Gregory of Nyssa on Language, Naming God's Creatures, and the Desire of the Discursive Animal
In <em>Genesis and Christian Theology</em> (2012), edited by Nathan McDonald, Mark Elliot and Grant Macaskill
Publisher Statement: In Genesis and Christian Theology. Edited by Nathan McDonald, Mark Elliot and Grant Macaskill https://www.eerdmans.com/Products/6725/genesis-and-christian-theology.aspx
The controversy between Gregory of Nyssa and Eunomius of Cyzicus over the origin and nature of human language might profitably be mapped across the tension between the two creation narratives in the opening chapters of Genesis. Eunomius, emphasizing the hexaemeron, finds the world a place of order divinely structured; Gregory reveling in Paradise, theologizes in a more mytho-poetic mode. Eunomius places great weight on the text’s assertion that God verbally calls the light “day” and the dark “night”—a clear indicator for him of the divine origin of language.1 In contrast, Gregory calls upon the moment in the Paradise narrative where God summons all the animals to Adam to see what he would call them. For Gregory, although the faculty to speak and understand is a gift of God, language itself is a creative human enterprise. Eunomius understands Adam to learn grammar and syntax directly from God,2 but Gregory understands Adam’s act of naming to be genuinely inventive—a creative interaction between the human and the animal that results in the production of meaning before God’s attentive ear.