- Excerpts from St. Gregory of Nyssa (A.D. 331-395)
on Scripture, Unity, Sacraments, and Last Things -
These selected quotes from the writings of St. Gregory of Nyssa were compiled by Joël Herndon. St. Gregory of Nyssa was one of the group known as the "Cappadocian Fathers" which indicates Early Christian scholars Born in Asia Minor. These quotes, while not a majority view, give us some insight into the theology of the 4th century Church.
His doctrine concerning the general restoration of all (Apocatastasis) to favor with God and the temporary nature of the pains of hell show us that The Ultimate Reconciliation of All or God’s Systematic Reconciliation of all is not a modern theology, but has always been a belief held by some men of God.
Further studies concerning the life and teaching of Gregory of Nyssa are available on the Internet.
An Opening Benediction
May the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who disposeth all things in wisdom for the best, visit you by His own grace, and comfort you by Himself, working in you that which is well-pleasing to Him, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ come upon you, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, that ye may have healing of all tribulation and affliction, and advance towards all good, for the perfecting of the Church, for the edification of your souls, and to the praise of the glory of His name. (Letter to the Church at Nicomedia)
We now proceed to their next position, after a short defining and confirmation of our own doctrine. For an inspired testimony is a sure test of the truth of any doctrine: and so it seems to me that ours may be well guaranteed by a quotation from the divine words. In the division of all existing things, then, we find these distinctions. There is, as appealing to our perceptions, the Sensible world: and there is, beyond this, the world which the mind, led on by objects of sense, can view: I mean the Intelligible: and in this we detect again a further distinction into the Created and the Uncreate: to the latter of which we have defined the Holy Trinity to belong, to the former all that can exist or can be thought of after that. But in order that this statement may not be left without a proof, but may be confirmed by Scripture, we will add that our Lord was not created, but came forth from the Father, as the Word with His own lips attests in the Gospel.
(Against Eunomius, Book I)
But of what life does the Holy Spirit, that quickeneth all things, stand in need, that by subjection He should obtain salvation for Himself? Since then it is not on the basis of any Divine utterance that he [Eunomius—jh] asserts such an attribute of the Spirit, nor yet is it as a consequence of probable arguments that he has launched this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it must be plain at all events to sensible men that he vents his impiety against Him without any warrant whatsoever, unsupported as it is by any authority from Scripture or by any logical consequence.
(Against Eunomius, Book II)
It is true that we learn from Holy Scripture not to speak of the Holy Ghost as brother of the Son: but that we are not to say that the Holy Ghost is homogeneous with the Son, is nowhere shown in the divine Scriptures.
(Against Eunomius, Book II)
But if it is to the Only-begotten God that he [Eunomius] applies such phrases, so as to say that He is a thing made by Him that made Him, a creature of Him that created Him, and to refer this terminology to “the use of the saints” [Eunomius had claimed “the saints” also taught that the Son of God was a creature], let him first of all show us in his statement what saints he says there are who declared the Maker of all things to be a product and a creature, and whom he follows in this audacity of phrase. The Church knows as saints those whose hearts were divinely guided by the Holy Spirit—patriarchs, lawgivers, prophets, evangelists, apostles. If any among these is found to declare in his inspired words that God over all, who “upholds all things with the word of His power,” and grasps with His hand all things that are, and by Himself called the universe into being by the mere act of His will, is a thing created and a product, he will stand excused, as following, as he says, the “use of the saints” in proceeding to formulate such doctrines. But if the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures is freely placed within the reach of all, and nothing is forbidden to or hidden from any of those who choose to share in the divine instruction, how comes it that he endeavours to lead his hearers astray by his misrepresentation of the Scriptures, referring the term “creature,” applied to the Only-begotten, to “the use of the saints”? For that by Him all things were made, you may hear almost from the whole of their holy utterance, from Moses and the prophets and apostles who come after him, whose particular expressions it would be tedious here to set forth.”
(Against Eunomius, Book III)
And if he [Eunomius] says that he has some of the saints who declared Him [the Only-Begotten God] to be a slave, or created, or made, or any of these lowly and servile names, lo, here are the Scriptures. Let him, or some other on his behalf, produce to us one such phrase, and we will hold our peace. But if there is no such phrase (and there could never be found in those inspired Scriptures which we believe any such thought as to support this impiety), what need is there to strive further upon points admitted with one who not only misrepresents the words of the saints, but even contends against his own definitions?
(Against Eunomius, Book III)
If these doctrines [of Eunomius] approve themselves to some of the sages “who are without,” let not the Gospels nor the rest of the teaching of the Holy Scripture be in any way disturbed. For what fellowship is there between the Creed of Christians and the wisdom that has been made foolish? But if he leans upon the support of the Scriptures, let him show one such declaration from the holy writings and we will hold our peace.
