Gregory of Nyssa fails to adapt to then contemporary attitudes on slavery

Look at who is linking to you, and you can find some interesting things!  One was this post, and of course I shall have to read this blog some more!

Another of these is an extract from Gregory of Nyssa’s Homilies on Ecclesiastes here (over-paragraphing by me).  This is from Homily 4, on Ecclesiastes 2:7.

‘I got me slave-girls and slaves.’ For what price, tell me? What did you find in existence worth as much as this human nature? What price did you put on rationality? How many obols did you reckon the equivalent of the likeness of God? How many staters did you get for selling that being shaped by God?

God said, Let us make man in our own image and likeness. If he is in the likeness of God, and rules the whole earth, and has been granted authority over everything on earth from God, who is his buyer, tell me? Who is his seller?

To God alone belongs this power; or, rather, not even to God himself. For his gracious gifts, it says, are irrevocable. God would not therefore reduce the human race to slavery, since he himself, when we had been enslaved to sin, spontaneously recalled us to freedom.

But if God does not enslave what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God’s?

This from St. Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on Ecclesiastes; Hall and Moriarty, trs., de Gruyter (New York, 1993) p. 74.

It is a pity that only the page reference to the translation is quoted, not the text reference with homily, chapter, etc.  But it is in fact I find from Homily 4, in the Greek p.335,4 – 338,22.[1]

What a world away this is, from the attitudes expressed in Martial, a man whose idea of a pleasant afternoon is to summon one of his slaves, and the girl-slave that the lad loves, and rape both of them.

  1. [1]As given in the Hall translation pp.73-4.  The edition translated is In Ecclesiasten homiliae. Edidit Paulus Alexander in Gregorii Nysseni opera. Auxilio aliorum virorum doctorum edenda curavit Wernerus Jaeger. Volumen V (Leiden 1986), pp. 195-442.

9 thoughts on “Gregory of Nyssa fails to adapt to then contemporary attitudes on slavery

  1. How refreshing and great the three Capadocians, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus, were.

  2. This reminds me of a passage in Chrysostom where he orders husbands not to hit their wives. I regret that I forget the reference.

  3. Thank you James for the reference!

    Dioscorus, Gregory in particular strikes us as very modern in outlook. He is perhaps most famous for complaining about the endless pseudo-theological chatter in Constantinople; that he couldn’t even go and get a haircut without being lectured on the homoousion!

    Tom, if you come across the passage and reference it would be interesting to see.

  4. The passage from Chrysostom is from his 26th homily on First Corinthians section 8. It concerns 1 Corinthians 11:16. I only quote a portion of the passage:

    And to you husbands also this I say: make it a rule that there can be no such offense as to bring you under the necessity of striking a wife. And why say I a wife? Since not even upon his handmaiden could a free man endure to inflict blows and lay violent hands. But if the shame be great for a man to beat a maidservant, much more to stretch forth the right hand against her that is free. And this one might see even from heathen legislatures who no longer compel her that has been so treated to live with him that beat her, as being unworthy of her fellowship.

  5. In defense of Martial, I like to quote Epigram 5.34 – about a very young slave girl.

    To your shades Fronto, and Flacilla, this child
    I commend: she was my sweet and my delight.
    Little Erotion shall not fear the darkened shades
    nor the vast mouths of the Tartarean hound.
    She’d have completed her sixth chill winter,
    if she’d not lived a mere six days too few.
    Now let her frisk and play among old friends
    now let her chatter, and so lisp my name.
    And let the soft turf cover her brittle bones:
    earth, lie lightly on her: she lay lightly on you.

  6. Well, I read Martial too, and he was a great poet. But he knew himself that he had to peddle porn merely to get sales — he says so, at least twice.

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