The PostBarthian
11Sep/130

Saint Gregory of Nyssa

St._Gregory_of_Nyssa

Icon of Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory of Nyssa (329-389 A.D.)  is called The Star of Nyssa because of his immense genius. It's a marvel of history that the three Cappadocian Father's appeared at once. Gregory constantly praises his older brother Basil the Great, calling him "our Master", and without exception praises him constantly, and typically refers to Basil by honorific titles. Gregory of Nazianzus was "the other Gregory" and was influential leader of the church and master theologian as well. These three Church Fathers are principle theologians to this day in the Orthodox Church, but not only in Eastern Christianity but are venerated in all of the world. Not until Augustine, did a greater Church Father and Great Theologian than these three men appear.

774px-Council_of_Constantinople_381-stavropoleos_church

First Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.)

Gregory of Nyssa was the Bishop of Nyssa and influential in the early church, and participated in the First Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.) Gregory's works have been compiled in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 5 (NPNF2-5), Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises, Etc. (I'll refer to this complete volume henceforth as Dogmatic Treatises). In any great series, there is a low point, and unfortunately this volume has done a great injustice to the Star of Nyssa. The translation is over 120 years old, so it is difficult to read, and the text is lacking in section headings and organization, that makes the book very dry to follow. The volume begins with a helpful Prolegomena containing a Life and Writings of Gregory of Nyssa that I highly recommend, but it then it has the misfortune of jumping into the long books Against Eunomius, that are essentially Gregory's response to a resurgence of Arian ideas in a series of books by Eunomius. The original content by Eunomius is not provided, and reading any book that responds point-by-point to another book is taxing enough, so this major work of Gregory of Nyssa becomes a major impediment that compounds to the poor editing of this volume to anyone who would start reading Gregory of Nyssa. I admit that I gave up on reading the Dogmatic Treatises several times during this section do to its difficultly. The most interesting works are at the end of the volume, so I'd recommend reading the books within this volume from back-to-front, rather than from front-to-back.

Recommended Reading:

I recommend reading the Prolegomena (Chapters I-V) first, especially the Sketch of the Life of S. Gregory of Nyssa, and then jumping ahead to On The Soul And Resurrection was one of my favorite works within Dogmatic Treatises, and then On Virginity, On The Making Of Man and The Great Catechism are also highly recommended selections. After these recommended reading, then I'd suggest his smaller works, such as On The Holy Spirit, On The Holy Trinity, On "Not Three Gods", and On Infants' Early DeathIt may be more helpful to read Answer to Eunomius' Second Bookbefore reading the Against Eunomius books, because the arguments are restated concisely without the page-by-page review.

Macrina_the_Younger

St Macrina The Younger

St. Marcina The Younger:

Along with an arch-nemesis, there is also a significant close by: Jesus had his Mother Mary, Augustine had his mother Monica, and Gregory of Nyssa had his sister St. Marcina. Macrina became a nun after a tragedy, and is one of the under appreciated influences upon Church History. Should not Macrina be honored along side of the Cappadocian Fathers as our Cappadocian mother? Her influence upon her brother Gregory is most noticeable in my favorite work of Gregory of Nyssa's, On The Soul and Resurrection. Gregory visited Marcina on her death bed, where they discussed the Resurrection, and later Gregory wrote down that conversation in what because this masterpiece. It is said that much of Gregory's Origenism and Universalism may have been from Macrina's instruction. If you read only one work by Gregory of Nyssa this is it, and as you read him, remember Macrina. 

Origenism:

I find that the accusations of Gregory's Origenism is highly overstated. There are certainly selections where the doctrines of purgatory are united with the All-in-All Universalism concepts, and other sections where ideas from Plato's World of Ideas and Timaeus are utilized, but they are far from a dominating theme, and should be considered speculative appendices. I was inspired to read Gregory Nyssa because of the accusations of Origenism, however the references are few and far between. Read the section on Origenism in the Prolegomena for an excellent overview on this topic.

