1902 Encyclopedia > St Gregory of Nyssa

St Gregory of Nyssa
Bishop and one of the Cappadocian Fathers
(c. 331 - 396/400)

ST GREGORY OF NYSSA, one of the great Cappadoeians, and designated by one of the later oecumenical councils as " a father of fathers," was a younger brother of St Basil, and was born (probably) at Neocaesarea about 331 A.D. For his education, which was the best that could be got at that time, he appears to have been chiefly indebted to his elder brother. At a comparatively early age he entered the church, and held for some time the office of anagnost or reader ; subsequently he manifested a desire to devote him-self to the secular life as a rhetorician; but this impulse was checked by the earnest remonstrances of Gregory Nazianzen, Finally, in 371 or 372 he was ordained by his brother Basil to the bishopric of Nyssa, a small town in Cappadocia. Here he is usually said (but on inadequate data) to have adopted the opinion then gaining ground in favour of the celibacy of the clergy, and to have separated from his wife Theosebia, who became a deaconess in the church. His strict orthodoxy on the subject of the Trinity and the Incarnation, together with his vigorous eloquence, combined to make him peculiarly obnoxious to the Arian faction, which was at that time in the ascendant through the pro-tection of the emperor Valens ; and in 375, on the ground of alleged irregularities in his election, and in the adminis-tration of the finances of his diocese, he was driven into exile, whence he did not return till the publication of the edict of Gratian in 378. Shortly afterwards he took part in the proceedings of the synod which met at Antioch in Caria, principally in connexion with the Meletian schism. At the great oecumenical council held at Constantinople in 381, he was a conspicuous champion of the orthodox faith ; according to Nicephorus, indeed, the additions made to the Nicene creed were entirely due to his suggestion, but this statement is of doubtful authority. That his eloquence was highly appreciated is shown by the facts that he pro-nounced the discourse at the consecration of Gregory of Nazianzus, and that he was chosen to deliver the funeral oration on the death of Meletius the first president of the council. In the following year, moreover (382), he was commissioned by the council to inspect and set in order the churches of Arabia, in connexion with which mission he also visited Jerusalem. The impressions he gathered from this journey may, in part at least, be gathered from his famous letter Be Euntibus Hierosolyma, in which an opinion strongly unfavourable to pilgrimages is expressed. In 383 he was probably again in Constantinople; where in 385 he pronounced the funeral orations of the princess Pulcheria and afterwards of the empress Placilla. Once more we read of him in 394 as having been present in that metro-polis at the synod held under the presidency of Nectarius to settle a controversy which had arisen among the bishops of Arabia; in the same year he assisted at the consecration of the fine new church of the apostles at Chalcedon, on which occasion there is reason to believe that his discourse com-monly but wrongly known as that eh TTJV eavrov -^eiporovLav was delivered. The exact date of his death is unknown ; some authorities refer it to 396, others to 400. His festival is observed by the Greek Church on January 10th; in the Western martyrologies he is commemorated on March 9th.
Gregory of Nyssa is generally admitted to have excelled both his brother Basil and Gregory of Nazianzus alike in the natural vigour of his intellect and in the wide extent of his acquirements. His teaching though strictly trinitarian, shows considerable freedom and originality of thought; in many points his mental and spiritual affinities with Origen show themselves with advantage; though in one particular—namely, in his doctrine of aTTOKaTio-racts or final restoration—his views have since been repudiated by the orthodox. His style has been frequently praised by competent authorities for sweetness, richness, and elegance. His numerous works may be classified under five heads:—(1.) Treatises in doctrinal and polemical theology. Of these the most important is that Against Eunomius in twelve books. Its doctrinal thesis (which is supported with great philosophic acumen and rhetorical power) is the divinity and consubstantiality of the Word; incidentally the character of Basil, which Eunomius had aspersed, is vindicated, and the heretic him-self is held up to scorn and contempt. This is the work which, most probably in a shorter draft, was read by its author when at Constantinople before Gregory Nazianzen and Jerome in 381 (Jerome, De Vir. III., 128). To the same class belong the treatise To Abls.vii.ts, against the tritheists; On Faith, against the Arians; On Common Notions, in explanation of the terms in current employment with regard to the Trinity; Ten Syllogisms, against the Manichajans; To Theophilus, against the Apollinarians; an Antirrhetic against the same; Against Fate, a disputation with a heathen philosopher ; the Oratio Cateehetiea Magna; and the dialogue De Anima et Resurrectione. (2.) Practical treatises. To this category belong the tracts On Virginity and On Pilgrimages; as also the Canonical Epistle upon the rules of penance. (3.) Ex-pository and homiletical works, including the Hexaemeron, and several series of discourses On the Workmanship of Man, On the Inscriptions of the Psalms, On the Sixth Psalm, On the first three Chapters of Ecclesiastes, On Canticles, On the Lord's Prayer, and On the Eight Beatitudes. (4.) Biographical, consisting chiefly of funeral orations, (ft.) Letters. The only complete editions of the whole works are those by Fronton le Due (Fronto Ducteus, Paris, 1615; with additions, 1618 and 1638) and by Migne. Of the new edition projected by F. Oehler only the first volume, containing the Opera Dogmatica, has appeared (1865). There have been numerous editions of several single treatises, as for example of the Oratio Cateehetiea, De Precatione, and De Anima et Resurrections. See the monograph by Rupp (Gregors, des Bischofs von Nyssa, Leben und Meinungen, Leipsic, 1834), and compare Heyns (Disputatio historico-theologica de Greg. Nyss., 1835), Moller (Gregorii Nyss. doetrinam de hominis natura et iliustravit et cum Origeniana com-paravit, 1854), and Stigler, Die Psychologic ties h. Gregors von Nyssa (Ratisbon, 1857).

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