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Physis : World Creation  

Gregory of Nyssa : THE MAKING OF MAN

To Those Who Say that Souls Existed Before Bodies, or that Bodies Were Formed Before Souls; Wherein There is Also a Refutation of the Fables Concerning Transmigration of Souls

Patrologia Graeca 44.229-233  * Greek Fonts


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Since then the doctrine involved in both these theories is open to criticism-the doctrine alike of those who ascribe to souls a fabulous pre-existence in a special state, and of those who think they were created at a later time than the bodies, it is perhaps necessary to leave none of the statements contained in the doctrines without examination: yet to engage and wrestle with the doctrines on each side completely, and to reveal all the absurdities involved in the theories, would need a large expenditure both of argument and of time; we shall, however, briefly survey as best we can each of the views mentioned, and then resume our subject.

Those who stand by the former doctrine, and assert that the state of souls is prior to their life in the flesh, do not seem to me to be clear from the fabulous doctrines of the heathen which they hold on the subject of successive incorporation: for if one should search carefully, he will find that their doctrine is of necessity brought down to this. They tell us that one of their sages said that he, being one and the same person, was born a man, and afterwards assumed the form of a woman, and flew about with the birds, and grew as a bush, and obtained the life of an aquatic creature;-and he who said these things of himself did not, so far as I can judge, go far from the truth: for such doctrines as this of saying that one soul passed through so many changes are really fitting for the chatter of frogs or jackdaws, or the stupidity of fishes, or the insensibility of trees.


Ἐπεὶ οὖν ἐν ἀμφοτέραις ταῖς ὑπολήψεσιν ὁ λόγος ὑπαίτιος͵ τῶν τε προβιοτεύειν τὰς ψυχὰς ἐν ἰδίᾳ τινὶ καταστάσει μυθολογούντων καὶ τῶν ὑστέρας τῶν σωμάτων κατασκευάζεσθαι νομιζόντων, ἀναγκαῖον ἂν εἴη μηδὲν τῶν λεγομένων ἐν τοῖς δόγμασι περιιδεῖν ἀνεξέταστον. Ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν δι' ἀκριβείας τοὺς ἑκατέρωθεν γυμνάζειν λόγους καὶ πάσας ἐκκαλύπτειν τὰς ἐγκειμένας ἀτοπίας ταῖς ὑπολήψεσι͵ μακροῦ ἂν δέοιτο καὶ χρόνου καὶ λόγου· δι' ὀλίγων δὲ καθώς ἐστι δυνατόν͵ ἑκάτερον τῶν εἰρημένων ἐπισκεψάμενοι͵ [232] πάλιν τῶν προκειμένων ἀντιληψόμεθα.

Οἱ τῷ προτέρῳ παριστάμενοι λόγῳ καὶ πρεσβυτέραν τῆς ἐν σαρκὶ ζωῆς τὴν πολιτείαν τῶν ψυχῶν δογματίζοντες͵ οὔ μοι δοκοῦσι τῶν Ἑλληνικῶν καθαρεύειν δηγμάτων͵ τῶν περὶ τῆς μετενσωματώσεως αὐτοῖς μεμυθολογημένων. Εἰ γάρ τις ἀκριβῶς ἐξετάσειε͵ πρὸς τοῦτο κατὰ πᾶσαν ἀνάγκην τὸν λόγον αὐτοῖς εὑρήσει κατασυρόμενον͵ ὅν φασί τινα τῶν παρ' ἐκείνοις σοφῶν εἰρηκέναι͵ ὅτι ἀνὴρ γέγονεν ὁ αὐτὸς καὶ γυναικὸς σῶμα μετημφιάσατο καὶ μετ' ὀρνέων ἀνέπτη καὶ θάμνος ἔφυ καὶ τὸν ἔνυδρον ἔλαχε βίον. Οὐ πόῤῥω τῆς ἀληθείας κατά γε τὴν ἐμὴν κρίσιν φερόμενος͵ ὁ περὶ αὑτοῦ ταῦτα λέγων. Ὄντως γὰρ βατράχων τινῶν ἢ κολοιῶν φλυαρίας ἢ ἀλογίας ἰχθύων ἢ δρυῶν ἀναισθησίας ἄξια τὰ τοιαῦτα δόγματα͵ τὸ μίαν ψυχὴν λέγειν διὰ τοσούτων ἐλθεῖν.

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Cf. St Basil the Great, On the Creation of the World (Hexaemeron)

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