to Gregory of Nyssa's The Life of Moses
if we consider the cause of our life, that He came to create man not from
necessity, but from the free decision of His Goodness, we say that we have
contemplated God by this way, that we have apprehended His
Goodness--though again not His Essence, but His Goodness.
It is the same with all other things that raise the mind to
transcendent Goodness, all these we can term apprehensions of God, since
each one of these sublime meditations places God within our sight.
For power, purity, constancy, freedom from contrariety--all these
engrave on the soul the impress of a Divine and transcendent Mind."
--Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon 6 on the Beatitudes
Important Ideas in Gregory's Thought
cannot be comprehended by human definitions; thus, one can only speak
of what God's nature (phusis) is not.
substance (ousia) is unknowable, while his energies
(energeiai), that is his divine actions in creation, can be
known by the "spiritual" senses ("pure in heart")
This division in how God presents himself is comparable to the western
notion of the ontological and economic Trinity.
is present in both his ousia and his energeiai.
Gregory stresses apophatic
theology (via negativia)
instead of cataphatic
theology (via positivia). God is known more by
stripping away our false notions of who he is over meeting him in the
images of the created order. We begin with the light only to discover
world is contingent in its being. Nothing except God truly exists.
What we call the physical is really a convergence of how qualities
appear to us for God's purposes.
human being is a body-soul. The nous (sometimes translated mind) is a
higher quality which evinces aspects of transcendence, dignity, and
freedom that the rest of the created order does not. This is because
humans are the imago dei. Consciousness is finally
sometimes called divinization, is the goal of salvation. Indeed, it
Everything must move toward perfection, so every being will
eventually turn back towards the ultimate attractiveness of God.
the ultimate restoration of all things, suggests that damnation is
remedial and therefore temporal.
which produces self-transcendence, is the continually striving of our
selves for what is higher and more perfect.
apatheia (indifference) is necessary for fighting against the
corrupted passions, though in the end this must be transcended by a
passionate striving after complete virtue.
is the ecstatic expression of agape. The soul finally knows God
via the union of love rather than knowledge (theoria).
is better than fulfilled pleasure for it teaches the soul that there
is always more to God.
human knowledge falsely seeks to possess its prey, while true
contemplation is a submission to the gift given.
trustworthy a source is experience in general?
we experience God? If so, how?
we believe in mystical experiences? Why or why not?
something be actual yet unexplainable?
something be non-sensory and non-cognitive?
we define or explain God?
we talk about the "spiritual" without images or analogies?
one be perfected in this life or the next?
Content Questions (First Day's
- In the prologue, how does Gregory describe
the race towards perfection?
- In Book 1, how does he imagine the years of Moses
prior to confronting Pharaoh?
- Why are Moses' miracles described as military
actions and strategies?
- How does he describe the people's reaction to the
theophony at Mt. Sinai?
- How does he describe the making of the
- What prompts the people's rebellion and idolatry?
- In Book 2, how does Gregory distinguish true and
barren education? How are we to respond to false teaching and
8. Why does the burning bush explain the mystery of
the Virgin? (37ff.)
9. Why does Gregory adopt idea of the good and bad
angel of human nature?
10. When is one ready to instruct others?
11. Why is Pharaoh's heart hardened?
12. What is the cause and outcome of Gehenna?
13. Why does Gregory think the death of the Egyptian
firstborn is typological? (56ff.)
14. How does he allegorize the departure from Egypt?
15. What does the wealth of Egypt represent?
(Second Day's Reading)
- How does the Holy Spirit act as our guide to
- Why are the waters of baptism both life and death
- Why does manna offer us a lesson on the
- What is needed to truly approach the
contemplation of Being (God)?
- What does Gregory understand the darkness to
- Compare and contrast the meaning of the heavenly
and earthly tabernacles.
- What do the priestly garments and the tablets of
- What does Moses' experience with the cleft in the
rock teach us?
- What are the destructive results of envy?
- How does the brazen serpent point to Christ and
- Why is it arrogant to seek to take the priesthood
to one's self?
- What does the encounter with Balaam and the
Moabite women teach about the spiritual life?
- How does Gregory describe the perfection of
- What does he conclude at the end of Life of
"Moses’ vision of God
began with light; afterwards God spoke to him in a cloud.
But when Moses rose higher and became more perfect, he saw God in
--Commentary on Canticles
Theophonies in Life of Moses
Burning Bush--knowledge, education, light
Sinai--darkness, silence, mystical awareness
Cleft of the Rock--epekstasis--there
is always more hidden out of reach