By Fr. George Florovsky
SAINT GREGORY OF NYSSA
Gregory of Nyssa was a younger brother of Basil the Great. He was born sometime around 335 and almost nothing is known about his youth. He probably studied at home in Caesarea. Gregory later said that his brother Basil was his teacher and he always spoke of him with reverence, describing him as the equal of the apostles who came after them only in time. He admitted that "I lived with my brother for only a short period, and only received as much instruction from his divine tongue as was necessary for me to understand the ignorance of those uninitiated in the secrets of eloquence." In other words, Basil taught him only rhetoric. Gregory names his sister Macrina as the other important teacher of his youth, and his reminiscences of her are full of gratitude. Gregory grew up in an atmosphere of culture and asceticism, but little else is known about the details of his education.
In his youth Gregory was greatly attracted by the study of philosophy. Even after he had entered the clergy as a reader he became a teacher of rhetoric and devoted himself to the study of pagan literature. This displeased his family and friends. Gregory the Theologian wrote to him in friendly reproof: "What has happened to you, O wisest of men? Others do not praise you for this ignoble glory or for your gradual descent to the lower life, or for your ambition, which, in the words of Euripides, is the worst of all demons . . . Why have you become angry with yourself that you should throw away the sacred books, filled with sweet waters, which you once used to read to the people . . . and take up with books filled with salt water that are impossible to drink? Why do you prefer to be called a rhetorician than Christian?" Gregory admonished him to come to his senses and to vindicate himself before God and the faithful, before the altars and the sacraments from which he had distanced himself.
During the period of his distraction by secular philosophy Gregory also studied Origen, who had an enormous influence on him. He read Philo and Theognostus as well. Gregory's Origenism was later modified under the influence of Basil, who purposefully directed his epistle on trinitarian terminology to Gregory in the fear that Gregory was straying from orthodoxy. Gregory's enthusiasm for secular learning was only temporary, and he later condemned the worldly sciences as fruitless: "They constantly suffer pains of labor which never culminate in new life." However, he always remained a Hellenist through the influence of Origen.
Gregory acceded to the influence of his family and returned to the ministry. He married but continued to live a chaste and ascetic life. It seems that he temporarily retired to his brother Basil's monastery on the shores of the Iris in Pontus. Gregory did not have a strong character and his experience with life was limited. During the controversy which followed Basil's election to the see of Caesarea, Gregory unsuccessfully tried to make peace between Basil and their uncle by forging letters. Basil told him that the earth should open up beneath him for such actions but he later accepted his brother's repentance and was completely reconciled with him. After this incident it is easy to see why Basil considered Gregory unfit for serious responsibility and objected when Gregory was nominated as an envoy to Rome: "He is inexperienced in the affairs of the Church." However, in 371 he consecrated Gregory bishop of the town of Nyssa.
Gregory helped his brother in the struggle against heresy not by his activity in Church administration but as a writer and theologian. He was persecuted for his orthodoxy and brought to trial in Galatia. In 375 Demosthenes, the governor of Cappadocia whom Basil described as a "friend of the heretics," ordered him to be taken into custody. In 376 he was condemned in absentia and was deposed for misappropriation of funds and for his "illegal" consecration. Gregory spent three years in exile and returned to his see only in 379 after the death of Valens. He was greeted by popular rejoicing. His return to Nyssa was shortly followed by the deaths of Basil and then Macrina. This was a heavy blow for Gregory. One of his letters to the monk Olympius contains a moving account of the last days of his sister, who was herself an outstanding Christian and ascetic.
Gregory considered himself the heir to his brother's labors and immediately began to work on the writings which Basil had left unfinished, including the commentary on the Hexaemeron and the polemic against Eunomius. Friends recognized him as a worthy successor to his brother. At the Antiochene council of the 146 fathers in 379 he was sent on a mission to report on the condition of the Church in Arabia, which was rumored to be corrupt and heretical. Possibly he visited the Holy Land at this time, but some scholars consider that this journey took place later. The Palestinian Church had been without spiritual leadership for some time (St. Cyril spent altogether thirteen years in exile), and corruption was widespread. Gregory was greeted with suspicion and immediately became involved in controversy with the Apollinarians.
The abuses in the Holy Land made a painful impression on Gregory, and for this reason he disapproved of the custom of pilgrimages. They could be especially harmful for women, whose purity and chastity were often endangered in the course of such voyages. Palestine was overflowing with vice and every kind of impiety. Furthermore, Gregory wrote: "Why should you try to do that which is not done by the saints or others who are close to the Kingdom of Heaven?" The Lord did not command us to go to Jerusalem as a good deed. "What advantage is gained by those who visit these places? It is not as if the Lord has been living there in the body until the present day, but has gone away from those of us who live in other lands; or as if the Spirit is flourishing in Jerusalem, but is unable to come to us here . . . A change of place does not bring God closer to you. No matter where you may be, the Lord will come to you if your soul is such that He can dwell and walk in you. But if the inner man in you is full of deceit, then even if you stand on Golgotha, or on the Mount of Olives, or under the memorial of the Resurrection, you are as far from receiving Christ into yourself as one who has not even begun to confess faith in Him." On the contrary, "the true Bethlehem, and Golgotha, and Mount of Olives, and Resurrection, are all found in the heart of the man who has God." What will we find in Jerusalem that is new? "We will find that the Christ who was manifest there was the true God, but we confessed this before we came to Jerusalem, and after our journey our faith has neither diminished nor increased. We also knew that He became man through the Virgin before we were in Bethlehem. We believed in the Resurrection of the dead before we saw His tomb. We confessed the reality of the Assumption before we saw the Mount of Olives." It is more important to "travel forth from the body to our Lord than to travel from Cappadocia to Palestine."
In 381 Gregory took part in the Second Ecumenical Council. By this time he was a well-known and influential figure. Through an edict of the emperor on July 30, 381, Gregory was included among the bishops who were to be regarded by orthodox believers as the central authorities of the Church Communion. Prelates were nominated from each province, and Gregory shared the nomination from Pontus with Helladius of Caesarea and Otreius of Melitane. His later relations with Helladius caused him much difficulty.
In 382 and 383 Gregory was again present at the councils in Constantinople and continued his struggle against the Arians. He made the acquaintance of the nun Olympiada, who was greatly respected for her piety by John Chrysostom. In 394 Gregory participated in a council on the affairs of the Church in Arabia. This is the last event in his life of which we have definite knowledge. He probably died in 394. Even during the life of John Chrysostom he disappeared from public notice. A few fragments of information have been preserved about the last years of his life and seem to indicate that his authority was widely respected and that he continued to be influential in Church affairs, although he probably spent little time in Nyssa.
Gregory's contemporaries considered him the great defender of orthodoxy against the Arians and Apollinarians, the "pillar of orthodoxy" and "the father of the fathers." This reputation was later questioned during the era of Origenist controversy. At one point Gregory's name was not included in a list of the "selected fathers," and his immediate influence diminished. However, later at the Seventh Ecumenical Council he was again named "the father of the fathers." Critical discussion of Gregory's theology began as early as the fourth century, and Barsanuphius has given the reason for this reevaluation. "Many saints who became teachers surpassed their own instructors by receiving approval from above to set forth a new teaching. At the same time, however, they preserved what they had received from their former instructors, even when this teaching was false. After these men became spiritual teachers they did not pray to God to reveal to them whether that which their earlier instructors had taught them had truly been inspired by the Holy Spirit. Since they respected the wisdom of their instructors, they did not examine their words. They did not ask God if these words were true." Gregory's theology had been developed under the influence of Origen, and thus it contained elements of school tradition along with orthodox Church doctrine. Gregory's system was never condemned as a whole but it was later purged of its Origenism.
Gregory did not elaborate a complete system of theology, even though he had perhaps the most strictly logical mind of all the fathers. His theology was influenced by Origen and also by the thought of the Neoplatonists. Gregory wrote on all aspects of theology. Some of his works are polemic and topical, and others reflect his own personal interests.
As an exegete Gregory continued the work of Basil, but some of his writings follow the Origenist tradition of commentary. The first group includes two supplementary treatises to the Hexaemeron: De opificio hominis [On the Making of Man] and Explicatio apologetica in Hexaemeron [An Apologetic Explication on the Hexaemeron], which were composed soon after Basil's death. Here, as in other works, Gregory follows the example of Basil, and his exegesis also shows the influence of classical philosophy, especially the commentaries of Posidonius and others on Plato's Timaeus.
Gregory's other exegetical works were written later in his life, and in these his method of interpretation is strictly allegorical. They are united by the common theme of the necessity of a moral and ascetic life as a way of knowing God. The most important of these are De vita Moysis [On the Life of Moses] which clearly shows the influence of Philo, and a commentary of Fifteen Homilies on the Song of Songs which Gregory interprets in the Origenist tradition. Gregory defends the allegorical method of exegesis in the introduction to this commentary, which is dedicated to Olympiada. In his consideration the Song of Songs presages the spiritual wedding of the human soul and the Church with Christ, the most greatly desired heavenly Bridegroom. In his Accurate Exposition of Ecclesiastes Gregory deals with the necessity of freeing the mind from passions so that it can ascend to that which is above the senses. He describes the stages leading to moral perfection in a homily In psalmorum inscriptiones [On the Titles of the Psalms], paying particular attention to the sixth psalm. Apparently he also wrote an explanation on Proverbs. Most of Gregory's exegesis is devoted to the Old Testament, and from the New Testament he has written only on the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer. His exegetical works also include a homily De pythonissa [On the Ventriloquist], a topic which had attracted the attention of Origen. In opposition to Origen, Gregory supports the position of Methodius of Olympus and Eustathius of Antioch by asserting that it was a demon and not the spirit of Samuel which appeared to Saul. Gregory's dogmatic and polemical writings also contain interpretative commentary.
Gregory's polemical writings include twelve (or in some opinions four to thirteen tracts, depending on what one considers under this rubric) tracts against Eunomius, which examine the heretic's arguments against Basil's theology. These "words of objection" were written mainly in 380 and 381, and they were later supplemented by a commentary on the creed which Eunomius presented to the emperor Theodosius in 383. Gregory attacks the doctrine of the Anomoeans and sets forth Basil's orthodox teaching on the Trinity. The epistle to Ablabius Against Those Who Falsely Accuse Us of Saying That There Are Three Gods [Ad Ablabium quod non sint tres dii] is also devoted to the defense of Basil's dogma. In the last years of his life Gregory wrote two treatises against Apollinarius which provide a detailed exposition of Apollinarius' doctrine on the heavenly flesh of Christ and the absence in Christ of a human intellect. Gregory attacks not only Apollinarius himself but also his doctrines as they were reinterpreted and debased by his disciples. He briefly deals with the same theme in the epistle To Theophilus of Alexandria [Adversus Apollinaristas ad Theophilum episcopum Alexandrinum]. Gregory also composed a homily on the Holy Spirit in opposition to the Macedonian Pneumatomachi [De Spiritu Sancto adversus Pneumatomachos Macedonianos]. A homily against Arius and Sabellius has been ascribed to Gregory but was not written by him (it may be the work of Basil the Great).
The fundamentals of Gregory's doctrines are contained in his Great Catechism [Oratio catechetica magna] which he composed no later than 385. This work contains arguments against certain heresies but is not strictly polemical. It was primarily written as instruction for catechumens. By means of Scripture and his own reasoning Gregory sets forth the orthodox doctrines of Faith, the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, Redemption, the Sacraments, Baptism, the Eucharist, and the Last Judgment. His other dogmatic works include a short treatise on the Holy Spirit written to Eustathius of Sebaste [Ad Eustathium de sancta Trinitate]; an epistle to Simplicius on faith [Ad Simplicium de fide sancta], which explains the dogma of the Divinity of the Word and Spirit; and Ad Graecos ex communibus notionibus [To the Greeks, On the Basis of Universal Ideas]. A dialogue on the soul and resurrection [Dialogus de anima et resurrectione qui inscribitur Macrinia], which is presented as being conducted by Gregory's sister Macrina, was written under the influence of Plato's Phaedo. It is one of his most personal works. Gregory deals with similar problems in the treatise On the Premature Death of Infants. A dialogue On Fate [Contra Fatum] between a bishop and a pagan philosopher is a defense of free will against astrology and fatalism.
Ascetic and Moral Works.
Among Gregory's ascetic and moral works are a long tract On Virginity or Perfection [De virginitate], which he wrote in his youth, and several shorter treatises: What is the Christian Name and Profession [Quid nomen professione Christianorum sibi velit]; On Pefection and What a Christian Should Be [De perfectione et qualem oporteat esse Christianum]; and On the Goal of Godly Life, to the Monk Olympius [Ad Olympium]. Gregory's ascetic ideal is expressed with particular clarity in his epistle On the Life of Macrina [Vita Macrinae], which was written soon after her death.
Few of Gregory's sermons have survived. The most significant are the orations on the great feasts: on Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost. He also composed orations of St. Stephen, Theodoret the Martyr, the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, Ephraem the Syrian, and Gregory Thaumaturgus. His funeral orations are devoted to Basil and Meletius of Antioch, among others. Gregory's homiletic works are not outstanding and his style is heavy and artificial. He is at best in dealing with ascetic themes, which always had great personal interest for him.
Gregory has left at least 26 to 30 letters, most of which provide information on his personality and biography. His letter on pilgrimages to Jerusalem is especially significant. The canonical epistle to Letoius contains eight rules and was included in the Nomocanon and other collections. His rules for penitential discipline were determined according to his knowledge of psychology, and were probably formed on the basis of Church tradition and his own experience as a clergyman. Gregory also wrote an epistle on Easter, the "universal feast of creation," which celebrates the resurrection of humanity, which had fallen through sin. His epistle 25 to Amphilochius is very interesting for the history of Christian art and architecture, for he describes in detail a martyrion in construction.
III. Theological Thought.
The Limitation of Our Knowledge of God.
The Inner Power of the Soul.
The human soul naturally "moves towards beauty which is invisible." Man has an "inner immaterial power" which enables him to perceive the spiritual. "Whoever purifies his soul even a little will see God's love for us in all its purity, and he will see the intent God had in creating our souls. He will find that humanity by its very essence has been joined to a desire for goodness and perfection, and that man's nature has been united to an impassive and holy love for the blessed Image of which man is the likeness." This love and attraction cause man to experience an endless longing for God, Who is the ultimate goal of all desire and of all contemplation.
The Eternity of the Divinity and the Dynamic and Potentially Infinite Nature of Man's Struggle.
This goal, however, is inaccessible and can never be achieved. "Let us learn about virtue from the Gospels," Gregory writes. "We know that the greatest goal of perfect virtue is for virtue to have no limitation or final goal. There is only one limit to virtue: it must strive to be endless. Possibly the perfection of our human nature consists in our having a vision of beauty within ourselves which is such that we always desire an even greater beauty." Further more, "it is dangerous to stop in this forward movement, for every good thing is limited only by that which stands in opposition to it . . . In the same way that the end of life is the beginning of death, a halt on the path to virtue is the beginning of the road to vice." This striving is endless. It must be uninterrupted because its goal is eternity. The eternity of the Divinity determines the dynamic and potentially infinite nature of man's struggle to perfect himself, in which every action is always the source of further actions which will extend beyond earthly life and time. Gregory describes it as a "completeness that will never be limited by satiation."
The Bridegroom is constantly telling the soul to arise and come to Him. "For the man who has truly arisen the continual need to arise will never end, and for the man who has set out to find the Lord the path leading to the Divine continuity will never be exhausted." We must arise without ceasing, and even as we approach the goal we must never stop moving forward. The Lord has said, "Let the man who thirsts come to me and drink" (John 7:37). Gregory explains: "The Lord did not set a limit to this thirst, nor to the effort needed to reach Him, nor to the enjoyment we will have when we drink. On the contrary, He has not set a precise time, but advises us to constantly thirst and drink, and to always be striving towards Him." A true knowledge of God is reached by a path of thirst, effort, and vigorous striving. It is the result of a desire which is as strong as the passion of love, ερως. In Scripture the Song of Songs uses the image of a marriage to represent "the incorporeal, spiritual, and immaterial union of the soul with God." God is love and "He sends to those who are to be saved the chosen arrow of His Only-Begotten Son, having first dipped the triple prong of the arrow into the Spirit of life." This arrow is faith. As the soul moves upward in its ascent to the Divinity, it "sees in itself this sweet arrow," "an arrow of fiery love," "and the sweet torment of passion is multiplied." This passion is our love for God and longing to be united with Him.
God is inaccessible, yet man by nature longs for a knowledge of the Divinity as his greatest good. Man's path to God is defined by this contradiction. God is higher than cognition, but He can be recognized in everything around us. He is outside and above the world and higher than every essence, but He is also the Creator and Artist of the world, and therefore He can be seen and known through it. "By means of visible things the wisdom and Word of the artist are proclaimed in our hearts," Gregory writes, "and by the Wisdom which is visible in the universe we can guess about the Wisdom which created everything."
The Creator is revealed and visible to the human soul, which bears the image of God even though it has been defiled and has become impure. "The measure of God has been placed within you," Gregory writes. "He has sealed you with the image of the good things of His own nature in the same way that a design is imprinted on wax." Man must be able to see God in his own soul, which for this reason must be kept as pure as a mirror. The soul should be free from anything foreign to it, such as sensual inclinations and violent passions, which mar its surface and make a true reflection impossible. The body should lie dormant and inactive. Man must "leave everything that is visible," "stand outside of the material world," "free himself from the shelter of the flesh," "grind away from himself everything superfluous and corporeal," "in order to completely transform himself into an intellectual and immaterial being and make himself the clear reflection of the beauty of his Archetype." A purified soul "should contain nothing except God, and should pay attention to nothing else." In this way man becomes similar to God, and the soul which has been cleansed through constant effort and vigil will reflect the Divinity.
The Soul and the Image of God.
