Gregory of Nyssa
|Gregory of Nyssa|
Icon of St. Gregory of Nyssa
(14th century fresco, Chora Church, Istanbul)
|Feast||January 10 (Eastern Christianity)
January 10 (Roman Catholicism)
June 14, with Macrina (Lutheran Church)
July 19, with Macrina (Anglican Communion)
|Attributes||Vested as a bishop.|
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Gregory of Nyssa, also known as Gregory Nyssen (c. 335 – c. 395), was bishop of Nyssa from 372 to 376 and from 378 until his death. He is venerated as a saint in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism. Gregory, his brother, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nazianzus are collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers
Gregory lacked the administrative ability of his brother Basil or the contemporary influence of Gregory of Nazianzus, but he was an erudite theologian who made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene creed. Gregory's philosophical writings were influenced by Origen, and he is generally considered to have believed in universal salvation. Since the mid-twentieth century, there has been a significant increase in interest in Gregory's works from the academic community, which has resulted in challenges to many traditional interpretations of his theology.
Christianity arose in Cappadocia relatively late with no evidence of a Christian community before the late second century AD. Alexander of Jerusalem was the first bishop of the province in the early to mid third century, a period in which Christians suffered persecution from the local Roman authorities. The community remained very small throughout the third century: when Gregory Thaumaturgus acceded to the bishopric in c. 250, according to his namesake, the Nyssen, there were only seventeen members of the Church in Caeserea.
However, Christianity became dominant during the fourth century due to the conversion of Constantine I, and Cappadocian bishops were among those at the Council of Nicaea. Because of the broad distribution of the population, rural bishops [χωρεπισκοποι] were appointed to support the Bishop of Caeserea. During the late fourth century there were around fifty of them. In Gregory's lifetime, the Christians of Cappadocia were devout, with the cults of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste and Saint George being particularly significant and represented by a considerable monastic presence. There were some adherents of heretical branches of Christianity, most notably Arians, Encratites and Messalians.
Early life and education 
Gregory was born around 335, probably in or near the city of Neocaesarea, Pontus. His family was aristocratic and Christian - according to Gregory of Nazianzus, his mother was Emmelia of Caesarea, and his father, a rhetorician, has been identified either as Basil the Elder or as a Gregory. Among his nine siblings were St. Macrina the Younger, St. Naucratius, St. Peter of Sebaste and St. Basil of Caesarea. The precise number of children in the family was historically contentious: the commentary on 30 May in the Acta Sanctorum, for example, initially states that they were nine, before describing Peter as the tenth child. It has been established that this confusion occurred due to the death of one son in infancy, leading to ambiguities in Gregory's own writings. Gregory's maternal grandmother, Macrina the Elder is also revered as a saint. Gregory's temperament is said to be quiet and meek, in contrast to his brother Basil who was known to be much more outspoken.
Gregory was first educated at home, by his mother Emmelia and sister Macrina. Little is known of what further education he received. Apocryphal hagiographies depict him studying at Athens, but this is speculation probably based on the life of his brother Basil. It seems more likely that he continued his studies in Caesarea, where he read classical literature, philosophy and perhaps medicine. Gregory himself claimed that his only teachers were Basil, "Paul, John and the rest of the Apostles and prophets".
While his brothers Basil and Naucratius lived as hermits from c. 355, Gregory initially pursued a non-ecclesiastical career as a rhetorician. He did however, act as a lector. He is known to have married a woman named Theosebia during this period, who is sometimes identified with Theosebia the Deaconess, venerated as a saint by Orthodox Christianity. This is controversial, however, and other commentators suggest that Theosebia the Deaconess was one of Gregory's sisters.
In 371, the Emperor Valens split Cappadocia into two new provinces, Cappadocia Prima and Cappadocia Secunda. This resulted in complex changes in ecclesiastical boundaries, during which several new bishoprics were created. Gregory was elected bishop of the new see of Nyssa in 372, presumably with the support of his brother Basil, who was metropolitan of Caesarea. Gregory's early policies as bishop often went against those of Basil : for instance, while his brother condemned the Sabellianist followers of Marcellus of Ancyra as heretics, Gregory may have tried to reconcile them with the church.
