The Song of Songs: the Joy of Texts

XIII International Colloquium on Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Song of Songs
Rome, 17-20 September 2014, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross

2Z7A0689 blog

Dr Morwenna Ludlow

The exciting thing about Gregory of Nyssa colloquia is that they gather together some of the best international scholars working on early Christianity – not just the ones working on Gregory! The first colloquium in 1969 was co-organised by Jean Daniélou and Marguerite Harl – two of the scholars most responsible for the post-war surge of interest in the church fathers. This year we had delegates from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Japan, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. Yet the meetings are small enough to encourage genuine conversation and the atmosphere is friendly: it’s possible for a student to find herself in line for coffee or to be seated at lunch next to one of the grand old men of European patristics and to be quizzed on her current research!

Video-clip (n.b. it’s not all in Italian) and images (just to prove I didn’t spend all my time eating ice-cream).

Highlights of this meeting were:

  • a roof-top opening reception with the sun setting over St. Peter’s basilica;
  • Sarah Coakley and Volker Drecoll politely but firmly disagreeing about whether there is substantial Trinitarian theology in Gregory of Nyssa’s Homilies on the Song of Songs;
  • illuminating papers on Gregory’s anthropology, from Lenka Karfíková’s study of the “mirror” motif in Gregory and Plotinus, to J. Warren Smith on human changefulness;
  • debates about the relation of divine and human agency in Gregory’s concept of salvation – provoked especially by Johannes Zachhuber and Lewis Ayres;
  • Matthieu Cassin reminding us that there is still more work to be done in tracking the footprints of Gregory in the manuscripts of Byzantium and Medieval Western Europe;
  • Scot Douglass’ “workshoppy” workshop (rebelling against conference “workshops” which just become lectures) which randomly assigned seats to delegates at lunch and set us some provocative questions; it stimulated some very lively conversations on “what next in Nyssen studies?” and revealed some fascinatingly different cultural expectations about what you can politely ask your companions over lunch;
  • some fantastic papers by junior scholars;
  • meeting my new PhD student, Giovanni (Ciao!);
  • persuading at least some of the audience of my plenary paper that Gregory read the Song of Songs as if it were Greek love lyric;
  • surviving the experience of chairing a session in German, despite the distracting presence of a German TV documentary maker!

Find out more:
Further information and a copy of the programme can be accessed from the conference web-site. A draft of my paper can be found on my page. For more info about Gregory of Nyssa studies, see Matthieu Cassin’s web-pages .
The next conference will be in Paris in (I think) 2018. A bientôt!

Mystery of the conference:
papers by Ayres, Coakley, Ludlow, Smith and Zachhuber were filmed… Perhaps we will be heading a new advertising campaign for a not-very-glamorous brand of reading spectacles.