"Whoever then looks at himself will see within himself that which he has desired because in looking at his own purity he will see the image of his Archetype. If you look at the sun in a mirror, even though you have not turned your eyes to heaven you still see its radiance no less than those who look at its actual orb. In this same way the Lord tells you that, although you do not have the power to look directly at the light, by returning to the original state of grace in which your image was given to you at the beginning you will have what you seek within yourself. Purity, impassivity, and avoidance of all evil are Divine, and if all of these are present in you then there is no doubt that God is also in you. When your thoughts are purged of vice, free from passion, and far removed from profanity, you will be blessed with keen sight because in purifying yourself you have seen what is invisible for the impure and when you have removed the mists of the material world from the eyes of your spirit, you will clearly see bliss in the pure heaven of your heart. What will you see? Purity, sanctity, simplicity, and all the other radiant reflections of the Divinity, and in these you will see God." This is not only a vision of God, but true communion with Him. "It is not like some spectacle that God is offered to the purified soul."
The Platonic and Plotinian Influence.
Gregory's ideas show the influence of Plotinus, who taught that man can know God only through knowing himself. The soul must gather itself up, concentrate on itself, and come to a knowledge of itself, and through this it will come to a knowledge of God. The mind must be purified in order to become similar to God and return to its original likeness to Him. This likeness is the means by which the mind knows God because, as Plato has written in Meno (80 E), "that which is similar is recognized by that which is like it."
Moses and the Mystical Ascent to God.
Gregory sees an example of the mystical ascent to God in the figure of Moses the Lawgiver and in the appearance of God on Mount Sinai. The people were ordered to purify themselves, and the mountain was covered with a cloud and illuminated by fire. "By the power of God alone and without any other implement the air formed itself into individual words. These words were not only distinct, but they proclaimed the divine commandments." The people were afraid to ascend the mountain to listen, and only Moses entered the cloud. He himself became invisible when he penetrated the ineffable mystery of the Divinity and was in communion with the Invisible One." The appearance of God begins with light, and Moses had once seen God in His radiance in the Burning Bush. Now, having become closer to perfection, he saw God in a cloud and, sheltered by a cloud, he participated in eternal life. In Gregory's interpretation the first steps away from the path of error are light. A closer examination of that which is hidden leads into a cloud, which replaces visible things. Finally the soul enters the innermost sanctuary of the knowledge of God "which is enveloped on all sides by the divine cloud. Everything that can be seen and comprehended remains outside, and all that is left for the vision of the soul is that which is invisible and incomprehensible. In this cloud is God." The Divinity is "beyond the reach of the understanding."
As man ascends, the "inaccessible nature of Divinity" gradually becomes revealed to him and reason sees God in "the invisible and incomprehensible," in "a radiant cloud." Even when it reaches this cloud the soul realizes that it is as far from perfection as if it had never set out. According to Gregory, it is exactly this that is the highest truth of all. Our true knowledge is that we do not and cannot know because that which we seek is beyond our cognition. By its very nature the Divinity is higher than knowledge and comprehension. The first principle of theology must be that God is inaccessible. That which can be contemplated cannot be conceptually expressed. Whoever claims that God can be known merely shows that he has abandoned the One Who truly exists in favor of something which exists only in the imagination and which does not contain true life, for this life cannot be expressed by concepts.
Moses was led into the sanctuary not made by man and this is the ultimate extent of contemplation. He later reconstructed a material image of this divine temple at the command of God so that this miracle would not be forgotten and would be transmitted by the people of the lower world. In Gregory's interpretation this immaterial sanctuary is Christ, the Strength and Wisdom of God. Within the sanctuary Moses saw the intellectual powers which support the universe. Gregory follows the example of Philo in interpreting the symbolism of the priestly robes.
Moses descended to his people with the ten commandments of God, Who was the author of their essence and of their physical being. The people, however, had sinned and had made them selves unworthy of this gift. Moses broke the tablets and was commanded to inscribe new ones, and on these, which were made from an earthly substance, God again set forth His law. Gregory interprets this as an allegory of mankind. Men were once indestructible and immortal. They were fashioned by the hand of God and His law was imprinted on them as their adornment. They were shattered by their fall to earth but were restored by Christ, the true Lawgiver, who cut their stone again with His own flesh. For Gregory the highest stages of contemplation reveal Christ, the Word Incarnate, the "manifestation of God in the flesh which was achieved for our sakes." It is He who was seen by the prophetic mystics of the Old Testament, and the Song of Songs was written about Him.
Gregory sees Moses as a great mystic. Moses was purified and ascended the mountain where he was initiated into the mysteries of God. He is an example for every soul. Each soul should have the faith to draw nearer to God in His impenetrable cloud, and should become its own stonecutter so that the commandments of God are carved on it as they were on the tablets of Moses. Then the soul will be embraced by the "divine night," and the Bridegroom will come to it. The Bridegroom will not reveal Him self, however, for how can anything be revealed at night? He will stand at the door and beckon. He will give a sign of His presence, but He will not enter, for He has come to call. Even as it reaches its highest point the path must begin again. "That which is incomprehensible is infinitely greater than that which we can understand. The Bridegroom appears to the soul many times but by His voice He reveals to His bride that she has not yet seen Him." A man who stands on the shore of a river will always be at the starting point of his observation because the waters flow continuously and their streaming is only beginning.
Gregory also comments on God's appearance to Moses in the crevice of the rock (Exodus 33:18-23). Moses asked God to show him His glory and to reveal the path to Him. "A voice from above," Gregory writes, "agreed to this request and did not refuse to grant this grace, but it only caused Moses to despair, for it revealed that what he desired is not possible for man." Moses only saw the "back of God."
All of this has a greater significance. It is the very effort of knowing God that is man's true knowledge of Him. "He who strives for God sees only His back." "Moses was impatient for God but all he learned was how to see Him. This is accomplished by following behind God and walking in the path He has left us." This is the only way for the one who is led to see the One who leads. "Whoever is following this path and then steps aside, or tries to see the face of the One who is leading him, sets for himself a path that has not been lain by his true Leader." God told Moses that He could not see His face. In Gregory's interpretation this signifies that "you will never stand face to face with the One who leads you because, if you do, your journey will be from the direction opposite Him. That which is good never looks directly at goodness but follows after it." For this reason God reveals that man cannot see His face and remain alive. To see the face of God one must be coming towards Him. Man should follow after God and not try to approach Him from the opposite direction. The path which leads from the direction opposite the path of virtue is the path of sin.
Gregory comments on other aspects of the Biblical narrative. God told Moses to stand on a rock. This rock is Christ, Who is absolute goodness. God placed Moses on this rock not so that he could rest, but so that he would be free to move forward. "Whoever ascends does not stand still and whoever stands still does not ascend." The man who ascends must be firm and he must not be distracted from the path of virtue. God showed compassion for Moses because "his desire to perfect himself could never be satisfied, and he was always striving for greater virtue." God appeared to Moses but this did not satisfy Moses' longing for Him. "God would not have shown Himself if this vision could have satisfied the yearning of His servant."
The Unceasing Growth of Participation in Divinity.
Man's continual struggle, his knowledge that his longing will have no end, and his resolution to accept this, all make him similar to the Divinity because It too is infinite. Everything which can be truly conceived of God must be boundless, and this is why our longing is also unending. "By leaving that in which we abide, we ascend to the greatest good." This striving is not futile but is a continual process of discovery. "When the soul participates in things that are superior to it, it becomes superior to itself. Once it begins to grow this growth never stops." "The good things in which it participates abide in it, and by its constant participation the soul receives good things in abundance." For this reason the longing of love is stronger at the highest stages of contemplation than at the beginning. "Participation in the Divinity is such that whoever partakes of it grows and becomes more receptive. This participation develops the capacities of the participant. Whoever receives this nourishment grows and never ceases to grow." Even when it is united with its desired object the soul longs for more. "And even when it achieves this it begins to yearn again. This bliss has become absolutely necessary for it, and it is pained and grieved when it does not receive the object of its desire." That which is desired continually slips away from the "embrace of the mind" and the soul's attempts to contain it are in vain. "They looked for Him but did not find Him, for He was beyond imagination and conception and ran away at the approach of reason."
"The soul stretches its hands out to its source, seeks that which cannot be grasped, and calls to that which cannot be overtaken . . . It looks for that which cannot be found and calls on the One who is ineffable, in spite of all His names. Thus the soul learns from its vigil that it loves One who is inaccessible and desires One who cannot be embraced. The soul suffers from the hopelessness of its longing until it realizes that its true desire is a bliss which is infinite and inexhaustible. The uppermost robe of grief and doubt is removed by the recognition that yearning, striving, and continual ascent are in themselves the true enjoyment of that which is desired. The fulfillment of one desire always leads to the desire of something greater. Therefore, as soon as the outer robe of hopelessness is removed, the soul sees that the indescribable beauty of its desired object, which exceeds its expectations, becomes ever more beautiful. The soul thus reaches the ultimate extent of desire. It reveals itself to its Beloved through the daughters of Jerusalem and admits that it has received the chosen arrow of God. It has been deeply struck by the arrow of faith and been fatally wounded by love." In the words of John, "God is love." In Gregory's interpretation the Song of Songs describes the love and longing experienced by the true believer.
Ecstasy as the Highest Stage of Ascent.
The culmination of the ascent to God is a "divine and solemn intoxication" and a "frenzy of the mind." This ecstasy is the highest stage of contemplation and it cannot be comprehended in concepts or images. Gregory's descriptions of the ecstatic condition are influenced by Philo's theory of the knowledge of God, but he does not merely borrow or imitate the Greek philosopher's thought. Gregory uses Philo's terminology to describe his personal mystical experience, which is similar to the experience of Basil the Great and other ascetics of the fourth century and later. Their mystical vision reveals Christ and not the Logos, as was the case for Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Gregory interprets the Song of Songs as a revelation of Christ. His commentary is not only an essay on mysticism but is an intimate diary of mystical experience which is conveyed in the form of an exegetical treatise.
The Wedding of the Soul with God
In the highest stages of contemplation the soul is united with God, becomes similar to Him, and lives in Him. "It becomes similar to His inaccessible nature when it is pure and impassive." This is the mysterious wedding of the soul, its "incorporeal, spiritual, immaterial union with God," which is man's greatest good and bliss. Once this union is achieved a mutual interpenetration takes place. God abides in the soul and the soul makes its home in God. This life in God is beyond expression and the great mystics have never been able to describe their contemplation and the mysteries of paradise that they have seen. "Although you may hear words about this," Gregory writes, "the knowledge of God will remain ineffable." Ideas and concepts are inadequate to God and "what He is by nature." Words are incommensurate with the Divinity because It surpasses cognition and reasoning and is "higher than the highest things." "The truth of existence is the true Life, and this is not accessible to our knowledge."
The Incapability of Human Reason and Knowledge of Conceiving of Uncreated Being.
Human cognition is static and for this reason it is inadequate to the "mysteries of God." Gregory goes as far to say that every conception of God is an idol and a deceptive image, ειδολον. “Every idea which is developed through natural reasoning and supposition or which is comprehensible to the mind forms a divine idol and has no relation to God himself.” The conceptions of the human mind are formed on the basis of contemplation and the observation of the visible, created world and when the mind is elevated beyond the bounds of created nature it recognizes the inadequacy of human reason. "The distance which separates uncreated being from every created substance is great and cannot be traversed."
God is beyond names. He does not have a proper name because "His being is above definition and cannot be encompassed by a word or a name." All names and all concepts entail limitation and definition but the Divinity is infinite and boundless and cannot be defined. "We know that this Being exists, but there is no name which can completely comprehend Its ineffable and infinite nature. If there is such a name we do not know it."
We cannot understand the Divinity by trying to separate Its properties and attributes because Its nature is uncompound and infinite. It had no source and there is nothing specific which defines Its essence except for the very fact that this essence is beyond conceptualization. In contemplating the Divinity there is no one thing on which the human mind can concentrate its attention. "It is like a vast sea and gives no sign by which we can discover its source." This is because man's ability to form concepts is limited. "In contemplating God we must not be restricted by any definition: not by time, nor place, nor color, nor outline, nor aspect, nor volume, nor quantity, nor extent, nor any name, thing or concept." Contemplative thought must be in constant motion. Gregory writes: "Our most basic dogma is that God cannot be comprehended by a name or a concept or any cognitive faculty of the mind. He is beyond the comprehension of men and the angels and the heavenly powers. He is ineffable and cannot be designated by words. There is only one definition which helps us to know His proper nature and this is that He alone is greater than definition."
Contemplation of God must be infinite and words are in adequate to Him. "There is only one name capable of signifying the Divinity and this is the ineffable wonder which arises in the soul at the thought of God." The soul becomes quiet, "for it is time to be silent and to cherish the unutterable marvel of this inexpressible force." Curiosity about the proper name of the ineffable nature of God can only lead to delusion. "Your name is myrrh which has been poured forth." We know the Divine myrrh by its fragrance but the nature of this mysterious essence cannot be named. Gregory writes in conclusion, "We know the extent of the glory of the One we venerate by the very fact that we cannot comprehend His incomparable majesty."
The Distinction between Contemplation of God and Knowledge of God.
The soul's contemplation of God must be distinguished from knowledge of God. "The Lord has told us that bliss is not in knowing about God but in having Him in our hearts," Gregory writes. At the height of spiritual contemplation man is close to God and the Divine features he has within himself are revealed to him. Even then, however, true knowledge of God is impossible. "No matter how great its range of vision may be, no creature can ever completely get out from itself, and no matter what it looks at it sees only itself, even when it thinks it is seeing something higher. By nature it does not have the ability to look outside itself." This is especially true when we try to know God.
God as He is known to man is only an image which the mind has intuited and outlined in its striving toward Him. In the contemplation of intellectual being the mind goes beyond the knowledge provided by the senses and "by guessing" it attempts to grasp that which eludes the senses. Each man approaches that which he seeks in a different way and then "tries to express the concept he has formed of his object by attempting to make the meaning of his words correspond as closely as possible to that which he has understood." Thus language and cognition are only symbolic. When we speak about God the names we use do not serve to reinforce some reliable conception we have of Him but they are only symbols or analogies which "indicate" Him or point to Him. Therefore these words have no meaning outside the actual experience in which their significance or symbolism is revealed and realized.
"The human mind struggles to comprehend the inaccessible supreme Nature and to achieve contact with it. It is not perceptive enough to clearly see the invisible, but at the same time it is not incapable of approaching it and of guessing about that which it seeks. The mind is able to guess at part of its object through deduction and conclusion, and it discerns another aspect by the very impossibility of true perception. The understanding that this object is beyond its comprehension is true knowledge of it. The mind can understand that which is not a part of God's nature, but does not understand what should truly be conceived of Him." This is the reason that God has many names, and it is only in the totality of these names that the human mind can attempt to express the knowledge of God which it can gain through contemplation. These names are "like flashing sparks which cannot make completely visible the meaning they contain." "But when you take these into yourself, through your faith you will put yourself under the yoke of One who will enter you and become incarnate in you. For you are His throne, and you can make yourself His home."
The Two Types of Divine Names and Their Inability to Define God.
Gregory follows the reasoning of Basil the Great and distinguishes two types of Divine names. Some names are negative and attempt to express the Divinity by indicating that Its properties are the opposite of the attributes of creation. "The meaning of each of these names indicates only God's otherness from the things which we understand, but they do not explain His proper nature." This group includes not only names that are apophatic or negating but also positive names which indicate absence or oppositeness. Gregory considers that even the name "the One Who is Good" expresses no more than that God is not evil and that He is its antithesis. When we call God a "Source" we indicate that He has no source and is eternal. "These names are a list of the weak and evil things that God is not." They reflect the progress of the mind as it purifies itself and becomes increasingly abstract in its ascent to the ineffable knowledge of God.
Another type of name is derived from the actions and energy of the Divinity because "He who is invisible by nature becomes visible through His activity and He can be discerned in the things around Him." These names are also inadequate to God's being. "He who is above names receives many different names from us because His grace to us is manifold." These names designate no more than God's activity "as it relates to us." They also help to reinforce our orthodoxy. "We express everything we conceive about the Divinity in the form of a name, and no name has been predicated about God which does not represent a particular conception. However, actions provide us with no single concept of their author. "If I want to know something about the mind and you show me a hill of wind-blown sand or the dust that the wind has stirred up, you have not given me an answer to my question." All we can know by observing the results of God's activity is that He is their source.
"The miracles which can be observed in the universe are the basis for the conceptions of theology according to which the Divinity is named wise, omnipotent, good, holy, blessed, eternal, the Judge, the Savior, and so forth." Miracles reveal to creation the glory and greatness of God but not in its entirety because the Divine energy revealed in them is only partial. "The miracles which take place in the world do not provide clear evidence as to that strength which is the source of their energy. I say nothing about the nature which is the source of this strength. God's works exceed the capabilities of human perception." The created world is too small to contain God's infinite Wisdom, Strength, and Glory, or to be a full and true image of the Divinity.
"From the testimony of Scripture," Gregory writes, "we know that the Divinity is ineffable and cannot be named and we assert that every name, whether it is known to us by means of some thing proper to our human nature or through Scripture, is only an interpretation of a conception of the Divinity." God's names are all the invention of the human mind, which has tried to express its knowledge of God by describing that which it has intuited or contemplated. In this respect these names have a certain usefulness. They can be false idols, however, when the mind exaggerates their limited worth by considering that they are adequate to God. In dealing with the Eunomians Gregory writes that their heretical teacher "has blatantly made an idol of his own opinion." He has deified the meaning of the word 'unoriginate'. In [Eunomius'] consideration it is not a quality which can be relatively ascribed to the Divinity, but he holds that 'unoriginatedness' itself is God or the Divinity."
