Gregory of Datev

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GREGORY OF DATEV (13461410), or, in Armenian, Grigor Tatevatsi, was a Christian theologian, philosopher, and saint of the Armenian church. Gregory of Datev was born in Tʿmkaberd, a city in the province of Vayots Dsor, in northeastern Armenia. At the age of fifteen, he entered the Monastery of Aprakunikʿ to study under the famous philosopher and theologian Hovhannes of Orotʿn (13151388), with whom he remained for twenty-eight years. With his teacher, Gregory traveled in 1373 to Jerusalem, where he was ordained a celibate priest. He received the degree of doctor of the church in Erzinka (present-day Erzincan, eastern Turkey) and in 1387 was elevated to the rank of supreme doctor of the church at the Monastery of Aprakunikʿ. At the death of Hovhannes and upon his express wish, Gregory became the dean of the theological school, which in 1390 moved to the Monastery of Datev.

In addition to classical Greek philosophy, biblical exegesis, and both Greek and Latin patristic thought, Gregory's students were also introduced to music, calligraphy, and the art of painting illuminated manuscripts. An erudite thinker, Gregory knew Greek, Latin, and Arabic. He died at the Monastery of Datev at the age of sixty-four and was buried there, where his tomb lies to this day. Venerated by following generations as "Second Illuminator," "eternally shining sun," "heavenly champion," and "great teacher," Gregory of Datev dominated the thought and orientation of the Armenian church in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as monk, author, educator, theologian, philosopher, scientist, orator, apologist, painter, calligrapher, and polyglot.

Well versed in the scholastic manner of demonstration, Gregory used syllogistic argumentation throughout his works with the intention of eventually manifesting the orthodoxy of the Armenian church against the unitive attempts of Rome. His most important theological tracts are Girkʿ Hartsmants (Book of questions; 1397) and Oskepʿorik (Book of golden content; 1407). In these Gregory addresses himself to such topics as the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and Christ's birth, baptism, death, and resurrection. In Oskep ʿorik, Gregory taught that rational examination can prove the existence of God without recourse to faith, because the existence of creatures implies the reality of the creator. In this work he also formulated a profession of the Orthodox faith based on the creeds of the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople and included the teachings of the Armenian church and its early fathers, especially Gregory the Illuminator (c. 239c. 326). In continuous use, this credo is recited also during ordination ceremonies by the ordinand.

Criticizing Plato, Gregory taught in his About the Structure of Man that the spirit does not exist prior to the corporeal (body or matter) nor apart from it but issues concurrently and works through the mechanisms that the corporeal provides. There are different types of spiritthe vegetative, the animal, and the rational. Through the initiative of God, the corporeal, whether body or matter, contains "formative power" or spirit, which is immortal, and which has heat, motion, and action. According to Gregory, faith and science do not exclude each other but belong properly to two different realms. Science is bereft of the means to consider the supernatural realm and by faith alone one cannot understand nature. Knowledge of the natural world is acquired through reason, training, and experience (by way of the five senses). The rational spirit of humankind is like a clean parchment and receives whatever is impressed on it, whereas through God's grace one can understand theological truths.

An industrious writer, Gregory produced twenty-eight volumes on biblical, liturgical, pastoral, theological, and philosophical topics. Most of his works have not had a comprehensive critical evaluation. Such a task would enhance the proper understanding of the beliefs of the Armenian church through the writings of one of its most loyal sons.


Works by Gregory

Girkʿ Hartsmants. Constantinople, 1729. Written in 1397, this work, composed of ten volumes of an encyclopedic nature, provides a comprehensive account of the beliefs of the Armenian church. An excellent apologist, Gregory analyzes such varied theological topics as creation, incarnation, resurrection, and eschatology.

Karozgirkʿ. Constantinople, 1741. This book of homilies was completed in 1407. Both volumes together contain 344 sermons written partly in defense of the Armenian church against the unitive attempts of the Roman church. As originally intended, it is also an excellent textbook on homiletics.

Works about Gregory

Khachikian, Levon S. XV Dari Hayeren Tseragreri Hishadakaranner, part A, 14011450. Yerevan, 19551967. This book includes a reprint of the concise but authoritative account of the life of Gregory written probably by his pupil Matheos Joughayatsi (b. 1360). Included are facts of his early background, education, influences, death, and burial.

Krikorian, Mesrob K. "Grigory of Tatʿev: A Great Scholastic Theologian and Philosopher." In Hygazian Hyagitagan Hantes, vol. 9, edited by Yervant Kasouni, pp. 7179. Beirut, 1981. A short but informative article portraying Gregory as scholastic theologian and nominalist philosopher.

Ormanian, Malʾachia. Azgapatowm (19121927). 3 vols. Reprint, Beirut, 19591961. This history of the Armenian nation is an extremely comprehensive study of the events and people who shaped the orientation and theology of the Armenian church as well as the politics of the Armenian nation. Of particular relevance to the study of Gregory are paragraphs 1367, 1379, and 13971404.

Avak Asadourian (1987)

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Gregory of Datev

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