Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330–c. 394)

views updated

(c. 330c. 394)

Gregory of Nyssa, the Christian theologian and Father of the Eastern church, was born in Cappadocia. Resisting the invitation of his brother, Basil the Great, to join his monastic community at Annesis, Gregory married and became a teacher of rhetoric. In 372 Basil, bishop of Caesarea, had Gregory appointed bishop of Nyssa; but Gregory was deposed in 374 by a local synod dominated by the Emperor Valens and the Arian party. Restored to his see in 377, Gregory began to grow closer to Basil's monastic and theological ideals. After Basil's death in 379, Gregory engaged more and more in writing and in the vigorous administration of his diocese; he was an important figure at the councils convoked at Constantinople in 381, 383, and, just before his death, in 394. An ardent defender of the orthodox Trinitarian doctrine of Nicaea against the Arians and semi-Arians, he was also popular in court circles at Constantinople. Toward the end of his life, when his influence began to wane, he devoted himself to the deepening of the traditional Christian heritage of mystical theology; during this period, from about 390 until his death, he composed some of his most profound works, the Commentary on the Song of Songs and the Life of Moses, which represent the culmination of the process inaugurated in his earliest work, the Treatise on Virginity (c. 370).

Gregory's originality lay chiefly in the depth and mystical awareness he brought to the problem of human's knowledge of the Transcendent. Many of his works, such as the Life of Moses, can be understood on three levels: Moses represents the life of the true believer, the Christian philosopher, and the mystic attempting to find God in the universe. In his exposition of the Trinity and his discussion of God's nature, Gregory penetrated deeper than any other Eastern Father. The core of his theology is the historical perfection of humankind through the restoration of the divine image, regained by the Atonement and communicated through the church. In his doctrine of the Apokatastasis the restoration of all people, even the damned, to the vision of God at the end of timeGregory reveals his loyalty to Origen as well as his own attempt to create a harmonious structure of salvation history. Throughout his work we see the development of the doctrine of the spiritual or mystical senses (implying a direct intuition of God's presence) and an analysis of ecstasy that prepared the way for Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor, and later Byzantine mysticism.

In his epistemology Gregory is derivatively Neoplatonic, and his allegorical exegesis reflects the anthropology of Origen and Philo of Alexandria as well as the eclectic philosophy of Hellenistic Asia Minor. But Gregory never slavishly followed any master, and scholars like H. F. Cherniss go too far when they suggest that Gregory's theology was merely a question of giving Christian names to Plato's doctrines. Rather, the opposite view of Jean Daniélou and others seems closer to the truth: Gregory's theology represents a subtle transformation of Neoplatonism into authentic Christianity, whereby the intuitive vision and ethical achievement of the Christian mystic (in Daniélou's terminology, epektasis ) was the culmination of the pagan philosopher's quest.

See also Mysticism, History of; Neoplatonism.


texts and translations

Aubineau, M. De Virginitate. Sources Chrétiennes 119, 1966.

Forbes, G. H. Apol. In Hexameron. Burntisland, 18551861.

Heil, G. et al. Sermones. Leiden, 1967.

Jaeger, W. Contra Eunomium. Berlin, 1921; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960.

Jaeger, W., et al. Opera Ascetica. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1952.

Krabinger, J. G. De Anima et Resurrectione. Leipzig, 1837.

Krabinger, J. G. De Oratione Dominica. Landshut, 1840.

Langbeck, H. In Canticum Conticorum. Leiden, 1960.

Lendle, O. Encomium in Sanctum Stephanum Protomartyrem. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968.

McDonough, J., and P. Alexander. In Inscriptiones Psalmorum in Sextum Psalmum in Ecclesiasten Homiliae. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1962.

Migne, J. P. Patrologia Graeca 4446. Paris, 18571866.

Mueller, F. Opera Dogmatica Minora. Leiden, 1958.

Mursillo, H. De Vita Moysis. Leiden, 1962; E. J. Brill, 1991.

Pasquali, G. Epistulae. Berlin, 1925.

van Heck, A. De Pauperibus Amandis Orationes Duo. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1964.

English translation of selected texts in Nicene and Post-Nicene Christian Fathers. Series 2, vol. 5. Oxford, 1890.


Cherniss, Harold. The Platonism of Gregory of Nyssa. New York: B. Franklin; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1930.

Coakley, S., ed. Rethinking Gregory of Nyssa. Oxford; Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.

Coffigny, Daniel. Grégoire de Nysse. Paris, 1993.

Daniélou, Jean. L'être et le temps chez Grégoire de Nysse. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970.

Diekamp, F. Die Gotteslehre des heiligen Gregor von Nyssa. Münster, 1896.

Drobner, Hubertus, and Christoph Klock. Studien zu Gregor von Nyssa und der christlichen Spätantike. Leiden, 1990.

González, G. La formula mia ousia treis hupostaseis en S. Gregorio de Nisa (Analecta Gregoriana 21, 1939).

Jaeger, W. Gregor von Nyssas Lehre vom heiligen Geist. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966.

Laird, M. S. Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith: Union, Knowledge, and Divine Presence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Meredith, Anthony. Gregory of Nyssa. London: Routledge, 1999.

Pellegrino, M. "Il platonismo di San Gregorio Nisseno nel dialogo 'Intorno all'Anima e alla Risurrezione." Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica 30 (1938) 437474.

Turcescu, Lucien. Gregory of Nyssa and the Concept of Divine Persons. Oxford, 2005.

Vannier, Marie-Anne. Les Cappadociens. Montrouge, 1997.

Völker, W. Gregor von Nyssa als Mystiker. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1955.

von Balthasar, H. U. Présence et pensée: Essai sur la philosophie religieuse Grégoire de Nysse. Paris: G. Beauchesne et ses fils, 1942.

Zachhuber, Johannes. Human Nature in Gregory of Nyssa: Philosophical Background and Theological Significance. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000.

Zemp, Paul. Die Grundlagen heilsgeschichtlichen Denkens bei Gregor von Nyssa. München: M. Hueber, 1970.

Herbert Musurillo, S.J. (1967)

Bibliography updated by Scott Carson (2005)