12 June 2009

My Daughter Recommends a Patristics Dictionary


So I took my wife to Half Price Books the other day, since she hadn’t been yet, and of course I bought a book. As I was browsing the biblical studies section, my 5-year-old daughter, who was next to me, in theology, said, ‘Here daddy, why don’t you get this book? It has a pretty cover!’ Instinctively, I said, ‘Oh, I don’t think so, honey…’, but then I saw what it was. It was The SCM Press A-Z of Patristic Theology, 2nd ed., by Fr John Anthony McGuckin (London: SCM, 2005), and it was only $5.98. Granted, the entire thing was printed at an angle, including the cover, and the ‘concluding Bibliographic Guide Essay and General Bibliography’ mentioned on the back seem to be missing (perhaps this is why the price is so low), but all of the entries appear to be there with no missing text, so it still strikes me as pretty useful!

As a sample, I shall give the article on ‘Macrina’ in honour of Sr Macrina, the retired blogger at A vow of conversation, whom we should all remember in prayer (McGuckin, pp. 211-2; the bold-faced words in the main text—not the bibliography—are those that have articles in the dictionary):

Macrina (c. 327-380) Macrina was an ascetic of Cappadocia. She was the elder sister of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, and granddaughter of Macrina who had been the disciple of Gregory Thaumaturgos, the great Origenist theologian whose authority was almost ‘patronal’ in Cappadocia. Betrothed, and soon ‘widowed’ while only twelve years of age, she appealed to church laws that equated betrothal with a wedding to block her father’s plans to have her married again, and instead lived as an ascetic at home, teaching her brother Gregory of Nyssa while Basil was away studying rhetoric. On her father’s death Macrina transformed their country estate in Pontus (Annessoi) into a familial monastery. There Basil was won over to asceticism (it has often subsequently been attributed as his idea), and it was the site of Gregory of Nazianzus’s and Basil’s construction of the rule of monasticism (the 'Asceticon' attributed to Basil), which had great subsequent influence in the Eastern churches. Macrina established a community, where it is possible she followed Eustathius of Sebaste’s radical ideas about monastic life, such as invoking social equality among monastics. The men of the family do not appear to have agreed with this leveling of social ranks. Macrina may also have retained an attachment to Eustathius, who was condemned by the family because he resisted the Nicene confession of the homoousion and the deity of the Holy Spirit of God. As a result, Basil condemned his sister to a literary annihilation, although Gregory of Nyssa wrote a moving 'Life of Macrina' as a testament to her ascetical philosophy. In Letter 19 he speaks of her, and in his treatise 'On the Soul and the Resurrection' he presents her, like the dying Socrates, musing on the immortality of the soul from her deathbed.

V.W. Callahan, Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Macrina (FOTC 58; Washington, D.C., 1967), 161-191; idem, On the Soul and the Resurrection (FOTC 58; Washington, D.C.), 195-272; S. Elm, Virgins of God: The Making of Asceticism in Late Antiquity (Oxford, 1994); J. Laporte, The Role of Women in Early Christianity (New York, 1982), 80-88, 103-5; P. Wilson-Kastner, ‘Macrina: Virgin and Teacher,’ Auss 17 (1979): 105-17.

6 comments:

solzemli said...

Interesting stuff.

In this particular case what does "Basil condemned his sister to a literary annihilation" mean?

aaronandbrighid said...

Excellent question! I wondered the same thing and I don't really have a good answer. It seems to me that, since he doesn't offer any evidence that St Macrina wrote anything at all, he must surely be suggesting that St Basil deliberately neglected to mention her in his writings (unlike St Gregory of Nyssa, who was more sympathetic). But it's an ambiguous and unnecessarily strong way to word such a notion, if that is indeed what he's trying to say. He almost seems to be catering to the feminist crowd, if you ask me (and I suppose you did!).

Maria said...

Interesting post.
I find it really sweet how you gave the article on St.Macrina in honour of Sister Macrina. She will be greatly missed. Hopefully she will come online again.

aaronandbrighid said...

Yes, I hope that she does manage to start 'A vow of conversation', or maybe a new blog, again someday. I didn't even get to see her finish reading the infallible Adalbert de Vogüé. It's just not fair! But I suppose she has much more important things to attend to...

+Bishop SAVAS of Troas said...

I agree, "condemned her to a literary annihilation" is an unfortunate, even inappropriate, way to account for the simple fact that St Basil didn't mention his sister in his writings.

I've long wondered, though, about the great Saint's relationships with those closest to him. The famous rift between him and his "twin-soul," St Gregory the Theologian, is difficult to ignore, and his younger brother, St Gregory of Nyssa, seems to be having a dig at him in this famous passage from "The Life of St Macrina": "Macrina's brother, the great Basil, returned after his long period of education, already a practised rhetorician. He was puffed up beyond measure with the pride of oratory and looked down on the local dignitaries, excelling in his own estimation all the men of leading and position. Nevertheless Macrina took him in hand, and with such speed did she draw him also toward the mark of philosophy that he forsook the glories of this world and despised fame gained by speaking, and deserted it for this busy life where one toils with one's hands." (That's from an on-line translation: http://www.ccel.org/p/pearse/morefathers/gregory_macrina_1_life.htm)

aaronandbrighid said...

Sorry, Your Grace, I can't resist: maybe you should bring this up with Fr McGuckin next time you get together for a pint! ;-)