In his polemic against Eunomius Gregory carefully examines the names of God and shows that not one of them truly or adequately designates His essence. He points out that Scripture "has not declared the essence of the Divinity or made it known because it is impossible to comprehend and it cannot bring any advantage to the curious." The writers of Scripture "did not concern themselves with giving the Divinity a name because It is superior to all names." Even the mysterious names of "He Who Is," which is known through revelation, is not satisfactory. It is exactly this name, which is unqualified and predicates nothing about its subject, which testifies to the truth that God has no name and cannot be named. "Some names attempt to express a conception of God's being and others attempt to express the mode of His being. But until this very day God is ineffable and has not been explained by what has been said about Him." Gregory writes in conclusion: "We can know nothing about God except that He is, for this has been revealed by the words 'I am the One'."
Gregory's Doctrine of Conceptualization.
Gregory's doctrine of the names of God evolves from his theory of conceptualization and nomenclature in general. This doctrine was developed to oppose the teachings of Eunomius but there is no reason to assume that polemical considerations forced Gregory to express his views only incompletely. There are also no grounds for considering Gregory a sceptic or a nominalist, or for asserting that his theory of names differs in its basic premises from his religious and metaphysical systems. What appears to be "nominalism" in Gregory's theory is really only the logical consequence of his use of negative attribution to designate the Divinity. Basically Gregory's theory of names is an elaboration of Plato's ideas on the same subject. The views of Eunomius are comparable to those expressed by Cratylus in Plato's dialogue of the same name.
Gregory considers that words are the "inventions of the human intellect." For this reason there are many languages. "If the law of nature had ordered names to come forth to us from the objects themselves, in the way that plants grow from seeds and roots," Gregory writes, "then all people would speak one language." The Tower of Babel does not imply that many languages were created by God. He simply allowed the nations to distinguish themselves by developing different languages. Gregory sees language as a product of man's creativity. The "invention" of language by man was not arbitrary or capricious but was accomplished through the natural faculty of reason. God gave man the gift of language as an intellectual capacity. "He gave us this faculty and then we ourselves create house, stool, sword, plow, and whatever else we need in life."
Man's faculty or potential for language is the work of our Creator." Man can realize this potential in a free and creative way. God does not direct the physical movement of His creatures nor does He sit like a teacher of grammar to direct our use of language. Language, sounds, and the conceptions they express are all created by men through the Divinely bestowed faculty of "invention,” επινοια. Gregory follows Basil the Great in defining invention as “the intellect's ability to discover the unknown by seeking to know the things removed from it with the help of deductions drawn from the things which are most immediate to the object of inquiry.” Invention is the creative power of thought, a “more exhaustive analysis of the object of thought.” Instead of επινοια, invention, Gregory occasionally uses the term διανοια, judgment.
Invention is not merely fabrication, fantasy, or caprice. Nomenclature presupposes an object to be named and things are named so that we can point them out and so that our cognition and knowledge of them can be consolidated. Therefore names are not arbitrary because if they were they would not be names or signs. They would be devoid of sense and meaning. Naming things entails intention and premeditation. "The intellectual faculty of the soul has been given to us from God. Then it begins to move and look at things by itself and, to keep its knowledge from being blurred or imprecise, it puts an individual stamp on every thing, indicating this stamp by means of sound."
Gregory distinguishes the perception of objects from knowledge of them. "It is impossible for us to always have everything that exists in front of our eyes. There are some things that we know because they are always before us but we know other things because we have imprinted them on our memories. Nothing can be preserved by memory unless we have a name to designate the object we want to remember so that we can distinguish it from other objects."
We give names because we need to distinguish the conceptions we form from our experience, which is constantly changing. Names are unnecessary and even impossible for God because "His Wisdom and Strength have no difficulty in encompassing everything that exists in its individuality." God contemplates the entirety of the world and instantly comprehends it without the help of names. The nature of human faculty for conception and nomenclature is such that the ultimate essence of things, even created things, cannot be known and named by man. The reason is that things are recognized in their relationships, in their activity, and in the effect they have on other things. When we talk about them we do not designate their true nature but only the properties and qualities we can discern in them. We do not know the essence of things because their foundation is known only to God. "Scripture does not examine the essence of creation because this is superfluous arid brings no advantage. The human intellect cannot know the nature and source of creation because such knowledge would have to be radiant with the full majesty, power, and glory of the Creator." Therefore, "We know by means of our senses only as much of the elements of the world as is useful for us. We do not know what their essence is and this ignorance brings us no harm."
A name is a sign or a mark of a thing σημειον. It has a connection with its object. "Words which are invented have some thing in common with their objects." In attempting to define the common element between the name and its object, Gregory proposes that this connection is established by the free and creative faculty of the intellect. Names are invented for things and united to them but they do not arise from things. A name is not the thing itself, but neither is it completely independent of it. A name is not an hypostasis. "Every name is the mark or sign of an object or idea but it does not exist and cannot be conceived of independently and by itself."
The Influence of Plato on Gregory's Doctrine.
Gregory's theories were influenced by Plato, who expressed similar ideas in Cratylus in the second speech of Socrates. Things have a definite nature and their names should correspond to it. Names are θεσει, not φυσει. The lawgiver who creates them is their artist. In creating them he gives form to the universal idea behind the name by means of sound. Names are the instruments of the intellect. Plato adds that there are different kinds of artists and that not everything created by them is equally valuable. Not all names are adequate and names can be unsuccessful in the same way that a painting can be a failure. A name is the likeness of a thing. In Cratylus Plato tries to respond to the question of whether or not names give us any information about their object, and his answer is negative. A thing can be known only by observation and contemplation, not by its name. Aristotle develops Plato's idea and states that names are established by men and that there are no names which arise from nature.
Gregory follows Plato in his reasoning. He turns his attention from the name to the thing itself because things represent inexhaustible experience. Things have a definite being which has been established by God, their Creator, and not by their names. We can discern their definite nature and to a certain extent express it but we can never create an exact replica of the world within our own intellects. This would be a pointless undertaking because such a replica would hide reality from us. Cognition and language are a means for overcoming our limitations. They are not a sign of our strength. We need words and concepts so that we can remember our experiences and describe them to other people who have not shared them. "It is necessary for us to put signs on things so that we can explain to each other the activity of our minds. If there were another way for us to express our thoughts, we would not use words as intermediaries. We would communicate with each other more clearly and more purely because our intellects alone would express the very nature of the things they observed." As the mind becomes purified in its ascent to God, the tongue falls silent. "Every means of expression is inadequate before the truth." Contemplation of the truth is beyond words, which are unnecessary to the intellect when it beholds true being. Contemplation is superior to language, for language is the instrument of human reason.
Gregory insists that certain experiences cannot be fully conceptualized. However, the ineffability and incomprehensibility of the Divinity do not mean that It is unapproachable. On the contrary, Gregory's belief in the possibility of "deification" is one of the outstanding features of his theology. What he wants to make clear is that human reason is limited and that conceptualization should not be respected to the extent that experience is ignored. Gregory does not deny that language is a valuable means of cognition, and he cites Scripture to prove his point. This is the reason for his rejection of the terminology of Eunomius. Gregory emphasizes the independence of the names of the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Spirit, which have been revealed to us by God.
Scripture as a Symbol of Spiritual Truth.
For Gregory Scripture is a symbol of spiritual truth and therefore the literal Hebraic interpretation of the Bible is inadequate. "What seems at first to be a commentary on that which has been written will, if it is not understood in the proper sense, turn out to be something quite different from the truth which is revealed by the Spirit." The "body of Scripture" is a veil which covers the "glory contained in Scripture." The law and the prophets were a small window in the wall of our understanding and the rays of the truth penetrated through this window. "Behind this wall stood the truth, which was closely connected with the Archetype." Now the light of the Gospel pours forth on us in abundance.
Scripture is a record of Revelation, a "testimony of the truth which has been revealed to us." "We say that all Scripture has been inspired by God because it is the teaching of Divine inspiration. When you remove the word, which is its corporeal cover, what remains for you is the Lord, Life, and the Spirit." Scripture should be observed to the letter, as should all the precepts and traditions of faith. "Even great blasphemy and impiety have caused no change in the words which have been transmitted to us." "Because this faith was given to the Apostles by God, we will not abridge it, nor change it, nor add to it." All tradition must be respected as our "most ancient law of faith" and our "inheritance from the fathers." "The proof of our words is the tradition which has come down to us from the fathers. It has been transmitted to us as an inheritance from the Apostles through the saints who followed them," Gregory writes. We must "revere those whose authority has been witnessed by the Holy Spirit, abide within the bounds of their teaching and knowledge, and never dare to strive for that which was not accessible to the saints and holy men."
The Mystery of Theology.
God as True and Complete Being.
In Gregory's contemplation God is the full completeness of true and Sovereign Being. His being is the only Being, and Being is His very nature. "There is nothing which properly exists apart from and except for God's Being. It is above all essence and is the cause of everything," Gregory writes. The Divinity is bound less and infinite, eternal and simple. "The nature of the Divinity is simple, unified, and uncompound." The Divinity is one, uninterrupted within Itself, boundless, infinite, and there is nothing to hinder it or contain it. God has the motion of life within Himself, for "He is Life, and life is active within Him. This life never grows or diminishes through any addition or subtraction." Nothing can be added to that which is eternal and nothing can be removed from an impassive nature.
The eternity of the Divinity can be expressed by the symbol of a circle. A circle never begins; it has no first or last point; it is unified, and it is contained within itself. The eternity of God is also like this. "If we extend our thoughts from the central point of the present moment into the eternity of Divine Life, we see that this life is like a circle and is constantly overtaking itself. Everywhere we see the Divinity, which cannot be encompassed, never ends, and has no interruptions. We cannot recognize in It any individual part or boundary."
The Unending and Eternal Bliss of Divine Life.
Gregory attempts to express the "unending and eternal bliss of Divine Life" through a series of definitions and images. "God is the One Who is beyond the boundary of everything, and Who has nothing beyond Himself. He has no end to His Being and He always exists from everywhere. The infinity of His being transcends the concepts of a final goal or an ultimate source. Every name of God expresses His eternity." Gregory's doctrine of the eternity of the Divinity is similar to the teaching of Origen, as is also his identification of unconditional being with goodness and bliss. All good is true being. God by His nature is every good that the mind can conceive. He is beyond every good that can be grasped by the intellect, beyond beauty, beyond goodness and virtue. God is completeness and the source of everything, and therefore He is superior to everything that exists. He is completeness and bliss. "In contemplating Himself God has everything He desires and He desires everything He has. He does not have anything from outside Himself." God is love and the source of love. "The life of the nature of the Supreme Being is love." God knows and realizes Himself as beauty, and God is love because He is beauty. As a Hellenist Gregory connects love with beauty and goodness. Goodness can also be an ethical concept, as is indicated by the relation of the words καλλος and καλος.
The soul receives this vision of God through contemplating itself because in this contemplation it sees within itself the outline of the image of God and the living imprint of the perfections of the Divinity. The soul by nature is similar to these and can participate in them. We do not come to know the attributes of the Divinity through rational inference but by the contemplation of their reduced reflections within ourselves. We are images and we strive to return to our Archetype.
The Mystery of the Consubstantial Trinity as the Expression of the Completeness of Divine Life.
The completeness of Divine Life is expressed in the mystery of the consubstantial and indivisible Trinity. Every "eloquent speech about this is unclear and says nothing." For polemical reasons Gregory tried to provide his doctrine with a firm foundation in Scripture, but Scripture itself had given rise to controversy because its testimony on the Trinity allowed for various interpretations. Gregory had to organize the relevant Scriptural passages into a unified dogma by exposing and refuting arbitrary and incorrect interpretations and by establishing the exact meaning of his terms. This is what Gregory has in mind when he says that his examination of the mystery of the Trinity is based on "general concepts."
Like Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa develops a theology of the Trinity which is midway between the Hebraic doctrine and the polytheism of the Greeks. "The Jewish doctrine is destroyed by acceptance of the Word and belief in the Spirit, and the polytheistic error of the Greeks is done away with by the truth of the unity of the Divine nature, which invalidates their idea of plurality. After these corrections are made in the false premises of both these systems, let the Jewish conception of the unity of nature remain, and also the Greek distinction as to persons. The names of the Trinity are a remedy for those who are in error as to the One, as the doctrine of unity is for those who believe in many gods."
This synthesis of various individual truths was accomplished by Gregory through the elaboration of the distinction between the concepts "essence" and "hypostasis," a distinction which was common to all the Cappadocian fathers. At the same time Gregory also had to develop the concept of consubstantiality, especially in connection with the doctrine of the unchangeability and absolute completeness of the Divinity in order to effectively oppose the teachings of Eunomius. Gregory's trinitarian theology was developed in the course of his polemic with the Eunomians and was not set forth as an integral system.
Gregory attempts to demonstrate the truth of the Trinity by examining the nature of God. God is not mute, not αλογος, and therefore He must have a Word, λογος. Because God is eternal His hypostatic Word must also be eternal. This Word must be considered to be living, to be “in life,” otherwise it would not be hypostatic and have independent being. There is no distinction in the properties of the Father and the Word, just as our words are not different from our intellects, of which they are the manifestation. "Nothing can be conceived of the Son which also does not belong completely to the Father." Otherwise the Divinity would be composed of dissimilars and Its unity and simplicity would be destroyed. God's Word contains that which can be discerned in God Himself, from whom the Word comes into being. The unity or identity of their properties expresses their unity of nature. At the same time the "Word differs from the One Whose Word He is." The very name of Word indicates a relationship, since it necessarily entails that there is a Father of this Word. "If this Word were not the Word of Someone, it would not be a Word."
The Word and the One from Whom the Word is have separate hypostases. Gregory usually refers to the Second Hypostasis as the Son in order to emphasize the parallelism and inter relationship of the Divine names and to express both the in divisibility and the distinctness of the hypostases. "The name Father indicates that He exists in a relationship and entails the concept of the Only-Begotten." "The very name of Father is a re cognition of the hypostasis of the Only-Begotten." Gregory objects to "unoriginate," the "new name" introduced by Eunomius, "because it conceals from the listener the conception of the relationship and mutual properties of Divinity which is immediately conveyed by the names Father and Son." Gregory discusses the Spirit in a similar way and compares Him to our breath, which makes manifest the strength of our word and appears together with our word. This is also the way we should conceive of the Spirit of God.
Gregory avoids saying that God is the Spirit. The Spirit is an hypostatic name, not a substantial one. The Spirit of God does not merely "accompany the Word and manifest the Word's activity," nor is He merely transient, flowing in from outside and then pouring Himself forth until He is exhausted. This idea is blasphemous. The Spirit must be understood as the "Power of the Divinity which is realized in an independent hypostasis, indivisible from God in whom He abides, and from the Word of God whom He accompanies. He does not exhaust Himself by being poured forth but, like the Word of God, He exists hypostatically." The One Who has a Word and a Spirit is not identical with Them. The Trinity of hypostases does not destroy the unity of the Godhead, the components of which can be distinguished but not divided. God is one and unique. He is the only good, a self-enclosed and individual monad, unchangeable by addition, an absolute unity, individual, full, and complete.
There are two different ways of counting. Counting and ordering, even of created things, does not necessarily relate to essence and does not necessarily entail differentiation of essence. A man retains the state of being man even when he is counted. Gregory develops this idea in analyzing the names of God. Each Divine name designates a power or activity or energy of the Divinity. No activity is limited to any one of the hypostases but all operations are accomplished by the Trinity as a whole. The Trinity acts indivisibly and in unity and Its powers belong to all three hypostases in an equal degree. The Trinity manifests activity or energy which is not only common but single. "Every activity which extends from the Trinity to creation, no matter how it is named or conceived, comes from the Father, is extended through the Son, and is perfected by the Spirit." In discussing baptism and our eternal life Gregory writes: "We have been given life and it has been given by the Father and Son and Spirit. It is one life that we have received, not three. It is one and the same life which takes place in the activity of the Father, is prepared for us by the Son, and depends on the consent of the Spirit. This testifies to the unity of the Divinity in which we participate."
Gregory emphasizes that the operations of the triune Divinity are identical. Their activity is not only common or in kind but it is one and the same, in the same way that the essence of the Trinity is single. Gregory therefore discredits the misleading analogy of Divine activity and human activity. In human activity what seems to be a single action may really be composed of many different smaller actions. Or sometimes the actions of men can be encompassed in a general conception, even though each man acts independently from the others who are doing something similar. However, three philosophers or three rhetoricians are not one. Their activity is united by its common name only.
God's activity must be considered in a different way. The Divinity acts as a unity and Its actions are "a single movement and direction of the will which goes from the Father through the Son to the Spirit." "All of the Divine providence, guardianship, and vigilance over the universe are one, only one, and not three. It is all accomplished by the Holy Trinity. Our faith allows us to contemplate three Persons in the Divinity but Divine activity does not disintegrate into three parts in such a way that any action, examined separately, can be considered to come only from the Father, or from the Only-Begotten by Himself, or from the Spirit alone."
Gregory's teaching has a formal similarity to Origen's doctrine but its substance is quite different. In the first place Gregory denies that Divine actions are distributed among the hypostases, which Origen allows. Gregory also denies that the kingdoms of the Father, Son, and Spirit are different in extent or composition. He maintains exactly the contrary. Furthermore, Gregory's doctrine is completely free of Origen's subordinationism. In Origen's conception the activity of the Divinity diminishes in accordance with the descending order of the hypostases. Strength, power, and authority all become less. It is true that in Gregory's conception Divine activity is realized in creation according to the order of persons, "from the Father through the Son in the Spirit," and involves the distinction of the concepts εκ, δια, and εν. This distinction, however, takes place within the Divinity Itself and is in keeping with the distinct and unmerged structure of con substantial Life. This distinction helps us to understand the mystery of the Trinity.
There are no interruptions and no intervals of time within the activity of the whole Trinity, just as the Trinity Itself is not divisible. "There are no gaps in this eternal nature," there is no emptiness, and there is "nothing that is unrealized." The bliss of this life is beyond temporal duration and there is nothing about it that can be measured. "Inside God there is nothing that is passing and there is nothing that will be past, but everything is always entirely present." The Divinity is not subject to time. It has no "once" or "when" because God is unchangeable. He never becomes; He always is. He is completeness and a "triune simplicity." Nothing in God comes into being. "That which was in Him is and always will be, and if there is something which was not in Him, it is not in Him now and will never be in Him."
