Gregory of Nyssa

I wrote this on Tuesday morning this week, very early. It was the feast day observing Gregory of Nyssa, one of the “Cappadocian Fathers” (Gregory, his brother Basil and their close friend Gregory of Nazianzus). The two Gregorys were appointed bishops against their will by their elder brother, Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea, all, in modern-day Turkey.
In the fourth century, writers commented that throughout the vast Roman empire, you could not get a haircut without the barber questioning you as to your position whether Christ was fully human or fully divine. This became both a theological and a political question. The empire was threatened with schism over the issue which led to the Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed. Answer: Christ has BOTH natures of divine and human.
Gregory of Nyssa was a lukewarm Christian until his twenties when the relics of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste were transferred to a chapel near him. The story of the forty martyrs made such a deep impression on him that he concluded to acknowledge God at all is to acknowledge God’s demand to a total commitment.
Meanwhile, older brother Basil was appointed archbishop in 370 and he struggled with the Byzantine Emperor Valens who supported the Arian position denying the divinity of Christ. Basil needed votes at the upcoming Council of Nicea (381) and appointed his brother Gregory and his friend, Gregory, to become bishops in smaller, nearby regions. Neither of them wanted to be bishop, nor were they suited for the job. Both were furious with Basil.
Although he wrote extensively on philosophy and theology, Gregory of Nyssa is most remembered for his treatises on the spiritual life, on the contemplation of God in private meditation and in corporate worship and in the sacramental life of the Church.
One saying of Gregory that I particularly like is, “It is not failure to live virtuous lives that can keep us out of heaven, but a refusal to believe in the mercy of God, and to trust his gracious declarations of good will toward us, concretely expressed in the saving blood of Christ.”

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