Last evening Dr. Michael Papazian, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Berry College, Georgia, led a large St. Nersess Seminary audience through the intriguing world of the mysterious figure known as David the Invincible philosopher.
To hear Dr. Papazian's complete lecture, scroll down and follow the link under "St. Nersess Global Classroom" below.
"Dr. Papazian is very much at home in classical philosophy as well as classical Armenian and the literary works we so cherish," said Abraham Terian, Academic Dean and Professor of Armenian Patristics, as he introduced Professor Papazian.
Gratitude to Dr. Terian
Taking the podium, the young scholar confessed that in his early studies of philosophy, he had no real knowledge of the world of Armenian philosophy. It was not until he studied stoicism that he stumbled upon the works Philo. Several of the works of this first-century Jewish philosopher have only survived in Armenian translations. A number of these writings have been edited and translated into Armenian by our own Professor Terian.
"I owe it to Dr. Terian's work," Papazian said, "that I was introduced to Armenian philosophy."
Dr. Papazian began with a general introduction to philosophy. "Even philosophers don't agree on what philosophy is," he said. "Philosophy literally means the love of wisdom, oreemasdaseerootyoon," Papazian declared. "But what does that mean?"
To complicate matters, the word philosophy has meant different things in different eras. At one time, the fields of study that today we label "the sciences" were considered philosophical pursuits.
"Today, we consider philosophy to be an academic discipline, in which one can earn a degree in most colleges," Papazian said. "But once upon a time, philosophy was considered a way of life. It was considered the key to living a happy, flourishing life. It was more closely related to what we call "religion" today," he said.
With remarkable clarity, Dr. Papazian described the philosophical school of Alexandria, where David the Invincible was a professor.
A Faculty of Neo-Platonists
"This school was founded on the school that the famous Plato founded in Athens in the 4th century BC. Some 700 years after Plato, there was a revival of Plato's philosophical teachings in the great cosmopolitan city of Alexandria in Egypt." David the Invincible was one of the latter-day students of Plato, called neo-Platonists, who were writing and teaching at the Alexandrian academy.
When this academy was established it was a solidly pagan school. In time the influence of Christianity became more and more pronounced at the academy. Eventually, by the 6th century, there can be little doubt that David and his neo-Platonic colleagues were forced to reckon with the principles and doctrines of the Bible because their student body was mixed: some were pagan, while others were Christian.
It is in this mixed environment that David composed a number of philosophical works, primarily commentaries on the works of the classical philosophers. These writings were written in Greek but translated into a scholarly style of Armenian known as the "hellenizing" orhoonaban style. "These Armenian texts are nearly impossible to read unless you know Greek," Dr. Papazian said.
Was David Armenian?
Was David an Armenian? Papazian stated that there is much scholarly debate on this point. While it is more likely that he was a Greek, the professor insisted that David must be considered "an Armenian by adoption," since his works influenced a millennium of Armenian philosophical thought.
Yet contrary to other scholars, Papazian believes that there is reason to believe that David could have been a Christian. He said, "There is a specifically Christian approach to philosophy which undergirds one of David's treatises known as Prolegomena Philosophiae(Definitions and Divisions of Philosophy)," a sort of introduction to the field. "This may be what made his work so attractive to the Armenians," he speculated.
Dr. Papazian devoted the rest of his lecture to a close reading of selected texts of David. Looking at two themes, suicide and salvation, Papazian compared David's approach with those of several well-known pagan philosophers of the same school. Then he compared David's writings with early Christian philosopher-theologians like Clement of Alexandria and St. Gregory "the Theologian" of Nazianzus.
Papazian showed how David's treatment of these themes is very similar to that of the Christian theologians, while it departs noticeably from standard pagan positions. "There is something different about David that distinguishes him from his neo-Platonic colleagues," he declared.
"David was a Christian," the professor said in closing, "who sought to appeal to pagans and Christians in the tense and changing environment of 6th-century Alexandria."
TO HEAR DR. PAPAZIAN'S LECTURE CLICK HERE [85 min, 39MB].
Burning Dicussion Around a Burning Fire
Dr. Papazian attracted a large audience of clergy, seminarians and laypeople. Present was Abp. Yeghishe Gizirian, formerly Primate of the Armenian Church in England, who traveled to the Seminary from his home in Philadelphia. Other clergy present were Fr. Arnak Kasparian and Fr. Karekin Kasparian, as well as Fr. Daniel Findikyan and Fr. Sahak Kaishian of St. Nersess.
Following his prepared lecture, the evening's speaker was inundated with questions, leading to a vibrant discussion. Warmed by a burning fire in the fireplace, the guests enjoyed a pleasant reception in the seminary refectory.
Dr. Guroian to Speak on December 4
The next and final lecture in the series will take place in Monday, December 4, 2006 at 7:30PM. Dr. Vigen Guroian, Professor of Ethics and Theology at Loyola College, Baltimore, MD, will continue our recent ruminations in a lecture entitled, "David the Invincible Philosopher and Armenian Christology."
The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will follow. For driving directions and other information, contact the Seminary at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone: (914) 636-2003.