This is the basis for Gregory's refutation of Eunomius, who at tempted to penetrate "beyond the generation of the Son," as if hoping to distinguish the stages of eternity. To suggest that something may have existed before the Son implies that it existed before the Father. This is impossible, for God is "both older and younger than Himself." If the Son is not eternal, then there was a time when the Father too did not exist. The orthodox conception of God must be outside of time. "Both before the ages and after them the infinity of His life pours forth every where." "Time," writes Gregory, "flows in a sequence and either contains in itself or passes by essence which is constant and immutable and abides by its own principles."
All of God's names and all conceptions of Him "must be understood together with His eternity." This makes the conception of temporal succession in the activity of the Divinity impossible. Divine activity is simple, just as Divine nature is simple. Origen also conceived of the Divinity as eternal and uncompound but from this premise he concluded that the hypostases of the Trinity must be subordinate. In his conception the Second Hypostasis (and there is not point in distinguishing a third) is reduced to a "participant" in the Divinity, as if generation, even eternal generation, would abrogate the simplicity of the Godhead. Gregory, however, understands that a complete unity can be composed of coinciding properties which are not divisible but also maintain their distinctness, and that in this conception unity is simple and not compound. Starting from the same premises as Origen, Gregory was able to elaborate an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.
Gregory develops the doctrine of the Trinity by considering Its power. The Son and the Spirit are powers but powers which have "essential existence." In other words, they are hypostases. Gregory's definition of an hypostasis is similar to his brother Basil's. "By these names (Father, Son, and Spirit) we recognize not different essences but only different properties which enable us to distinguish the hypostases so that we know that the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father and that the Father and the Holy Spirit are not the Son. Each Person is known by the particular distinguishing properties of His hypostasis and each Person is absolutely indivisible from and united to the other Per sons and cannot be conceived without Them." The hypostatic names are correlative and to a certain extent they give in formation more by negation than by affirmation. They do not offer us a complete understanding of the mystery of the Trinity, especially since this mystery cannot be understood by analogy with the created world, even though this world contains relationships similar to those indicated by the names of the hypostases. The hypostatic names indicate "properties," relationships, and modes of being. They designate how, but not what.
In his definition of the properties of the hypostases Gregory differs somewhat from the other Cappadocians, especially Basil. Gregory primarily distinguishes the Father and the Son as the Unoriginate and the Only-Begotten, αγεννητος and μονογενης.
These names indicate two modes of being. Gregory is not satisfied with stating that the Son is begotten, but stresses the name Only-Begotten in order to distinguish His ineffable mode of being from that of the Spirit. Gregory is also not content with calling the hypostasis of the Spirit the “Sanctifier,” as Basil does, nor is he satisfied with the term “procession,” εκπορευσις, which is used by Gregory the Theologian. Gregory of Nyssa considers that the distinguishing property of the Third Hypostasis is exactly that He is the third. He is from the Father through the Son, δι υιου. This through δια indicates the ontological status of the Spirit, not just His position within the Godhead. “Through,” however, does not imply causality, which is the attribute of the Father, “from Whom” εκ the Trinity has Its Being. In this way Gregory emphasizes the single source of the Trinity. However, "through the Son" has almost the same force as "from the Father" because "Father" is the name of the First Hypostasis in relation to the Second.
The names Father, Son, and Spirit do not indicate essence or nature. By their essence the hypostases are all equally named God. Gregory emphasizes this in order to exclude from the Trinity the concept of subordination. The name of God applies to all Three in an equal degree as their common designation and not in such a way that it is possible to call the Three "God and God and God." There is only one Divinity and one God. It may seem that the relation of the indescribable essence of the Divinity to Its hypostases can be understood as the difference between the general and the particular. This is possible only if the "general" and the "particular" are correctly understood as they apply to the Divinity. The Divinity must be recognized as unchangeable and unchanging, and that which is "particular" within It (that is, that which cannot be further reduced or separated) must be understood to exist within the perfect unity and absolute simplicity of Divine Being, Being in which there are no sections and no division. Gregory himself is not always careful to maintain this qualification. Gregory follows Basil in elucidating the distinction of essence and person by distinguishing between, on the one hand, the concept of man in general, and on the other hand, three particular men — Peter, James, and John. With respect to the Divinity, however, it is not correct to assume that the general is only derived from the particular or abstracted from common elements among particulars.
The Cappadocian fathers reflect the influence of Aristotle in their use of terminology and their understanding of the "general" as a concept only, which relates to real individuals, is derived from the Aristotelian theory of individualism and pluralism. The Cappadocians, however, develop the idea of ultimate essence in a way different from Aristotle. Like Aristotle, they posit an ultimate totality of unfinished and unqualified matter. Aristotle considers that this lack of quality is an imperfection, but the Cappadocians apply this principle to the Divinity and conceive of it as ultimate completeness, a state superior to qualification. In their thought this is not chaos but the supreme totality of matter without subjection to qualification. The hypostatic distinctions presuppose a single and unified "substratum."
This is the reason for Gregory's strict attention to ontology. It is necessary for him to explain why there are three hypostases but not three Gods. After all, Peter, James, and John are three men. Gregory's attempts to answer this question become convoluted and ultimately he asserts that properly speaking Peter, James, and John are not three men. Part of the reason for this conclusion may be that Gregory is not careful to maintain the distinction between Divine nature and created nature. On the contrary, he considers the essence of both the Divinity and humanity on equal terms. His final answer is no more than a sophistic attempt to evade the question.
Gregory answers the question by stating that strictly speaking it is inexact and contradictory to say "three men." "Three" relates to things that can be distinguished and separated, whereas "man" is the name of an essence which is indivisible. It can be identified in individuals but the name "man" cannot be used to designate an individual. It is not a proper name, but a common name. Only proper names are counted, added, and indicated by a number. Enumeration, however, presupposes unity as the basis of addition. "Man" is one, since it has one and the same meaning for each of its hypostases. "This nature is one. It is united within itself and is an individual unity. It cannot be enlarged by addition or diminished by subtraction. It is one and it remains one. It appears among many individuals but it remains indivisible, inseparable, and integral. It is not given in pieces to those who partake of it."
Nature and essence are not changed by numeration. That which can be counted or added remains exactly what it is, whether it is counted or not. Neither is essence changed by the passing of time. Was David's being any less than Abraham's, even though he appeared on earth later than the patriarch by fourteen generations? Was David any less a man because he lived later in time than Abraham? Each of them is identically and equally man. "Man is a concept and is properly called one." Gregory states that since it is logical that concepts are invariable, the only way a concept can be counted is through the individuals in which it is realized. The "man" in three men is one and the same, just as the gold in a quantity of coins is the same. "No diminution or growth takes place, whether 'man' is discerned in many individuals or in only a few." Thus Gregory distinguishes the general and the particular as "what" and "how."
The essence "man" is part of the created world and, although it is indivisible, it is in a constant state of becoming and changing. It remains itself but appears and is realized accidentally in individuals. "Now in some, now in others, now in a greater number, now in a lesser number.” “If anyone is a man, it does not necessarily follow that he must be Luke or Stephen.” The additional properties which distinguish individual men are accidental ουμβεβηκοτες, and make no difference in the identity of their essence.
It is in this respect that Divine Being is different from human being. "In the Three Persons there is never any growth or diminution, development or change." We can count men, in spite of the fact that their essence is identical because they are distinguished and separated by many accidental and varying characteristics. "There is nothing like this within the Trinity because Divine essence is realized only in these Three Persons Whose names we have, and not in any others. The Trinity will never grow to be four or diminish to be two. No new person will ever be generated from the Father or proceed from Him or from any of the other Persons in such a way that the Trinity would become four, and none of the Persons of the Trinity will ever at any time cease to be in such a way that the Trinity would become two."
This means that the Divine hypostases are unchangeable and that They are necessarily entailed by the essence of the Divinity. They are the eternal, immutable, absolute realization of the nature of the Divinity. They are the constant and eternal images of the Being of the only God. They form a unity which is simple, uncompound, and unchanging. "The Persons of the Divinity cannot be divided from each other by time, or by place, or in will, or in operations, or in activity, or by or in any of the things to which man is subject." The hypostases are unblurred but their being is a cohesive and simple whole.
There is no reason to suspect Gregory of naturalism, and his terminology has nothing in common with that of the Western Stoics. It is true that he uses Tertullian's image of three flames and three lamps, but he is careful to avoid making misleading analogies between Divine essence and created nature. The Divinity and Its Three Persons cannot be compared with gold and individual coins because the realization of the created essence is accidental and arbitrary. Gregory is careful to exclude any possibility of chance, accident, arbitrariness, instability, or potential alternative from his concept of the Divinity.
The Shelter of the Universe.
The Source of the Existence of the World.
God is the source of the world's existence and the ultimate goal of its striving and aspiration. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This means that creation has its source in God and that its being has a beginning. Gregory writes: "The beginning of the world refers to that moment when God suddenly, in one instant, created the foundation for all causes and substances." The Creator alone knows what the foundation of creation is and it is impossible for us to understand it. All we know is that creation originates "through change." The beginning of created being is "a movement and change from non-existence into existence."
Change and Becoming as the Nature of Created Existence.
"The hypostases of created matter begin by change," and therefore creation is necessarily subject to change. By their very nature created things are constantly changing and becoming, and they will remain this way until they achieve fulfillment, completion, and perfection. God's will for creation to arise is the only support that creation has in its fluctuating state. The world exists and endures only because its order is maintained by "the Power of the Wisdom and artistry of God, which is realized in everything and penetrates all created natures," and which "by dissolving Itself in the universe maintains the existence of all being. God did not only create the world at some definite point in time, but He continues to preserve it, and as the Almighty He sustains it by His presence, which is everywhere." "Nothing can maintain its being unless it abides in the One Who truly is."
The Presence and Transcendence of God.
God abides in the world but does not merge with it, just as the soul does not dissolve and blend with the body in which it has life. Gregory's idea is similar to the Stoic conception of διοικησις, but with the difference that in Gregory's conception God, in spite of His presence in the world, maintains both His transcendence and His inaccessibility. The properties of created beings are entirely different from God's, and "created natures and the essence of the Divinity are different and are not connected by their attributes." This is in spite of the omnipresence of the "un qualified and indescribable Strength of the Divinity, which contains in Itself all the ages and all creation from all times." How is this possible? We do not know and we should not ask because this surpasses our understanding. What existed before creation? Why did creation arise? All we know is that the world was created by the power of the Word, for the beginning of the world was not mute αλογια.
Gregory's Attitude Toward the Biblical Narration of Creation.
Gregory considers that the Biblical narration of creation is the record of Moses' contemplation on Mount Sinai and not the rational conjecture of some human mind. We must discern and correctly understand the true meaning of this narrative and together with Moses we must enter the mysterious cloud. Gregory goes further in his speculation than Basil.
God as Uncreated Essence and the Creation of Created Existence.
The world is a structured and harmonious whole, and has been created by the Creator. God creates through His Wisdom, and this Wisdom is His will. God's activity is indivisible from the consent of His will. Gregory writes: "We must realize that the creation of the world was accomplished by everything in God: His will, Wisdom, might, and all His essential nature." Gregory deliberately equates the "might" of God with His "substantial or essential nature" in order to anticipate two false conceptions which might arise about creation. Although it is true that the nature of created things is different from God's essence, this does not mean that God did not create the world from Himself. Nor is it true that God achieves creation through some type of "reserve" matter and not from matter which previously had no existence. What Gregory wants to stress is that "as soon as the Divinity desires anything, it is accomplished. Every Divine desire is realized at once and immediately assumes being through the might of the Omnipotent. Whatever God desires in His wisdom and artistry does not remain unrealized. Substance arises from the activity of the Divine will."
Gregory states that the foundation or source of matter as such is immaterial. It "arises from something conceptual, not material." Matter is an aggregate of qualities and there is nothing which can be conceived outside of this totality. Only a "sum total" of qualities comprises matter. "Each of these qualities by itself is only an intellectual concept" because not one of them considered individually, neither lightness, nor heaviness, nor density, nor color, nor outline, nor duration, is material. These immaterial qualities, these "foundations for causes and substances," are created by God in the beginning. Gregory stresses that this "beginning" is "instantaneous and without interruption." It is also the "beginning of temporal duration." Gregory follows Basil the Great and states that the beginning of time does not occur within time. The beginning of time is not yet time itself. The beginning of time means the beginning of movement and change. In a similar way, the origin of creation is the beginning of its process of becoming. The universe does not arise in its ultimate state but is gradually developing. The elements of the world arise suddenly and instantaneously, coming into existence from nothingness through the power of God. In this way the world begins its development.
At first the world was "empty and without distinction" because, Gregory writes, "when God initiated creation everything was still in its potential state. It was as if a seed had been planted which contained the future growth of the being of the universe, but as yet each thing did not exist individually." The earth was, and it was not, for "it was awaiting that which would give it order and qualification, for this is what is meant by coming into being."
In the words of the translation of Theodotion, "Everything was empty." What had been given to the world was the "strength to acquire qualities" but the qualities themselves were not yet present. Darkness was over everything and "none of the sub stances which fill the universe was as yet fully itself." Gregory denies, however, that it is only unqualified matter which originated at creation. Qualities themselves, and their various combinations, were also created, but they had not yet become stabilized. In order for this to occur a connective element had to be introduced into creation. This stabilization was accomplished when the "Divine artistry and power," power of movement and the power of rest, was emplanted in creation.
Creation and the Gradual Realization of Matter.
Gregory interprets the Biblical narrative of the six days of creation as a description of the ordering of the world and the gradual realization of created matter. "By the might of the Creator the foundation of all matter comes into being instantaneously and in totality," Gregory writes, "but the individual manifestations of what is visible in the world are realized according to a natural order and succession, over a certain period of time." The genesis of matter is followed by a "necessary series and a particular order." First fire appears, separating itself suddenly from the depths of unformed substance and illuminating everything with its radiance: "And there was light." "God said" indicates that the "Word of His wisdom and artistry" is implanted in every substance. God by His mighty Word "establishes a radiant power in nature," and Moses calls everything which proceeds from the regular activity of this Divinely implanted power a work of God.
God's act of creation is instantaneous. Succession and sequence, the passing of days and the cycle of the elements, are proper only to His creatures. In primordial chaos there is motion and the elements come to be distinguished by their different densities. Fire comes to the surface and strives to move upward until it reaches the "limits of perceptible creation." In the Bible this ultimate boundary is called the firmament. "Beyond this boundary," Gregory writes, "there exist intellectual creatures which have no form, or size, or limited place, of duration, or color, or outline, or quantity, or any of the things we discern beneath the heavens." At this point the path of fire forms an arc and describes a circle. This is the first day, and its achievement is the de limitation of visible creation from intellectual creation.
Gregory describes the further ordering of the world as a process of division and apportionment. In the course of the next three days the "mutual separation of everything in the world is accomplished," and each thing is assigned to its place. Dry land and water are separated, and the sun, moon, and stars are fixed in the heavens in accordance with the nature of their radiance. Every thing takes its place in a definite order and maintains it "in perpetuity, by virtue of its nature." This could not all be accomplished at once because "everything that has motion moves in time and therefore a certain duration of time is needed for everything to be harmoniously fitted together." For this reason the heavenly bodies are affixed only on the fourth day. Gregory emphasizes that they are not created anew but that they only assume their established place. It is likely that his conception of the natural place of each thing in the universe was influenced by Aristotelian physics.
Gregory adds little to Basil's commentary on the final days of the creation of the world. He only emphasizes that there are degrees and a gradually ascending order to perfection in created matter. Lowest on this scale is inanimate matter, followed by vegetable life and then animal life. First there is matter and then there is the life which penetrates it. The forms of life are also gradated. "The power of life and animateness" which is common to all organic natures appears in three forms. There is a "power to grow and nourish" which is in plants; a "sensible power" or "power of perception" which is in animals; and an "intellectual power" or power of reasoning which is only in man. These are not three forms of a single principle but three separate degrees which relate to each other in an ascending order. Gregory's concept of the hierarchy of nature was also influenced by Aristotle. In accordance with this conception he describes the sixth day as the day on which everything achieved its proper end or goal, when "all the abundance of creation was established both on the earth and in the sea."
Rest and Motion.
The earth is in a state of both rest and motion. The combination of these two opposing principles is responsible for the harmony of the world. Rest can appear in motion and movement can occur in immobility. "All things exist in each other and support each other. There is a cyclical force in the world which transforms everything from one state to another and constantly brings things back to what they were before. This force forms a circle which rotates around itself and constantly makes the same revolutions so that nothing diminishes and nothing is added but everything abides as it was in the beginning." This is the harmony of the world, a "musical proportionateness," "the first, archetypal, truest music." The world is a "harmonious and wonderfully composed song of praise to all the powers which govern it," and this music is accessible to the hearing of the intellect.
Time and Space in Incorporeal Being.
Angels have a special place in creation. The angelic world is spiritual and incorporeal but nevertheless it is contained by time and space, since "nothing which comes into being through change can exist other than in time and space." This does not mean that angels occupy space in the same way that material bodies do, but only that their sphere is limited. Angels are not omnipresent, even though they can instantly appear wherever they choose. Gregory departs from Basil the Great by emphasizing the restriction of angelic being by time. Gregory considers that angelic nature is mobile and calls it "vigilant" because in his conception everything should constantly and without interruption be striving towards God. This is especially true of spiritual life, which by its nature is a path of ascent to God. This life is realized in time and is therefore subject to succession and sequence. Perpetual motion is especially evident in the world of angels. "The nature of angels is in a constant state of development. It changes because the good things which angels enjoy are always becoming greater and no limits have been set to the unceasing growth of their bliss."
Gregory admits that the world of angels originated gradually, through a mysterious form of multiplication. The number of angels was established but was later diminished by the fall. At this time the hierarchy of angelic ranks, which is determined by relative degrees of perfection, came into being. Gregory comments on the number of angels by referring to the parable of the lost sheep: "He leaves the ninety-nine for the sake of one." In Gregory's interpretation this means that God leaves the angels and comes to man.
Gregory describes angelic being as an endless hymn of praise. He adds that angels are not omniscient. Their knowledge is limited by the very fact that they are immaterial, and the Gospel has revealed that the only way these incorporeal beings know about the mystery of the Incarnation is through the Church (Ephesians 3:10-12). Gregory considers that the Church enables angels to "better see the Invisible One." Men are able to form a conception of angelic nature because "we are of the same tribe as they." We are related by virtue of our souls, even though human souls are clothed in flesh.
Man as the Culmination of the Creation of the World.
The creation of the world culminates in the creation of man. This is its fulfillment and completion. Man is not only a part of the world but, by having been brought into the world last, he is its lord and sovereign. God orders and adorns the world like a royal palace for the sake of man, and man is introduced into this completeness "not to acquire what is not in the world but to enjoy the things that are," partly as an observer and party as a ruler.
Man's nature is double. On one hand he is the center of the universe, a complete microcosm of nature, a "small world containing all the elements which fill the great world." God creates man last so that "man can encompass every type of life within himself." However, this is not man's chief dignity. "What do we gain by considering man the image and likeness of the world?" Gregory asks. "After all, the earth is transient and the heavens change, and everything they contain passes with them." He makes an ironic comment on pagan philosophers: "They say that man is a microcosm of the world but, in glorifying human nature with this resounding praise, they do not notice that they are endowing man with the properties of gnats and mice."
Gregory considers that man is sovereign because he is created in the image of God. Man is the medium through which God's works are accomplished in the world. Man contains both an intellectual nature and a nature which depends on the senses for perception. In commenting on the formation of man from the dust of the earth Gregory writes that the breath of God gave life to this dust "so that the earth could ascend to the Divinity and be united with It. Grace was given to the whole of creation when this earthly substance was mingled with the nature of the Divinity." Through man all the elements of the earth participates in spiritual life, and in this sense man contains the whole world. For this reason man did not originate by a single Divine word or command but God created Him solemnly and "with circumspection."
God creates man through His love for him and so that he can become a participant in Divine bliss. This is why God makes man in His own image and likeness: "so that man is an animate likeness of the eternal Divinity." Everything recognizes that which is similar to it and, "in order for us to become participants in the Divinity, there must be something in our nature which we have in common with the nature of God." God has thus given man the possibility of enjoying ineffable and infinite bliss. Gregory sees the greatest significance of the being of humanity in his conception of man as the image of God. This is what distinguishes man from the rest of earthly creation.
The Image of God in Man.
The image of God must be sought in that faculty of man which distinguishes him from the rest of nature; that is, in his "reasoning power," in his intellect, trove. An image implies a reflection and "everything in man which reflects the perfection of the Divinity, every good which has been implanted in human nature," should be recognized as the image of God. Gregory considers that this doctrine is important for an understanding of man's ontological status and also of his ethical nature. His conception of God's image in mankind is dynamic and allows for the growth or diminution, the greater or lesser clarity and completeness of this image in individual man. The more man reflects the perfection of the Divinity, the more distinct is the image of God within him.
Man's similarity to God is revealed in all his faculties but its focal point is the human intellect. "When a sliver of glass lies in the rays of the sun, the entire orb of the heavenly body can be seen in it, not in its own magnitude, but to the degree that can be contained within the small piece of glass. In this same way, the images of the inexpressible attributes of the Divinity are radiant within the smaller sphere of our nature." The Divine image within man is a living link between man and God and enables man to develop his similarity to God. It is only through this effort that man can participate in Divine bliss. "The intellect is created in the image of the Most Beautiful and it remains in a state of beauty and goodness as long as it partakes, as much as is possible, in its likeness to its Archetype. As soon as it departs from this likeness, it is deprived of the beauty in which it had partaken. The intellect is adorned by the beauty of its Archetype in the same way that a mirror expresses the features of the figure which is visible in it." The beauty of the intellect is reflected in all of man's faculties because "the communication of true beauty extends proportionately throughout the whole, for the superior nature beautifies that which comes after it."
The Image of God and Freedom of the Will.
To be the image of God means to live in God and to have the "possibility of being beautiful." This possibility is expressed in certain attributes of human nature, most importantly in man's freedom of the will. Man's free will means that he is "independent of the forces of nature" and that he is capable of making his own decisions and choices. Free will is a necessary condition of virtue because "virtue must be freely chosen and voluntary. Anything that is compulsory or forced cannot be virtue."
Without free will there can be no intellect. "If intellectual natures lost their free will, they would also lose their ability to reason," that is, the ability to make distinctions and judgments. Furthermore, "if any kind of necessity controlled human life, this would destroy man's likeness to God. How can a nature which is subordinate to or under the power of necessity be called an image of the sovereign nature of the Divinity?" Free will is the reason that man desires good and love. "This is what the Creator ordained as the basic feature of human nature, for God is love and the source of love. Wherever there is no love the features of the Archetype are marred." "Man can recognize the Supreme Being and wants to share the eternity of the Divinity" because eternity has also been implanted in human nature. Man is called to be sovereign in the universe because of his likeness to God.
The Ontological Status of God's Image in Man.
Gregory develops his doctrine of man as the image of God primarily in connection with his belief in the possibility of man's communion with God. He ignores the ontological problems of this concept. Gregory considers that the inaccessibility of human nature stems from the fact that man has been made in the image of the Divinity. "This image is a proper image as long as it lacks nothing which we consider to be a property of its Archetype. But as soon as the image is deprived of its likeness to its Archetype, it ceases to be the image of God. Therefore, since one of the properties we acknowledge in the Divinity is the property of inaccessible essence, it is necessary that the image be similar to its Archetype in this respect as well."
The fact that the essence of human nature is not comprehensible to us does not make it impossible for us to recognize it and to attempt to define it in the same way that we also manage to speak about God in spite of the fact that His essence is unknown to us. However, the ultimate foundation for man's being is inaccessible to us. The ontological status of God's image in man is beyond our comprehension and this results necessarily from the unknowability of the nature of the One Whose reflection we are. We can only speak about the perfection of the Archetype's reflection or about participation in the good things and bliss it offers, which are really the same things.
Gregory develops this conception from his belief that it is possible for man to achieve communion with God. "Man has been given being in order to enjoy the bliss of the Divinity and therefore he must have something in his nature which is related to the nature of the One in Whom he partakes. For this reason man is endowed with fife, intellect, wisdom, and all the beauties of God, and each of these gifts inspires man with the desire for the One Who is thus related to him. All of this is expressed in the book of Genesis by the simple statement that man is created in the image of God." Man's likeness to God cannot be found in any one faculty or feature, although it is definitely a part of man's spiritual nature and not his physical or sensual being. However, the image of God has also mingled with man's senses and physical faculties of perception. This is the significance of the double nature of man.
Two Simultaneous Operations in the Creation of Man.
Gregory distinguishes two simultaneous operations in the creation of man. It has been written that "God created man." Gregory explains: "The indefinite character of this term indicates that it refers to all mankind. At this point God's creature was not given the name Adam, which he received only later. On the contrary, the name given to the newly created man refers not to one man alone, but to the whole race." The whole of humanity was encompassed by the foresight and power of God from the very beginning. At creation God established the ultimate goal for each human being because He had complete foreknowledge about His creatures. The Biblical expression does not mean that only a single man was created as the sole representative of mankind or that each individual human came into being at once. Human nature in all its completeness was created in a single instant, in the same way that the whole world was created at once.
The first man was not created as a single, isolated individual, but as the source and first representative of the human race. At his creation the Divine will encompassed all future men who are consubstantial with each other and established for each of them a common foundation and a common end or goal, τελος. Gregory also considers that at creation God decreed a finite number of individual men and that therefore human history will come to an end. God “in His foreknowledge made time commensurate with the human race so that the appearance of a definite number of souls will correspond to the continuation of time. The flowing motion of time will cease when the human race stops growing."
At creation God gave a single command but the creature which originated "at the first ordering" has a double significance. "By virtue of Divine foresight God encompassed all human nature in a single body," Gregory writes. He emphasizes that the image of god was given not only to Adam, the first man, but that "this image is endowed equally to the whole race." "The whole of mankind is named in this one man because for the power of God there is no past or future. God's activity comprehends both the present and what will follow it. Therefore all men, from the first man to the last, are a single image of the One Who truly is."
Every man contains the complete measure of human nature and therefore "Adam, the first man, also had everything which each of his descendants has," at least "as far as concerns his essential nature." The essence of man is identical in all men but their distinguishing properties are different and Gregory never implies that they are all contained in the first man. On the contrary, he emphasizes that descendants "pre-exist in their forebears by virtue of the common essence of humanity, which is never created anew and which is not divided according to the number of individuals who share in it." This essence exists neither before nor outside of its individual hypostases.
Gregory's Interpretation of Creation and the Distinction of the Sexes.
Gregory differentiates the creation of the "common essence of humanity" from the creation of male and female. The distinction of sex has no relation to the image of God in man because this distinction is not present in the Archetype. "Therefore," Gregory concludes, "the establishment of our nature was a double operation. We were made similar to the Divinity but were also divided into different sexes." By this second operation man is linked with animal nature.
Man is created in the image of God, and for this reason there should have been no need for different sexes. The increase of the human race should have taken place in the same way that the "angelic race multiplies, in a way that is unknown to us." At the fall, however, man lost his equality with the angels and thus lost their impassive means of increase. God had foreknowledge of this fall, since "He saw beforehand by His all-seeing power that human wills would fail to follow a direct course to what is good, and that men would fall from angelic life." Therefore God "invented" for His image the distinction and division of the sexes, which has no source in the Divine Archetype. God "invented for our nature a means of increase which is suitable for those who have fallen into sin. He implanted in mankind that animal and irrational mode by which we now succeed each other instead of the mode which is fitting for the majestic nature of the angels." Gregory adds that this at least is his view of the matter.
Gregory's Differences with Origen.
These conceptions are clearly influenced by Origen, and yet in many respects Gregory's thought is very different. Gregory denies the pre-existence and transmigration of souls and he rejects the idea that "there is some tribe or citizenry of souls which exists before life in the body." Gregory admits that there is a mode of increase in the angelic world. He conceives of time as a process of development during which the complete number of human hypostases will be realized and have existence. He emphasizes that a soul does not have existence without a body, or a body without a soul, but that both have a single source for their being. Man is not composed from two separate elements but he is generated as a body and as a soul simultaneously. The development of the human embryo is a single organic process which takes place by virtue of a "hidden element in the seed." "The soul is also present in the seed but it is not yet discernible." That which is animate generates that which is animate, flesh which is living, not dead. In conclusion Gregory writes: "We consider that it is impossible for the soul to adapt itself to other dwelling places."
Gregory does not share Origen's distrust of physical matter. Everything created by God is, in the words of the Bible, "very good." Therefore, "we should discern good in every thing." "Every element by itself is filled with goodness in a way that is suited to its nature." "Whether it is a myriapod, or a green frog, or an animal born from some filth, it is all very good." For Gregory matter itself is not impure, especially since it was created first. That which is proper to animals is not impure by itself but only as it appears in man because "that which irrational life has been given as a means of self-protection becomes a passion in man." Furthermore, Gregory agrees with Basil that the lower motions of the irrational soul in man should "each be transformed into a virtue" by the power of reason. Finally, in Gregory's conception the "second operation" in the creation of man, the distinction of the sexes, is also the work of God. "The ordering of nature has been established by God's will and law. It should not be considered a flaw." "All of man's members have been designed for one goal: that mankind may continue to have life." Even man's animal and passionate mode of increase is not to be despised because it "ensures the succession of mankind." It is the way that "nature fights with death." "The sex organs assure mankind of immortality so that death, which is always striving against us, be comes ineffectual and powerless. Nature is always renewing itself and compensating for the limitations of those who are born." This idea is foreign to Origen.
Gregory never specifies the exact moment at which this "second operation," the actual differentiation of the sexes, occurs. Since in his conception the "fleshly robe of the body" refers to the physical status of man after the fall, it may seem that he considers that man in his pure state of equality with the angels did not share the corporeality of animal natures and was not actually distinguished by sex. Divine providence only foresaw the coming coarsening of human nature and its division by sex and allowed this to take place. However, it is unlikely that Gregory considered that man was fully incorporeal before the fall because this would contradict his doctrines of man's intermediate status in creation as the link between immaterial and earthly beings, and of man's calling to be sovereign in nature. Gregory probably agreed with the idea introduced by Methodius of Olympus and later supported by Gregory the Theologian that man's "fleshly robe" is an indication of the coarsening of human nature and the subjection of the body to death which took place after the fall and in which respect man is similar to the animals. This is not just corporeality but mortality and the "subjection to death." This mortality is a "robe which has been imposed on us from outside. It temporarily serves the body and is not a part of our nature." It is a robe, a shell, a "deathly mantle." Thus Gregory departs from Origen by insisting on the integrity of man's being even in this life, and on the absolute simultaneity of the development of the body and the soul.
Gregory's view that there was no marriage before the fall, that the "conjugal state" is a result of sin, and that no marriage can be entirely pure, was also shared by a number of earlier theologians, especially those who were not influenced by the school of Alexandria. This conclusion was later supported by John Chrysostom (although he ultimately altered his position), Theodoret of Cyrus, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, and later by Byzantine theologians, until the statement of Patriarch Jeremiah to the theologians of Tübingen in 1576.
The Fall of Man and the Image of God.
After man's fall it became difficult to discern his original features and to recognize in him the image of God. "Where is the soul's likeness to God? Where is that which is not subject to corporeal suffering? Where is the eternal life? Man is mortal, passionate, and ephemeral, and his soul and body are inclined to passions of every kind." Similarity to God can only be seen in attributes which are eternal. In these attributes the original Divine likeness again shines forth so that we can recognize the original law of human life, the law of hierarchy and proportion. Everything should be subordinate to the soul and the intellect and express their dignity and perfection. This is the meaning of impassivity, απαθεια. That which is impassive is that which is in opposition to the passions. The true significance of the state of passion is that in it the hierarchy is upset and overturned. That which is superior in man becomes subordinate to that which is lowest in him and "the baseness of matter is transmitted to the intellect itself." Impassivity entails incorruptibility, αφθαρσια. When the hierarchy of human nature is maintained, the life-giving rays of the Divinity are communicated to man's entire being through his intellect. Before the fall this protected man from mutability and ephemerality and gave him endurance and stability, immortality and unending life.
In Gregory's understanding God's command to man at creation to rule over the earth signifies not only that man is to have power over nature but also that he is to reign over irrational beings. Reason is to control irrationality as the culmination of the hierarchic and harmonious order of the world as it was originally created. Man is called to be lord over nature and for this reason he must be independent of it. This independence and freedom from the instabilities of the cycles of nature will be realized in paradise when man will experience spiritual bliss through participation in eternal life. Gregory does not describe paradise with allegory or fables. He does not reject the world but separates man from it and liberates him. Man has been summoned not to live in the world but to live above it.
The Fate of Man.
Freedom of the Will and the Mystery of Evil.
The fate of mankind is determined by God and by man's free choice. Man was created with a free will and his original purpose in life was to strive to reach God. This goal was not accomplished. The efforts of the will grew weaker and the inertia of nature over came man's striving to reunite himself with the Divinity. This led to the decay of human nature and the growth of disorder in the whole world. The universe ceased to be a mirror of the beauties of the Divinity and the image of God which had been engraved in it grew faint. This is how evil entered the world. Evil has no foundation in the will of God because it comes from things which do not exist. "By itself evil has no existence but exists only as the absence of good." "Evil is the name of that which is outside of our conception of good." It is primarily as "that which has no existence" that evil is opposed to the Good which truly exists and to everything in the world that originates through the will of God. "Paradoxically," Gregory writes, "it is in its very nonexistence that evil exists."
Evil is not merely an apparition but is the absence or insufficiency of good. "Outside of free will there is no independent evil." The reality of evil is in the distortion of the will. It is a harvest which has not been sown and a plant which has no roots. Evil is a reality, although it is unstable and "has no independent hypostasis." It is a shadow which appears when the spirit is absent. This leads Gregory to conclude that evil will ultimately be destroyed. It is a tumor and an outer crust which will eventually fall from every nature which is good and enduring. Evil is not a phantom that will suddenly be dispersed but it is a reality that will be overcome only gradually and with difficulty and this will deter mine the course of human history. In his conception of evil Gregory is closer to Origen than to Plato, from whom he borrows only his terminology.
The source of evil is in the corruption of the will. "Human nature is mutable and it began to move in the wrong direction." This movement of the will was not in accord with its nature and thus the will was harmed and destroyed. "The fall away from the One Who truly is," Gregory writes, "corrupts and destroys everything that exists." How did this turn of the will from existence to nonexistence become possible? How can that which does not exist and has never existed influence the will and give it motivation? The solution to the mystery of the first sin and the fall away from God lies in the fact that the original task of man was dynamic. Human nature was implanted with the aspiration to good, but not with a clear recognition of good. Man must find out for himself what is truly good and beneficial for him. The fall came about through deceit. Man was deceived by external appearances and was "mistaken in his desire for true good." In his foolishness he considered that things which delight the senses are good and thus he accepted the "phantom of goodness" as the truth. His judgment was deceived and he was guided by false standards. "A lie is a conception which somehow develops in the mind about something which has no existence, as if that which does not exist were real. The truth is an unquestionable understanding of the One Who truly is."
Not only did man deceive himself but he himself was deceived because of the envy of the angel who was offended when man was created in the image of God. Thus the second root of evil and sin is found in the angelic world. The erring angel severed his natural ties with good and, like a stone, he sank to the bottom, dragged down by his own weight. He led man into error and "treacherously and deceitfully appeared to man and convinced him to bring death on himself and to become his own murderer."
The serpent tempted Eve with "the apparition of good," with sensual pleasure, "which is beautiful to look at and pleasant to taste." It is difficult to determine whether Gregory understands the forbidden fruit literally or allegorically but his interpretation of the Divine prohibition is clear: "Our forefathers were commanded not only to acknowledge good but also not to try to understand that which is opposed to good. They were to flee from that which is both good and evil at the same time and to enjoy good in its pure form, untouched by evil." The nature of evil is two-faced and deceitful. It is poison mixed with honey. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil received its name because "it produced fruit with a double nature, which was formed from opposing qualities." The knowledge of good and evil does not only mean that man must be able to distinguish between them. Man is allured and enticed to evil in the guise of good and this confuses him. The fruit of the forbidden tree was not purely evil (because it flourished in beauty), nor was it absolutely good (because evil was latent inside it). It was an ambiguous mixture of both.
Sensual temptation was born in the lower sphere of man's soul, in the faculty of desire, which managed to free itself from the control of the intellect and distracted man's attention to the material world. The intellect lost its supreme authority and God's commandment was broken. Thus sin is the result of the disobedience of the will and the existence of evil is ethical and not only objective. It is not the senses as such, but the fascination of the senses, the "passion for satisfaction," and the "disposition to sensual and material things" which are evil and the root and source of sin and sinfulness. The mind has become similar to a mirror which was turned to the wrong side, so that "it does not represent the radiant features of good but reflects in itself the ugliness of matter." Matter becomes ugly at the moment that it is isolated from that which is superior to ft.
By falling into sin man became subject to the laws of the world of matter. He became mortal and liable to decay. Death, dying, the succession of forms and generations, birth, and growth have all been part of the natural world from the beginning and in nature these processes are neither flaws nor diseases. Death is abnormal and contrary to the law of nature for man alone, although Gregory also considers that death is a beneficent healing which leads man to resurrection and purification. This is because man is saved from corruption by sin at the resurrection when his original incorruptibility will be returned to him.
Gregory's Doctrine of the Limits of Evil.
The restoration, healing, and transformation of man cannot be accomplished through natural forces. The effects of evil cannot be simply reversed and movement in the wrong direction is resistant to change. Man's salvation requires a new creative action on the part of God. It is true that Gregory believes that evil will eventually exhaust itself and that it cannot be boundless and infinite because finiteness is a property of all being. It is only in striving for good that limitless motion is possible because this is a goal which can never be reached. Movement in the opposite direction cannot continue forever: "Since evil does not extend into infinity but is encompassed by certain necessary limits, it appears that good once more follows in succession after the limits of evil."
This reasoning stems from Gregory's belief in the absolute nature of the future restoration and in the impossibility of the ultimate stability and endurance of evil. Gregory foresees the second coming of Christ, our Savior, and when our final salvation is thus accomplished it will have no limits. Gregory does not mention the ultimate exhaustion of evil without referring to the manifestation of God in the figure of Christ. On the contrary, he sees the Word Incarnate as man's only hope for salvation from the "black and stormy sea of human life." Gregory, like Athanasius, considers the redeeming work of Christ as a return to life and a victory over death and mortality. This is possible only through the union of Divine life with human nature. The power to destroy death is a property of life. "He Who lives eternally accepts corporeal birth not because He needs life but in order to return us to life from death . . . With His own body He gives to our nature the source of its future resurrection and through His power the whole of human nature will rise up."
Gregory's Legalistic Interpretation of the "Ransom."
Gregory suggests another reason for the necessity of Divine intervention to save the world from evil when, following the example of Origen, he speaks about ransom to the devil or, more specifically, ransom from the devil. The devil's power over man is legitimate because man sinned through his own free will and by this he surrendered himself to the devil and became the devil's slave. Therefore man cannot be "arbitrarily torn away" because this would "bring harm to our nature in returning to it its greatest good," which is our freedom. This action would "deprive the image of God of its honor." It would be unjust to use violence or superior force against the devil, who legally acquired man as a slave. Thus, man can only be liberated through the payment of a ransom.
The devil is crafty and would not exchange something good for something inferior. He chose Christ as ransom because he was impressed (not frightened) by His unique life and ability to perform miracles. He asked the price and was told that "if through death he could attain mastery over this flesh, then he would have control over all flesh." The deceitful one was deceived. "He swallowed the bait of the flesh and was pierced by the hook of the Divinity."
In developing this unsuccessful "legalistic" theory Gregory was influenced by Origen and in some respects his presentation is even more extreme. This doctrine is incompatible with the rest of Gregory's system of theology and is also self-contradictory. The basic idea that only God can legitimately save man from sin turns into a defense of God's deceit. Gregory shows that it is fitting for a deceiver to be deceived. "Here, by the reasonable rule of justice, he who had practiced deceit is given back that very treatment, the seeds of which he had sown himself of his own free will. He who deceived man with the bait of sensual pleasure is deceived by a human form." Gregory's defense is inconclusive and inappropriate. This theory was later rejected in its entirety by Gregory the Theologian.
The Goal of the Incarnation.
The basic goal of the incarnation of the Word is the "resurrection and deification of man." Christ "becomes one with our nature and, in being united with the Divinity, our nature becomes Divine itself, is removed from the power of death, and is saved from the torments of the enemy." Athanasius and Irenaeus express themselves in similar terms.
Gregory is aware that for both Jews and Greeks the "human economy of the Word of God" might seem to be "impossible and even unseemly." Certain Christian heretical sects, especially the Arians and the Apollinarians, were guilty of the same error. Gregory sets forth his teaching on the unity of the two natures in the God-man in order to oppose these heresies. In doing this he concentrates his attention on the salvation brought by Christ. "It is both possible and proper only for the one who gave us life in the beginning to return this life to us when we are perishing." Furthermore, "how would our nature be corrected if the Divinity were united with some other heavenly nature?" The reality of our salvation makes it necessary for us to recognize the dual consubstantiality of Christ and the "unity of the hypostases" of the God-man. Gregory tries to avoid the expression "two natures." Instead he writes: "We acknowledge in Christ both Divinity and humanity. By nature He is Divine, and by economy He is human."
Gregory and the Unity of the God-Man.
Gregory has no definite terminology to describe the unity of the God-man. Sometimes he talks about συναφεια, a close union, and about μιξις, a mingling or combination, or κρασις, a blending. He calls Christ the “Bearer of God” and sometimes he simply refers to ενωσις, a union or unity. Gregory's usage is frequently careless. He occasionally uses the term "mixture" to describe the organic unity of the body, and συναφεια to describe the indivisible unity of the Trinity. The way in which the unification of natures takes place remains incomprehensible to us but it may be partially explained by the coexistence of the body and the soul.
Gregory develops his doctrine of the full humanity of Christ in his polemic with the Apollinarians. He stresses that Christ's assumption of human nature is complete. "No Christian will say that the man who was united with God was only half a man, but that his whole nature entered union with the Divinity." After all, "anyone who lacks something, without which his nature is incomplete, cannot be called a man." This is vital for Gregory's understanding of the redeeming work of Christ. The Lord came and was incarnate for the sake of salvation. "It is not a body which perished but a whole man who had a complete soul. In fact, it is right to say that the soul perished even before the body."
The Lord comes to save His sheep which is lost. "He finds it, and then He raises on His shoulders the whole sheep, not just its fleece" because "not only a part of the sheep was lost but the whole sheep had gone astray, and so the Lord returns it whole." Gregory makes another comparison: when we wash a garment we never do so in such a way that some spots remain while others are removed. On the contrary, we clean the whole cloth from one end to the other, so that the whole garment is of a single quality and all of its parts are purified by the cleansing. "So, since human life has been defiled by sin at the beginning and at the end and in all its parts, the purifying agent must penetrate the whole, and not in such a way that part of it is purified through this treatment while another part remains untreated."
For Gregory "man" is the name of an essential nature and he emphasizes the integrity of the composition of man: "A body without a soul is a corpse and a soul without reason is a beast." In order to oppose the teaching of the Apollinarians Gregory stresses the identity of the flesh of Christ "with the rest of humanity." "We know what His body was composed of when He lived among people as a man." Gregory realizes that the corporeal nature of Christ is disturbing to many: "His human birth, His growth from infancy to maturity, His need to eat and drink, His weariness and need for sleep, His sorrow, tears, calumniation, trial, cross, death, and removal to the tomb: all of these things which make up the mystery weaken the faith of people whose minds are not elevated."
Gregory answers these doubts by developing an apology for human nature. None of the actions of Christ's life is unworthy of Him because it is only base passions which are shameful. "God is born not into anything flawed but into human nature." The composition of man contains nothing which makes virtue impossible and there is nothing impure about birth itself. Voluptuousness and lust are impure but the birth of man into the world is not. "What can be unseemly about this mystery? God was united with human life through the very means which nature uses to fight against death." It is only passion, in the narrow sense of the word, that was not assumed by the Lord. Gregory speaks frequently and clearly about the true corporeality of Christ in order to expose the false doctrine of the Apollinarians about the "heavenly flesh of Christ," which was their explanation of the mystery of the Incarnation. Gregory considered this explanation false because in their system creation would be brought no closer to the Creator and also because the Divinity has no need of deified flesh.
The human nature of the Savior develops according to the norm established for mankind before the fall. Furthermore, His humanity becomes deified through its union with God. This is the source of the salvation of human nature; it is its salvation, revivification, and restoration to its original state. Gregory writes that God the Word "becomes flesh because of His love for mankind and He assumes our nature so that by mingling with the Divinity humanity can be deified. In this way all the elements of our nature are sanctified." Once it is united with God, human nature can raise itself to His level, and that which ascends is that which has been raised up from destruction. "By commingling with the Divinity, everything that is weak and corrupt in our nature also becomes Divine."
Two Phases in the Deification of Human Nature in Christ.
Gregory follows Origen and distinguishes two phases in the development or deification of human nature in Christ. The first phase is the period of healing through obedience which occurred before the Resurrection. Death, which had been introduced by the disobedience of the first man, is driven out "by the obedience of the second man," Gregory writes. The "True Healer" frees those who have been afflicted by disease because they have departed from the will of God "by means of reuniting them with the Divine will." The Divinity heals both the body and the soul. "Through the union of God with each part of man, signs of the superior nature appear in both these parts. The body is healed by contact with the Divinity and reveals the Divinity that was latent within it and through the strength of the Almighty the soul demonstrates its own Divine power."
However, it was still necessary for the Savior to suffer and die and to sacrifice Himself on the Cross. "In a solemn and ineffable rite, the like of which mankind had never seen before, the Savior gave Himself as an offering and a sacrifice for us. He was both the priest and the Lamb of God Who accepted the sins of the world." This indicates that the flesh had still not been given new life by the Divinity, and Christ's prayer in the garden of Gethsemane demonstrates that "His weakness was identical to ours." Gregory's commentary on Gethsemane is similar to Origen's: "The Lord spoke these humble words and expressed human fear in order to show that He truly shared our nature and by taking part in our weakness He testified to the reality of His humanity."
Gregory emphasizes that the Savior's death was unique. Death is the separation of the soul and the body, after which the body, having lost the "strength of life" it had in the soul, disintegrates. The Savior's death was a true death because His soul and body were separated. However, "since He had united both body and soul within Himself, He Himself was not separated from either of them." This was the source of the resurrection because both body and soul remained in communion with the Divinity, with Life. Even in death the deified body of the Savior was incorruptible and through the incorruptibility of His body mortality was destroyed. His soul entered paradise and was seated beside the Father.
It was necessary for the soul and the body to be reunited. "By the unity of Divine nature, which existed equally in the body and in the soul, that which had been separated was again joined together. Death results from the separation of united elements and resurrection comes from the unification of that which is divided." This was a resurrection of all the elements of human nature. The Lord gave to humanity the "power and potential, δυναμις, for resurrection." The Lord descended into hell, "into the heart of the earth," "to destroy that mind which was great in evil and to bring light to the darkness, so that mortality was consumed by life and evil and was turned into nothingness."
During the three days of His death the Lord destroyed "all the evil which had accumulated since the creation of the world." He destroyed it not by struggling against it but by His descent alone. "The simple and incomprehensible coming of Life and the presence of Light for those who were sitting in mortal darkness and shadow destroyed death and made darkness disappear." The death of the Lord was His resurrection and the resurrection of all mankind. This is the beginning of the second phase of the life of the God-man and the ultimate deification and glorification of human nature. "After the great mystery of death is fulfilled in it, the flesh reveals God in itself, and by dissolution it will turn into something higher and Divine. When it has become one with Christ the Lord, the flesh will change into that which He was even when He was revealed in the flesh." Man will become superior to every name which is proper to the Divinity (cf. Philippians 2:10). "By mingling with the Divinity our corruptible nature will be transformed into the superior nature. It will participate in the strength of the Divinity in the same way that a drop of vinegar is blended in with the sea and loses its natural qualities in the infinity of the other, enduring substance."
In this way our salvation was achieved. "The kingdom of life arrived and the power of death was destroyed. There appeared a new birth, another life, and our very nature was transformed." Christ at His resurrection "resurrected with Himself everything that had gone to rest." He destroyed the bonds and affliction of death in order to establish for us a "path to birth through resurrection" and a "path to rebirth through death." Thus Christ is the Path, the Resurrection, and the Life, and through Him God creates a new heaven and a new earth. "The foundation of the Church is the foundation of the universe."
Man is a true participant in the death and resurrection of our Savior not because of his relation to the Savior or his consubstantiality with Him, but through faith. "Rebirth is achieved in two ways," through baptism and resurrection. Baptism is a new birth "which does not begin with corruption and end with decay but which leads the newly born into eternal life." Baptism is the first stage of resurrection, a way out of the "labyrinth" of this life. "I apply the figure of a labyrinth to our inescapable bondage to death, which imprisons the whole wretched human race." The symbolism of the baptismal rite refers to the "three days' state of death and the return to life of Christ." Baptism is the "imitation of death," the "imitation of the grace of the resurrection which was achieved after three days."
Baptism and the Imitation of Death.
In death things that have been separated are purged of sin so that they can be reunited at the resurrection in purity. In the baptismal "imitation of death," in this "form of mortification, which is given by water," since water is the element closest to earth, the proper and natural place for all dead things, by the power of the Divinity and "by the will of God and the inspiration of the Spirit, which mysteriously descends for our liberation," there occurs "not a complete destruction, it is true, but a kind of break in the continuity of evil." This is the "beginning and cause" of that which will be completely accomplished at the "great resurrection." Baptism is "the beginning of our restoration to our original blissful state, which is Divine and far from all sadness." The water takes the place of fire, for "whoever is purified from evil by the mysterious water has no need for any other form of purification. Those who are not sanctified in this way must necessarily be purified by fire." Visible appearances are not changed at baptism. Old men do not become youths and wrinkles are not smoothe out. However, the internal man is renewed and "that which has been stained by sin and aged through evil habits returns to the innocence of a child through this sovereign grace." "We are restored to our original beauty, which was imprinted in us at our creation by God, the great artist."
At baptism man is required to demonstrate his faith and to repent, to turn away from evil and the false movements of the will. Man must give his faith freely, for only "inanimate and irrational beings can be forced to anything by the will of another." Grace calls to man, but man's will must respond. The grace received through baptism must be actively accepted by the will, and the signs of a newly born man are the "inclination to the best" and the "free movements of the soul" as it starts out on its new path. The old man disappears only through good works. Baptismal grace testifies that man has been pardoned and shown mercy, but not that he has truly become virtuous.
"The man who accepts the water of rebirth is like a young warrior who has just been enrolled as a soldier, but who as yet has demonstrated neither martial spirit nor courage." Great things are expected of him and only after he has accomplished his feats will he be worthy to be rewarded with bliss. "Faith requires the companionship of its sister, which is a virtuous life." At baptism man is reborn as a son of God and those who are thus reborn should demonstrate their similarity to their Parent. "Their relationship should be proved by their life." "If a man does not prove his noble lineage through his deeds, then it is a bad sign. He is not a legitimate son, but only a foundling."
Gregory claims that those whose lives after baptism remain similar to their previous lives demonstrate that their souls have not yet been cleansed of the impurities of the passions. "The water remains water because the newly born man does not show the gifts of the Holy Spirit because Christ, Who Himself united man with God, unites only that which is worthy of communion with the Divinity." The newly baptized man must show that he has freely chosen to live a new life. "In our rebirth the degree of beauty which the soul is given through grace depends on our own desire. The more greatly we strive to live a life worthy of God, the more greatly our soul will be glorified." Grace is manifested in the free choices of the will, but the will's activity is necessary for grace to be achieved. Their relationship is synergistic and harmonious.
Man's Call to Make Himself a Son of God.
The path of man's quest for self-perfection is determined by his call to make himself a son of God. "When the Lord instructed us to say in our prayers that God is our Father, He commanded us to make ourselves similar to our heavenly Father by leading lives worthy of Him." In this sense it is possible to say that "Christianity is an imitation of the nature of God." The beginning of man's struggle is his love for God and love pours itself forth in prayer. "Whoever burns with love will never find satiety in prayer but will always be consumed with the desire for bliss." Christ's command to man to make himself similar to God by "imitation" is not beyond the limitations of our nature because man was created as the likeness and image of God. However, true similarity to God can be attained only by the man who is reborn, in whom the image of God has been restored and purified, and this is possible only through Christ, in Whom this renewal was accomplished. The process of imitation is endless because it is "making oneself into the likeness of One Who is eternal."
