Nemesius of Emesa

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Bishop of Emesa (now Homs), early Christian psychologist; fl. c. 390400. Apart from his treatise On the Nature of Man, nothing is known of his life, but there is no reason for identifying him with Nemesius, pagan governor of Cappadocia (c. 383 to 389), the friend and correspondent of St. gregory of nazianzus. Several Greek manuscripts of his work and excerpts quoted by maximus the confessor call him a bishop. Nemesius, a man of considerable culture, was acquainted with philosophical and medical literature, and was critical and independent in his judgment of doctrines. Although Origen, Basil the Great, and especially Gregory of Nyssa had written of man and the soul, Nemesius composed the first summa of Christian psychology in the East. The work is a compilation, with extensive borrowings from Galen and the philosophers; but the material is assessed from a Christian viewpoint before being admitted into a remarkable synthesis that is neither Platonic nor Aristotelian, but Christian in character.

The opening chapter criticizes the concepts of man advanced by Plotinus and Apollinaris, Aristotle, and Plato, and then emphasizes the place of man in the plan of creation. Since man bridges the spiritual and the material worlds, he occupies a privileged place and has a corresponding obligation to live up to the dignity God has given him. This requires a correct concept of what the soul is (ch. 2). Here neither Plato nor Aristotle provides an adequate doctrine: one making the soul too independent of the body, the other reducing the soul to little more than a quality of the body. Nemesius concludes that the soul is an incorporeal entity, subsistent in itself, immortal, and yet designed for union with the body, and discovers in Ammonius Saccas and Porphyry the best explanation of that union (ch. 3): the soul is not changed in the union nor does it become corruptible with or through the body, and yet it makes one being with the body. A certain parallel for such a unique union Nemesius finds in the union of the Divine Word and the human nature in the Incarnation. He has no clear statement on the origin of the soul, and seems to believe in a species of pre-existence totally devoid of Platonic myth or of the errors of origen.

After a detailed study of the powers of the soul, based on Galen's divisions of the brain, and on anthropological doctrines of the Stoics, Aristotle, and others (chapters through which the scholastics became acquainted with much ancient tradition), Nemesius lays the foundation for a Christian philosophy of free will and human acts. Although he depends on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics for many details, such as the classification of human acts (ch. 29), the power of choice (ch. 33), Nemesius establishes, as a specifically Christian approach, the fact that free will is a concomitant of reason: "If the creature is endowed with reason, it is master of what it does, or else the power to deliberate and choose is pointless; and if it is master of its actions, it must by all means possess free will" (ch. 41). Changeableness, also, is a mark of the creature, even in its rational nature. The psychology of the human act propounded by Nemesius was perfected by Maximus the Confessor (580662); as passed on by the Syrian Mose bar Kepha, anastasius sinaita, and john damascene, it became an important part of scholastic doctrine [cf. Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 21 (1954) 51100; and O. Lottin, Psychologie et morale aux XII e et XIII e siècles, v.1 (Gembloux 1957) 393424].

The treatise came to be ascribed to St. Gregory of Nyssa (who had written a work "On the Making of Man"), and was known under his name to the Western scholastics in the Latin translations of alphanus of salerno (d. 1085) and Burgundio of Pisa (c. 1160), although some sentences were also known to the scholastics under the name of Remigius.

Bibliography: É. h. gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York 1955). j. quasten, ed. Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, Md. 1950) 3:351355. w. telfer, Cyril of Jerusalem and Nemesius of Emesa (Philadelphia 1955). É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 11.1:6267. e. skaro, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft 7 (1940) 562566. i. brady, "Remigius Nemesius," Franciscan Studies 8 (1948) 275284.

[i. brady]