Gregory faced opposition to his reign in Nyssa, and, in 373 Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium had to visit the city to quell discontent. In 375 Desmothenes of Pontus convened a synod at Ancyra to try Gregory on charges of embezzlement of church funds and irregular ordination of bishops. He was arrested by imperial troops in the winter of the same year, but escaped to an unknown location. The synod of Nyssa, which was convened in the spring of 376, deposed him. However, Gregory regained his see in 378, perhaps due to an amnesty promulgated by the new emperor Gratian. In the same year Basil died, and despite the relative unimportance of Nyssa, Gregory took over many of his brother's former responsibilities in Pontus.
He was present at the Synod of Antioch in April 379, where he unsuccessfully attempted to reconcile the followers of Meletius of Antioch with those of Paulinus. After visiting the village of Annisa to see his dying sister Macrina, he returned to Nyssa in August. In 380 he travelled to Sebaste, in the province of Armenia Prima, to support a pro-Nicene candidate for the election to the bishopric. To his surprise, he himself was elected to the seat, perhaps due to the population's association of him with his brother. However, Gregory deeply disliked the relatively unhellenized society of Armenia, and he was confronted by an investigation into his orthodoxy by local opponents of the Nicene theology. After a stay of several months, a substitute was found - possibly Gregory's brother Peter, who is known to have been bishop of Sebaste from 381, and Gregory returned home to Nyssa to write books I and II of Against Eunomius.
Gregory participated in the First Council of Constantinople (381), and perhaps gave there his famous sermon In suam ordinationem. He was chosen to eulogise at the funeral of Melitus, which occurred during the council. The council sent Gregory on a mission to Arabia, perhaps to ameliorate the situation in Bostra, where two men, Agapius and Badagius, claimed to be bishop. If this is the case, Gregory was unsuccessful, as the see was still contested in 394. He then travelled to Jerusalem, where Cyril of Jerusalem faced opposition from local clergy due to the fact that he had been ordained by Acacius of Caesarea, an Arian heretic. Gregory's attempted mediation of the dispute was unsuccessful, and he himself was accused of holding unorthodox views on the nature of Christ. His later reign in Nyssa was marked by conflict with his Metropolitan, Helladius. Gregory was present at a 394 synod convened at Constantinople to discuss the continued problems in Bostra. The year of his death is unknown.
The traditional view of Gregory is that he was an orthodox Trinitarian theologian, who was influenced by the neoplatonism of Plotinus and believed in universal salvation following Origen. However, as a highly original and sophisticated thinker, Gregory is difficult to classify, and many aspects of his theology are contentious among both conservative Orthodox theologians and Western academic scholarship. This is often due to the lack of systematic structure and the presence of terminological inconsistencies in Gregory's work.
Conception of the Trinity 
Gregory, following Basil, defined the Trinity as "one essence [οὐσία] in three persons [ὑποστάσεις]", the formula adopted by the Council of Constantinople in 381. Like the other Cappadocian Fathers, he was a homoousian, and Against Eunomius affirms the truth of the consubstantiality of the trinity over Eunomius' Platonic belief that the Father's substance is unengendered, whereas the Son's is engendered. According to Gregory, the differences between the three persons of the Trinity reside in their relationships with each other, and the triune nature of God is revealed through divine action (despite the unity of God in His action). The Son is therefore defined as begotten of the Father, the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father and the Son, and the Father by his role as progenitor. However, this doctrine would seem to subordinate the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to the Son. Robert Jenson suggests that Gregory implies that each member of the Godhead has an individual priority: the Son has epistemological priority, the Father has ontic priority and the Spirit has metaphysical priority. Other commentators disagree: Morwenna Ludlow, for instance, argues that epistemic priority resides primarily in the Spirit in Gregory's theology.
Modern proponents of social Trinitarianism often claim to have been influenced by the Cappadocians' dynamic picture of the Trinity. However, it would be fundamentally incorrect to identify Gregory as a social Trinitarian, as his theology emphasises the unity of God's will, and he clearly believes that the identities of the Trinity are the three persons, not the relations between them.
Infinitude of God 
Gregory was one of the first theologians to argue, in opposition to Origen, that God is infinite. His main argument for the infinity of God, which can be found in Against Eunomius, is that God's goodness is limitless, and as God's goodness is essential, God is also limitless.
An important consequence of Gregory's belief in the infinity of God is his belief that God, as limitless, is essentially incomprehensible to the limited minds of created beings. Gregory's theology was thus apophatic: he proposed that God should be defined in terms of what we know He is not rather than what we might speculate Him to be.
Accordingly, the Nyssen taught that due to God's infinitude, a created being can never reach an understanding of God, and thus for man in both life and the afterlife there is a constant progression [ἐπέκτασις] towards the unreachable knowledge of God, as the individual continually transcends all which has been reached before. In the Life of Moses, Gregory speaks of three stages of this spiritual growth: initial darkness of ignorance, then spiritual illumination, and finally a darkness of the mind in mystic contemplation of the God who cannot be comprehended.
It is generally agreed that Gregory believed in universal salvation or resurrection. In the Life of Moses, he writes that just as the darkness left the Egyptians after three days, perhaps redemption [ἀποκατάστασις] will be extended to those suffering in hell [γέεννα]. This salvation may not only extend to humans; following Origen, there are passages where he seems to suggest (albeit through the voice of Macrina) that even the demons will have a place in Christ's "world of goodness". Gregory's interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:28 ("And when all things shall be subdued unto him ...") and Philippians 2:10 ("That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth") support this understanding of his theology.
However, in the Great Catechism, Gregory suggests that while every human will be resurrected, salvation will only be accorded to the baptised, although he also states that others driven by their passions can be saved after being purified by fire. While he believes that there will be no more evil in the hereafter, it is arguable that this does not preclude a belief that God might justly damn sinners for eternity. Thus, the main difference between Gregory's conception of ἀποκατάστασις and that of Origen would be that Gregory believes that mankind will be collectively returned to sinlessness, whereas Origen believes that personal salvation will be universal.
Gregory's anthropology is founded on the ontological distinction between the created and uncreated. Man is a material creation, and thus limited, but infinite in that his immortal soul has an indefinite capacity to grow closer to the divine. Gregory believed that the soul is created simultaneous to the creation of the body (in opposition to Origen, who believed in preexistence), and that embryos were thus persons. To Gregory, the human being is exceptional, being created in the image of God. Humanity is theomorphic both in having self-awareness and free will, the latter which gives each individual existential power, because to Gregory, in disregarding God one negates one's own existence. In the Song of Songs, Gregory metaphorically describes human lives as paintings created by apprentices to a master: the apprentices (the human wills) imitate their master's work (the life of Christ) with beautiful colors (virtues), and thus man strives to be a reflection of Christ. Gregory, in stark contrast to most thinkers of his age, saw great beauty in the Fall: from Adam's sin from two perfect humans would eventually arise myriad.
There are many similarities between Gregory's theology and neoplatonist philosophy, especially that of Plotinus. Specifically, they share the idea that the reality of God is completely inaccessible to human beings and that man can only come to see God through a spiritual journey in which knowledge [γνῶσις] is rejected in favour of meditation. Gregory does not refer to any neoplatonist philosophers in his work, and there is only one disputed passage which may directly quote Plotinus. Considering this, it seems possible that Gregory was familiar with Plotinus and perhaps other figures in neoplatonism. However, some significant differences between neoplatonism and Gregory's thought exist, such as Gregory's statement that beauty and goodness are equivalent, which contrasts with Plotinus' view that they are two different qualities.
Eastern Orthodox theologians are generally critical of the theory that Gregory was influenced by neoplatonism. For example, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos argues in Life After Death that Gregory opposed all philosophical (as opposed to theological) endeavour as tainted with worldliness. This view is supported by Against Euthonius, where Gregory denounces Euthonius for placing the results of his systematic Aristotelean philosophy above the traditional teachings of the Church.
Feast Day 
Eastern Christianity 
Roman Catholicism 
The Roman Martyrology commemorates the demise of St. Gregory Nyssa on March 9.
In modern calendars which include the feast of St. Gregory such as the Benedictines, his feast day is observed on January 10th.
Lutheran Church 
June 14, with Macrina
Anglican Communion 
July 19, with Macrina
Gregory is revered as a saint, however, unlike the other Cappadocian fathers, he is not a Doctor of the Church. He is venerated chiefly in the East. His relics were held by the Vatican until 2000, when they were translated to the Greek Orthodox church of St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Diego, California.