(Against Eunomius, Book X)
Such is the conception of Him [i.e., the Holy Spirit] that possesses them [the followers of Macedonius]; and the logical consequence of it is that the Spirit has in Himself none of those marks which our devotion, in word or thought, ascribes to a Divine nature. What, then, shall be our way of arguing? We shall answer nothing new, nothing of our own invention, though they challenge us to it; we shall fall back upon the testimony in Holy Scripture about the Spirit, whence we learn that the Holy Spirit is Divine, and is to be called so. Now, if they allow this, and will not contradict the words of inspiration, then they, with all their eagerness to fight with us, must tell us why they are contending with us, instead of with Scripture. We say nothing different from that which Scripture says.
(On the Holy Spirit)
Now they charge us with innovation, and frame their complaint against us in this way: They allege that while we confess three Persons we say that there is one goodness, and one power, and one Godhead. And in this assertion they do not go beyond the truth; for we do say so. But the ground of their complaint is that their custom does not admit this, and Scripture does not support it. What then is our reply? We do not think that it is right to make their prevailing custom the law and rule of sound doctrine. For if custom is to avail for proof of soundness, we too, surely, may advance our prevailing custom; and if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs. Let the inspired Scripture, then, be our umpire, and the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.
(On the Holy Trinity, and of the Godhead of the Holy Spirit)
As for ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points [concerning the principles of anger and of desire], were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion on the soul to those speculations. But while the latter [presumably Aristotle is meant] proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such licence, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.
(On the Soul and the Resurrection)
And to those who are expert only in the technical methods of proof a mere demonstration suffices to convince; but as for ourselves, we were agreed that there is something more trustworthy than any of these artificial conclusions, namely, that which the teachings of Holy Scripture point to: and so I [Gregory] deem that it is necessary to inquire, in addition to what has been said, whether this inspired teaching harmonizes with it all.
And who, she [Gregory’s sister Macrina] replied, could deny that truth is to be found only in that upon which the seal of Scriptural testimony is set?
(On the Soul and the Resurrection)
On Faith in the Trinity as a Basis for Christian Unity
Now when the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are with orthodox devotion being glorified and adored by those who believe that in a distinct and unconfused Trinity there is One Substance, Glory, Kingship, Power, and Universal Rule, in such a case as this what good excuse for fighting can there be? At the time, certainly, when the heretical views prevailed, to try issues with the authorities, by whom the adversaries' cause was seen to be strengthened, was well; there was fear then lest our saving Doctrine should be over-ruled by human rulers. But now, when over the whole world from one end of heaven to the other the orthodox Faith is being preached, the man who fights with them who preach it, fights not with them, but with Him Who is thus preached. What other aim, indeed, ought that man's to be, who has the zeal for God, than in every possible way to announce the glory of God?
As long, then, as the Only-begotten is adored with all the heart and soul and mind, believed to be in everything that which the Father is, and in like manner the Holy Ghost is glorified with an equal amount of adoration, what plausible excuse for fighting is left these over-refined disputants, who are rending the seamless robe, and parting the Lord's name between Paul and Cephas, and undisguisedly abhorring contact with those who worship Christ, all but exclaiming in so many words, "Away from me, I am holy"? Granting that the knowledge which they believe themselves to have acquired is somewhat greater than that of others: yet can they possess more than the belief that the Son of the Very God is Very God, seeing that in that article of the Very God every idea that is orthodox, every idea that is our salvation, is included? It includes the idea of His Goodness, His Justice, His Omnipotence: that He admits of no variableness nor alteration, but is always the same; incapable of changing to worse or changing to better, because the first is not His nature, the second He does not admit of; for what can be higher than the Highest, what can be better than the Best? In fact, He is thus associated with all perfection, and, as to every form of alteration, is unalterable; He did not on occasions display this attribute, but was always so, both before the Dispensation that made Him man, and during it, and after it; and in all His activities in our behalf He never lowered any part of that changeless and unvarying character to that which was out of keeping with it. What is essentially imperishable and changeless is always such; it does not follow the variation of a lower order of things, when it comes by dispensation to be there; just as the sun, for example, when he plunges his beam into the gloom, does not dim the brightness of that beam; but instead, the dark is changed by the beam into light; thus also the True Light, shining in our gloom, was not itself overshadowed with that shade, but enlightened it by means of itself. Well, seeing that our humanity was in darkness, as it is written, 'They know not, neither will they understand, they walk on in darkness," the Illuminator of this darkened world darted the beam of His Divinity through the whole compound of our nature, through soul, I say, and body too, and so appropriated humanity entire by means of His own light, and took it up and made it just that thing which He is Himself. And as this Divinity was not made perishable, though it inhabited a perishable body, so neither did it alter in the direction of any change, though it healed the changeful in our soul: in medicine, too, the physician of the body, when he takes hold of his patient, so far from himself contracting the disease, thereby perfects the cure of the suffering part.
(Letter to Eustathia, Ambrosia, and Basilissa)
In Holy Baptism, what is it that we secure thereby? Is it not a participation in a life no longer subject to death? I think that no one who can in any way be reckoned amongst Christians will deny that statement.
(On the Holy Spirit)
Baptism, then, is a purification from sins, a remission of trespasses, a cause of renovation and regeneration. By regeneration, understand regeneration conceived in thought, not discerned by bodily sight. For we shall not, according to the Jew Nicodemus and his somewhat dull intelligence, change the old man into a child, nor shall we form anew him who is wrinkled and gray-headed to tenderness and youth, if we bring back the man again into his mother's womb: but we do bring back, by royal grace, him who bears the scars of sin, and has grown old in evil habits, to the innocence of the babe. For as the child new-born is free from accusations and from penalties, so too the child of regeneration has nothing for which to answer, being released by royal bounty from accountability. And this gift it is not the water that bestows (for in that case it were a thing more exalted than all creation), but the command of God, and the visitation of the Spirit that comes sacramentally to set us free. But water serves to express the cleansing. For since we are wont by washing in water to render our body clean when it is soiled by dirt or mud, we therefore apply it also in the sacramental action, and display the spiritual brightness by that which is subject to our senses.
(On the Baptism of Christ)
On the Lord’s Supper
The question was, how can that one Body of Christ vivify the whole of mankind, all, that is, in whomsoever there is Faith, and yet, though divided amongst all, be itself not diminished? Perhaps, then, we are now not far from the probable explanation. If the subsistence of every body depends on nourishment, and this is eating and drinking, and in the case of our eating there is bread and in the case of our drinking water sweetened with wine, and if, as was explained at the beginning, the Word of God, Who is both God and the Word, coalesced with man's nature, and when He came in a body such as ours did not innovate on man's physical constitution so as to make it other than it was, but secured continuance for His own body by the customary and proper means, and controlled its subsistence by meat and drink, the former of which was bread, just, then, as in the case of ourselves, as has been repeatedly said already, if a person sees bread he also, in a kind of way, looks on a human body, for by the bread being within it the bread becomes it, so also, in that other case, the body into which God entered, by partaking of the nourishment of bread, was, in a certain measure, the same with it; that nourishment, as we have said, changing itself into the nature of the body. For that which is peculiar to all flesh is acknowledged also in the case of that flesh, namely, that that Body too was maintained by bread; which Body also by the indwelling of God the Word was transmuted to the dignity of Godhead. Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word. For that Body was once, by implication, bread, but has been consecrated by the inhabitation of the Word that tabernacled in the flesh. Therefore, from the same cause as that by which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a Divine potency, a similar result takes place now. For as in that case, too, the grace of the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread, and in a manner was itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the Apostle, "is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer"; not that it advances by the process of eating to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it is at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said, "This is My Body." Seeing, too, that all flesh is nourished by what is moist (for without this combination our earthly part would not continue to live), just as we support by food which is firm and solid the solid part of our body, in like manner we supplement the moist part from the kindred element; and this, when within us, by its faculty of being transmitted, is changed to blood, and especially if through the wine it receives the faculty of being transmuted into heat. Since, then, that God-containing flesh partook for its substance and support of this particular nourishment also, and since the God who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, viz. that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be deified, for this end it is that, by dispensation of His grace, He disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh, whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man, too, may be a sharer in incorruption. He gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which He transelements the natural quality of these visible things to that immortal thing.
(The Great Catechism, ch. XXXVII)
’ApokatastasiV, or the Restitution of All Things
We know well that all evil that happens admits of being annihilated by its opposite.
(Against Eunomius, Book I)
As for the future subjection of all men to the Only-begotten, and through Him, to the Father, in the passage where the Apostle with a profound wisdom speaks of the Mediator between God and man as subject to the Father, [he] impl[ies] by that subjection of the Son who shares humanity the actual subjugation of mankind.
(Against Eunomius, Book I)
He becomes the firstborn of the new creation of men in Christ by the twofold regeneration, alike that by Holy Baptism and that which is the consequence of the resurrection from the dead, becoming for us in both alike the Prince of Life, the first-fruits, the firstborn. This firstborn, then, hath also brethren, concerning whom He speaks to Mary, saying, “Go and tell My brethren, I go to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” In these words He sums up the whole aim of His dispensation as Man. For men revolted from God, and “served them which by nature were no gods,” and though being the children of God became attached to an evil father falsely so called. For this cause the mediator between God and man, having assumed the first-fruits of all human nature, sends to His brethren the announcement of Himself not in His divine character, but in that which He shares with us, saying “I am departing in order to make by My own self that true Father, from whom you were separated, to be your Father, and by My own self to make that true God from whom you had revolted to be your God, for by that first-fruits which I have assumed, I am in Myself presenting all humanity to its God and Father.” Since, then, the first-fruits made the true God to be its God, and the good Father to be its Father, the blessing is secured for human nature as a whole, and by means of the first-fruits the true God and Father becomes Father and God of all men. Now “if the first-fruits be holy, the lump also is holy.”
(Against Eunomius, Book II)
Again, he speaks of the subjection of all men to God, when we all, being united to one another by the faith, become one body of the Lord who is in all, as the subjection of the Son to the Father, when the adoration paid to the Son by all things with one accord, by things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, redounds to the glory of the Father; as Paul says elsewhere, “To Him every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” For when this takes places, the mighty wisdom of Paul affirms that the Son, who is in all, is subject to the Father by virtue of the subjection of those in whom He is. What kind of “subjection once for all” Eunomius asserts of the Holy Spirit, it is thus impossible to learn from the phrase which he has thrown out—whether he means the subjection of irrational creatures, or of captives, or of servants, or of children who are kept in order, or of those who are saved by subjection. For the subjection of men to God is salvation for those who are so made subject, according to the voice of the prophet, who says that his soul is subject to God, since of Him cometh salvation by subjection, so that subjection is the means of averting perdition. As therefore the help of the healing art is sought eagerly by the sick, so is subjection by those who are in need of salvation.
(Against Eunomius, Book II)
For assuredly every knee would not thus bow, did it not recognize in Christ Him who rules it for its own salvation.
(Against Eunomius, Book II)
The Son has accomplished the Father’s will, and this, in the language of the Apostle, is “that all men should be saved.”
(Against Eunomius, Book XII)
How are we to feel about such deaths [of infants]? Will a soul such as that behold its Judge? Will it stand with the rest before the tribunal? Will it undergo its trial for deeds done in life? Will it receive the just recompense by being purged, according to the Gospel utterances, in fire, or refreshed with the dew of blessing?
(On Infants’ Early Deaths)
Wickedness is not so strong…as to prevail over the power of good; nor is the folly of our nature more powerful and more abiding than the wisdom of God…for as evil does not extend to infinity, but is comprehended by necessary limits, it would appear that good once more follows in succession upon the limit of evil…I think that we ought to understand about ourselves, that on passing the limit of wickedness we shall again have our conversation in light, as the nature of good, when compared with the measure of wickedness, is incalculably superabundant. Paradise therefore will be restored, that tree will be restored which is in truth the tree of life—there will be restored the grace of the image, and the dignity of rule.
(On the Making of Man, ch. XXI)
God governs all things in a certain order and sequence…[so] that when the generation of men is completed, time should cease together with its completion, and then should take place the restitution of all things, and with the World-Reformation humanity also should be changed from the corruptible and earthly to the impassible and eternal.
(On the Making of Man, ch. XXII)
[The Apostle] says that every reasoning creature, in the restitution of all things, is to look towards Him who presides over the whole. In that passage in the Epistle to the Philippians he makes mention of certain things that are “under the earth”; “every knee shall bow” to Him “of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.”
(On the Soul and the Resurrection)
We certainly believe, both because of the prevailing opinion, and still more of Scripture teaching, that there exists another world of beings besides, divested of such bodies as ours are, who are opposed to that which is good and are capable of hurting the lives of men, having by an act of will lapsed from the nobler view, and by this revolt from goodness personified in themselves the contrary principle; and this world is what, some say, the Apostle adds to the number of the “things under the earth,” signifying in that passage that when evil shall have been some day annihilated in the long revolutions of the ages, nothing shall be left outside the world of goodness, but that even from those evil spirits shall rise in harmony the confession of Christ’s Lordship.
(On the Soul and the Resurrection)
Why, seeing that Lazarus’ soul is occupied with his present blessings and turns round to look at nothing that he has left, while the rich man is still attached, with a cement as it were, even after death, to the life of feeling, which he does not divest himself of even when he has ceased to live, still keeping as he does flesh and blood in his thoughts (for in his entreaty that his kindred may be exempted from his suffering he plainly shows that he is not free yet from fleshly feeling)—in such details of the story (she [Gregory’s sister Macrina] continued) I think our Lord teaches us this; that those still living in the flesh must as much as ever they can separate and free themselves in a way from its attachments by virtuous conduct, in order that after death they may not need a second death to cleanse them from the remnants that are owing to this cement of the flesh.
(On the Soul and the Resurrection)
If, then, whether by forethought here, or by purgation hereafter, our soul becomes free from any emotional connection with the brute creation, there will be nothing to impede its contemplation of the Beautiful; for this last is essentially capable of attracting in a certain way every being that looks towards it.
