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The Catholic Defender: Saint Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory was born around 335, His family was aristocratic and Christian 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 eight siblings were St. Macrina the Younger, St. Naucratius, St. Peter of Sebaste and St. Basil of Caesarea.

Gregory's parents had suffered persecution for their faith: he writes that they "had their goods confiscated for confessing Christ."

Gregory participated in the First Council of Constantinople (381), Gregory, following Basil, defined the Trinity as "one essence in three persons ", the formula adopted by the Council of Constantinople in 381.

was Bishop of Nyssa in Cappadocia from 372 to 376 and from 378 until his death in 395.

philosophical theologian and mystic, leader of the orthodox party in the 4th-century Christian controversies over the doctrine of the Trinity. Primarily a scholar, he wrote many theological, mystical, and monastic works in which he balanced Platonic and Christian traditions.

Gregory was among the early Christian voices to write against slavery, declaring the institution inherently sinful.

The fundamental fact about human nature according to Gregory of Nyssa is that humans were created in the image of God. This means that because in God a transcendent nature exists which projects energies out into the world, we would expect the same structural relation to exist among human beings vis-a-vis their bodies.

The son of two saints, Basil and Emmilia, young Gregory was raised by his older brother, Saint Basil the Great, and his sister, Macrina, in modern-day Turkey.

Gregory believed that the church was the supreme authority on earth; he felt that rulers and ordinary people alike were all subject to the will of the church and its pope. He did not hesitate to use the terrible punishment of excommunication as a way to resolve conflicts of church and state.

According to Gregory of Nyssa, baptism is first of all the restoration of God's im- age in a human being, in the framework of the so-called “theology of the image”, which Gregory shared with Origen and which is principally based on Gen 1:26.

made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene Creed. Gregory's philosophical writings were influenced by Origen. Since the mid-twentieth century, there has been a significant increase in interest in Gregory's works from the academic community, particularly involving universal salvation, which has resulted in challenges to many traditional interpretations of his theology.

Gregory’s success in his studies suggested great things were ahead for him. After becoming a professor of rhetoric, he was persuaded to devote his learning and efforts to the Church.

By then married, Gregory went on to study for the priesthood and become ordained (this at a time when celibacy was not a matter of law for priests).

He was elected Bishop of Nyssa in 372, a period of great tension over the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. Briefly arrested after being falsely accused of embezzling Church funds, Gregory was restored to his see in 378, an act met with great joy by his people.

It was after the death of his beloved brother Basil, that Gregory really came into his own.

He wrote with great effectiveness against Arianism and other questionable doctrines, gaining a reputation as a defender of orthodoxy.

He was sent on missions to counter other heresies and held a position of prominence at the Council of Constantinople.

His fine reputation stayed with him for the remainder of his life, but over the centuries it gradually declined as the authorship of his writings became less and less certain.

But, thanks to the work of scholars in the 20th century, his stature is once again appreciated. Indeed, Saint Gregory of Nyssa is seen not simply as a pillar of orthodoxy but as one of the great contributors to the mystical tradition in Christian spirituality and to monasticism itself.

Words from Saint Gregory of Nyssa

“Be not anxious about what you have, but about what you are.” “Moses' vision of God began with light; afterwards God spoke to him in a cloud. But when Moses rose higher and became more perfect, he saw God in the darkness.” “Anger is a perversion of courage, as lust is a perversion of love.”

Who gives you the day will give you also the things necessary for the day.

Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.

If we truly think of Christ as our source of holiness, we shall refrain from anything wicked or impure in thought or act and thus show ourselves to be worthy bearers of his name. For the quality of holiness is shown not by what we say but by what we do in life.

For when one considers the universe, can anyone be so simple-minded as not to believe that the Divine is present in everything, pervading, embracing and penetrating it?

As no darkness can be seen by anyone surrounded by light, so no trivialities can capture the attention of anyone who has his eyes on Christ.

Now there have been delivered to us in the Gospel three Persons and names through whom the generation or birth of believers takes place, and he who is begotten by this Trinity is equally begotten of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost —for thus does the Gospel speak of the Spirit, that “that which is born of Spirit is spirit,” and it is “in Christ “that Paul begets, and the Father is the “Father of all”.

Our human weakness is protected by the assistance of the Angels all our perils, provided faith remain with us, we are defended by the aid of spiritual powers.

May we never risk the life of our souls by being resentful or by bearing grudges.


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