Divine, yet vulnerable: Gregory Nazianzen's human eikon

Thomas, G.R. (2017) Divine, yet vulnerable: Gregory Nazianzen's human eikon. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis examines Gregory Nazianzen’s approach to the human eikon, vis à vis the imago Dei. In the following pages I challenge the popular view amongst scholars that Gregory presents the human eikon solely as the soul or the spiritual intellect. Rather, I argue that Gregory’s vision of the human eikon extends much further than this, embracing the full complexity and mystery of human existence.

First, I argue that the eikon relates not only to the soul but also to the whole, dynamic human. I demonstrate this by considering Gregory’s treatment of a) the human eikon as a literal, physical eikon of God, b) Christ the identical Eikon, and c) his theological anthropology where the ‘divine’ eikon transforms the dust. These three strands together reveal that Gregory’s approach to the human eikon encompasses the whole human person, as a dynamic unity of body and soul. Gregory’s presentation of the human eikon narrates the struggles of being human, which as a matter of priority attempts to describe human experience rather than focusing upon the question, “what is the human eikon?” Drawing on biblical narratives, Gregory posits the human eikon in a cosmological battle with the forces of evil, which is only won through participation in Christ and the protection offered by the Holy Spirit. A comprehensive analysis of Gregory’s approach to the human eikon must incorporate her battle with the spiritual forces of evil.

Second, throughout the project, I argue that Gregory’s approach is theological, since he interprets the human eikon primarily in light of the identical Eikon, Christ. Regarding his theological anthropology, Gregory is often read in light of philosophical sources such as Plato and the Stoics, with little reference to biblical and extra-biblical writings. Redressing the balance, I highlight how Gregory draws from biblical and extra-biblical traditions in order to weave together the threads which run through his overall vision of being human.

Finally, I analyse Gregory’s intentions when he refers to the eikon as ‘divine.’ I argue that if we consider together a) Gregory’s theological anthropology in which God creates the human person specifically to be vulnerable (or porous) to the spiritual realm, b) Gregory’s high pneumatology, c) his ideas about baptism and d) the interaction between the human eikon and the devil, then we must take seriously Gregory’s ideas about a ‘divine’ eikon. Regarding how we may understand this ‘divinity,’ I contend that it encompasses the ontological, functional and relational aspects of the human eikon where she both participates in and functions like the identical Eikon, Christ.

In light of the argument which evolves throughout the thesis, I suggest that Gregory’s presentation of the human eikon is summarised best as ‘divine, yet vulnerable.’ I intend this expression to reflect Gregory’s multifaceted and open approach, which relates to human experience. It incorporates both the positive and negative vulnerability of the human eikon, since she is vulnerable to God, having been created with the purpose of becoming ‘divine,’ but at the same time vulnerable to ‘the world, the flesh and the devil.’

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Cunningham, M.
Milbank, A.
Oliver, S.
Keywords: Gregory Nazianzen, Imago Dei, Theosis, Theological Anthropology, Cappadocian
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BT Doctrinal theology
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Humanities
Item ID: 41833
Depositing User: Thomas, Gabrielle
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 07 May 2020 13:48
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/41833

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