104 - Let's Talk Turkey: the Cappadocians

Posted on 25 November 2012

Basil of Caesarea, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus use philosophy to help the poor and to defeat their theological opponents.

Further Reading

• L. Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy: an Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: 2004).

• B.A. Daley, Gregory of Nazianzus (London: 2006).

• M. Delcogliano, Basil of Caesarea’s Anti-Eunomian Theory of Names (Leiden: Brill, 2010).

• J. McGuckin, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus. An Intellectual Biography (Crestwood NY: 2001).

• A. Meredith, The Cappadocians (Crestwood NY: 1996).

• A. Meredith, Gregory of Nyssa (London: 1999).

• M. Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture (New Haven: 1995).

• R.P. Vaggione, Eunomius of Cyzicus and the Nicene Revolution (Oxford: 2000).

• J. Zachhuber, Human Nature in Gregory of Nyssa (Leiden: 2000).


Rhys W. Roark 25 November 2012

Dear Peter,

Really enjoyed your episode on the Cappadocians, esp. given my own interest in the Eastern Church Fathers, esp. as the Cappadocians could (should) be considered the “Augustines” of the east as foundational theological figures--even though I’m perfectly willing to consider Augustine the “Cappadocian” of the west, given my own intellectual partiality and preference to the Eastern Patristic tradition.

As to the latter, I took notable interest in the final section of the podcast that discussed both the Cappadocian theory of language and where that shades off into negative theology.

Beyond M. Delcogliano’s Basil of Caesarea’s Anti-Eunomian Theory of Names as the obvious text to consult here (and the Jaroslav Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture—which I happen to own and have read), what additional texts from the further reading, if any, do you recommend for this interrelated subject? Or even texts not listed?

Looking very much forward to next week’s episode on what has to be—given your hint—on the Pseudo-Dionysius, who is certainly up there with Plotinus as the negative theologian par excellence.

Thanks again,

Rhys W. Roark (1st name "rise")

Dear Rhys,

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed this episode, I certainly enjoyed learning about them to write it. I did get a lot out of Delcogliano's book which you may have noticed was a source for a bit towards the end of the episode. For a basic overview of the Cappadocians and several other Church Fathers the series done by Routledge, "The Early Church Fathers," is great. They have substantial introductions and translations of shorter texts. And are paperback so pretty affordable too. 

I have in fact been very struck by parallels between Augustine and the Cappadocians, which is in a way not surprising of course. One example is the issue about "deferring baptism" which affected both Augustine and Gregory of Nazianzus. (I'm just re-reading the Confessions now since I am working on the Augustine scripts.)

As to the subject of next week's episode, I couldn't possibly ruin the suspense by confirming that you are right on the money.



Enjoyed the "Cappadocians" very much.
Your mention of "begetting" "begotten" and "conception" have me pondering on this 'trinity'!

Thank you for these talks.

Declan Foley

Natalia Doran 15 May 2013

Dear Peter,

Thank you very much, as ever, for your teaching.

I wonder whether the Cappadocians’ philosophical contribution does not also lie in the fact that they have, in the course of Trinitarian debates, solved Aristotle's ontological paradox. (If I may formulate the latter as follows: the primary substances seem to be where the ontological centre of gravity ought to lie, because they are the sensory givens, but they are highly unstable; so the secondary substances become better candidates for ontological primacy; but they do not in fact exist except as instantiated by sensory particulars, which brings us back full circle).

The Cappadocians, in the course of the Trinitarian debates, were very much on the side of the primary substances. Most importantly, they took the term hypostasis, an ontological term par excellence, and applied it to the individual. The Trinitarian solution that was finally agreed on, of one ousia and three hypostases, is based on that. It works beyond theology, in anthropology, as well.

Best wishes,

Dear Natalia,

Thanks, that's very interesting. I guess that the paradox you are mentioning is a paradox only for people who are sufficiently Platonist to be troubled by the instability of sensible particulars. Maybe Aristotle himself was enough of a Platonist in this respect actually, since he ultimately points us to particulars that are not sensible or material, i.e. god and the other celestial movers. But certainly you're right that there is a key development in late antiquity, where we start to see a fusion between the Platonist idea of a transcendent cause and Aristotelian criteria for "primariness" in ontology. I agree with you that this would be a good way to think about the Cappadocians, but also it is a useful observation for something like the Intellect in Plotinus and then later for conceptions of God in people like, say, Aquinas.



David Hughes 11 November 2020

Hi, I'm rather late to this party but if we are willing to concede number theory as a philosophical enterprise then Simone Weil and her brother Andre.

Add new comment