Eunomius:

Every great theologian needs his arch nemesis: Augustine had his Pelagius, Karl Barth his Schleiermacher, and to Gregory of Nyssa was Eunomius. Eunomius was a essentially a redux of Arius. The anti-Eunomius writings occupy the majority of Gregory of Nyssa's writings (in a similar way that Gnosticism consumed Irenaeus's ink). These books are dominated by an extended discussion of what it means for God to be Ungenerate vs Generate. I would summarize it as a debate about the "Eternal Generation of the Son." Eunomius and Gregory both apply Ungenerate to God the Father, and Generate to God the Son. Eunomius desires to prove Arian heresy by twisting this to mean that Jesus is a Demiurge, (ie a Created God). Gregory is able to prove that Generate does not mean that Jesus was Created, but rather that he has eternally proceeded from the Father, without beginning and always in complete generation. This discussion was life long for Gregory, and I see its culmination in Gregory's participation in teh Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (381 A.D.)

Quotations: 

On Abortion: Even potential life has value, however this quotation makes an interesting statement about embryos in the womb:

This, then, we say to those of them who subscribe to the reverential conception of the Holy Spirit that He is Divine, and of the Divine nature. But if there is any of them who rejects this statement, and this idea involved in the very name of Divinity, and says that which, to the destruction of the Spirit's greatness, is in circulation amongst the many, namely, that He belongs, not to making, but to made, beings, that it is right to regard Him not as of a Divine, but as of a created nature, we answer to a proposition such as this, that we do not understand how we can count those who make it amongst the number of Christians at all. For just as it would not be possible to style the unformed embryo a human being, but only a potential one, assuming that it is completed so as to come forth to human birth, while as long as it is in this unformed state, it is something other than a human being; so our reason cannot recognize as a Christian one who has failed to receive, with regard to the entire mystery, the genuine form of our religion [1248].

-- On the Holy Spirit, pg320

On Real Presence: The bread we eat becomes part of our physical bodies after digestion, so Gregory observes that when we look at the bread we are about to eat, we are looking what will be a human body, so he makes an argument of real presence that seems to say that all bread consumed in the Eucharist is transformed into human flesh similar to what was latered termed "transelemention" in Eastern Christianity and "transubstantiation" in Western Christianity.

The question was, how can that one Body of Christ vivify the whole of mankind, all, that is, in whomsoever there is Faith, and yet, though divided amongst all, be itself not diminished? Perhaps, then, we are now not far from the probable explanation. If the subsistence of every body depends on nourishment, and this is eating and drinking, and in the case of our eating there is bread and in the case of our drinking water sweetened with wine, and if, as was explained at the beginning, the Word of God, Who is both God and the Word, coalesced with man’s nature, and when He came in a body such as ours did not innovate on man’s physical constitution so as to make it other than it was, but secured continuance for His own body by the customary and proper means, and controlled its subsistence by meat and drink, the former of which was bread,—just, then, as in the case of ourselves, as has been repeatedly said already, if a person sees bread he also, in a kind of way, looks on a human body, for by the bread being within it the bread becomes it, so also, in that other case, the body into which God entered, by partaking of the nourishment of bread, was, in a certain measure, the same with it; that nourishment, as we have said, changing itself into the nature of the body. For that which is peculiar to all flesh is acknowledged also in the case of that flesh, namely, that that Body too was maintained by bread; which Body also by the indwelling of God the Word was transmuted to the dignity of Godhead. Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word. For that Body was once, by implication, bread, but has been consecrated by the inhabitation of the Word that tabernacled in the flesh. Therefore, from the same cause as that by which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a Divine potency, a similar result takes place now. For as in that case, too, the grace of the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread, and in a manner was itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the Apostle, “is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer”; not that it advances by the process of eating to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it is at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said, “This is My Body.” Seeing, too, that all flesh is nourished by what is moist (for without this combination our earthly part would not continue to live), just as we support by food which is firm and solid the solid part of our body, in like manner we supplement the moist part from the kindred element; and this, when within us, by its faculty of being transmitted, is changed to blood, and especially if through the wine it receives the faculty of being transmuted into heat. Since, then, that God-containing flesh partook for its substance and support of this particular nourishment also, and since the God who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, viz. that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be deified, for this end it is that, by dispensation of His grace, He disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh, whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man, too, may be a sharer in incorruption. He gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which He transelements the natural quality of these visible things to that immortal thing.

