Nana Mrevlishvili                                                                                                                                                                    # 13

 Dialogue between Cultures: Some Aspects of Antique and Christian Worldviews

            At the first stage of Christianity, when Christianity differed by its radicalism, which was conditioned by the factor of self-consolidation, attitude towards pagan culture was very negative. This meant not only negative position towards any concrete aspect of cultural heredity, but, and essentially, resistance against rule of thinking. But such a situation was kept in I-II centuries. Later transformation of ancient cultural (theological-philosophical) heredity and its adaptation with Christian theological thinking takes place and the wisdom which wouldn’t be dangerous for Christians’ souls and wouldn’t put them out of the way of truth began to act at the service of Christianity. That’s why Christianity considers education in the synthesis with faith. “The necessity of usage of some methods of pagan literature was first noted by blissful Augustus.... After that direct citation of ancient literature, elements of rhetoric art more often appear in the works of Christian writers, but the final and real confluence of Christian and pagan cultures took place in IV century in the works of Cappadocian Fathers, where pagan classical rhetorical pearls and Christian ideology-content were harmonically merged for the first time” (Machavariani 2003: 92).

            Proceeding from abovementioned, the question of education is intersected by two aspects. First which was characteristic for early period thinking means presenting of superiority and necessity of Christian philosophy and theology by means of negation of ancient teaching as absolutely useless knowledge, and the second aspect which, as we have noted, is characteristic for the thinking of later period, and is attempt of combining-synthesis of pagan and Christian wisdom. This idea is given in the translation of Ioane Petritsi of Proklos Diadochos “Fundamentals of theology” and is one of the margin notes of the XVI century manuscript, whose author could have been a copyist of the text:     “Thrice-cursed Ariosos perished because of this book, but great wise men like Dionisious, Gregorius, Basilius and others thrice won the name of theologians because of same book. And you direct your purified mind towards God and don’t cross the borders defined by holy fathers” (Melikishvili 1999: XXXI).

            So, grains of truth – choose of wisdom and rejection of thinking based on pagan religion, i.e. religious aspect – are taken from pagan cultural heredity. The “wisdom of this world” (as acceptable and useful form of thinking) and “outer wisdom” (as decaying of soul and baneful teaching) are differentiated on such conceptual grounds (Comp. The life of Grigol Khandzteli).

            Besides esthetic-world outlook grounds, this attitude towards pagan philosophy has got other explanation as well. According to Saint Fathers, Christians at the very beginning of originating of Christianity intellectually and emotionally are like infants, whom you have to feed with such food, which they can assimilate (“Simple words bring simple benefit to readers. These words are like milk, as they help acquire wisdom in the simple way” – Manuscript A 61: 1.I) That means that not only pagan literature can be of some danger to their souls but even Christian one should be delivered in simple form and small extent, because even in such case, Christians’ diligence and longing are necessary for comprehending truth (“We must study Holy Writ told in simple form with diligence to comprehend the beauty of power which is found in its depth” – Manuscript A 61: 1.I) Such attitude is common towards Christians of early period. Requirement of strengthening of faith by means of knowledge and science appears at the same time. According to teaching of exegetes, proceeding from individual striving, longing for searching truth will make person able to perceive the depths and comprehend the wisdom by the aspect which is not achievable for others.

            Thus according to Christian doctrine it is possible to accept simply the word simply said and approach truth in this way, but for walking on this road one should have desire for perfection of faith, which can be achieved by deepening of knowledge and trying to investigate. Such idea is adhered in Climent Alexandrien’s V book of Stomata – simple (yule), general (koine) faith which is the grounds of Christian life, though “it is enough for saving, but by Climent’s teaching, it lacks perfection. Climent often mentions the necessity of transferring of faith into perfect faith, i.e. into “knowledge” (Chelidze 1994, 2:22).

            Antique experience meant finding of truth by means of logical corroboration and, correspondingly, Greek philosophers critically concerned Christian philosophical thinking, which in the context of knowledge singled out primacy of faith. Christians needed fundamental education in such opposition. Hence, one of the factors, which conditioned change of attitude of Christian culture towards pagan one, was necessity of thorough knowledge of pagan theological-philosophical teachings, and usage of this knowledge against Hellenistic world view as some kind of tool.

            Question of opposition and mutual reconciliation of faith and knowledge had been the subject of discussion for centuries even for Christian thinkers. The cases of radical opposition of opinions were the grounds of division, schism. Formation Arioz’s heresy was an examle of it. Other extreme emerges against such thinking, according to which confession excludes knowledge, science, but this opinion didn’t find any support in Christian thinkers, because without knowledge, believer can fall into “excessive sin”, that is why education is the way to truth. Moreover the question of realized responsibility of man is rising in parallels with acquiring knowledge in Christian Doctrine. As the education is not the process of self end in itself, but means of perfection of faith, by accepted point of view, believers “who sin realizing that will suffer more” – Manuscript A 61: 42. I).

            Alongside with abovementioned point of view there was another one, according to which skill of mutual reconciliation of faith and knowledge was fate of only single, profound personalities, and only these men, so called “Pneumatics” would reach the highest step of faith, would accustom to that “Supreme Knowledge”, which as it was instilled essentially in them. Sectarian Gnostics were developing such point of view, especially Valentines: “Valentines assign faith to us, simples, and wish the knowledge for themselves, and they say that this knowledge is as far from faith, as intellectual from spiritual (pneumatics)” (Chelidze 1994, 2: 15-16).