The ascent to God can take different forms. It is accomplished through victory over the flesh and the senses, liberation from "sensual and irrational movement" and the restoration of the sovereignty of the intellect, the "helmsman of the soul." "We can raise ourselves to God only by constantly turning our gaze to the heights and by having a continual desire for higher things." This victory is realized in impassivity, which, Gregory writes, "is the beginning and foundation for a virtuous life." Gregory's formulation that "moderation is a property of virtue" and his conception of impassivity as a middle path are taken from Aristotle.
Virtue should not be excessive or extreme. The path of virtue is like a narrow mountain passageway leading between two equally dangerous chasms. The soul must overcome the inclinations of the senses but its struggle against them should not be immoderate because "too much attention to the body" can distract the soul from what is truly superior, and entrap it within a "circle of petty cares." Furthermore, men who are carried away by this struggle "are not in the condition to elevate their minds and contemplate higher things, since they are buried in their concern to master their flesh." The true goal of continence and fasting is not to overcome the body but to turn it to the service of the soul. Neither timidity nor audacity are virtues but only courage, which is the median between them. Man should strive for neither craftiness nor simplicity but wisdom, for neither sensuality nor aversion to the flesh, but for chastity. Even piety is an intermediate stage between superstition and atheism. The string should be tuned only to the degree proper for it, otherwise the sound it produces will not be pure.
Gregory had a great respect for virginity and praised it as the highest form of purity but he was also not averse to marriage. He stressed that man's goal should not be physical virginity alone but a "devout way of life," without which even virginity is no more than an "earring in the nose of a pig." "There can be no basis for denying the demands of nature or for condemning as disgraceful that which should be respected," he writes. He did not approve of the extreme asceticism of the Encratists. "They have been instructed by demons. They burn out strange symbols over their hearts and abhor the creation of God, as though it were impure."
The goal of ascetic discipline is not the mortification of the body but the mortification of the passions and sin, the subordination of the body to the law of reason, and the reconciliation of the body and soul. "Man must pacify the conflicting forces of nature within himself." A virtuous life is a gathering together and a simplification of the soul. By simplification Gregory does not mean that the soul's qualities should be effaced but that they should form a harmonious whole. In triumphing over the distractions and destructiveness of the passions man "saves himself from internal division, returns to a state of good, becomes simplified, and is a genuine unity, so that what is visible in him is the same as that which is hidden and that which he cherishes within himself is the same as that which he displays."
This integrity expresses itself as love, forgiveness, and charity. To whom does the Lord promise bliss at the Last Judgment, and for what? "Not because we have put on the robe of incorruptibility nor because we have washed away our sins but because we have accomplished works of love. He will read a list of those to whom we have given food, and water, and clothing." "As we forgive those who are in debt to us": this is the greatest virtue. It is superior to the limits of human nature because forgiveness is proper only to God, and whoever forgives "has made himself a second god." Charity expresses our recognition of the community of all men and our acknowledgement that debts and sins are common to the whole human race. By charity we overcome pride and isolation.
All men are created in the image of God, all men bear the image of our Savior, and all men enjoy God's love. Love for our neighbor is inseparable from love for God, and one is not possible without the other. Love is an internal connection and a growing together with the beloved object. This connection is realized in the Church. In the Song of Songs the Church is symbolized "with the image of a cord," "so that all become a single cord and a single chain." Perfect love drives out fear and fear is transformed into love. "The one who is saved turns out to be a part of the great union of all in their affinity with the single Good." This affinity with the single Good, this unity with the Holy Spirit, is the foundation of universal human love. Only in spiritual life is humanity reunited, and the integrity of personal life is strengthened through the unity of life within a brotherly community.
The Eucharist and the Christian Life.
The summit of Christian life is the sacrament of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the food of incorruptibility, the antidote against the poison of death and the "all-healing power." "Our nature had tasted of something ruinous to it and hence we necessarily needed something that would save from decay that which had been destroyed." This antidote is that Body "which proved Itself to be stronger than death," which arose and was glorified. How is it possible that a single body which is separated into portions and distributed to the faithful does not remain divided but, on the contrary, reunites those who have been separated, "becomes whole in each of its portions and thus endures in each who receives it as a whole?"
Gregory answers by comparing the Eucharist to the food which nourishes the physical body. "The Word of God," he writes, "entered into union with human nature. When the Word lived in a body like ours He did not make any innovations in man's physical constitution but He nourished His own body by the customary and proper means and maintained its existence through eating and drinking . . . His body was maintained by bread and thus His body was once bread in reality. This bread was consecrated by the Word dwelling within the body. Therefore, for the same reason as that by which the bread in His body was transformed and received a Divine potency, so now a similar result takes place. For in that case the grace of the Word sanctified the body, the substance of which came from the bread, and so in a way the body which was sanctified was itself bread. So also in this case our bread, in the words of the Apostle, is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:5), not in such a way that by the process of eating it becomes the Body of the Word but it is changed into the Body of the Word at once."
The Eucharist and the First Stage of Resurrection.
Thus, the flesh which had contained the Word of God receives again a portion of its "own substance," and through this portion this substance "is communicated to every believer and blends it self with their bodies, so that by this union with the immortal, man too shares in incorruptibility." Through the sacrament of the Eucharist all humanity is reunited in Christ and is resurrected. This is, however, only the first stage of resurrection. The Savior's victory over corruption and death is completely accomplished only at the last great resurrection of all mankind.
The Activity of Death Until the Final Resurrection.
Death has been conquered by the resurrection of Christ but its activity has not yet ceased. It has been conquered because all men will be resurrected but it is still active because men are dying and will continue to die until the cycle of earthly time is completed. Only then will the succession of the human race come to an end. Our time, which is ephemeral and transitory, will cease because the "need to come into being will be past and no one will ever again be destroyed." "The power which leads us into being and destruction will not exist." At that point the final resurrection will be accomplished and all nature will be transformed into a new mode of life. Until then, however, the activity of death will continue.
Death is the separation of the soul and the body, and when the body has been abandoned by the soul it disintegrates into the elements which originally composed it. Each of its parts returns to its natural element so that not a single part is completely destroyed or turned into nothingness, and the body remains within the boundaries of this world. This is decay but it is not destruction or transition into a state of nonexistence. "The body does not disappear forever but breaks down into the elements from which it was put together. These elements then continue their existence in water, air, earth, and fire. Within these elements the components of the human body which have returned to them remain completely whole and unharmed."
The Soul's Identity with the Body.
These elements retain certain signs which testify to their having belonged to a particular body because the soul imprints them with its own stamp as if they were wax. Gregory follows Origen in referring to the stamp which the soul puts on the corporeal elements of the body with which it is united as their "aspect" or "form," εδος. This stamp is the internal image or idea of the body and it does not change even after death. It is the unrepeatable and ideal image of the man and serves to distinguish the body from all others. It is distorted only under the influence of extreme passions which "cover it with the mask" of ugliness and disease. By this "form" the soul at the resurrection will "recognize its own body as being different from the other garments around it."
The soul is not affected by the decay of the wholeness man enjoyed during life because it is simple and incomposite and therefore cannot disintegrate. The soul is immortal and extends into eternity. The only thing about it that changes at death is its mode of existence. Even then its connection with the decaying body is not severed and the soul will be able to find all of its elements by virtue of its "cognitive power." It is like a watchman and "without any difficulty it will know where to find each of the elements of the body that once belonged to it."
The soul retains certain "signs of union" and "marks of the body" which have been sealed in it. It is as if the soul has been imprinted with a stamp. The new connection between the soul and the body is similar to their union before death when the "living power" of the soul penetrated all the parts of the body equally and identically and gave them life. During its earthly life the soul had a natural affinity and love for its companion, the body, and this friendly connection and "acquaintance" is mysteriously preserved even after death. This vital connection is incomprehensible to us. It has nothing to do with the spatial placement of the soul in the body because the soul has no physical being and is not located in or limited to any definite part of the body. "By means of the movements of the intellect the soul spreads freely throughout the whole of creation" and sometimes even attains the mysteries of heaven.
"The communion of the intellect with the body," Gregory writes, "is a form of contact which is inexpressible and unimaginable. It does not occur internally because that which is in corporeal cannot be contained by a body and it is not achieved from outside because that which is incorporeal cannot surround anything with itself." The intellect is not in any particular place or part of the body. It is neither inside nor outside but it exists "in such a way that we cannot describe it or even conceive of it." Therefore, the spatial dispersion of the elements of the body after death does not hinder the soul from recognizing its connection with them. "A spiritual nature is not defined by space and therefore it does not feel the effect of distance." The connection between a soul and a body is absolutely unique and for this reason Gregory considers that the idea of the transmigration of souls is absurd.
Death as a Moment of Becoming and Restoration.
Death is a particular stage in the development of man. It is a moment of becoming or, more exactly, a moment of restoration. "The Creator did not intend for us to merely remain embryos," Gregory writes. "The final goal of our nature is not the state of in fancy nor the successive ages which follow after it and change our appearance with the passage of time, nor even the destruction of the body which occurs through death. All of these are only a part of the path which we are following. The ultimate goal of this movement is our restoration to our original state." Death is a path which leads us into a better mode of existence. In death the soul is freed from the body and can make itself more similar to its original state of beauty. The body is "melted down" and purified in the earth from debased passions and inclinations. It is liberated from the needs connected with the conditions of life on earth and it is completely changed and recreated for another life. "The artist of everything melts down the solidity of our body to form a new instrument for his grace." This is a time of expectation and preparation for the resurrection and final judgment.
This process is itself a type of judgment because not everyone will share the same fate and not everyone will follow the same path. There are differences among souls. Just souls will be glorified but sinful souls will be punished. Some souls, however, will join neither the worthy nor the condemned but will withdraw to an intermediate place. To this indeterminate group Gregory assigns the souls of those who have received baptism only immediately before death and have thus had no opportunity to bring forth its fruits. These are the "infants who are prematurely seized by death," who have earned no reward for themselves and who "by reason of their ignorance and lack of development are incapable of participating in the bliss of true life." These souls must under go a period of development. This doctrine is a further indication of the high regard which Gregory had for man's active quest for virtue and self-perfection.
Just souls will ascend to heaven but sinners will be cast down into hell. Although Gregory speaks about heaven and hell as actual places and even distinguishes different orders of heavenly dwelling, he ultimately considers that the concept of "place" is only a metaphor here, since "a soul is incorporeal and has no need to be in a specific place." On the contrary, heaven and hell are modes of existence which cannot be described or defined. They "do not submit themselves to words and are inaccessible to the intuition of reason." In keeping with his basic conception of man's life as a journey, Gregory describes the afterlife as a path which continues beyond the grave into eternity. He borrows this idea from Origen.
The blessings of heaven are indestructible. "Not only do they endure forever but they are like seeds which are constantly in creasing and multiplying." There is "no boundary to interrupt the growth of heavenly bliss" and the bliss which is sought "is constantly and regularly superior to the strength of those who are seeking it." Furthermore, continual effort is proper to the soul and after death there is nothing to oppose the soul's movement. "It will always be ascending to the highest things and renewing its efforts through that which it has achieved." There is a certain order and consecutiveness in this ascent in accordance with the capacity of each soul to strive for the Good. This process of growth is similar to the maturation of an infant and its ultimate goal is the contemplation of God.
The Fate of the Unworthy and the Unbaptized.
This ascent is not possible for those who are unworthy. They are spiritually blind and will be left outside of true life and bliss forever. They are driven off to the outer darkness and they carry with them the stench of their flesh which they nourished by their constant surrender to sensual passions. This is the result only of sins which have not been effaced by repentance, but confession is potent only on earth, and in hell it is ineffectual. Gregory devotes particular attention to unbaptized souls which have not been sealed and which "do not bear any mark of the Lord." "It is only natural that such a soul will wander and circle aimlessly in the air. No one will look for it since it does not bear the mark of the Lord. It will long for rest and refuge but it will never find them. It will grieve in vain and its repentance will be fruitless."
In Gregory's conception, the sinner's torment consists primarily in the nakedness and hunger which result form the deprivation of the hope of bliss. The sinner is also consumed by an inexhaustible fire, the "furnace of hell" and the "untiring worm." This is the "outer darkness." These images are all symbolic but they also express a certain spiritual reality, for they indicate the continuation of man's earthly path and his process of purification. Gregory considers the fire of hell as a fire of baptism and renewal. "There is a purifying power in both fire and water," and whoever fails to purify himself through the water of the sacrament "will necessarily be purged by fire."
The Possibility of the Eventual Salvation of the Impure and Unrepentant.
Salvation can be attained even in the afterlife and the path of impure and unrepentant souls can lead to their eventual healing and purification from evil. All traces of past life are burned away in the fire. This process is not accomplished by means of external force because even in the purifying torments of hell man remains free. Repentance is awakened by the fire, and the soul, which had been held captive by material things, suddenly sees and realizes the vanity of everything it had wanted for itself, and it mourns and repents. The soul, Gregory writes, "clearly recognizes the distinction between virtue and vice through its inability to participate in the Divinity." Movement toward God is natural for the soul and when the soul turns away from evil it sees God, Who "calls to Himself everything which comes into being through His grace."
In other words, after the soul crosses the threshold of death, the deceitful nature of sin is revealed to it. The soul is shaken by this discovery and "with absolute necessity" it turns in a new direction. The will to evil, which had previously been strong in it, becomes weak and is soon exhausted. Gregory does not believe that the created will's movement toward sin can be eternal. He considers it highly unlikely that the will can maintain this insanity, especially when it is freed, even if only partially, from the fetters of the flesh. It seems to him that this is contradictory to the very nature of man, who has been created in the image of God. "The passionate desire for that which is foreign to it cannot remain in our nature forever. Everything which is not proper to us, which was not part of our natures at the beginning, will surfeit everyone and become a burden. Only that which is related to us and natural for us will always be desired and beloved."
"Evil is not so powerful," Gregory writes, "that it can overcome good. The foolishness of our nature is not higher or more en during than the Divine Wisdom. Furthermore, it is impossible for that which is inconstant and changing to be better and more resistant than that which is immutable and has always been firmly established in good."
This explains why the free movement of the will with which this process begins is "necessary." The turn of the will away from evil makes purification possible. The fire can burn out sin, "impurities," "material tumors," and "the remainder of fleshly contamination. Gregory compares this purification to the excision of a wart or callus, but even this image is insufficient. Purification is a separation which is ordered by God. God in His love irresistibly draws to Himself everything which has been created in His image. Movement toward God is natural and easy only for the pure. Impure souls must be forced to this movement, which is agonizing for them. The soul which has been ensnared by its passion for the material things of this earth "suffers constantly and undergoes violent tension. God draws the soul to Himself because it is His own property. Whatever is foreign to the soul, or whatever has grown into its substance, has to be scraped away by force and this causes the soul unendurable agony."
The duration and intensity of this torment is determined by the "quantity of healing" needed for purification to be achieved. "The agony will be measured by the amount of evil in each individual." From this it follows that the torment ultimately comes to an end because the "amount of evil" or the "amount of unpurged matter" in the soul of a sinner cannot be infinite, since infiniteness is not a property of evil. Sooner or later the fire will destroy every impurity and vice. This process of healing "by fire and bitter medicines" may seem protracted and "commensurate with eternity" but nevertheless its duration is limited to time.
Gregory maintains a clear distinction between the terms αιωνιος from αιων and αιδιος from αει. He never applies the second term to the torments and he never applies the first term to bliss or the Divinity. Αει designates that which is superior to time or outside of time. It cannot be measured by the ages and it does not move within time." This is the sphere of the Divinity. Creation, however, abides within time and "can be measured by the passing of the centuries.” Αιων designates temporality, that which occurs within time. This distinction in terminology is the explanation for an apparent contradiction in Gregory's thought. He demonstrates that the torment of fire is only temporary by citing passages from Scripture which describe it as "eternal." This refers to the eternity of time and the totality of the temporal state. However, this is not the same as the state which is superior to time. There is no foundation for considering that Gregory believed that the "eternal" torment foretold in Scripture is limited to unrepentant sinners only. Gregory would not accept even this restricted conception of damnation because for him the finiteness of the process of purification is a basic truth. It must end, no matter who is forced to undergo it. Other commentaries on this problem have not been conclusive.
Gregory's basic premise is that everything which has been created is finite. Time, which is the sphere of death (because dying is a process of change and can take place only in time), is also the sphere of purification, the purification of man for eternity through death. The body is purged through dissolution into its original elements and the soul is also purified and grows to maturity in the mysterious ways and dwelling places. When time is fulfilled it will end, the Lord will come, and the resurrection and judgment will be at hand. This will be the first restoration.
The End of Time and the Universal Resurrection.
Time will end when the internal measure of the universe has reached its limit. Further origination will be impossible and the passage of time will be unnecessary. "When our race has completed in an orderly fashion the full cycle of time," Gregory writes, "this current streaming onward as generation, succession will cease." The significance of the forward motion of time is in the succession of human generations, in which the "fullness of humanity," which has been predetermined by God, is realized. "It is necessary for reason to foresee an end to the multiplication of souls because otherwise there will be an endless stream of births into nature which will have no end." Measure and limitation are part of the perfection of nature. "When the birth of men has ended, then time will end, and in this way the renewal of the universe will be accomplished." This is not merely exhaustion or the natural end to that which had a natural beginning. This is fulfillment, the realization of completeness, and the reunification of this fullness.
The seven days of temporal creation will end and the eighth day will come, "the great day of the future age." A new life will begin, "continuous and indestructible, and it will never be altered by birth or death." Christ will come again and the universal resurrection will be accomplished. The Lord comes for the sake of this resurrection and "to restore the dead to incorruptibility." He comes in glory, born by hosts of angels who bow to Him as their King. "All the higher order of creation will worship Him" and "all the angels will rejoice that men have again been summoned to their original state of grace." This summons is the universal resurrection, the renewal and gathering together of the whole of creation. "All creation, both the higher and the lower orders, will join together in their rejoicing."
