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CAPPADOCIA / St. Gregory of Nyssa (The Father of Fathers)

 

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The younger brother of St. Basil the Great (ca.330-379) the famed Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, namely, St Gregory of Nyssa.  Like that of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (ca.329-390, who was also known as St. Gregory the Theologian), the life of the third of the three Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory of Nyssa, is also very closely tied with a vehement defense of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 325, and its definition of the Son as being of the same substance as the Father. Like Basil and  Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-c.394) was too young to have dealt with Arius.  His battle, like that of the other two great Cappadocians was especially against the later Neo-Arian movement headed by Aetius of Antioch and later Eunomius of Cyzicus.  Gregory of Nyssaís life is also marked by intense family loyalty, which his older brother Basil does not seem to exhibit. It is from Gregory of Nyssa that we find out much about his amazing family. He wrote and delivered funeral orations on his father, Gregory the Elder, his sister Gorgonia and his brother Caesarius, and two works in which his elder sister Macrina is the central personage.  Basil never tells us of another brother, Naucratius, who drowned as a youth.  It is Gregory who mentions him.  For St Peter of Sebaste, another sibling, Gregory wrote his mystical commentaries On the Creation of Man and the Six Days of Creation (Hexaemeron), in fact as a completion of Basilís efforts in that sphere. It is a good thing for Basil that his younger brother held him in such high esteem.  Gregory of Nyssa often came to Gregoryís defense in various writings.  He also attributed all of his education to Basil ( who had the best education the world had to offer at the time, including university studies in Athens).  The amazing thing is that Gregory of Nyssa is a much deeper writer and thinker than Basil.  He was a rather naive and sloppy administrator (for which he was scolded not once, but several times by his big brother), but Gregory far outshines Basil in the mystical depth of his writings.  In fact, some scholars would go so far as to say that Gregory gave the philosophico-mystical underpinning to the immensely practical monastic rules of Basil.

Gregory of Nyssa was shanghaied into episcopal ordination much like Gregory of Nazianzus. Basil, needed allies to fight for control of the newly divided province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor (todayís Turkey). Opponents of Nicene Trinitarianism were abundant, and Basil, as metropolitan of Caesarea in Cappadocia knew that he needed suffragan bishops on whom he could count absolutely.  Nyssa was another dusty little town, not unlike the see of Sasima which Gregory of Nazianzus was never eager to occupy.  Nevertheless, both Gregories were able to rise above pettiness and to recognize the threat of the ultimately logical Neo-Arians, the Eunomians, who held that the Son could not be God because he was begotten, and the very essence of God was to be unbegotten.

It is quite probable that Gregory of Nyssa was a married man.  Some scholars believe that evidence points to his wife as being Theosebeia.  He did, however, write the very important work  On Virginity, perhaps at the request of Basil. Written perhaps around 370, it is among his earlier compositions.

Gregory became bishop of Nyssa in 371, was deposed in 375 under Arian influence, returned to his see in 379 after the Arian emperor Valens died.  He figured prominently at the Council of Constantinople (381) which we now call the Second Ecumenical Council.  He was favored by the imperial court as an orator.

The last years of his life seem to have been dedicated to his most sublime mystical works, including the Life of Moses, in which he relies on Origenís approach to drawing out the mystical meaning of scriptural texts where they might not be obvious at first glance. It is here that he gives us his vision of eternal life as forever stretching towards God (epektasis) Some of his other exegetico-mystical works included his homilies on the Song of Songs, On Ecclesiastes, On the inscriptions of the Psalms, On the Beatitudes and On the Lordís Prayer.

He also wrote important dogmatic works: 12 Books against Eunomius, who had replied to Basilís earlier attack after Basil was dead and could no longer reply himself. His Great Catechism is tremendously important, as are his various clarifications on Trinitarian doctrine, e.g. To Ablabius, That there are not Three Gods. His Life of St, Macrina served as a sort of ascetical handbook in biographical form, much like Athanasiusí Life of Anthony. His eschatological views are expounded in the form of a platonic dialogue at Macrinaís deathbed, under the title On the Soul and Resurrection.

We know nothing of St Gregory of Nyssa after 394, and that is why he is presumed to have died somewhere around this time.


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