            Gregorius Nyssenus referred several times to interrelations of pagan and Christians, which was a very actual problem for that time. He couldn’t avoid speaking on this subject in the hagiographic monument written about the life of Gregorios Neocesarean, as the abovementioned Saint lived and worked in the period when Christianity had to assert itself against pagan. Gregorius Nyssenus considers attitude of pagans (outers) and Christians to common values of all mankind. According to his estimation pagans unlike Christians cannot distinguish and estimate real, true values. They live futile, transient, decaying of soul life. Correspondingly, their aspirations differ too. For Christians the main is salvation, getting into Heaven, Christian “respects only one native land – paradise, the city of heaven, built by living stones, created and born by God” (Mrevlishvili  2001 : 81). Pagans are estranged from god and enjoy only the joy of this world: “Estimation of good isn’t the same in those, who finds salvation in the flesh and in those, who are raised above mundane affairs, because formers respect wealth, fame, world dominance... ” (Giorgi Mtatsmindeli - Manuscript A55: 59v; Ephrem Mtsire – Manuscript S 384: 338 v)

            Thus, according to Gregorius Nyssenus’s point of view, Christian wisdom is spiritual wisdom, combination of virtue and kindness, synthesis of knowledge and science. “If one looks at the heaven and sees its beauty, comprehend all objects and matters of the world, will learn about our native land, and not so much about native land, as about place of our exile” (Mrevlishvili 2001: 35). Pagan thinking resembles blindness, but before you estimate something you should comprehend its essence first. Knowledge of pagan philosophy is necessary for Christians, but not to make it rule of their existence. Gregorios Neocesarean thoroughly studied pagan philosophy (“This great man studied wisdom of outers with diligence” (th exw filosofia), but he didn’t follow it” (Mrevlishvili 2001: 86). Thus, comprehension and rejection of pagan teaching for Christians is the initial stage on the way to truth: “He studied all the great teachings of pagans and found out weakness and inconstancy of their faiths and became the pupil of New Testament” (Mrevlishvili 2001: 86).

            In Gregorius Nyssenus’s point of view, which is reflection of epochal tendency of Christian thinking, truth is told simply and doesn’t need rhetoric pearls, unlike pagan wisdom: Christianity “unlike pagan wisdom isn’t based on rhetorical art, but preaches in simple words for man to be possible to comprehend its knowledge” (Mrevlishvili 2001: 86).

            It is impossible, in author’s opinion, to attain such truth, which exceeds the possibilities of man’s mind, by verbosity and eloquence. That is why pagan rhetoric as the method of perceiving truth is futile and unjustified. Perceiving of truth is necessary by means of faith and not rhetoric: “They, pagans, serve that what they can perceive. And as man’s mind can’t perceive supreme nature, faith perceives it” (Mrevlishvili 2001: 86).

            Thus, the model of early Christian education is such: Comprehension of Christian wisdom by means of thoroughly studying of pagan philosophy and then its rejection (in religious aspect) “He studied all the great teachings of pagans and found out weakness and inconstancy of their faiths and became the pupil of New Testament” (Mrevlishvili 2001: 85), which is the synthesis of knowledge and faith. This model is accepted and shared by Georgian religious figures. Both Georgian editions of Gregorios Neocesarean’s life – by Ephrem Mtsire and Grigol Mtatsmindeli – tell these extracts from text, in which Gregorius Nyssenus discusses stated questions, exactly keeping and taking into account nuances of conceptual and world-outlook meanings. We could have thought that both translators (especially Ephrem Mtsire), proceeding from principles of translation wouldn’t have made adaptation of text even in the case of positional opposition, but the fact that such attitude of Christianity towards pagan has been already accepted and shared is confirmed by cases found in original Georgian hagiography (The life of Grigol Khandzteli).


  1.  Machavariani 2003: M. Machavariani, Attitude towards classical and Byzantine rhetoric art and education in David Tbeli’s translations, Tbilisi, 2003

  2. Melikishvili 1999: D. Melikishvili, Ioane Petritsi, Explanation of Proklos Diadochos’s “Fundamentals of theology”, edition of Tbilisi State University, Tbilisi, 1999

  3. Mrevlishvili 2001: N. Mrevlishvili, Gregorius Nyssenus’s “Georgian editions of life of Grigol Sakvirveltmokmedi” (Tbilisi: “Kartvelologi”), Tbilisi,  2001

  4. Chelidze 1994: E. Chelidze, Climent Alexandrien (“Gza Sameupho” (God’s way) N2, Tbilisi: Tbilisi Theological Academy: 15-52), Tbilisi, 1994

  5. Manuscript A.61: "გრიგოლ აკრაკანტელისა და ულÂმპიოდორე ალექსანდრიელი დიაკონის მიერ აღწერილი თარგმანებაÁ ეკლესიასტისაÁ" (Interpretation of Ecclesiastes by Gregorius Akrakantien and Ulympiodore Alexandrien)

  6. Manuscript A.55: "წმიდისა მამისა ჩუენისა გრიგოლი ნოსელ მთავარეპისკოპოსისაÁ შესხმაÁ აღწერილი ცხორებისათÁ და სასწაულთა ღირსისა მამისა ჩუენისა გრიგოლი საკÂრველთმოქმედისა, ნეოკესარიელ მთავარ ეპისკოპოსისათა" (Eulogy of Gregorios Neocesarean written by Gregorius Nyssenus)

  7. Manuscript 5. 384: "თუესა ნოემბერსა იზ ცხორებაÁ და მოქალაქეობაÁ წმიდისა და ყოვლად ქებულისა გრიგოლი საკÂრველთმოქმედისაÁ, აღწერილი წმიდისა და ნეტარისა მამისა ჩუენისა გრიგოლი ნოსელისაÁ"  (Life of of Gregorios Neocesarean written by Gregorius Nyssenus)




Volume 3, Issue 2


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature