lord, yet it prepares the way for the truly royal teaching, training in some way or other [hame ge pe], and moulding the character, fitting him who believes in providence for the reception of the truth'.114 It follows that it is in our experience of the world (which to be understood as experience must be represented), it is in our wording and our reading, in

112 See Reading with Clarice Lispector, tr. Verena Andermatt Conley (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990) and my essay 'Words of Life: Hosting Postmodern Plenitude', The Way, 36 (3), July (1996), pp. 225-35.

113 Life of Moses, II.320.

114 Stromateis, 1.16.80.6.

our storytelling, that we are redeemed.115 The triune God, by his revelation in Christ and through his Spirit, moves within the processes of time and human desire itself. Because we are made in the image of then are we destined to be homo symbolicus. My argument presupposes that the Godhead is an operation, not an object, not a subject, and, therefore that his revelation of himself in Christ is a continuously unfolding process, within an eschatologi-cal horizon. This unfolding process is the dunamis of love itself and therefore the content of such revelation is a getting to love, a pedagogy in adoration, a plotting of praise, a liturgy not an intellectual property. As such our creative storytelling takes place within the operation of God's triune loving; we exist in God's endless impartation of himself.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment