Cappadocian Theology Midterm

Originally posted 11/2/2009.

Here is what I wrote on the Cappadocian criteria for spiritual leadership for my 10/26/2009 Cappadocian Theology Midterm. Happily, I got a B (84). The commentary of Dr. Demacopoulos: “Everything you provide is accurate and important but your argument is not necessarily well organized and you simply leave out other important details and texts.” His evaluation is accurate and was what I anticipated. Here’s what I wrote (no edits):

1. For the Cappadocian Fathers, the ideal spiritual leader is a learned aristocrat with plenty of ascetic experience.

2. St. Gregory of Nyssa points to St. Moses as an exemplary spiritual leader. St. Moses saw God and was a great father to his people because of his ascetic labors, especially fasting in the desert during the Exodus. From these labors he was able to be an excellent instructor in virtue.

3. St. Basil the Great likewise puts great emphasis on the detachment of the spiritual leader from the corruptible things of the world. He says this is necessary in order to avoid the snares of Satan. To this end he quotes a great deal of Sacred Scripture.

4. For St. Gregory the Theologian, the bishops cannot be people who have not matured and graduated from their previous worldly life. In “On Himself and the Bishops,” he illustrates the ineptness of such persons by saying that they still have dirt on their hands from their previous careers. Instead, the bishops have to be learned members of the aristocracy. The aristocrats, St. Gregory observes, are the only class who had the good fortune and money to be well educated (like he and St. Basil in Athens) and ample leisure time to engage in ascetic meditation on God. That gives them what Elm calls “the diagnostic gaze.” To support his groundbreaking view of priestly and episcopal qualifications, the Theologian pointed to the history of the Church. His own father, St. Gregory Nazianzen the Elder, was tricked into signing an ambiguous Homoian creed. The time of leaders with a simple faith was over because of the wiliness of the heretics. Now the spiritual leader had to have enough learning and experience of self-denial to be able to discern truth from falsehood. The shepherd is not supposed to be inferior to the sheep he looks after.

5. While the Cappadocian Fathers agreed that a spiritual leader should have the qualifications of learning, aristocratic background, and ascetic experience in order to stay clear of heresy and cultivate virtue in his followers, they did not have an identical view of leadership in all respects. St. Gregory of Nyssa himself was given to a deeply contemplative life, as we can see from his profound thought process regarding pre- and post-lapsarian gender in “On the Making of Man.” So, too, was St. Gregory the Theologian greatly supportive of a very contemplative life. He describes his extensive meditation on the family ranch. His version of asceticism as a spiritual leader was, to put it crudely, sitting on a couch and searching for the things of God. St. Basil the Great, on the other hand, tended more toward the active life of laboring by basket-weaving and being charitable and philanthropic to the poor. Though their approaches to asceticism differed, the Cappadocian Fathers agreed that self-denial, humility (kicking and screaming in resistance to elevation to higher ecclesiastical dignity), and great learning were necessary for a spiritual leader to be able to bear the glory of God. No spiritual leader would be proud, because his self-assuredness would lead him to heresy and other vices.

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