Very briefly, let us consider the root ideas of these Cappadocian teachers. They proclaim the unknowableness of God against Eunomius and his adherents who, teaching that He is absolutely simple and that, being such, is perfectly comprehensible to the human mind, were robbing the divine nature of its mysteriousness, but theirs is not Deus philosophorum: in this they are but accentuating the difference between the infinite and the finite.1 Behind all their teaching is the conception of an ethical God, who Himself stoops down to bring man to Himself. “The economy ‘through the Son’ ” says Basil, is to be regarded as “the voluntary solicitude in goodness and pity, working effectually for His own creation according to the will of the Father.”;2 in another place he says that He who had gone through all things pertaining to the healing of the human race __ secc0uring His own creation first through the Patriarchs, then through the Law, then through the Prophets, who foretold the salvation to come, and through judges, kings, and righteous men __ “bestowed upon us the boon of His own sojourning among us.”3 Or, as Gregory of Nyssa has it, God is Power, Goodness, Wisdom and Righteousness, who “by personal intervention works out the salvation of men.”4
1. Thus Basil in his letter to Amphilochius: The mind which is impregnated with the Godhead of the Spirit is at once capable of viewing great objects; it beholds the divine beauty, though only so far as grace imparts and its nature receives . . . The judgment of our mind is given us for the understanding of truth. Now our God is the very truth. So the primary function of our mind is to know one God __ but to know Him as the infinitely great can be known by the very small” (Ep. ccxxxiii. 1, 2. trans. here, as in other quotations from the Cappadocians, from the Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers). Similarly, Gregory Naz., after quoting Plato’s saying that to know God is difficult and to define Him in words an impossibility (Tim. 28c__Greg. thus expressing the idea which seems to be in the mind of Clement when he uses the saying: see above, p. 3n. 1), goes on to say that even those who are highly exalted, and love God, cannot comprehend “the whole of so great a Subject” __“seeing that the darkness of this world and thick covering of the flesh is an obstacle to full understanding of the truth” [Orat. xxviii (Theol. Orat. ii), 4]. But while declaring that man cannot know, from His works, what God is but only that He is (cf. Greg Naz. ibid. 5, 6), the Cappadocians would never say that God and man are essentially “other”__as their teaching on man clearly indicates, they would directly oppose the idea.
2. De Spiritu Sancto, 18
3. Ep. cclxi 1