Monday, June 29, 2009

Gregory of Nyssa, I (PTT)

(Behr, p409-413)

Gregory of Nyssa, the younger brother of Basil, is a less prominent figure than Basil or Nazianzus. We correspondingly have less biographical data., it seems he did not travel abroad, but probably studied rhetoric under Basil himself in Caesarea. Seems to have been married for a time. Was then consecrated to Nyssa by Basil in 372, as part of Basil's manoeuvrings re: division of Cappadocia into 2 provinces. He was not a success in ecclesiastical affairs and was deposed. After Basil's death (Jan 1, 379), he returned to Nyssa, and attended Antioch 379. In the 70s he began to write extensively. Bks 1 & 2 of Against Eunomius were written in 17 days are presented at Constantinople 381.

He was held in high regard at Constantinople 381, delivering Meletius' funeral oration, and mentioned by Theodosius in his edict as one of 11 episcopal norms of orthodoxy. By 383 he completed Bk 3 of Against Eunomius. From the mid 80s he writes primarily against Apollinarians. The last we hear of him is at the synod of Constantinople 394.
Gregory sees his writing as explicitly continuing on the work of Basil. We will treat of 3 important texts, Contra Eunomium, Ad Ablabium, and in this post, To Peter (listed as Epistle 38 of Basil; authorship disputed).

To Peter
This letter, also presented as a letter from Basil to Gregory himself, centers largely around a clarification of the terminology of ousia and hypostasis. Gregory considers ousia to refer to the common essence of a thing, but concerning hypostasis, he writes, “ My statement, then, is this. That which is spoken of in a special and peculiar manner is indicated by the name of the hypostasis” (3). The hypostasis is marked by what is particular and peculiar, not by personal ontology nor psychological identity. So, for example, he writes of the Spirit: “ It has this note of its peculiar hypostatic nature, that It is known after the Son and together with the Son, and that It has its subsistence of the Father” (4), to identify its peculiar marks or idiomatic characteristics. Similarly of the Son and the Father.

In (5) he writes of an analogy of the separate and conjoined is seen in visible tokens. But tokens are not the truth “for it is not possible that there should be complete correspondence between what is seen in the tokens and the objects in reference to which the tokens is adopted”. He also relates the rainbow as an analogy – the colours distinct but conjoined, the light is of one essence.

He then treats of Hebrews 1:3, and teaches us to understand that it concerns, “not the distinction of the hypostases from one another...rather the apprehension of the natural, inseparable, and close relationship of the Son to the Father” (7). He then extends this from Jn 14:9, Col 1:15, to lay down the principles, who thus perceives the image, perceives the archetype. Who perceives the Son, perceives the father's Hypostasis also. (8)

Concerning this letter, Behr makes a few key observations. In drawing the distinction between ousia as referring to the generic, eg. 'man', and hypostasis to the particular, eg. 'Paul', Gregory is making a distinction founded in grammar, far more than he is making a social analogy of 3 persons (cf. Ad Abl to follow). Secondly, 'God' for Gregory is primarily the Father, not 'what is in common'. Thus he stands in a Cappadocian monarchian lineage with Basil.

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