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Gregory of Nyssa

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Schematization of the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa (Mike Bone, 1998)

Schematization of the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa

Mike Bone, 1998

1. A Schematization

The following schematization of the thought of Gregory of Nyssa is drawn from sections 2-4, below.

Concept of God

  • To Origen’s distinction between begotten and unbegotten, Nyssa (along with Nazianzus and Basil) added the distinction between hypostasis and ousia.
  • Ousia (substance) refers to the Godhead shared by all three persons in the trinity, though not as a universal is shared by individual substances.
  • Hypostasis (person) is a mode of being, i.e., the way in which something exists. Nyssa expressed distinction within the Godhead in terms of causality as the manner of existence, e.g., only-begotten.
  • Three ways Nyssa avoided tritheism:
  1. The ousia of God is ineffable. Even the name "Godhead" refers only to a divine attribute, that of overseeing.
  2. Distinctions due to circumscription cannot properly be predicated of the Godhead.
  3. The attributes and operations ad extra of the persons in the trinity are absolutely identical. This is the doctrine referred to as perichoresis or coinherence or circuminsessio.
  • The divine comprises the highest exemplar of every series.
  • God is ineffable mystery, infinitely removed from any created being and outside of any series.
  • God is essential and primary being.
  • God is genuine virtue.
  • God is immutable and impassible.

Christology

  • The Logos of God is self-subsisting, personal and absolute power, able to will and to do all good, and as such is the sole creator of all that has being, i.e., is good.
  • The Logos created all, not out of necessity, but out of gratuitous goodness.
  • God entered fully into both elements of human being, the sensible and the intelligible, in the incarnation and so deified that nature.
  • In the mystery of incarnation, God was "united with us in all our characteristics" from birth through death, though without moral weakness.
  • Nyssa affirmed the union of the two natures, with an emphasis on the full humanity of Christ (almost to the point of monophysitism).

Anthropology

  • Human beings are made up of body and soul.
  • Human nature, as created, is good, including the entire body with its "generative organs."
  • The human soul can be affected by its association with the passions (pathos = moral weakness).
  • Humanity was created to share in the divine goodness and so had to be fashioned with a certain affinity for the divine, namely the image of God. This image included free will, immortality, and freedom from moral weakness.
  • Deceived by Satan, humanity freely chose the apparant good over the real good and so became enslaved to passion, with its suffering and pain.
  • "Sexuality is a main root of man’s troubles." Our promised incorruptibility in resurrection, aphtharsia, has the connotation of overcoming sexuality.
  • Death is the "mark of irrational nature" with which God clothed humanity provisionally after the Fall in order that this unnatural condition of suffering might come to an end.
  • Nyssa held an organic view of human nature in which what happens in one part, happens to all. Particularly, the principle of resurrection in Christ overcomes the principle of death in all of us.

Soteriology

  • The medicine of virtue has to be applied in the present life or the soul will encounter a harsh correction at the future judgment.
  • Resurrection is the restoration of body and soul into an indissoluble union after their separation, so that they can grow together.
  • The principle of resurrection that, like the principle of death, entered the world through one person and yet extends to all humanity.
  • Ransom theory of atonement: Satan took the bait (Christ’s humanity) for which he relinquished his claim on humanity. Satan was then caught on the hook (Christ’s divinity) in the presence of which he will eventually be purged of evil.
  • The soul is saved in the rite of baptism through union with Christ by faith, but the body needs a remedy to the poison of sin, i.e., the eucharist.
  • The role of faith: it is important to be baptized and believe according to orthodoxy.
  • The role of repentance: there must be a change in one’s life after baptism, that is, a demonstration that one has become clean in one’s will.

Pneumatology

  • Humanly speaking, spirit (pneuma) is breath, that is, the drawing in of something which is foreign to us, but which enlivens us and makes possible our speech.
  • The Holy Spirit, however, is not something alien and extraneous to God.
  • The Holy Spirit is "a power really existing by itself and in its own special subsistence," inseparable "from God in whom it exists, or from God’s Word which it accompanies."
  • Like that Word, the Holy Spirit "is capable of willing" and "ever chooses the good."

