Thursday, January 10, 2013

St. Gregory of Nyssa




St. Gregory of Nyssa (circa 330 -- 395 A.D.) was an early Church Father, who created a rich legacy of theology, liturgy, and spiritual literature.

Gregory was born in Cappadocia, Asia Minor into a deeply religious family and was raised piously. His mother, Emmelia, was a martyr's daughter; two of his brothers, Basil of Cæsarea and Peter of Sebaste, became bishops like himself; his oldest sister, Macrina, is a saint. The younger brother of St. Basil the Great, he was educated by Basil and Macrina, which suggests that their parents died when he was young.

He was married according to his own testimony in his work On Virginity. There exists a letter addressed to him by Gregory of Nazianzen condoling with him on the loss of one Theosebeia, who was most likely his wife. (Historians have differing opinions on this.)

He studied rhetoric, became a professor, and was elected Bishop of Nyssa in 372. He was falsely accused of embezzling church funds and was arrested by the governor of Pontus. He escaped from captivity, but did not return to his See until 378. Shortly after this, Basil died, soon followed by Macrina.

His intellectual gifts, as evidenced in his numerous writings against Arianism and in support of orthodoxy, caused him to become known as the "common mainstay of the Church." He was sent on missions to counter heresy in Palestine and Arabia and he was the chief proponent of the trinitarian doctrine at the First Council of Constantinople in 381, which safeguarded the true humanity as well as the divinity of Christ.

Gregory participated in the second ecumenical Council at Constantinople as a theologian. There, he continued to fight Arianism and reaffirmed the decrees of the Council of Nicaea. The council called him, "Father of the Fathers" because he was widely venerated as the great pillar of orthodoxy and the great opponent of Arianism. However, his theological reflections far surpassed controversy and cathechesis--St. Gregory provides us with the first systematic presentation of Christian doctrine since Origen over 150 years earlier.

He wrote many reflections and commentaries on Scripture, most notably his Life of Moses and homilies on the Lord's Prayer, the Song of Songs, and the Beatitudes. His most important contribution was in the area of spirituality. While his brother gave eastern monasticism its structure and organization, Gregory provided its heart and mystical vision. For this reason he came to be know as "Father of Mysticism."   His "Great Catechism," reveals his view of the Eucharist, which like other early Church Fathers, confirms the Real Presence of Christ in what was formerly mere bread and mere wine.  Gregory writes that man becomes what he eats.

Gregory died around the year 395 AD and is revered as one of the greatest of the Eastern Church Fathers. He, his brother Basil and their friend St. Gregory of Nazianzen, are known as the Cappadocian Fathers, from the region in modern Turkey from which they came. Gregory of Nyssa is widely regarded as the most substantial thinker and theologian among the three Cappadocians.


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