Ted's Reviews > Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Song of Songs

Gregory of Nyssa by Richard A. Norris Jr.
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St Gregory's commentary on the Song of Songs is important because it shows how Patristic writers tried to makes sense of the Old Testament and use it as Christian documents. The monastically oriented Patristic writers were confounded by this erotic poem in Scripture. They were arguing that the Old Testament was authored in some fashion by God, yet here was this tantalizing love song and how do you rescue it for Christian use? They allegorized it into a description of the soul's journey to God. We learn how these writers made sense of a writing that was awkward for people touting virginity and celibacy. The book's footnotes are valuable as they show how different Patristic writers allegorized the Song of Songs - they don't agree on the details and sometimes come to contradictory conclusions about specific passages. Yet, they hold to the principle that the text means something, it is a text whose author is God, and they spiritualize it to conform to Christian monastic ideals. Gregory admits that he has a framework or perspective for interpretation and he is trying to show that the Song can fit his interpretation (which is what all the Patristic writers did with the text). He was willing to use alternate translations when it fit his needs, and even willing to admit that sometimes the text is so obscure that one has to alter the text a bit to fit the interpretation. It gives good insight into how the Patristic writers viewed the Scriptures and understood their role as interpreters. The Song forced them to move beyond literalism and fundamentalism and to think mystically, spiritually and allegorically. One can see the problems with allegory as well as it does allow you to make the Scriptures very malleable and to be shaped to fit one's interpretation - the fact that Patristic writers disagree on the details of interpretation does show how allegorizing quickly becomes eisegesis (reading a meaning into a text) rather than exegesis (drawing the meaning out of the text). Gregory also is well aware that the text is erotic and chastises his listeners to grow up and get their minds out of the gutter when reading these texts - they can't mean sexually erotic things as that is beneath God's dignity. Sometimes he sounds like a middle school sex ed instructor navigating through tittering teenagers. There are some profound thoughts in Gregory's interpretation as well, but overall it is about his trying to force this text to fit his interpretation. It is his treatment of the Scriptures and a possible way of interpretataion that makes his text important.
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Reading Progress

December 9, 2020 – Started Reading
December 9, 2020 – Shelved
December 25, 2020 – Finished Reading

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