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Gregory Nazianzus’ Poemata Arcana: A Poetic, Musical Catechism?

Norris, Frederick W.

One of the more unexpected titles and styles employed to state the Christian faith appears in Gregory Nazianzus' Poemata Arcana. The title coined by the editor Billius sets apart these eight poems as a unit within the Poemata Dogmatica. The Greek term 'aporreta' probably meant to designate the character of these eight poems; it may appear at first glance to be more ambiguous than we might prefer, but for Billius it signifies that the central truths of the Christian faith cannot be captured fully in speech, not even in poetry. In Gregory’s words the journey is on a "flimsy raft" or "frail wings." Whenever the truth is framed in human thoughts and words, it suffers constriction and incompleteness. Using the discipline of poetry for discovering words and phrases that might hint at shapes Christian faith can assume is surely a type of enlightenment. Yet even the best poets show that their fullest achievements do not explain the perfect nature of God. It cannot be known on earth at any particular time simply because of any specific persons’ lack of ability. The exact center is always "ineffable" to everyone.


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Union Seminary Quarterly Review

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Union Theological Seminary
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September 15, 2015