Ecclesiology

  • Baptism and the eucharist, sacraments of the church, are necessary to salvation.
  • Baptism is an imitation by which we participate in the resurrection of Christ.
  • Eucharist gives our bodies intimate union with Christ’s body, thereby changing our bodies so that they share in the immortality of Christ’s body. Consecration of the elements of the Eucharist, where the Word in prayer is added to the bread and the wine, turns those elements into Christ’s body and blood just as the Word in a concrete human person turned similar elements into body and blood through assimilation.

Ethics and Society

  • Nyssa’s response to the Manichaean dilemma that, given our current wretchedness, either God is not creator or God is not good anticipated that of Augustine: evil is a privation of the good.
  • Nyssa, however, posits its origin in the will, first in that of Lucifer and then in humanity before the fall.
  • The envy of Lucifer was the original sin.
  • Created nature constantly changes as the consequence of its finitude. This mutability when oriented to the good yields unlimited improvement, but when oriented to evil devolves into further evil and ultimately into non-existence.
  • When every possible evil had become manifest, God came in the incarnation to strike it a mortal blow, though its vestiges still harrass humanity.

Missions

  • Christianity supersedes every other religious expression, especially Judaism’s strict monotheism and Hellenism’s polytheism.
  • The mission to Judaism consisted entirely in an appeal to Jewish scripture. Nyssa referred to the destruction of the Temple and the barring of Jews from Jerusalem as a demonstration that God had done away with the law of Moses, except in its "inner meaning."
  • The miracle of Pentecost showed that God calls all nations to faith.

Eschatology

  • After a long period of time, evil will be completely removed and all creation will be restored to its original state. [apokatastasis]
  • Those purified by baptism will get to enjoy blessedness, defined as freedom from passion, immediately at the resurrection. Those who skip baptism’s sacramental water and amendment of repentance will find themselves in the fire that purges away evil.

Theological Method

  • Emphasis on the ineffability of God laid the foundations for the via negativa of eastern orthodox mysticism.
  • Nyssa fitted the "method of therapy to the form of the disease." He explained Christianity to the Jews one way and to the Hellenists another.
  • Like Origen, Nyssa used the categories of Hellenistic philosophy to explain and defend Christian theology.
  • Anagogy (anagogikos): " the mystical process of ascent by which one rises to a consideration of the noetic world from the facts of the phenomenal world." (Robert Hardy, p. 272, n.8)
  • Scripture is interpreted anagogically and allegorically.

2. Notes from Hardy

The following notes are taken from Edward R. Hardy, Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), pp. 235-250. This was a preliminary schema based solely on Hardy’s introduction to Nyssa.

Concept of God

  • The Christian concept of God is the mean between Judaism and paganism (cf. Nazianzus Orations 23.8). (246)
  • Nyssa agreed with Origen’s sharp distinction between begotten and unbegotten, avoiding Origen’s subordinationism by emphasizing orthodoxy’s distinction between created and begotten. (242)
  • Nyssa (along with Nazianzus and Basil) added the sharp distinction between hypostasis and ousia. (243)
  • Ousia (substance) refers to the Godhead shared by all three persons in the trinity, though not as a universal is shared by individual substances. (242) Ousia is more akin to Aristotle’s primary substance (that which cannot be predicated of any subject nor be in a subject) than to secondary substance (either genus or species).
  • Hypostasis (person) is a mode of being, i.e., the way in which something exists. As such it expresses distinction within the Godhead. All three hypostases are homoousias (of the same substance).
  • Three ways Nyssa avoids tritheism (see notes taken from, An Answer to Ablabius: That We Should Not Think of Saying There Are Three Gods
  1. The ousia of God is ineffable. Even the name "Godhead" refers only to a divine attribute, that of overseeing.
  2. Distinctions due to circumscription cannot properly be predicated of the Godhead.
  3. The attributes and operations of the persons in the trinity are absolutely identical. This is the doctrine referred to as perichoresis or coinherence or circuminsessio.
  • Nyssa used both general analogies for the trinity: internal relations within a person (e.g., memory, will, intellect), typically associated with theology in the west, and external relations among persons (e.g., Peter, James and John), typically associated with theology in the east. In his work, On Not Three Gods, he used the latter and in his Address on Religious Instruction he used the former.

