Creation, Cosmogony, and Cappadocian Cosmology

  • Carl Séan O’Brien
Part of the Pathways for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue book series (PEID)


Even today, creation is a topic where the forces of science and religion appear to be destined to come into conflict. The situation was no different during the age of the Cappadocian Fathers. The great “scientific account” of world generation in antiquity was Plato’s Timaeus, an account firmly rooted in the latest philosophical, scientific, mathematical, and astronomical thought of the day, whose impact could be felt on Aristotelian and Stoic conceptions concerning world generation. The Cappadocians certainly do not provide the most systematic attempt to use Platonism, or Greek philosophy in general, to expound biblical thought: that feat had already been accomplished by the Jewish exegete, Philo of Alexandria, as well as the Christian Origen (although Origen’s Peri Archon is not specifically devoted to explaining the Mosaic account and is much more wide-ranging).2 What the Cappadocians do offer is an example of the use of a philosophical framework to interpret the biblical narrative in a way that is not directed at the intellectual elite but aimed at a more general audience. This corresponds to the general picture of the average Cappadocian in antiquity, who was regarded as more deadly than a snake and “as little likely to speak intelligently as a tortoise might be to fly,”3 although to some extent this perception was due to the limited Hellenization of the region.4 This has also affected how the Cappadocian attempts to engage with Greek philosophy have been perceived, leading to them often facing the accusation that their learning was superficial and essentially derivative, although one must remember that during their own lifetimes, the Cappadocians themselves faced the possibility of being charged with intellectual elitism.


Religious Instruction Greek Philosophy General Audience Classical Culture Intellectual Elitism 
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  1. 2.
    For the Neoplatonic influence on the Cappadocians, see John Rist, “Basil’s Neoplatonism: Its Background and Nature,” in Basil of Caesarea: Christian Humanist, Ascetic, ed. P. J. Fedwick (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Biblical Studies, 1981), 137–220; andGoogle Scholar
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    St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 43.67 (Patrologia Graeca, ed. Jacques Paul Migne [Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1857–66; hereafter PG] 36, 585), trans. J. Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 7.Google Scholar
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    For a more detailed discussion of the questions posed by Gregory, see C. Köckert, Christliche Kosmologie und Kaiserzeitliche Philosophie: Die Auslegung des Schöpfungsberichtes bei Origenes, Basilius und Gregor von Nyssa vor dem Hintergrund kaiserzeitlicher Timaeus-Interpretationen (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 401.Google Scholar
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© Carl Séan O’Brien 2016

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