Saint Gregory of Nyssa: Father of Mysticism
Image: Saint Gregory of Nyssa
January 10 is the feast of Saint Gregory of Nyssa (circa 330 — 395 A.D.), an early Church Father, who created a rich legacy of theology, liturgy, and spiritual literature.
Gregory was born in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) into a deeply religious family and was raised to live a holy life. The son of two saints, Basil and Emmelia, he was educated by his oldest sister, St. Macrina, and his younger brother, St. Basil the Great, which suggests that their parents died when he was young.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa 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 Theosebiea, who was most likely his wife.
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.
Gregory’s 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 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 (a heresy which denied the divinity of Christ) 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 catechesis–Saint Gregory of Nyssa provides us with the first systematic presentation of Christian doctrine since Origen over 150 years earlier.
Gregory 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 known as the “Father of Mysticism.”
Gregory of Nyssa 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. Saint Gregory of Nyssa is widely regarded as the most substantial thinker and theologian among the three Cappadocians.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa Quotes
“He offered Himself for us, Victim and Sacrifice, and Priest as well, and ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’ When did He do this? When He made His own Body food and His own Blood drink for His disciples; for this much is clear enough to anyone, that a sheep cannot be eaten by a man unless its being eaten be preceded by its being slaughtered. This giving of His Body to His disciples for eating clearly indicates that the sacrifice of the Lamb has now been completed.”
~ Excerpted from his Sermon on the Interval of Three Days Between the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ or Sermon on the Resurrection of Christ [381 A.D.]
“The good Lord has granted us the privilege of sharing in this, the greatest, most divine and chief of all names, so that, honored by the name of Christ, we are called ‘Christians.’ So then we must ensure that in us are seen all the meanings of the name of Christ, so that our title is not false and meaningless but is borne out by our lives.” — A Treatise on Christian Perfection by Saint Gregory of Nyssa