Christology

  • Nyssa affirmed the union of the two natures, with an emphasis on the full humanity of Christ (almost to the point of monophysitism). (240)
  • In assuming anthropos, that is, a "concrete instance of human nature," Christ deified that nature. (240)
  • In regard to the atonement, Christ’s humanity was the bait on the hook of his divinity by which Satan was caught "like a greedy fish." (247)

Anthropology

  • "Sexuality is a main root of man’s troubles." Our promised incorruptibility in resurrection, aphtharsia, has the connotation of overcoming sexuality. (239)
  • Humanity originally had an angelic nature lost at the fall. Death was God’s gift to us by which the foul fluid of evil is allowed to drain from us completely, as if from a broken vessel. (248) The "coats of skin" in Gen 3:21, according to Nyssa, referred to this gift of mortality.
  • Nyssa places an emphasis on freedom of will to explain why all do not believe.

Soteriology

  • In Christ’s incarnation we have a general deification of the human. (240)
  • Nyssa preserved Athanasius’ point that "salvation depends upon the full deity of the Son." (241)
  • Ransom theory of atonement: the devil took the bait (Christ’s humanity) for which he relinquished his claim on humanity. The devil was then caught on the hook (Christ’s divinity) in the presence of which he is eventually purged of evil. This theory stresses the objective and cosmic nature of atonement in spite of its obvious defects. (247)

Ecclesiology

  • Nyssa developed an original explanation of the Eucharist, namely, that it allows our bodies "to have intimate union with the Saviour," thereby changing our nature so that our bodies share in the immortality of Christ’s body. (248)
  • This explanation draws on Aristotle’s description of nutrition as the rearrangement of elements into a new form as they are assimilated into the body.
  • Consecration of the elements of the Eucharist, where the Word is added to the bread and the wine, turns those elements into Christ’s body and blood just as the Word, assuming human nature, turned similar elements into body and blood by assimilation during the incarnation.
  • This explanation differs from transubstantiation in that it effects a change of form rather than of underlying substance.

Ethics and Society

  • Evil is a privation of good originating in the will. As such it has more to do with non-existence (non-being) than with being. (246)

Eschatology

  • Like Origen, Nyssa had a universalistic vision of "Last Things." (245)
  • Eventually, through long purgation, all creation (including the devil!) is purified and returned to its pristine state (247).

Theological Method

  • Emphasis on the ineffability of God laid the foundations for the via negativa of eastern orthodox mysticism.
  • In his exegetical writings, Nyssa described a three stage mystical ascent:
    1. apatheia (freedom from passion)
    2. gnosis (mystical knowledge)
    3. theoria (encountering the Divine Darkness in a limitless progress)
  • Like Origen, Nyssa used the categories of Hellenistic philosophy to explain and defend Christian theology. Unlike Origen, however, Nyssa managed to subordinate the speculative character of that philosophy to the demands of orthodoxy.

3. Notes from Gregory's An Answer to Ablabius

The following notes are taken from Gregory of Nyssa, An Answer to Ablabius: That We Should Not Think of Saying There Are Three Gods, edited by Edward R. Hardy, Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), pp. 256-267.

Nyssa gives two answers to the question of why it is inappropriate to speak of three Gods in the Christian faith, even though we are accustomed to using such expressions as "three men" when referring to more than one person. The first, simple answer is that we speak of God as one, resisting the plural expression for a single nature in order to avoid the semblance of polytheism.

He then offers a more subtle answer:

  1. This use of the plural "is a customary misuse of language." (257) The distinction of persons among humans arises "from the individual differences we observe in each." We ought to speak more discerningly and, so, not be confused about God.
  2. "Godhead" is not the proper name for the transcendent nature because such a nature is ineffable. Names for God indicate our conception of the divine rather than its true nature. Every name for God is a symbol, i.e., refers primarily to some created reality. The importance of divine names lies solely in their ability to resist wrong conceptions of the divine and to foster right ones, (that is, they serve a regulative rather than an explicative function.) As such, each name describes an attribute of God. Even "Godhead" refers to the attribute of "overseeing" the universe. Insofar as all three persons of the trinity perform this operation of overseeing identically, all share in the attribute.
  3. What, though, of tritheism? We use a plural noun to refer to several of the same occupation, e.g., several orators. Why not do this of God(s)?
  • Because each human is bounded by the conditions of existence, e.g., time, space, ability, etc. With God, however, there are no such boundary conditions.
  • Further, every action of God ad extra may be equally predicated of Father, Son and Spirit. Each divine operation, therefore, is singular. "We cannot enumerate as three gods those who jointly, inseparably, and mutually exercise their divine power and activity of overseeing us and the whole creation." (262) The Godhead "issues from the Father, as from a spring. It is actualized by the Son; and its grace is perfected by the power of the Holy Spirit." (263) In this unity of operation, every divine act moves immediately, i.e., "no delay exists... in the movement of the divine will from the Father through the Son and to the Holy Spirit." (264) Thus, unity of operation prohibits the plural use for the word "Godhead."
  1. Even if his argument that Godhead describes an operation rather than a nature is not accepted, his argument as a whole still stands because "the divine nature is unlimited and incomprehensible." (264) A nature is always singular and should properly be spoken of only in the singular. Scripture does follow the common (and erroneous) usage in harmless matters so "that the word may be helpful to those who receive it." (265) Scripture is not a grammar text, but it does always refer to God in the singular.
  2. There is no distinction of nature or operation in the Godhead. How, then, may we speak of three persons? Nyssa affirmed "a distinction with respect to causality." (266) Specifically, he mentioned that the distinction of the Son lies in being the only-begotten. This causality refers to "manner of existence" rather than to nature, i.e., essence. (266) The whatness of God is ineffable, but the howness is a separate question and is an issue that allows us to affirm distinction within the singular nature.

4. Notes from Gregory, An Address on Religious Instruction

The following notes are taken from Gregory of Nyssa, An Address on Religious Instruction, edited by Edward R. Hardy, Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), pp. 256-267. (This work is generally called the Catechetical Oration or the Great Catechism.)

General observations

  • Nyssa argued from a conception of the divine that sees it as comprising the highest exemplar of every series.
  • At the same time, God is ineffable mystery, infinitely removed from any created being and outside of any series.
  • "Essential and primary being is the divine nature." (311)
  • Nyssa repeatedly stated that the Logos of God is self-subsisting, personal and absolute power, able to will and to do all good, and as such is the sole creator of all that has being, i.e., is good.
  • Nyssa’s favorite metaphor was that of a physician treating disease.
  • In the introduction, Nyssa outlined his theological method as fitting the "method of therapy to the form of the disease" (268), that is, to explain Christianity to the Jews one way and to the Hellenists another. His goal throughout was to remove any obstacles to a rational basis for Christian piety (cf. p. 291).
  • In chapters 1 and 2, he described the other important part of his theological method: anagogy. Hardy’s footnote on p. 272 defines anagogikos as " a technical phrase to indicate the mystical process of ascent by which one rises to a consideration of the noetic world from the facts of the phenomenal world. Origen uses the term frequently in connection with the mystical interpretation of Scripture."

Chapter 1 The Doctrine of God and His Word

The divine reason/speech (Logos) subsists eternally and possesses life. Since God’s Word cannot be a composite being, life belongs to it properly, that is, it is not received from another. As alive, the Word has the will and the capacity to act. Finally, Logos wills and does whatever is good, and this includes creation.

The Word differs from "Him whose it is," though the difference is not one of nature. (272) Nyssa here used a psychological analogy: "In our own case we say that a spoken word comes from the mind, and is neither entirely identical with it nor altogether different. So the Word of God, by having its own subsistence, is distinct from Him from whom it derives its subsistence. On the other hand, by manifesting in itself the attributes to be seen in God, it is identical in nature with Him." (272)

Chapter 2 The Holy Spirit

Again using anagogy, Nyssa pictured spirit (pneuma) as breath, that is, as the drawing in of something which is foreign to us, but which enlivens us and makes possible our speech. "Yet we must not imagine that, in the way of our own breath, something alien and extraneous to God flows into him and becomes the divine Spirit in him." (273) Rather, we think of the Holy Spirit as "a power really existing by itself and in its own special subsistence," inseparable "from God in whom it exists, or from God’s Word which it accompanies." Like that Word, the Holy Spirit "is capable of willing" and "ever chooses the good." (273)

Chapter 3 The Mean Between Judaism and Hellenism

In terms of mission, Nyssa saw Christianity as superseding every other religious expression, especially Judaism’s strict monotheism and Hellenism’s polytheism, though trinity itself is a mystery.

Chapter 4 Reply to the Jew

This consists entirely in an appeal to Jewish scripture, particularly to the LXX version of Ps. 33:6.

Chapter 5 The Creation of Man

This begins Nyssa’s argument for the incarnation of God which he defended against both Judaism and Hellenism. Logos created all, not out of necessity, but out of gratuitous goodness. Humanity was created to share in that goodness. In order to participate in divine goodness, and based on the principle that like draws like, Nyssa posited that humanity had to be fashioned with a certain affinity for the divine, namely the image of God. This image included immortality and freedom from passion (pathos = moral weakness).

The Nature of Evil and the Fall of Man

Our present mortality and misery is unnatural for us. God who is good could not have created us this way, so evidently something happened to make us mortal. That something came about through "the gift of liberty and free will." (277) The problem Nyssa had to address [though it does not become explicit until chapter 7] was the Manichaean dilemma that, given our current wretchedness, either God is not creator or God is not good. Nyssa’s response anticipated that of Augustine, namely that "evil in some way arises from within. It has its origin in the will, when the soul withdraws from the good. For the origin of evil is not otherwise to be conceived than as the absence of virtue." (278)

Chapter 6 (Evil and the Fall continued)

How did this error in judgment arise? Nyssa pushed the problem back without really solving it adequately. In all creation, there is the intelligible and the sensible, two separate and distinct realms. Creation established a harmony between the two so that the sensible may "participate in the good." (278) When the intelligible existed, but not yet the sensible, Lucifer received the assignment of managing the earth. When God then created humanity in the divine image, Lucifer became envious. [Envy was the original sin rather than pride!]

Keeping in mind that "vice should be viewed as the privation of the good," (279) and that created nature constantly changes as the consequence of its finitude, Lucifer was carried into depravity by the tendency to evil unleashed by his envy. Lucifer "mingled evil with man’s free will and so quenched God’s blessing. (281)

Chapter 7 God and Evil

In addressing the Manichaean dilemma directly, Nyssa cited St. Paul’s distinction between the spiritual man and the natural man to say that judgments of good and evil cannot be made on the basis of sensation. One cannot simply equate good with bodily pleasure and evil with suffering, sickness and pain. Rather, evil has no being. "For nothing evil lies outside the will as if it existed by itself. If a man in broad daylight of his own free will closes his eyes, the sun is not responsible for his failure to see." (282)

Chapter 8 The Restoration of Man

Death is not an evil. God’s intention in giving us mortality was to allow the evil to drain away from our flesh at death (image of a broken pot, smashed and reformed) and then to refashion us in our "original state through the resurrection." (283) Death is the "mark of irrational nature" with which God clothed humanity provisionally after the Fall. Since it was by our senses that we were led astray, the sensible is dissolved to be reconstituted in perfection.