-- The Great Catechism, Chapter XXXVII

On The Superiority of Virginity: Gregory tells a story of tragedy that may become and will become us when we give up our Virgin state to become married, and the suffering story is to show that marriage does not always provide us a better life. This is the most moving section in all of the Dogmatic Treatises

I will but mention the portents, dreams, omens, and such-like things which by a foolish habit of thought are taken notice of, and always make men fear the worst. But her time of labour comes upon the young wife; and the occasion is regarded not as the bringing of a child into the world, but as the approach of death; in bearing it is expected that she will die; and, indeed, often this sad presentiment is true, and before they spread the birthday feast, before they taste any of their expected joys, they have to change their rejoicing into lamentation. Still in love’s fever, still at the height of their passionate affection, not yet having grasped life’s sweetest gifts, as in the vision of a dream, they are suddenly torn away from all they possessed. But what comes next? Domestics, like conquering foes, dismantle the bridal chamber; they deck it for the funeral, but it is death’s room now; they make the useless wailings and beatings of the hands. Then there is the memory of former days, curses on those who advised the marriage, recriminations against friends who did not stop it; blame thrown on parents whether they be alive or dead, bitter outbursts against human destiny, arraigning of the whole course of nature, complaints and accusations even against the Divine government; war within the man himself, and fighting with those who would admonish; no repugnance to the most shocking words and acts. In some this state of mind continues, and their reason is more completely swallowed up by grief; and their tragedy has a sadder ending, the victim not enduring to survive the calamity. But rather than this let us suppose a happier case. The danger of childbirth is past; a child is born to them, the very image of its parents’ beauty. Are the occasions for grief at all lessened thereby? Rather they are increased; for the parents retain all their former fears, and feel in addition those on behalf of the child, lest anything should happen to it in its bringing up; for instance a bad accident, or by some turn of misfortunes a sickness, a fever, any dangerous disease. Both parents share alike in these; but who could recount the special anxieties of the wife? We omit the most obvious, which all can understand, the weariness of pregnancy, the danger in childbirth, the cares of nursing, the tearing of her heart in two for her offspring, and, if she is the mother of many, the dividing of her soul into as many parts as she has children; the tenderness with which she herself feels all that is happening to them. That is well understood by every one. But the oracle of God tells us that she is not her own mistress, but finds her resources only in him whom wedlock has made her lord; and so, if she be for ever so short a time left alone, she feels as if she were separated from her head, and can ill bear it; she even takes this short absence of her husband to be the prelude to her widowhood; her fear makes her at once give up all hope; accordingly her eyes, filled with terrified suspense, are always fixed upon the door; her ears are always busied with what others are whispering; her heart, stung with her fears, is well-nigh bursting even before any bad news has arrived; a noise in the doorway, whether fancied or real, acts as a messenger of ill, and on a sudden shakes her very soul; most likely all outside is well, and there is no cause to fear at all; but her fainting spirit is quicker than any message, and turns her fancy from good tidings to despair. Thus even the most favoured live, and they are not altogether to be envied; their life is not to be compared to the freedom of virginity. Yet this hasty sketch has omitted many of the more distressing details. Often this young wife too, just wedded, still brilliant in bridal grace, still perhaps blushing when her bridegroom enters, and shyly stealing furtive glances at him, when passion is all the more intense because modesty prevents it being shown, suddenly has to take the name of a poor lonely widow and be called all that is pitiable. Death comes in an instant and changes that bright creature in her white and rich attire into a black-robed mourner. He takes off the bridal ornaments and clothes her with the colours of bereavement. There is darkness in the once cheerful room, and the waiting-women sing their long dirges. She hates her friends when they try to soften her grief; she will not take food, she wastes away, and in her soul’s deep dejection has a strong longing only for her death, a longing which often lasts till it comes. Even supposing that time puts an end to this sorrow, still another comes, whether she has children or not. If she has, they are fatherless, and, as objects of pity themselves, renew the memory of her loss. If she is childless, then the name of her lost husband is rooted up, and this grief is greater than the seeming consolation. I will say little of the other special sorrows of widowhood; for who could enumerate them all exactly? She finds her enemies in her relatives. Some actually take advantage of her affliction. Others exult over her loss, and see with malignant joy the home falling to pieces, the insolence of the servants, and the other distresses visible in such a case, of which there are plenty. In consequence of these, many women are compelled to risk once more the trial of the same things, not being able to endure this bitter derision. As if they could revenge insults by increasing their own sufferings! Others, remembering the past, will put up with anything rather than plunge a second time into the like troubles. If you wish to learn all the trials of this married life, listen to those women who actually know it. How they congratulate those who have chosen from the first the virgin life, and have not had to learn by experience about the better way, that virginity is fortified against all these ills, that it has no orphan state, no widowhood to mourn; it is always in the presence of the undying Bridegroom; it has the offspring of devotion always to rejoice in; it sees continually a home that is truly its own, furnished with every treasure because the Master always dwells there; in this case death does not bring separation, but union with Him Who is longed for; for when (a soul) departs1358, then it is with Christ, as the Apostle says. But it is time, now that we have examined on the one side the feelings of those whose lot is happy, to make a revelation of other lives, where poverty and adversity and all the other evils which men have to suffer are a fixed condition; deformities, I mean, and diseases, and all other lifelong afflictions. He whose life is contained in himself either escapes them altogether or can bear them easily, possessing a collected mind which is not distracted from itself; while he who shares himself with wife and child often has not a moment to bestow even upon regrets for his own condition, because anxiety for his dear ones fills his heart. But it is superfluous to dwell upon that which every one knows. If to what seems prosperity such pain and weariness is bound, what may we not expect of the opposite condition? Every description which attempts to represent it to our view will fall short of the reality. Yet perhaps we may in a very few words declare the depths of its misery. Those whose lot is contrary to that which passes as prosperous receive their sorrows as well from causes contrary to that. Prosperous lives are marred by the expectancy, or the presence, of death; but the misery of these is that death delays his coming. These lives then are widely divided by opposite feelings; although equally without hope, they converge to the same end. So many-sided, then, so strangely different are the ills with which marriage supplies the world. There is pain always, whether children are born, or can never be expected, whether they live, or die. One abounds in them but has not enough means for their support; another feels the want of an heir to the great fortune he has toiled for, and regards as a blessing the other’s misfortune; each of them, in fact, wishes for that very thing which he sees the other regretting. Again, one man loses by death a much-loved son; another has a reprobate son alive; both equally to be pitied, though the one mourns over the death, the other over the life, of his boy. Neither will I do more than mention how sadly and disastrously family jealousies and quarrels, arising from real or fancied causes, end. Who could go completely into all those details? If you would know what a network of these evils human life is, you need not go back again to those old stories which have furnished subjects to dramatic poets. They are regarded as myths on account of their shocking extravagance; there are in them murders and eating of children, husband-murders, murders of mothers and brothers, incestuous unions, and every sort of disturbance of nature; and yet the old chronicler begins the story which ends in such horrors with marriage. But turning from all that, gaze only upon the tragedies that are being enacted on this life’s stage; it is marriage that supplies mankind with actors there. Go to the law-courts and read through the laws there; then you will know the shameful secrets of marriage. Just as when you hear a physician explaining various diseases, you understand the misery of the human frame by learning the number and the kind of sufferings it is liable to, so when you peruse the laws and read there the strange variety of crimes in marriage to which their penalties are attached, you will have a pretty accurate idea of its properties; for the law does not provide remedies for evils which do not exist, any more than a physician has a treatment for diseases which are never known.

-- On Virginity, Chapter 3

On The Physical Resurrection Of The Body: The following passage is very famous and often quoted, but I did not know it was Gregory Nyssa. How is it that our bodies will be resurrected with the very same molecules in complicated situations, like when a man is eaten by a fish, and that fish is consumed by another man.

XXVI. That the resurrection is not beyond probability.

1. There are, however, some who, owing to the feebleness of human reasoning, judging the Divine power by the compass of our own, maintain that what is beyond our capacity is not possible even to God. They point to the disappearance of the dead of old time, and to the remains of those who have been reduced to ashes by fire; and further, besides these, they bring forward in idea the carnivorous beasts, and the fish that receives in its own body the flesh of the shipwrecked sailor, while this again in turn becomes food for men, and passes by digestion into the bulk of him who eats it: and they rehearse many such trivialities, unworthy of God’s great power and authority, for the overthrow of the doctrine, arguing as though God were not able to restore to man his own, by return through the same ways.

2. But we briefly cut short their long circuits of logical folly by acknowledging that dissolution of the body into its component parts does take place, and not only does earth, according to the Divine word, return to earth, but air and moisture also revert to the kindred element, and there takes place a return of each of our components to that nature to which it is allied; and although the human body be dispersed among carnivorous birds, or among the most savage beasts by becoming their food, and although it pass beneath the teeth of fish, and although it be changed by fire into vapour and dust, wheresoever one may in argument suppose the man to be removed, he surely remains in the world; and the world, the voice of inspiration tells us, is held by the hand of God. If thou, then, art not ignorant of any of the things in thy hand, dost thou deem the knowledge of God to be feebler than thine own power, that it should fail to discover the most minute of the things that are within the compass of the Divine span?

-- On The Making of Man, Chapter XXVI

On What Condition Will The Body Be Resurrected: If a person dies with a malformed body part, or as frail old man or an unborn embryo, will that person be resurrected in that very same state? This selection is from my favorite work in the Dogmatic Treatises, and it from the death bed discussion with his sister St. Macrina. The section is much longer than this long quote:

But that, said I, was not the point in question. Most of your hearers will assent to the fact that there will some day be a Resurrection, and that man will be brought before the incorruptible tribunal; on account both of the Scripture proofs, and also of our previous examination of the question. But still the question remains: Is the state which we are to expect to be like the present state of the body? Because if so, then, as I was saying, men had better avoid hoping for any Resurrection at all. For if our bodies are to be restored to life again in the same sort of condition as they are in when they cease to breathe, then all that man can look forward to in the Resurrection is an unending calamity. For what spectacle is more piteous than when in extreme old age our bodies shrivel up and change into something repulsive and hideous, with the flesh all wasted in the length of years, the skin dried up about the bones till it is all in wrinkles, the muscles in a spasmodic state from being no longer enriched with their natural moisture, and the whole body consequently shrunk, the hands on either side powerless to perform their natural work, shaken with an involuntary trembling? What a sight again are the bodies of persons in a long consumption! They differ from bare bones only in giving the appearance of being covered with a worn-out veil of skin. What a sight too are those of persons swollen with the disease of dropsy! What words could describe the unsightly disfigurement of sufferers from leprosy? Gradually over all their limbs and organs of sensation rottenness spreads and devours them. What words could describe that of persons who have been mutilated in earthquake, battle, or by any other visitation, and live on in such a plight for a long time before their natural deaths? Or of those who from an injury have grown up from infancy with their limbs awry! What can one say of them? What is one to think about the bodies of newborn infants who have been either exposed, or strangled, or died a natural death, if they are to be brought to life again just such as they were? Are they to continue in that infantine state? What condition could be more miserable than that? Or are they to come to the flower of their age? Well, but what sort of milk has Nature got to suckle them again with? It comes then to this: that, if our bodies are to live again in every respect the same as before, this thing that we are expecting is simply a calamity; whereas if they are not the same, the person raised up will be another than he who died. If, for instance, a little boy was buried, but a grown man rises again, or reversely, how can we say that the dead in his very self is raised up, when he has had some one substituted for him by virtue of this difference in age? Instead of the child, one sees a grown-up man. Instead of the old man, one sees a person in his prime. In fact, instead of the one person another entirely. The cripple is changed into the able-bodied man; the consumptive sufferer into a man whose flesh is firm; and so on of all possible cases, not to enumerate them for fear of being prolix. If, then, the body will not come to life again just such in its attributes as it was when it mingled with the earth, that dead body will not rise again; but on the contrary the earth will be formed into another man. How, then, will the Resurrection affect myself, when instead of me some one else will come to life? Some one else, I say; for how could I recognize myself when, instead of what was once myself, I see some one not myself? It cannot really be I, unless it is in every respect the same as myself. Suppose, for instance, in this life I had in my memory the traits of some one; say he was bald, had prominent lips, a somewhat flat nose, a fair complexion, grey eyes, white hair, wrinkled skin; and then went to look for such an one, and met a young man with a fine head of hair, an aquiline nose, a dark complexion, and in all other respects quite different in his type of countenance; am I likely in seeing the latter to think of the former? But why dwell longer on these the less forcible objections to the Resurrection, and neglect the strongest one of all? For who has not heard that human life is like a stream, moving from birth to death at a certain rate of progress, and then only ceasing from that progressive movement when it ceases also to exist? This movement indeed is not one of spacial change; our bulk never exceeds itself; but it makes this advance by means of internal alteration; and as long as this alteration is that which its name implies, it never remains at the same stage (from moment to moment); for how can that which is being altered be kept in any sameness? The fire on the wick, as far as appearance goes, certainly seems always the same, the continuity of its movement giving it the look of being an uninterrupted and self-centred whole; but in reality it is always passing itself along and never remains the same; the moisture which is extracted by the heat is burnt up and changed into smoke the moment it has burst into flame and this alterative force effects the movement of the flame, working by itself the change of the subject-matter into smoke; just, then, as it is impossible for one who has touched that flame twice on the same place, to touch twice the very same flame (for the speed of the alteration is too quick; it does not wait for that second touch, however rapidly it may be effected; the flame is always fresh and new; it is always being produced, always transmitting itself, never remaining at one and the same place), a thing of the same kind is found to be the case with the constitution of our body. There is influx and afflux going on in it in an alterative progress until the moment that it ceases to live; as long as it is living it has no stay; for it is either being replenished, or it is discharging in vapour, or it is being kept in motion by both of these processes combined. If, then, a particular man is not the same even as he was yesterday, but is made different by this transmutation, when so be that the Resurrection shall restore our body to life again, that single man will become a crowd of human beings, so that with his rising again there will be found the babe, the child, the boy, the youth, the man, the father, the old man, and all the intermediate persons that he once was. But further; chastity and profligacy are both carried on in the flesh; those also who endure the most painful tortures for their religion, and those on the other hand who shrink from such, both one class and the other reveal their character in relation to fleshly sensations; how, then, can justice be done at the Judgment?

