Basil of Caesarea I: On Not Knowing God's Essence (But Still Knowing God)

Andrew Radde‐Gallwitz

in Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780199574117
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722110 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Early Christian Studies

Basil of Caesarea I: On Not Knowing God's Essence (But Still Knowing God)

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Chapter 5 is the first of two chapters on Basil of Caesarea. It has two principal sections. First, it outlines Basil's views about religious language generally. For Basil, theological terms applied both to created reality and to God mean the same thing in the two cases, although they need to be purified in order to apply appropriately to God. Hence, when God is called ‘Father’ or ‘powerful’, it is not that the terms mean differently than they ordinarily do in their common usage, but that the theologian must strip from them all connotations of materiality, temporality, limitation, and so forth. This enables Basil to reject Eunomius' claim that all theological terms are equivalent to ‘ingenerate’. A second section examines five distinctions Basil draws within theological epistemology. Basil uses these to classify language, to help define the doctrine of the Trinity, and to parse out in precise ways what humans can and cannot know about God. It is argued that, for Basil, there is growth in theological knowledge associated with practices of asceticism. Basil refuses reducing the richness of Christian vocabulary to a single term, ‘ingenerate’.

Keywords: Basil of Caesarea; distinctions; common usage; essence; asceticism; Trinity

Chapter.  12049 words. 

Subjects: Early Christianity ; Christian Theology

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