This universal gathering will begin with the resurrection of the dead. It is our bodies which will rise up, for the soul never dies even though the body disintegrates. The soul will not arise, but it will return. "The soul will again return from its invisible state of dispersion to a state which is visible and has a focus." This is the restoration of the entire man, the "return of that which had been separated to an indivisible union." The bodies of all men will be restored to their original beauty and there will be no physical difference between the virtuous and the wicked. This does not mean that there will be no distinction between the purified and the unpurified, but this difference will exist only in their internal natures and fates. That which awaits men in the afterlife is purification, the renewal and restoration of the body, and the resurrection of all. But for some souls the path to purification will have to continue even beyond this.
Gregory's Doctrine of Apocatastasis.
There is a certain inconsistency in Gregory's doctrine, which is apparently the result of his acceptance of certain features of Origenism and his rejection of others. In Gregory's conception the universal resurrection is a restoration, the "restoration of the image of God to its original condition." Through this men are again led into paradise. However, even at this restoration impurity is still in existence. It is only the mortality born of sin that has been brought to an end. Not every soul has been fully healed and purified, and yet it is the soul which contains the image of God. In Gregory's system true apocatastasis, universal restoration, is separated from the universal resurrection and delayed until some future time. This is both unexpected and contradictory, since according to this very system time has already ended and there can be no further succession or development. The whole of humanity has not yet been led into paradise. The just have been admitted into heaven but the impure souls cannot yet enter because paradise is achieved only through absolute purity. If the universal restoration is expected to take place at the end of time, this restoration cannot logically be separated into parts or stages, for this division would abrogate the integrity and completeness we would expect in a mode of existence that is outside of time.
In Origen's system this does not involve a contradiction be cause for him the "resurrection of the dead" is not the final restoration or the ultimate fate of the universe. It is only a point of transition in the continuing flow of the ages. For Origen the fate of the body is not resolved at the universal resurrection because the resurrection is followed by further stages of existence in future ages. Origen does not separate the fate of the soul from the fate of the body.
Gregory accepts certain features of Origen's doctrine, although the basic significance of their eschatologies is different. Ac cording to Gregory's system time has ended and the last things have been accomplished but suddenly it turns out that not everything has been brought to completion. The ultimate fate of all men should be realized simultaneously, but for Gregory this is not the case. In Gregory's conception the bodies of all men are purged and become radiant in unison. How can such a body remain incorruptible if it is reunited with a soul which has not yet been purified but which is still moribund and decaying? The strength of Divine life cannot be active in such a soul but the body without a soul will remain dead. Origen's system, on the other hand, maintains a distinction between the bodies of the righteous and the bodies of sinners, which is in accordance with his conception of the gradual overcoming of corporeal nature.
There are two possibilities. If the last resurrection is truly the restoration of the universe or, in the words of Gregory, a "catholic resurrection," then time and development have absolutely ended. Any souls which may remain unpurified are condemned to torment for eternity, the true eternity, which is superior to the limitations of human time. This idea was later developed by Maximus the Confessor. The other possibility, which is set forth by Origen, is that the general resurrection is not the ultimate restoration. The features of Origen's system which Gregory adapts are logically incompatible with his own premises. Furthermore, Origen's conception is contradictory and cannot be defended. Gregory's attempt to achieve a synthesis between Origen's system and the eschatology of Methodius of Olympus, from whom he borrows his doctrine of the resurrection, is unsuccessful.
At the resurrection the body grows forth from the earth as if it were a new plant. Gregory compares this resurrection with the germination of seeds, the blossoming of trees, and the development of the human embryo. All of these analogies had long been a part of Christian tradition. "In the words of the Apostle," Gregory writes, "the mystery of the resurrection can be understood as the same type of wonderful development that we observe in seeds." "Seeds" and "ears of grain" are among Gregory's favorite images. He distinguishes two stages in their growth. Their development originates in a state that is indeterminate because "at first the seed is without form but once it is established by the ineffable artistry of God, ii takes on form and develops and becomes dense." For this reason there is nothing exceptional about the growth of the seed of the dead body or its restoration to its previous form and "entire material state." Since every germination is achieved through dissolution and death, all growth is a resurrection and a victory over death.
Resurrection is made possible by the connection of the soul and the body in an individual organic unity but it is actually achieved only through the power of God. It is He Who authorizes the birth, renewal, and life of all nature. Resurrection is a miracle worked by the omnipotence of the Divinity but it is a miracle which is in accord with the basic laws of nature. It is one more manifestation of the general mystery of life. Resurrection is the fulfillment and ultimate realization of nature. The bodies which are resurrected are the very bodies which have died. Otherwise this would not be resurrection but a new creation. The resurrected bodies are composed of their former elements which have been gathered from everywhere by virtue of the life-giving power of the soul. "In this way the different elements are gathered by the power of the soul, which weaves them together to form the chain of the body."
Resurrection is not merely a return to our former life or our previous mode of existence. This would be a great misfortune and the soul would lose all hope of true resurrection. Resurrection is the restoration of the entire man. It is a renewal and a trans formation to something better and more complete. However, it is one and the same body which makes this transition. Not only the unity of the subject, but also the identity of the substratum are maintained. This does not contradict the truth of the renewal and transformation. "The veil of the body, after it has been destroyed by death, will be recomposed and rewoven from the very same material elements, not into its previous coarse and imperfect state, but in such a way that the fibers of its being will be light and airy. It will be restored into the superior state of the great beauty which it had desired." That which returns to life is that which was interred in the grave, but it will be different. All earthly life is a continuing process of change and renewal. "Human nature is like a constantly flowing stream," Gregory writes, and yet this does not turn individual men into an indefinite "crowd of people."
When man is resurrected he will not be any particular age nor will he be every age all at once. The concept of age will become invalid at the resurrection because it was not part of our original nature. "In our original life there was probably no old age, or child hood, or suffering from various diseases, or any other deformity or imperfection of the body because it is not proper to God to create anything like that. All of these violated us when we were invaded by sin." These things will not be a part of our resurrection but neither will they prevent it. It is only our true nature that will be resurrected and not the vices and passions which have infected it. We will be renewed and liberated from this heritage and all the traces of our former lives of evil and sin. At the resurrection we will be transformed into a state of incorruptibility and immortality because resurrection is victory over death. The ears of grain will ripen to their maturity and be fruitful, and they will reach out to the heights of heaven.
Nothing that is connected with disease, the infirmity of old age, or ugliness will survive at the resurrection, neither wrinkles, nor deformity, nor immaturity. Resurrected bodies will not preserve their former organs and members which were made necessary by the demands of sinful life on earth. Death will purify our bodies of everything that is "superfluous or unnecessary for our enjoyment of our future life." This is especially true of the organs which we need to nourish ourselves and to perform the other functions of animal life or which are connected with the cycles of all material growth. Humanity will no longer be distinguished by sex. All the unrefined matter of our bodies will be overcome and the heaviness of the flesh will disappear. The body will become light and will naturally move upward. All of the attributes of the body: its color, form, features, and everything else "will be transformed into something Divine." Our bodies will lose their impermeability and their accidental distinctions will be effaced.
This is what Gregory is referring to when he says that we will all assume a single appearance at the resurrection. He writes: "We will all become the single body of Christ and we will all take on a single form and aspect because the radiance of the image of the Divinity will shine equally in all." This means that our appearance will be defined from within. "It is not the elements which will distinguish the appearance of each but the particularities of sin and virtue." Thus, the appearance of everyone will not be the same. The resurrection is the reinstitution of our original condition. It is not only the return to but also the gathering together of everything that was part of our previous life. It is not only apocatastasis, a restoration, but also recapitulatio, a summing up.
Gregory's conception of the final restoration is not the same as Origen's because Gregory did not believe in the pre-existence of the soul. For him the restoration is not a return to the past but the realization of something which had never existed and the accomplishment of that which had not been fulfilled. It is completion, not oblivion. This is especially true for the body. In Gregory's conception the body is not replaced but it is transformed and in this way it truly fulfills its function as the mirror of the soul.
The resurrection is followed by the Last Judgment of the entire universe. The Son of God will come again because He is the Judge and the Father judges through Him. "Everything the Only-Begotten decrees at the Last Judgment is also the work of the Father" but it is the Son Who sits in judgment because through His own experience He can truly measure the circumstances and difficulties of human life. He will judge everyone, "whether they had great experience of the good and evil of human life or whether they had hardly begun to know it and had died in immaturity."
This is more a judgment of Divine love than of Divine justice. All of its sentences are properly merited, however, and are equal to that which each man deserves. Christ is the "Justice of God and He revealed this Justice to men." In a certain sense each man will be the judge of himself. Each man will awaken at the resurrection and will remember his past life and give it a true evaluation, so that everyone who appears to be judged will be fully aware of his good deeds and his faults. The judgment is a mirror in which all men will be reflected.
The full glory of the Son, which is equal to the glory of the Father, will be revealed at the Last Judgment. This judgment will be universal and "the whole human race, from the first creature to the full completeness of all who were ever brought into being," will gather together and stand before the royal throne of the Son. The devil and his angels will also be brought to Him for judgment. "Then," writes Gregory, "the instigator of the rebellion, who dreamed of usurping the dignity of the Lord, will appear before the eyes of all as a beaten slave, and he will be dragged to punishment by the angels. All of his servants and the accomplices of his malice will be subjected to the punishment which is fitting for them." The ultimate deceit will be revealed and the true and only King will appear and both those who are victorious and those who are conquered will recognize Him and sing Him songs of praise.
Gregory devotes relatively little attention to the Last Judgment. The few depictions he has left of this terrible day are striking but they are intended more for edification than for serious consideration as dogma. The focal point of Gregory's eschatology is not the judgment because for him the judgment is not the final resolution of the fate of the universe. It is only a preliminary summation of history and a mirror of the past. The judgment is simply the beginning of the eighth day, which will continue beyond this process. Only the resurrection and the appearance of Christ in His glory are ultimate. The Son's judgment is more the revelation of the activity of humanity than its resolution and it accomplishes little that is new. The bliss of just souls has already been determined by the resurrection and the torment of sinners has begun even before the resurrection and will continue beyond the judgment. The greatest significance of the Last Judgment lies in man's expectation of it because this conception motivates us in our efforts on earth to achieve religious and moral perfection. "The coming Judgment is a threat for us in our weak ness. This magnification of our sorrows makes us fear punishment and teaches us to avoid evil." "We make our description of this severe court as convincing as possible only in order to teach the necessity of leading a good and charitable life." Gregory has borrowed much of his doctrine of the Last Judgment from Origen.
Gregory sets forth a doctrine of a "universal restoration." "Participation in bliss awaits everyone," he writes. Some men achieve this through their actions in life on earth, whereas others must pass through the fire of purification. In the end, however, "after many ages evil will disappear and nothing will remain except good. This will be the completion of the return of all intellectual creatures to the original state in which they were first created, when there was as yet no evil." Eventually "evil will disappear from existence and it will again become nonexistence." Not a trace of evil will remain, and then "the beauty of our similarity to God, in which we were formed at the beginning, will again shine forth."
"There was a time," Gregory writes, "when all intellectual natures formed a single union and, by fulfilling the commandments of God, they brought themselves into agreement with the harmony which the Source had established through His activity. But after sin had intruded among the first men, who until then, together with the angelic forces, had made up a single assembly, the Divine harmony of this union was destroyed. Something had made men susceptible to deceit and this caused them to fall. Man was deprived of communion with the angels, so that through the fall their intellectual harmony was abrogated. After this it became necessary for the fallen one to labor and sweat in order to fight to liberate himself from the power which had gained dominion over him at the fall. Man must rise again and he receives as a reward for his victory over the enemy the right to participate in the Divine assembly." In this assembly human and angelic natures will again be united and form a "Divine host."
This will be a great and universal feast and nothing will interrupt the unity of intellectual creation. Both the lower and the higher orders will rejoice in universal gladness and all will worship and praise the Father through the Son in unanimity. All veils will be raised and a common joy and glory will shine forth in all. This final restoration will include everyone: all people, the entire race of men, and the whole of human nature. Moreover, it will encompass even evil spirits and the "inventor of evil" himself will finally be joined to the triumphant gathering. He also will be saved because during the three days of his death the Lord healed all three vessels of evil: demonic natures, the female sex, and the male sex. Evil will finally be driven out "even from the race of the snake, in which the nature of evil first found a source for itself."
Gregory's doctrine of the universal restoration of everything to its original state is based on the teaching of Origen. Their common point of departure is that Good is omnipotent because it alone has true existence and is the only foundation and goal of everything that exists. "There is always an immutable Divine harmony in everything," Gregory writes. "Your indignation and the dissatisfaction with which you observe the necessary chain of the sequence of things are in vain, since you do not know the goal to which each individual thing in the ordering of the universe is directed. It is necessary for everything to follow a certain order and succession, in accordance with the true Wisdom of the One Who directs all, as it comes into harmony with Divine nature."
Gregory understands the opposition of good and evil as the opposition between being and will, between that which is necessary and that which is accidental. There is no evil. It does not exist but only occurs or happens occasionally. It is necessary for that which occurs to have an end, for "that which has not always been will not always be." That which originates can subsist eternally only if there is an eternal will for it to do so and only through that which itself exists eternally. It can exist only by participating in the One Who truly is and by communion in the eternal Good. Creation can be maintained in this way but this is not possible for evil because evil is not from God. It is the "absence of good" or nongood, and this is the same as non-existence. In Gregory's reasoning: "Since it is not proper for evil to exist without being willed, and since the eternal will is from God, evil will eventually be completely destroyed because there will be no place for it to exist." Gregory follows Origen in his reference to the Gospels: "God will be all in all." "By this Scripture teaches us that evil will be completely destroyed because if God is in all being, it is evident that He is not in evil being or sin." God is in everyone and for this reason no one can be excluded from the whole. "God is in everything" means that all are in God and partake in the Good.
Gregory manages to avoid one of the difficulties of Origen's system. In Gregory's conception time is not merely the falling out of eternity or the environment for sinful and fallen men. Nor does Gregory concede that creation had pre-existence or is eternal. On the contrary, creation is realized for the first time only within the process of history. This gives a completely new significance to the conception of apocatastasis, the restoration, and establishes a positive value for the course of human history. This principle is undermined, however, by Gregory's insistence that nothing created has any essential value and that God is the only worthy goal of our contemplation and striving. This premise leads Gregory to conclude that we will ultimately achieve a state of oblivion. "The memory of that which existed after our original state of prosperity and of that which caused man to sink into evil will be effaced by that which will be effected when time runs out. Our memory of this condition will come to an end when it is completed. Our final restoration in Jesus Christ will efface our memory of evil." However, without the memory of evil there will be no remembrance of our struggle against it and our victory over it.
Gregory openly or by implication proposes that creation will find its ultimate completeness only in God. Creatures will be oblivious of themselves and of everything which is not similar to God. All that men will see in one another will be God, and a single image of God will be in everyone. This doctrine contains elements of historical docetism and is connected with Gregory's underestimation of the human will. This is why Gregory denies the permanent existence of evil. Man's will cannot fail to yield when ultimate Good is revealed to it because even in opposition the will is weak. Furthermore, in Gregory's conception the will is determined by reason, which can be mistaken only when it is deceived and cannot persist once its error is revealed. According to Gregory, a clear vision of the truth will necessarily turn the will towards that truth.
Gregory's doctrine of the necessary movement of the free will is an attempt to unite the concepts of human freedom and necessity. This is the basic concern of his eschatology. The will is subordinate to the law of the basic goodness of all nature and the eschatological process is defined as the gradual elimination of the consequences of evil. This is the significance of the fire of purification. Gregory's doctrine shows the influence of the traditions of the school of Alexandria, and it is very different from the teaching of Basil the Great. It should be noted that certain features of Origenism are also present in the system of Gregory the Theologian, who accepts the idea of baptism through the purifying fire but does not support the doctrine of the general restoration.
Gregory's Doctrine of Apocatastasis and Later Church Theologians.
The contemporaries of Gregory of Nyssa did not respond to his eschatology. It was first evaluated by Barsanuphius, who died about 550. He considered that Gregory was an uncritical disciple of Origen. Gregory's theology was later examined by Maximus the Confessor, who interpreted his doctrine of the universal restoration as the turn of every soul to the contemplation of God, which is the realization of the "totality of the faculties of the soul." "It is fitting that just as all nature will, at the appointed time, be made incorruptible through the resurrection of the flesh, so also will the damaged faculties of the soul efface the flawed images contained within it in the course of the ages. The soul will reach the boundary of the ages without having found peace, and it will finally come to God, Who is without limit. Thus it will recognize the Good but not yet participate in it. It will return to itself all of its faculties and it will be restored to its original state. It will then become clear that the Creator is not the author of sin." Maximus distinguished between επιγνωσις, the knowledge of Divine truth, and μεθεξις, participation in the Divinity, which requires a definite movement of the will. Gregory's conception differs from this because Gregory makes no distinction between the consciousness of Good and the inclination of the will towards it.
Maximus' interpretation did not satisfy his contemporaries. Several decades later Patriarch Herman suggested that the elements of Origenism in Gregory's theology were interpolations. Although his theory is unacceptable because of the organic integrity of Gregory's system, his views were seconded by Patriarch Photius and are representative of the way Gregory was understood in the eighth and ninth centuries. The reticence of Justinian in his epistle on Gregory to Mennas, Patriarch of Constantinople, as well as the silence of the fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, can be explained by the circumstances in which they were writing. They were primarily concerned with refuting those Origenist doctrines which stemmed from Origen's premises of the pre-existence of souls and the originally pure spiritual nature of all creatures, which were rejected by Gregory. It is with this in mind that the fathers of the council pronounced their anathema on "those who accept the pre-existence of the soul and the apocatastasis that is connected with it." Because of Gregory's generally accepted authority and sanctity, the sixth century opponents of Origenism were disposed to remain silent about those of his views which were, if not coincident with, at least reminiscent of the "impious, impure, and criminal teachings of Origen." However, Gregory's Origenism was not entirely with out effect on his authority, and he was read and cited less frequently than the other "chosen fathers."
From The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century.