The essays reprinted in Keith Corrigan’s collection, Reason, Faith and Otherness in Neoplatonic and Early Christian Thought , are dense and learned explorations of, among other things, the Christian uses of varieties of Greek philosophy. In several essays Corrigan returns to the body-soul problem, aiming to show that “common modern views about the mind/soul-body relation in antiquity, generally, and in so-called Platonic texts, in particular, are often more reflections of contemporary antipathy for post-Cartesian dualisms . . . than of the rich abundance of different theories in some of the major ancient and medieval thinkers themselves.” He offers a an alternative view of the body-soul relation in ancient writers, and concentrates especially on “an overlooked, but genuinely innovative thinker such as Gregory of Nyssa, for whom mind/soul and body are radically equal and yet multilayered in their mutual development” (ix).

Extending the point in an essay on personal and human identity in Plotinus and Gregory, he argues that both understood Plato better than most moderns and that Gregory in particular brings Platonic and Neoplatonic notions to their fruition in his distinctively biblical discussion of identity. Several points of the discussion are noteworthy.

First, both Plontinus and Gregory insist that identity is secured only by a relation with a transcendent something. For the former, “any authentic identity comes from above and is even preserved, according to one remarkable simile, in the still power of the One itself, in whose immense source all the rivers, as it were, before they flow their various ways ‘remain for a while together, though each of them knows, in a way, the direction in which it is going to let its stream flow.’” Gregory makes a similar point but specifically emphasizes “the deepening likeness of the soul to the Triune God,” in which the soul “is transformed into her own uniqueness as a creature of God” (ch. VII, 58).

This is essential because, second, for Gregory especially, being fully human means being stretched beyond human limits: “the unique transforming self-reflexive activity of the divine in u is the ground of who we uniquely are, that is, as soul-body unities. And one of the most distinctive characteristics of authentic human identity is to be found in this essential participation: the capacity of the human being, not just to be an agent, sociable, self-organizing, etc., but to be more than oneself , that is, to be capable of going beyond one’s own preferences so radically that nothing in the universe is merely an object, but everything is created.” This is how Corrigan understands Gregory’s claim that “such is the participation of the divine Good that it makes him in which it comes to be larger and more capable of receiving; out of his capacity and magnitude it gets an addition for the recipient so that he who is nourished increases and never stops increasing” (VII, 59). Both “emphasize this peculiarly human form of personal transcendence, and the image they adapt . . . is the image of ‘working on one’s own statue’” (VII, 65).

Gregory emphasizes the resurrection of the body as a key to the persistence of personal identity, but even this is a completion, Corrigan thinks, of what Platonism reached for: “even for Plotinus the particular structure of the body for perception is actually established by the logoi of the soul, but Gregory goes far beyond this to insist on even the minutest identities of physical structures on the surely necessary basis that body in this sense if essentially akin to soul . . . . What Gregory indicates . . . is how the doctrine of the resurrection completes what remains undeveloped in Platonism: namely, the property identity and sacred return of the body itself” (VII, 67). Similarly in an essay on ousia and hypostasis in the Cappadocians, Corrigan concludes that Gregory completes the work of his brother Basil “by creatively adopting major themes in Porphyry and Plotinus and thus by showing implicitly that the logical conclusion of Platonism and Neoplatonism is not the three ‘hypostases’ of Plotinus or the One beyond the One of Iamblichus, but ousia and hypostasis understood in the Christian Trinitarian context” (VIII, 116).

Thus Christianity proves itself fulfillment to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart