An Introduction to Cosmic Man (part 1)
Fr. Dr. K.M. George
We met for Gregorian study on August 20 at 4 pm at Devalokam, Kottayam. We were about 15 participants. Fr. K.M. George introduced the background and major themes in Cosmic Man, a book by Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios.
Paulos Mar Gregorios deals with the problem of human existence in this book in the light of the thought of St Gregory of Nyssa who, like the other two Cappadocians, was open to the learning of the Greeks. There have always been Christians who believe that all non-Christian ways of thinking and philosophies are to be avoided altogether. Gregory of Nyssa did not subscribe to this extreme view. He was always open to “the outside philosophy” or the pre-Christian and non-Christian philosophical systems of the Greeks and was willing to make a critical appropriation of them. His thought was based on the scriptures, but it was not confined to the scriptures. He used non-Christian philosophies to support and reinforce Christian thought. Paulos Mar Gregorios also had a similar interdisciplinary approach. Although his thought was rooted in biblical and patristic tradition he was well-versed in the philosophy of modern physical as well as social sciences. He was very well-versed in the philosophical systems of the east and west, and was at home with Hindu and Buddhist heritages.
Paulos Mar Gregorios studied and rolled on St Gregory at a time when existentialist philosophy was dominant. He joined the global discussion of the problem of human existence in his doctoral study of the thought of Gregory of Nyssa, which was eventually published as the Cosmic Man. He argued that the humanity is placed in between its two poles– God and world, and ignoring either one is suicidal. Some of the spiritual-religious thought-streams in his day ignored the world, and the major secular thought-streams ignored God. Paulos Gregorios argued that neither should be ignored for a healthy human existence. Hence the subtitle of his book: God-World-Man relationship.
Gregory of Nyssa’s thought and approach became clear when he argued against Eunomius, who followed an Arian way of thinking. Eunomius interpreted the Bible in a rather literal way. He believed that language was of divine origin, and so words like father and son had their meanings inherently attached to them, and name of God revealed God’s essential nature. Gregory argued that words were of human origin, and the meanings of words varied and always depended on their context. When used about God, the same words acquire totally different meanings.
Although Gregory respected the Greek view of the cosmos, he was critical of Greek cosmology from a Christian point of view. There was the Greek notion of sympnoia, literally, breathing together. The Greeks believed that the entire cosmos was a living being whose various organs breathed together. It may be seen as a symphony with perfect harmony. Although it appears to be a very fascinating idea, Gregory argued that it did not take into account human freedom. There was an element of fatalism in the Greek understanding of the cosmic co-breathing. Any misuse of human freedom may cause discord in the harmony of the cosmos. So any cosmology from a Christian point of view has to reckon with human freedom and responsibility.
The idea of the human being as microcosm was also very popular in Greek philosophy. Since the human body contains all the elements of the macro-cosmos the human person was called micro-cosmos. St Gregory and other Cappadocians would respect this understanding of man as micro-cosmos, but with some critical qualification. The human mind and soul have no parallels in the mega universe. For St Gregory and others, the dignity of the human being originates in the fact that he is created in God’s image and likeness. The cosmos, however immense, is created by God. To say that the human being is in the image of the created cosmos is not an honour for him. So Gregory would reinterpret the Greek idea of human being as micro-cosmos in a radically new way, and would assert the infinite potential of the human person as created in God’s own image and likeness.