Nevertheless, soul and body "share together in evil." (284) The soul, as non-composite, cannot lose the stain of evil by the act of decomposing and being reconstituted. Instead, either "the medicine of virtue... has to be applied" in the present life or the soul will encounter "a harsh means of correction" at the future judgment. (284) Nyssa used the image of a mole on the soul, i.e., "material excrescences...hardened on the surface of our souls," to depict how our souls are affected by their association with the passions. (284) Once humanity had lost its original perfection through "thoughtlessness," then, the mutability of finite being ensured that humanity could not regain such perfection apart from the One who created human nature, that is, the Logos.

Chapter 9 Incarnation

Nyssa at this point returned to the central thrust of the argument: the incarnation. Again, he stressed that the only thing "by nature shameful" is evil. (287) Thus, it is not unbefitting to the divine to assume human nature, including death and the return from it.

Chapter 10 Incarnation (cont.)

Is not finitude, however, unbefitting to God? "How, then, could the infinite be contained in an atom?" Nyssa answered this by using the analogy of how human intellect is unconstrained by the body. He then illustrated his answer with the image of a "flame hugging the [wick of a lamp] and yet not encased in it." (288)

Chapter 11 Incarnation (cont.)

The incarnation of God is a mystery. If we can’t even understand how the soul and body form a union in human beings, we certainly can’t understand the how of incarnation. That it happened is evident from the miracles recorded in the gospels.

Chapter 12 The Incarnation and The Miracles

Just as we believe in a creator by considering the handiwork of such, so we have proof of the incarnation of God by examining the activities of such. Further, those activities reveal the attributes of God that we likewise see in creation.

Chapter 13 & 14 The Incarnation and The Miracles (cont.)

Birth and death are fleshly events, "the two limits of our human life," (289) characterized by pathos (weakness, primarily in the moral sense; viz. n.22, p.292). In the case of the incarnation, however, the endpoints were unmarked by this weakness, i.e., sensual pleasure in conception and the corruption of the body after death. Those who object that such miracles transcend the natural, affirm the contention that the divine stooped to assume humanity.

Chapter 15 The Incarnation and The Miracles (cont.)

We know God from the blessings we enjoy, particularly from the love for humanity that characterizes the divine. "Our nature was sick and needed a doctor." (290) "The prisoner was looking for someone to ransom him." (291)

Chapter 15 (cont.) & Chapter 16 Why Did Not God Redeem Man by a Sovereign Act?

In addressing this point, Nyssa returned to his theme that nothing created is a vice in itself and, thus, incarnation does not run counter to the conception of God as "genuine virtue." (292) The issue of God’s immutability and impassibility, however, remained to be addressed. Why should God sully Godself by coming into contact with the weakness/pathos of created nature? Nyssa delineated two senses in which weakness/pathos pertains:

  • a proper sense, in which it refers to whatever affects the will and turns it toward evil.
  • an extended sense, in which it refers to the modes of activity inherent in a created, i.e., mutable, nature.

In the incarnation, God came into contact with weakness/pathos in the extended sense, one in which no shame attaches to being human. The birth of God incarnate was "free from sensual pleasure and his life from wickedness." (293)

In addition, God entered fully into both elements of human being, the sensible and the intelligible, in order that, once the elements were dissolved in death, God might rejoin them permanently in the resurrection. "This is what resurrection means - the restoration of elements into an indissoluble union after their separation, so that they can grow together. In this way man’s primal grace was restored and we retrieved once more eternal life." (293) Nyssa spoke of a principle of resurrection that, like the principle of death, entered the world through one person and yet extends to all humanity. "For when in the case of the man in whom [God] was incarnate the soul returned once more to the body after the dissolution, a similar union of the separated elements potentially passed to the whole of human nature, as if a new beginning had been made." (294)

Chapter 17 - 19 Why Did Not God Redeem Man by a Sovereign Act? (cont.)

Again, this does not answer why, if God is so powerful, this devious method of redemption was taken. After saying that sick people don’t tell the physician how to treat them, Nyssa offered the following as reasonable solutions.

  • For believers, the "testimony of the facts themselves" is sufficient, i.e., idolatry (the deceit of demons) everywhere overthrown and Christian churches, by the witness of the martyrs, flourishing in its stead. Nyssa also referred to the destruction of the Temple and the barring of Jews from Jerusalem as demonstration that God had done away with the old covenant and instituted a new one in the incarnation. [We get a sense of his view of scripture in the statement that now the "inner meaning" of the law can be discerned by those who accept "the One expected." (295f)]
  • Since neither Judaism nor Hellenism accept these facts as proofs of the incarnation, Nyssa prepared to give in the next chapter "a more particular reason why the divine nature became joined to ours." (296) For his starting point, he returned to what might be fitting conceptions of God.

Chapter 20 - 25 The Union of God’s Goodness, Wisdom, Justice, and Power in the Incarnation

All the attributes that suggest excellence are ascribed to God, though never singularly, since that would mitigate the various attributes. For example, power "if it is separated from justice and wisdom, cannot be classed as virtue." (296)

Divine justice takes into account both that humanity has free will because of being created in the image of God and that humanity is subject to change because of its created being. (This mutability when oriented to the good yields unlimited improvement, but when oriented to evil devolves into non-existence.) The mind discriminates between real goodness and the appearance of goodness, but humanity was caught on "the fishhook of evil...with an outward appearance of good, as with a bait" and so through free will became "subject to the enemy of life." (298)

God’s justice lay in not taking from the enemy by superior force what he had caught. Switching to the metaphor of a person who had sold himself into slavery, Nyssa said that God’s justice demanded that God "give the master [of the slave] the chance to take whatever he wants to as the price of the slave." (299)

Since envy began the devolution of Lucifer into evil, getting a better bargain for the humanity he had enslaved would satisfy his pride. Lucifer saw in Christ the best human there had ever been and "chose him as the ransom for those he had shut up in death’s prison." (300) Hidden in that appealing human flesh, however, was the fullness of the Godhead. It was veiled so as not to scare Lucifer off the deal. "In that way, as it is with greedy fish, he might swallow the Godhead like a fishhook along with the flesh, which was the bait. Thus, when life came to dwell with death and light shone upon darkness, their contraries might vanish away." (301) Now with Christ’s resurrection, "our mortal race might begin its return to immortal life." (302)

Chapter 26 Did God Use Deceit?

Not really. This is just a fine example of the divine goodness, justice and wisdom combined. God rendered the devil his due while achieving the divine aim. That aim was not only our redemption, but that of Lucifer, too. Caught on the hook of Christ’s divinity, Lucifer is being purged of evil, a painful process he will appreciate when it is completed. "When over long periods of time, [evil] has been removed and those now lying in sin have been restored to their original state, all creation will join in united thanksgiving, both those whose purification has involved punishment and those who never needed purification at all." (304) [apokatastasis]

Chapter 27 & 28 Why God Assumed Human Nature

God was "united with us in all our characteristics" from birth through death in order that the whole of sick humanity might experience the cure in itself. (305) It would not have spared the divine dignity any to assume an angelic, purely intelligible nature since all created being is "equally beneath the power that rules the universe." (306) Again, what is created is, as such, not shameful to the divine. Further, "the whole anatomy of the body is uniformly to be valued," including the "generative organs" by which "nature wars on death." (306f)

Chapter 29 & 30 Why Was the Incarnation Delayed?

God waited until "no form of evil remained concealed in our nature." (307) How is it that evil still unfolds? Like a snake whose head is crushed, but whose body still struggles, " it is possible for evil to have been struck a mortal blow, and yet for life still to be harassed by its vestiges." (308)

Chapter 30 (cont.) & 31 Why Do Not All Believe?

Is God unable or unwilling to extend the gospel reality to all? Nyssa opposed the view that not everyone is called to salvation. Pentecost showed that God calls all nations to faith, but "out of his high regard for man, the Sovereign of the universe left something under our own control... the will... grounded in the freedom of the mind." (308)

Chapter 32 Why Did God Die?

Against the charge that death demeans the divine, Nyssa argued that "the birth makes the death necessary." (309) Christ died so that "by means of his own body [he might] grant our nature the principle of the resurrection, by raising our total humanity along with him by his power." (310) [note the organic view of human nature: what happens in one part, happens to all.] Nyssa then launched into a discurses on the "higher, divine meaning of the cross." [This discurses, along with his reference to the "inner meaning" of the law and his description of the Logos and the Holy Spirit, exemplifies the theological method of anagogy.]

Chapter 33 - 36 Baptism

The second birth comes about by "prayer... and water and faith." (312) To explain, Nyssa pointed to how the initial, "moist" seed becomes a human person. While such is a mystery, it is evident that it occurs by divine power. In the same way, baptism transforms "our corruptible nature into a state of incorruption." (313) By his promise, God is present in the rite of baptism and effects the transformation by divine power.

Since we are saved less by Christ’s teaching than by what Christ actually did, baptism creates an affinity between "disciple and master." (314) Like military recruits in training or like travelers in a labyrinth, we imitate Christ as our captain and guide and so make our way out of the "prison house of death." (315) Earth and water are similar elements, so the device by which we imitate Christ’s experience of death and resurrection is immersion. [Hooray for Baptists!] Nyssa attributed the practice of being immersed three separate times to the fact that Christ was raised on the third day. Later, he also referred to being baptized in the name of each person of the trinity.

In the present, through baptism, we experience to a limited degree God’s purpose in death, i.e., dissolving our sin-stained nature and reconstituting the original innocent state. Baptism brings about "a kind of break in the continuity of evil" both by the imitation of Christ’s death and by our repentance. (316) The break is not complete, but we "enact in advance and by water the grace of the resurrection" in order to "assure us that it is just as easy to be baptized in water as it is to rise again from the dead." (316f) This beginning seems insignificant, but then, so, too, does the human seed.

Though Nyssa claimed it is impossible "for a man to attain to the resurrection apart from the regeneration by washing," (317) he is referring to resurrection to blessedness. Those purified by baptism will get to enjoy blessedness, defined as freedom from weakness/pathos, immediately at the resurrection. Those who skip baptism’s sacramental water and amendment of repentance will find themselves in the fire that purges away evil.

Chapter 37 The Eucharist

Human beings are made up of body and soul. The soul is saved through union with Christ by faith, but the body is another matter. Having been deceived into taking "poison," the body needs a remedy, namely, "the body which proved itself superior to death." (319) Nyssa pointed to nourishment as the assimilation of food into a body to describe how bread and wine are changed into flesh and blood in the Eucharist. "The body in which God dwelt, by receiving bread as nourishment, was in a sense identical with it." (320) In the same way, "the bread which is consecrated by God’s Word is changed into the body of God the Word." (320) What happened gradually during the incarnation now happens immediately upon consecration of the elements.

Chapter 38 - 40 Faith and Repentance

Spiritual birth is the only kind in which one chooses one’s parents and nature. Our choice is to be baptized into the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit as equally uncreated) or into one uncreated and two creatures (as the Arians believed.) To chose the latter is to choose an unstable, that is, a mutable, nature. Thus, anyone "with any intelligence at all" would be baptized and believe according to orthodoxy. (322)

Moreover, there must be a change in one’s life after baptism, that is, a demonstration that one has become clean in one’s will. Otherwise, "the water is only water, and the gift of the Holy Spirit is nowhere evident in the action." (324) Those purified by water will get blessings that defy description, while those who are not will be purified by fire unquenchable and by the worm that does not die. Therefore, those who are wise should choose " a good way of life... now in this life and afterwards when they win their eternal reward." (325)

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