Gregory's work received little scholarly attention in the West until the mid-twentieth century, and he was historically treated as a minor figure in comparison to Basil the Great or Gregory of Nazianzus. As late as 1942, Hans Urs von Balthasar was able to write that his work was virtually unknown. In part due to the efforts of Balthasar and Jean Daniélou in publicising his thought, by the 1950s Gregory was the subject of much serious theological research, with a critical edition of his work published (Gregorii Nysseni Opera), and the founding of the International Colloquium on Gregory of Nyssa. This attention has continued to the present day. Modern studies have mainly focused on Gregory's eschatology rather than his more dogmatic writings, and he has gained a reputation as an unconventional thinker whose thought arguably prefigures postmodernism. Major figures in contemporary research include Sarah Coakley, John Zizioulas and Robert Jenson.
Commentary on Gregory 
Among the Christian Fathers the movement towards a partly naturalistic interpretation of the order of Creation was made by Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century, and was completed by Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries. ...[Gregory] taught that Creation was potential. God imparted to matter its fundamental properties and laws. The objects and completed forms of the Universe developed gradually out of chaotic material. 
- Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Macrina, London, 2012. limovia.net ISBN 978-1-78336-017-8
- John J. Cleary, ed. (1997). The perennial tradition of Neoplatonism. Leuven University Press. ISBN 978-90-6186-847-7.
- Sarah Coakley et al. (2003). Re-thinking Gregory of Nyssa. Willey-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-0637-5.
- Jean Daniélou (1956). "Le mariage de Grégoire de Nysse et la chronologie de sa vie". Revue d' Etudes Augustiniennes et Patristiques 2: 71–78.
- Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, Gerald O'Collins, ed. (2002). The Trinity: an interdisciplinary symposium on the Trinity. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-924612-0.
- González, Justo (1984), The Story of Christianity, Peabody: Prince Press, ISBN 978-1-56563-522-7, retrieved 20 January 2013
- Robert Jenson (2002). The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel. Wipf & Stock. ISBN 978-1-57910-962-2.
- Duane H. Larson (1995). Times of the trinity: a proposal for theistic cosmology. P. Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-2706-5.
- Morwenna Ludlow (2000). Universal salvation: eschatology in the thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-827022-5.
- Morwenna Ludlow (2007). Gregory of Nyssa : ancient and (post)modern. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-928076-6.
- Giulio Maspero, Lucas F. Mateo Seco, ed. (2009). The Brill dictionary of Gregory of Nyssa. Leiden: BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-16965-4.
- Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Life after Death. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
- Pfister, J. Emile (June 1964). "A Biographical Note: The Brothers and Sisters of St. Gregory of Nyssa". Vigiliae Christianae 18 (2): 108–113.
- Raymond Van Dam (2002). Kingdom of snow: Roman rule and Greek culture in Cappadocia. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-3681-1.
- Raymond Van Dam (2003). Becoming Christian: the conversion of Roman Cappadocia. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-3738-2.
- John W. Watt, Jan Willem Drijvers (1999). Portraits of spiritual authority: religious power in early Christianity, Byzantium, and the Christian Orient. Leiden: BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-11459-3.
Further reading 
Primary sources 
The complete works of Gregory of Nyssa are published in the original Greek with Latin commentary as Gregorii Nysseni Opera:
- Vol. 1 - Werner Jaeger, ed. (2002). Contra Eunomium libri I et II. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-03007-7.
- Vol. 2 - Werner Jaeger, ed. (2002). Contra Eunomium liber III. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-03934-6.
- Vol. 3/1 - Friedrich Muller, ed. (1958). Opera dogmatica minora, pars I. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-04788-4.
- Vol. 3/2 - K. Kenneth Downing, Jacobus A. McDonough, S.J. Hadwiga Hörner, ed. (1987). Opera dogmatica minora, pars II. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-07003-5.
- Vol. 3/3 - Opera dogmatica minora, pars III - currently unavailable.
- Vol. 3/4 - Ekkehard Mühlenberg, ed. (1996). Opera dogmatica minora, pars IV. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-10348-1.
- Vol. 3/5 - Ekkehard Mühlenberg, ed. (2008). Opera dogmatica minora, pars V. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-13314-3.
- Vol. 4/1 - Hubert Drobner, ed. (2009). Opera exegetica In Genesim, pars I. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-13315-0.
