On Making Students Memorize Prose (Again)

I mentioned previously the benefits of making students memorize prose (in Greek) and wrote a little bit on the first passage we worked on. Here is the second passage we learned from Gregory of Nyssa’s Ad Simplicium.

The first dealt with the Son in the economy of salvation, i.e. in his human manifestation, descending from the height of divinity for our salvation. The second deals, through the exegesis of John’s prologue, with the Son’s absolute equality with the Father.

The Text

ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ μέγας Ἰωάννης ταῦτα διδάσκει λέγων ὅτι Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν. ἐκ γὰρ τοῦ εἰπεῖν, ὅτι ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν, καὶ οὐ μετὰ τὴν ἀρχήν, ἔδειξεν ὅτι[1] οὐδέποτε ἄλογος ἦν ἡ ἀρχή. ἐκ δὲ τοῦ ἀποδεῖξαι ὅτι καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, τὸ ἀνελλιπὲς τοῦ υἱοῦ ὡς πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ἐσήμανεν, ὅλῳ γὰρ τῷ θεῷ ὅλως συνθεωρεῖται ὁ λόγος.

But the great John also teaches these things, saying, “In the beginning [or First Principle] was the Logos, and the Logos was with God.” For in saying, “In the beginning [or First Principle],” and not “After the beginning [or First Principle],” he showed that the beginning was never without the Logos. And in showing that the Logos was with God as well, he signified the Son’s utter lack of lacking as it relates to the Father; for the Logos is wholly contemplated together with the whole God.

What Did I Learn?

  1. This is a good passage for thinking about patristic exegesis. One notes the care with which Gregory thinks about even very small words: he uses the distinction between ἐν (“in) and μετὰ (“after”) to show that the Logos is eternal in the same way as the Father is. I give “First Principle” as an alternative translation for ἀρχή because Gregory does not take “the great John” to be talking here about the creation of the temporal universe in the mode of, say, Genesis 1. Likewise, the fact that the Logos exists “in relation to God” (πρὸς τὸν θεόν), that is, that “Logos” and “God” are coextensive, means, for Gregory, that there is not some part of the Son that is “un-Godded” in relation to to the Father. Rather, because the Logos is πρὸς τὸν θεόν (“in-relation-to-God”), when we say “Logos” we are also thinking at the same time “God.” They are “wholly” together.
  2. As I am typing this, I realize that ἀνελλιπὲς echoes ἄλογος. Both are alpha-privatives; just as the First Principle is not “without Logos,” the Son is “without Lack” in relation to Father.
  3. There is a nice parallelism between the articular infinitives ἐκ γὰρ τοῦ εἰπεῖν and ἐκ δὲ τοῦ ἀποδεῖξαι. But the parallelism is combined with equally important variation. The verbs are different, and the second infinitive picks up the indicative ἔδειξεν that Gregory has just used–“from saying…he showed…and from showing…he signified…”
  4. Notice how Gregory uses sound in the final clause: ὅλῳὅλως…ὁ λόγος (i.e., holō…holō…holo) and θεῷ…συνθεωρεῖται (theō…suntheōreitai). These verbal echoes reinforce the absolute equality between the Son and the Father. It is also worth remarking that it was sometimes claimed in the fourth century that the Greek word for God (θεός) was etymologically connected to the verb “to see” or “to contemplate” (θεωρεῖν).


1 I have added ὅτι from the text as found in Fridericus Mueller, Gregorii Nysseni opera, vol. 3.1 [Leiden: Brill, 1958].


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