-- On The Soul And Resurrection, pg 461

On Universalism: Gregory argues for universalism from the Parable of the Debtor of Ten Thousand Talents, where it is said that the extreme debtor would be thrown in prison until his debt is repaid, so Gregory concludes the way that man repays his debt is through the coin of torment and concludes that suffering in hell (ie purgatory) is a form of repaying ones debt, such that in the end of all things, he infers from 1 Corinthians 15, that God will be "All in All", so that all debts would be repaid and evil would be annihilated. (There are other texts where the universalism seems to not be followed in this Origenistic way.)

Why, either we must plan to keep the soul absolutely untouched and free from any stain of evil; or, if our passionate nature makes that quite impossible, then we must plan that our failures in excellence consist only in mild and easily-curable derelictions. For the Gospel in its teaching distinguishes between a debtor of ten thousand talents and a debtor of five hundred pence, and of fifty pence and of a farthing , which is "the uttermost" of coins; it proclaims that God's just judgment reaches to all, and enhances the payment necessary as the weight of the debt increases, and on the other hand does not overlook the very smallest debts. But the Gospel tells us that this payment of debts was not effected by the refunding of money, but that the indebted man was delivered to the tormentors until he should pay the whole debt; and that means nothing else than paying in the coin of torment the inevitable recompense, the recompense, I mean, that consists in taking the share of pain incurred during his lifetime, when he inconsiderately chose mere pleasure, undiluted with its opposite; so that having put off from him all that foreign growth which sin is, and discarded the shame of any debts, he might stand in liberty and fearlessness. Now liberty is the coming up to a state which owns no master and is self-regulating ; it is that with which we were gifted by God at the beginning, but which has been obscured by the feeling of shame arising from indebtedness. Liberty too is in all cases one and the same essentially; it has a natural attraction to itself. It follows, then, that as everything that is free will be united with its like, and as virtue is a thing that has no master, that is, is free, everything that is free will be united with virtue. But, further, the Divine Being is the fountain of all virtue. Therefore, those who have parted with evil will be united with Him; and so, as the Apostle says, God will be "all in all "; for this utterance seems to me plainly to confirm the opinion we have already arrived at, for it means that God will be instead of all other things, and in all. For while our present life is active amongst a variety of multiform conditions, and the things we have relations with are numerous, for instance, time, air, locality, food and drink, clothing, sunlight, lamplight, and other necessities of life, none of which, many though they be, are God,--that blessed state which we hope for is in need of none of these things, but the Divine Being will become all, and instead of all, to us, distributing Himself proportionately to every need of that existence. It is plain, too, from the Holy Scripture that God becomes, to those who deserve it, locality, and home, and clothing, and food, and drink, and light, and riches, and dominion, and everything thinkable and nameable that goes to make our life happy. But He that becomes "all" things will be "in all" things too; and herein it appears to me that Scripture teaches the complete annihilation of evil . If, that is, God will be "in all" existing things, evil; plainly, will not then be amongst them; for if any one was to assume that it did exist then, how will the belief that God will be "in all" be kept intact? The excepting of that one thing, evil, mars the comprehensiveness of the term "all." But He that will be "in all" will never be in that which does not exist.

-- On The Soul And Resurrection, pg 451ff

On What How Jesus Is The First-Born Of Creation: Gregory says that we are not born once, but are born at birth, then born again in Christ, and born a third time at the resurrection. Gregory explains that because Jesus has multiple births, in no way does that imply that he is a created god. 

§8. He further very appositely expounds the meaning of the term “Only-Begotten,” and of the term “First born,” four times used by the Apostle. The mighty Paul, knowing that the Only-begotten God, Who has the pre-eminence in all things, is the author and cause of all good, bears witness to Him that not only was the creation of all existent things wrought by Him, but that when the original creation of man had decayed and vanished away, to use his own language, and another new creation was wrought in Christ, in this too no other than He took the lead, but He is Himself the first-born of all that new creation of men which is effected by the Gospel. And that our view about this may be made clearer let us thus divide our argument. The inspired apostle on four occasions employs this term, once as here, calling Him, “first-born of all creation,” another time, “the first-born among many brethren,” again, “first-born from the dead,” and on another occasion he employs the term absolutely, without combining it with other words, saying, “But when again He bringeth the first-born into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him.” Accordingly whatever view we entertain concerning this title in the other combinations, the same we shall in consistency apply to the phrase “first-born of all creation.” For since the title is one and the same it must needs be that the meaning conveyed is also one. In what sense then does He become “the first-born among many brethren?” in what sense does He become “the first-born from the dead?” Assuredly this is plain, that because we are by birth flesh and blood, as the Scripture saith, “He Who for our sakes was born among us and was partaker of flesh and blood,” purposing to change us from corruption to incorruption by the birth from above, the birth by water and the Spirit, Himself led the way in this birth, drawing down upon the water, by His own baptism, the Holy Spirit; so that in all things He became the first-born of those who are spiritually born again, and gave the name of brethren to those who partook in a birth like to His own by water and the Spirit. But since it was also meet that He should implant in our nature the power of rising again from the dead, He becomes the “first-fruits of them that slept” and the “first-born from the dead,” in that He first by His own act loosed the pains of death, so that His new birth from the dead was made a way for us also, since the pains of death, wherein we were held, were loosed by the resurrection of the Lord. Thus, just as by having shared in the washing of regeneration He became “the first-born among many brethren,” and again by having made Himself the first-fruits of the resurrection, He obtains the name of the “first-born from the dead,” so having in all things the pre-eminence, after that “all old things,” as the apostle says, “have passed away,” He becomes the first-born of the new creation of men in Christ by the two-fold regeneration, alike that by Holy Baptism and that which is the consequence of the resurrection from the dead, becoming for us in both alike the Prince of Life, the first-fruits, the first-born. This first-born, then, hath also brethren, concerning whom He speaks to Mary, saying, “Go and tell My brethren, I go to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” In these words He sums up the whole aim of His dispensation as Man. For men revolted from God, and “served them which by nature were no gods,” and though being the children of God became attached to an evil father falsely so called. For this cause the mediator between God and man having assumed the first-fruits of all human nature, sends to His brethren the announcement of Himself not in His divine character, but in that which He shares with us, saying, “I am departing in order to make by My own self that true Father, from whom you were separated, to be your Father, and by My own self to make that true God from whom you had revolted to be your God, for by that first-fruits which I have assumed, I am in Myself presenting all humanity to its God and Father.” Since, then, the first-fruits made the true God to be its God, and the good Father to be its Father, the blessing is secured for human nature as a whole, and by means of the first-fruits the true God and Father becomes Father and God of all men. Now “if the first-fruits be holy, the lump also is holy.” But where the first-fruits, Christ, is (and the first-fruits is none other than Christ), there also are they that are Christ’s, as the apostle says. In those passages therefore where he makes mention of the “first-born” in connexion with other words, he suggests that we should understand the phrase in the way which I have indicated: but where, without any such addition, he says, “When again He bringeth the first-born into the world,” the addition of “again” asserts that manifestation of the Lord of all which shall take place at the last day. For as “at the name of Jesus every knee doth bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth,” although the human name does not belong to the Son in that He is above every name, even so He says that the First-born, Who was so named for our sakes, is worshipped by all the supramundane creation, on His coming again into the world, when He “shall judge the world with righteousness and the people with equity.” Thus the several meanings of the titles “First-born” and “Only begotten” are kept distinct by the word of godliness, its respective significance being secured for each name. But how can he who refers the name of “first-born” to the pre-temporal existence of the Son preserve the proper sense of the term “Only-begotten”? Let the discerning reader consider whether these things agree with one another, when the term “first-born” necessarily implies brethren, and the term “Only-begotten” as necessarily excludes the notion of brethren. For when the Scripture says, “In the beginning was the Word,” we understand the Only-begotten to be meant, and when it adds “the Word was made flesh” we thereby receive in our minds the idea of the first-born, and so the word of godliness remains without confusion, preserving to each name its natural significance, so that in “Only-begotten” we regard the pre-temporal, and by “the first-born of creation” the manifestation of the pre-temporal in the flesh.