- Vol. 4/2 - Opera exegetica In Genesim, pars II - currently unavailable.
- Vol. 5 - J. McDonough, P. Alexander, ed. (1986). In Inscriptiones Psalmorum: In Sextum Psalmum: In Ecclesiasten Homiliae. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-08186-4.
- Vol. 6 - H. Langerbeck, ed. (1986). In Canticum Canticorum. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-08187-1.
- Vol. 7/1 - John F. Callahan, ed. (2009). Opera exegetica In Exodum et Novum Testamentum, pars 1. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-00747-5.
- Vol. 7/2 - John F. Callahan, ed. (1992). Opera exegetica In Exodum et Novum Testamentum, pars 2. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-09598-4.
- Vol. 8/1 - Werner Jaeger, J.P. Cavarnos, V.W. Callahan, ed. (1986). Opera ascetica et Epistulae, pars 1. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-08188-8.
- Vol. 8/2 - Giorgio Pasquali, ed. (2002). Opera ascetica et Epistulae, pars 2. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-11182-0.
- Vol. 9 - G. Heil, A. van Heck, E. Gebhardt, A. Spira, ed. (1992). Sermones, pars 1. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-00750-5.
- Vol. 10/1 - G. Heil, J. P. Cavarnos, O. Lendle, ed. (1990). Sermones, pars 2. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-08123-9.
- Vol. 10/2 - Ernestus Rhein, Friedhelm Mann, Dörte Teske, Hilda Polack, ed. (1996). Sermones, pars 3. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-10442-6.
Secondary sources 
- Azkoul, Michael (1995). St. Gregory of Nyssa and the tradition of the fathers. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press. ISBN 0-7734-8993-2.
- Maspero, Giulio (2007). Trinity and man - Gregory of Nyssa's Ad Ablabium. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978-90-474-2079-8.
- Meredith, Anthony (1995). The Cappadocians. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. ISBN 0-88141-112-4.
- Van Dam 2003, p. 1
- Mateo Seco & Maspero, p. 127
- Watt & Drijvers, p. 99
- Mateo Seco & Maspero, pp. 127-8
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 103
- Van Dam (2003), p. 77
- Pfister (1964), pp. 108, 113
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 104
- González 1984, p. 185
- Watt & Drijvers, p. 120
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 105
- Ludlow 2000, p. 21
- Daniélou, pp. 73–76
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p.106
- Van Dam, p. 77
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 107
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 108
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 109
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 110
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 111
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 112
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 114
- For example, see Knight, George T. (1908–14). Schaff–Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. London and New York: Funk and Wagnalls. pp. 96–8.
- Coakley et al., pp. 1–14
- Davis et al., p. 14
- Larson, p. 42
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 750
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 751
- Jenson, pp. 105–6
- Jenson, p. 167
- Ludlow 2007, p. 43
- Ludlow 2007, p. 51
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 424
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 68
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 425
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 522
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 57
- Ludlow 2000, p. 80
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 56-57
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 59
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 38
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 39
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 41
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 42
- The perennial tradition of Neoplatonism, p. 188
- The perennial tradition of Neoplatonism, p. 188–94
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 531
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 532
- Life after Death, ch. 8
- "Parish History". Church of St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Diego. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 170
- "Only a very small number of initiates have read and are aware of Gregory of Nyssa, and they have jealously guarded their secret" - Hans Urs von Balthasar, Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of Nyssa (1942), as quoted in Maspero & Mateo Seco, p.170
- Ludlow 2007, p. 232
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 171
- Maspero & Mateo Seco, p. 172
- Henry Fairfield Osborn, From the Greeks to Darwin Macmillan and Co. (1905) p.69,71
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Gregory of Nyssa|
- Gregory of Nyssa Home Page, including many English translations of his writings.
- "St. Gregory of Nyssa". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- Gregory of Nyssa from "The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy"
- Opera Omnia by Migne, Patrologia Graeca with analytical indexes.
- Relics of St. Gregory of Nyssa
- Schaff's Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (online), including the works of St. Gregory
- "Commentary on Song of Songs; Letter on the Soul; Letter on Ascesis and the Monastic Life', a manuscript from the 14th-century of Gregory of Nyssa's work, translated into Arabic