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Nemesius of Emesa (fl. c. 390)

(fl. c. 390)

Nemesius of Emesa was the author of a treatise, De Natura Hominis (On the nature of man), which is the earliest extant handbook of theological or philosophical "anthropology." All that is known of his life is that he was probably bishop of Emesa in Syria.

As a Christian, Nemesius viewed the Bible as his primary authority, but he derived the content of his work chiefly from Galen's On the Use of the Parts of the Body, which is superior to Nemesius's treatise both in thoroughness and originality; from Origen's Commentary on Genesis ; and from some commentators on Aristotle, a few works by the Neoplatonist Porphyry, and doxographical materials. His subjects and sources can be outlined as follows: Ch. 1, man in the creation (Galen, Origen); Chs. 23, the soul and the body (doxographical, Porphyry, Galen); Chs. 45, the body and the elements (Galen); Chs. 614, the faculties of the soul, including human development, the senses, thought and memory, reason and speech (Galen, Porphyry); Chs. 1528, the parts of the soul, the passions, and such matters as the nutritive and generative faculties and respiration (mostly Galen); Chs. 2941, freedom, possibility, and fate (commentaries on Aristotle, Neoplatonists); Chs. 4244, providence (in part ultimately from Posidonius, in part from Christian theologians).

In the last part of his book (Chs. 35ff.), Nemesius turns from minimizing the function of free will in human affairs (deliberation concerns only indifferent possibilities) to an elaborate attack upon the Stoic doctrine of fate and teaching about destiny. Utilizing Aristotle's distinction between voluntary and involuntary acts, he insists that men actually have free will, that its extent can be discovered (interrelated with the action of providence), and that it was given to mutable men so that they might become immutable. The work ends abruptly and seems to lack a conclusion.

Nemesius argued that the soul is an incorporeal being and is therefore immortal (in his opinion the latter point is also proved by the Bible). The problem of how it is united with the body is solved (Chs. 2021) by following the Neoplatonist Ammonius. "Intelligibles" are capable of union with things adapted to receive them, but in such a union they remain confused and imperishable. The soul is "in a body" not locally but "in habitual relation of presence." From this analysis Nemesius turns in Ch. 22 to discuss the union of the divine Word with his manhoodas William Telfer points out, thus reversing the usual patristic argument. Nemesius claims that the union in Christ is therefore not by "divine favor" but is "grounded in nature."

See also Aristotle; Galen; Neoplatonism; Origen; Philosophical Anthropology; Porphyry.


The Greek text, with Latin translation, of De Natura Hominis is in Patrologia Graeca, edited by J. P. Migne (Paris, 18571866), Vol. XL, Cols. 508818. There is an English translation by William Telfer in Cyril of Jerusalem and Nemesius of Emesa, Vol. IV of the Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955).

For works on Nemesius, see Werner Jaeger, Nemesios von Emesa (Berlin: Weidmann, 1914); H. A. Koch, Quellenuntersuchungen zu Nemesius von Emesa (Berlin, 1921); Johannes Quasten, Patrology (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1960), Vol. III, pp. 351355, which includes a full bibliography. See also the articles by E. Skard, "Nemesiosstudien," in Symbolae Osloenses 1516 (1936): 2343; 17 (1937): 925; 18 (1938): 3141; 19 (1939): 4656; 22 (1942): 4048; and Skard's article "Nemesios," in Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Supp., VII (Stuttgart, 1940): Cols. 562566.

Robert M. Grant (1967)

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