-- Against Eunomius, Book II, Section 8

On The Eternal Generation Of The Son: Going back to the Nicene Creed's God From God, Gregory explains God the Father is Ungenerate and the Son is Generate, but not begotten in time, but has always been Generate in Eternity.

We have shewn, then, by what we have said that the Only-begotten and the Holy Spirit are not to be looked for in the creation but are to be believed above it; and that while the creation may perhaps by the persevering efforts of ambitious seekers be seized in its own beginning, whatever that may be, the supernatural will not the more for that come within the realm of knowledge, for no mark before the ages indicative of its nature can be found. Well, then, if in this uncreate existence those wondrous realities, with their wondrous names of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are to be in our thoughts, how can we imagine, of that pre-temporal world, that which our busy, restless minds perceive in things here below by comparing one of them with another and giving it precedence by an interval of time? For there, with the Father, unoriginate, ungenerate, always Father, the idea of the Son as coming from Him yet side by side with Him is inseparably joined; and through the Son and yet with Him, before any vague and unsubstantial conception comes in between, the Holy Spirit is found at once in closest union; not subsequent in existence to the Son, as if the Son could be thought of as ever having been without the Spirit; but Himself also owning the same cause of His being, i.e. the God over all, as the Only-begotten Light, and having shone forth in that very Light, being divisible neither by duration nor by an alien nature from the Father or from the Only-begotten. There are no intervals in that pre-temporal world: and difference on the score of being there is none. It is not even possible, comparing the uncreate with the uncreated, to see differences; and the Holy Ghost is uncreate, as we have before shewn. This being the view held by all who accept in its simplicity the undiluted Gospel, what occasion was there for endeavouring to dissolve this fast union of the Son with the Father by means of the creation, as if it were necessary to suppose either that the Son was from everlasting along with the creation, or that He too, equally with it, was later? For the generation of the Son does not fall within time, any more than the creation was before time: so that it can in no kind of way be right to partition the indivisible, and to insert, by declaring that there was a time when the Author of all existence was not, this false idea of time into the creative Source of the Universe. Our previous contention, therefore, is true, that the everlastingness of the Son is included, along with the idea of His birth, in the Father’s ungeneracy; and that, if any interval were to be imagined dividing the two, that same interval would fix a beginning for the life of the Almighty;—a monstrous supposition. But there is nothing to prevent the creation, being, as it is, in its own nature something other than its Creator and in no point trenching on that pure pre-temporal world, from having, in our belief, a beginning of its own, as we have said. To say that the heavens and the earth and other contents of creation were out of things which are not, or, as the Apostle says, out of “things not seen,” inflicts no dishonour upon the Maker of this universe; for we know from Scripture that all these things are not from everlasting nor will remain for ever. If on the other hand it could be believed that there is something in the Holy Trinity which does not coexist with the Father, if following out this heresy any thought could be entertained of stripping the Almighty of the glory of the Son and Holy Ghost, it would end in nothing else than in a God manifestly removed from every deed and thought that was good and godlike. But if the Father, existing before the ages, is always in glory, and the pre-temporal Son is His glory, and if in like manner the Spirit of Christ is the Son’s glory, always to be contemplated along with the Father and the Son, what training could have led this man of learning to declare that there is a ‘before’ in what is timeless, and a ‘more honourable’ in what is all essentially honourable, and preferring, by comparisons, the one to the other, to dishonour the latter by this partiality? The term in opposition to the more honourable makes it clearer still whither he is tending.

-- Against Eunomius, Book I, Section 21

Conclusion:

Of the great Cappadocian Fathers, I wouldn't go to much father into the Dogmatic Treatises recommended selections without first reading the works of Basil the Great or Gregory of Nazianzus first. Reading Gregory of Nyssa is a very fruitful yet very laborious effort, and although he is very important to the history of the Church, he is not my recommended place to dive into Patristics for the first time. 

 

 

Print Friendly

Posted by Wyatt

Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.


Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.