(On the Soul and the Resurrection)
As every being is capable of attracting its like, and humanity is, in a way, like God, as bearing within itself some resemblances to its Prototype, the soul is by a strict necessity attracted to the kindred Deity. In fact what belongs to God must by all means and at any cost be preserved for Him. If, then, on the one hand, the soul is unencumbered with superfluities and no trouble connected with the body presses it down, its advance towards Him Who draws it to Himself is sweet and congenial. But suppose, on the other hand, that it has been transfixed with the nails of propension so as to be held down to a habit connected with material things, a case like that of those in the ruins caused by earthquakes, whose bodies are crushed by the mounds of rubbish; and let us imagine by way of illustration that these are not only pressed down by the weight of the ruins, but have been pierced as well with some spikes and splinters discovered with them in the rubbish. What then, would naturally be the plight of those bodies, when they were being dragged by relatives from the ruins to receive the holy rites of burial, mangled and torn entirely, disfigured in the most direful manner conceivable, with the nails beneath the heap harrowing them by the very violence necessary to pull them out? Such I think is the plight of the soul as well when the Divine force, for God's very love of man, drags that which belongs to Him from the ruins of the irrational and material. Not in hatred or revenge for a wicked life, to my thinking, does God bring upon sinners those painful dispensations; He is only claiming and drawing to Himself whatever, to please Him, came into existence. But while He for a noble end is attracting the soul to Himself, the Fountain of all Blessedness, it is the occasion necessarily to the being so attracted of a state of torture. Just as those who refine gold from the dross which it contains not only get this base alloy to melt in the fire, but are obliged to melt the pure gold along with the alloy, and then while this last is being consumed the gold remains, so, while evil is being consumed in the purgatorial fire, the soul that is welded to this evil must inevitably be in the fire too, until the spurious material alloy is consumed and annihilated by this fire. If a clay of the more tenacious kind is deeply plastered round a rope, and then the end of the rope is put through a narrow hole, and then some one on the further side violently pulls it by that end, the result must be that, while the rope itself obeys the force exerted, the clay that has been plastered upon it is scraped off it with this violent pulling and is left outside the hole, and, moreover, is the cause why the rope does not run easily through the passage, but has to undergo a violent tension at the hands of the puller. In such a manner, I think, we may figure to ourselves the agonized struggle of that soul which has wrapped itself up in earthy material passions, when God is drawing it, His own one, to Himself, and the foreign matter, which has somehow grown into its substance, has to be scraped from it by main force, and so occasions it that keen intolerable anguish.
Then it seems, I said, that it is not punishment chiefly and principally that the Deity, as Judge, afflicts sinners with; but He operates, as your argument has shown, only to get the good separated from the evil and to attract it into the communion of blessedness.
That, said the Teacher, is my meaning; and also that the agony will be measured by the amount of evil there is in each individual. For it would not be reasonable to think that the man who has remained so long as we have supposed in evil known to be forbidden, and the man who has fallen only into moderate sins, should be tortured to the same amount in the judgment upon their vicious habit; but according to the quantity of material will be the longer or shorter time that that agonizing flame will be burning; that is, as long as there is fuel to feed it. In the case of the man who has acquired a heavy weight of material, the consuming fire must necessarily be very searching; but where that which the fire has to feed upon has spread less far, there the penetrating fierceness of the punishment is mitigated, so far as the subject itself, in the amount of its evil, is diminished. In any and every case evil must be removed out of existence, so that, as we said above, the absolutely non-existent should cease to be at all. Since it is not in its nature that evil should exist outside the will, does it not follow that when it shall be that every will rests in God, evil will be reduced to complete annihilation, owing to no receptacle being left for it?
But, said I, what help can one find in this devout hope, when one considers the greatness of the evil in undergoing torture even for a single year; and if that intolerable anguish be prolonged for the interval of an age, what grain of comfort is left from any subsequent expectation to him whose purgation is thus commensurate with an entire age?
Why, either we must plan to keep the soul absolutely untouched and free from any stain of evil; or, if our passionate nature makes that quite impossible, then we must plan that our failures in excellence consist only in mild and easily-curable derelictions. For the Gospel in its teaching distinguishes between a debtor of ten thousand talents and a debtor of five hundred pence, and of fifty pence and of a farthing, which is "the uttermost" of coins; it proclaims that God's just judgment reaches to all, and enhances the payment necessary as the weight of the debt increases, and on the other hand does not overlook the very smallest debts. But the Gospel tells us that this payment of debts was not effected by the refunding of money, but that the indebted man was delivered to the tormentors until he should pay the whole debt; and that means nothing else than paying in the coin of torment the inevitable recompense, the recompense, I mean, that consists in taking the share of pain incurred during his lifetime, when he inconsiderately chose mere pleasure, undiluted with its opposite; so that having put off from him all that foreign growth which sin is, and discarded the shame of any debts, he might stand in liberty and fearlessness. Now liberty is the coming up to a state which owns no master and is self-regulating; it is that with which we were gifted by God at the beginning, but which has been obscured by the feeling of shame arising from indebtedness. Liberty too is in all cases one and the same essentially; it has a natural attraction to itself. It follows, then, that as everything that is free will be united with its like, and as virtue is a thing that has no master, that is, is free, everything that is free will be united with virtue. But, further, the Divine Being is the fountain of all virtue. Therefore, those who have parted with evil will be united with Him; and so, as the Apostle says, God will be "all in all"; for this utterance seems to me plainly to confirm the opinion we have already arrived at, for it means that God will be instead of all other things, and in all. For while our present life is active amongst a variety of multiform conditions, and the things we have relations with are numerous, for instance, time, air, locality, food and drink, clothing, sunlight, lamplight, and other necessities of life, none of which, many though they be, are God, that blessed state which we hope for is in need of none of these things, but the Divine Being will become all, and instead of all, to us, distributing Himself proportionately to every need of that existence. It is plain, too, from the Holy Scripture that God becomes, to those who deserve it, locality, and home, and clothing, and food, and drink, and light, and riches, and dominion, and everything thinkable and nameable that goes to make our life happy. But He that becomes "all" things will be "in all" things too; and herein it appears to me that Scripture teaches the complete annihilation of evil. If, that is, God will be "in all" existing things, evil, plainly, will not then be amongst them; for if any one was to assume that it did exist then, how will the belief that God will be "in all" be kept intact? The excepting of that one thing, evil, mars the comprehensiveness of the term "all." But He that will be "in all" will never be in that which does not exist.
What then, I asked, are we to say to those whose hearts fail at these calamities?
We will say to them, replied the Teacher, this. "It is foolish, good people, for you to fret and complain of the chain of this fixed sequence of life's realities; you do not know the goal towards which each single dispensation of the universe is moving. You do not know that all things have to be assimilated to the Divine Nature in accordance with the artistic plan of their author, in a certain regularity and order. Indeed, it was for this that intelligent beings came into existence; namely, that the riches of the Divine blessings should not lie idle.
(On the Soul and the Resurrection)
Now this passage from the Psalms [Psalm 118, LXX] runs as follows: "God and Lord hath showed Himself to us; keep the Feast amongst the decorators even unto the horns of the altar;" and this seems to me to proclaim in metaphors the fact that one single feast is to be kept by the whole rational creation, and that in that assembly of the saints the inferiors are to join the dance with their superiors. For in the case of the fabric of that Temple which was the Type it was not allowed to all who were on the outside of its circuit to come within, but everything that was Gentile and alien was prohibited from entering; and of those, further, who had entered, all were not equally privileged to advance towards the centre; but only those who had consecrated themselves by a holier manner of life, and by certain sprinklings; and, again, not every one amongst these last might set foot within the interior of the Temple; the priests alone had the right of entering within the Curtain, and that only for the service of the sanctuary; while even to the priests the darkened shrine of the Temple, where stood the beautiful Altar with its jutting horns, was forbidden, except to one of them, who held the highest office of the priesthood, and who once a year, on a stated day, and unattended, passed within it, carrying an offering more than usually sacred and mystical. Such being the differences in connection with this Temple which you know of, it was clearly a representation and an imitation of the condition of the spirit-world, the lesson taught by these material observances being this, that it is not the whole of the rational creation that can approach the temple of God, or, in other words, the adoration of the Almighty; but that those who are led astray by false persuasions are outside the precinct of the Deity; and that from the number of those who by virtue of this adoration have been preferred to the rest and admitted within it, some by reason of sprinklings and purifications have still further privileges; and again amongst these last those who have been consecrated priests have privileges further still, even to being admitted to the mysteries of the interior. And, that one may bring into still clearer light the meaning of the allegory, we may understand the Word here as teaching this, that amongst all the Powers endued with reason some have been fixed like a Holy Altar in the inmost shrine of the Deity; and that again of these last some jut forward like horns, for their eminence, and that around them others are arranged first or second, according to a prescribed sequence of rank; that the race of man, on the contrary, on account of indwelling evil was excluded from the Divine precinct, but that purified with lustral water it re-enters it; and, since all the further barriers by which our sin has fenced us off from the things within the veil are in the end to be taken down, whenever the time comes that the tabernacle of our nature is as it were to be fixed up again in the Resurrection, and all the inveterate corruption of sin has vanished from the world, then a universal feast will be kept around the Deity by those who have decorated themselves in the Resurrection; and one and the same banquet will be spread for all, with no differences cutting off any rational creature from an equal participation in it; for those who are now excluded by reason of their sin will at last be admitted within the Holiest places of God's blessedness, and will bind themselves to the horns of the Altar there, that is, to the most excellent of the transcendental Powers. The Apostle says the same thing more plainly when he indicates the final accord of the whole Universe with the Good: "That" to Him "every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father": instead of the "horns," speaking of that which is angelic and "in heaven," and by the other terms signifying ourselves, the creatures whom we think of next to that; one festival of united voices shall occupy us all; that festival shall be the confession and the recognition of the Being Who truly Is.
(On the Soul and the Resurrection)
His end is one, and one only; it is this: when the complete whole of our race shall have been perfected from the first man to the last—some having at once in this life been cleansed from evil, others having afterwards in the necessary periods been healed by the Fire, others having in their life here been unconscious equally of good and of evil—to offer to every one of us participation in the blessings which are in Him, which, the Scripture tells us, "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard," nor thought ever reached. But this is nothing else, as I at least understand it, but to be in God Himself; for the Good which is above hearing and eye and heart must be that Good which transcends the universe. But the difference between the virtuous and the vicious life led at the present time will be illustrated in this way; viz. in the quicker or more tardy participation of each in that promised blessedness. According to the amount of the ingrained wickedness of each will be computed the duration of his cure. This cure consists in the cleansing of his soul, and that cannot be achieved without an excruciating condition, as has been expounded in our previous discussion.
(On the Soul and the Resurrection)
For "this corruptible must put on incorruption"; and this incorruption and glory and honour and power are those distinct and acknowledged marks of Deity which once belonged to him who was created in God's image, and which we hope for hereafter. The first man Adam, that is, was the first ear; but with the arrival of evil human nature was diminished into a mere multitude; and, as happens to the grain on the ear, each individual man was denuded of the beauty of that primal ear, and mouldered in the soil: but in the Resurrection we are born again in our original splendour; only instead of that single primitive ear we become the countless myriads of ears in the cornfields. The virtuous life as contrasted with that of vice is distinguished thus: those who while living have by virtuous conduct exercised husbandry on themselves are at once revealed in all the qualities of a perfect ear, while those whose bare grain (that is the forces of their natural soul) has become through evil habits degenerate, as it were, and hardened by the weather (as the so-called "hornstruck" seeds, according to the experts in such things, grow up), will, though they live again in the Resurrection, experience very great severity from their Judge, because they do not possess the strength to shoot up into the full proportions of an ear, and thereby become that which we were before our earthly fall. The remedy offered by the Overseer of the produce is to collect together the tares and the thorns, which have grown up with the good seed, and into whose bastard life all the secret forces that once nourished its root have passed, so that it not only has had to remain without its nutriment, but has been choked and so rendered unproductive by this unnatural growth. When from the nutritive part within them everything that is the reverse or the counterfeit of it has been picked out, and has been committed to the fire that consumes everything unnatural, and so has disappeared, then in this class also their humanity will thrive and will ripen into fruit-bearing, owing to such husbandry, and some day after long courses of ages will get back again that universal form which God stamped upon us at the beginning. Blessed are they, indeed, in whom the full beauty of those ears shall be developed directly they are born in the Resurrection. Yet we say this without implying that any merely bodily distinctions will be manifest between those who have lived virtuously and those who have lived viciously in this life, as if we ought to think that one will be imperfect as regards his material frame, while another will win perfection as regards it. The prisoner and the free, here in this present world, are just alike as regards the constitutions of their two bodies; though as regards enjoyment and suffering the gulf is wide between them. In this way, I take it, should we reckon the difference between the good and the bad in that intervening time. For the perfection of bodies that rise from that sowing of death is, as the Apostle tells us, to consist in incorruption and glory and honour and power; but any diminution in such excellences does not denote a corresponding bodily mutilation of him who has risen again, but a withdrawal and estrangement from each one of those things which are conceived of as belonging to the good. Seeing, then, that one or the other of these two diametrically opposed ideas, I mean good and evil, must any way attach to us, it is clear that to say a man is not included in the good is a necessary demonstration that he is included in the evil. But then, in connection with evil, we find no honour, no glory, no incorruption, no power; and so we are forced to dismiss all doubt that a man who has nothing to do with these last-mentioned things must be connected with their opposites, viz. with weakness, with dishonour, with corruption, with everything of that nature, such as we spoke of in the previous parts of the discussion, when we said how many were the passions, sprung from evil, which are so hard for the soul to get rid of, when they have infused themselves into the very substance of its entire nature and become one with it. When such, then, have been purged from it and utterly removed by the healing processes worked out by the Fire, then every one of the things which make up our conception of the good will come to take their place; incorruption, that is, and life, and honour, and grace, and glory, and everything else that we conjecture is to be seen in God, and in His Image, man as he was made.
(On the Soul and the Resurrection)
What therefore does Paul teach us? It consists in saying that evil will come to nought and will be completely destroyed. The divine, pure goodness will contain in itself every nature endowed with reason; nothing made by God is excluded from his kingdom once everything mixed with some elements of base material has been consumed by refinement in fire. Such things had their origin in God; what was made in the beginning did not receive evil.
(Treatise on I Corinthians XV.28)
The goal of our hope is that nothing contrary to the good is left, but the divine life permeates everything. It completely destroys death, having earlier removed sin which, as it is said, held dominion over all mankind. No longer do any of our passions rule our nature, since it is necessary that none of them dominate—all are subjected to the one who rules over all. Subjection to God is complete alienation from evil…In the last of his words [in I Cor. XV.28], Paul plainly speaks of the nonexistence of evil by stating that God is in all things and present to each one of them. It is clear that God will truly be in all things when no evil will be found. It is not proper for God to be present in evil; thus, he will not be in everything as long as some evil remains.
(Treatise on I Corinthians XV.28)
Subjection to God is our chief good when all creation resounds as one voice, when everything in heaven, on earth and under the earth bends the knee to him, and when every tongue will confess that has become one body and is joined in Christ through obedience to one another, he will bring into subjection his own body to the Father.
Once Paul has been subjected to God, he is brought to the One who lives, speaks and effects good things. The supreme good is subjection to God. This fact which occurred in one person [Paul] will be harmoniously applied to every human being "when," as the Lord says, "the Gospel will be preached throughout the world". All who have rejected the old man with its deeds and desires have received the Lord who, of course, effects the good done by them. The highest of all good things is salvation effected in us through estrangement from evil. However, we are separated from evil for no other reason than for being united to God through subjection. Subjection to God then refers to Christ dwelling in us. What is beautiful is his; what is good is from him, which God expresses through the prophets. Because subjection is both beautiful and good—for Christ himself demonstrated this to us—the good is entirely from him who is good by nature, as the prophet says. According to the promise made in the Gospel, we are no longer slaves of the Lord; but once reconciled, we are numbered among his friends. However, "it is necessary for him to reign, until he places his enemies under his feet." We reverently take this, I believe, as Christ valiantly holding sway in his power. Then the strong man's ability in battle will cease when all opposition to the good will be destroyed. Once the entire kingdom is gathered to himself, Christ hands it over to God and the Father who unites everything to himself. For the kingdom will be handed over to the Father, that is, all persons will yield to God, through whom we have access to the Father.
(Treatise on I Corinthians XV.28)
But since there is a necessity that the defilements which sin has engendered in the soul as well should be removed thence by some remedial process, the medicine which virtue supplies has, in the life that now is, been applied to the healing of such mutilations as these. If, however, the soul remains unhealed, the remedy is dispensed in the life that follows this. Now in the ailments of the body there are sundry differences, some admitting of an easier, others requiring a more difficult treatment. In these last the use of the knife, or cauteries, or draughts of bitter medicines are adopted to remove the disease that has attacked the body. For the healing of the soul's sicknesses the future judgment announces something of the same kind, and this to the thoughtless sort is held out as the threat of a terrible correction, in order that through fear of this painful retribution they may gain the wisdom of fleeing from wickedness: while by those of more intelligence it is believed to be a remedial process ordered by God to bring back man, His peculiar creature, to the grace of his primal condition. They who use the knife or cautery to remove certain unnatural excrescences in the body, such as wens or warts, do not bring to the person they are serving a method of healing that is painless, though certainly they apply the knife without any intention of injuring the patient. In like manner whatever material excrescences are hardening on our souls, that have been sensualized by fellowship with the body's affections, are, in the day of the judgment , as it were cut and scraped away by the ineffable wisdom and power of Him Who, as the Gospel says, "healeth those that are sick." For, as He says again, "they that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick." Since, then, there has been inbred in the soul a strong natural tendency to evil, it must suffer, just as the excision of a wart gives a sharp pain to the skin of the body; for whatever contrary to the nature has been inbred in the nature attaches itself to the subject in a certain union of feeling, and hence there is produced an abnormal intermixture of our own with an alien quality, so that the feelings, when the separation from this abnormal growth comes, are hurt and lacerated. Thus when the soul pines and melts away under the correction of its sins, as prophecy somewhere tells us, there necessarily follow, from its deep and intimate connection with evil, certain unspeakable and inexpressible pangs, the description of which is as difficult to render as is that of the nature of those good things which are the subjects of our hope. For neither the one nor the other is capable of being expressed in words, or brought within reach of the understanding. If, then, any one looks to the ultimate aim of the Wisdom of Him Who directs the economy of the universe, he would be very unreasonable and narrow-minded to call the Maker of man the Author of evil; or to say that He is ignorant of the future, or that, if He knows it and has made him, He is not uninfluenced by the impulse to what is bad. He knew what was going to be, yet did not prevent the tendency towards that which actually happened. That humanity, indeed, would be diverted from the good, could not be unknown to Him Who grasps all things by His power of foresight, and Whose eyes behold the coming equally with the past events. As, then, He had in sight the perversion, so He devised man's recall to good. Accordingly, which was the better way?—never to have brought our nature into existence at all, since He foresaw that the being about to be created would fall away from that which is morally beautiful; or to bring him back by repentance, and restore his diseased nature to its original beauty? But, because of the pains and sufferings of the body which are the necessary accidents of its unstable nature, to call God on that account the Maker of evil, or to think that He is not the Creator of man at all, in hopes thereby to prevent the supposition of His being the Author of what gives us pain—all this is an instance of that extreme narrow-mindedness which is the mark of those who judge of moral good and moral evil by mere sensation. Such persons do not understand that that only is intrinsically good which sensation does not reach, and that the only evil is estrangement from the good. But to make pains and pleasures the criterion of what is morally good and the contrary, is a characteristic of the unreasoning nature of creatures in whom, from their want of mind and understanding, the apprehension of real goodness has no place. That man is the work of God, created morally noble and for the noblest destiny, is evident not only from what has been said, but from a vast number of other proofs; which, because they are so many, we shall here omit. But when we call God the Maker of man we do not forget how carefully at the outset we defined our position against the Greeks. It was there shown that the Word of God is a substantial and personified being, Himself both God and the Word; Who has embraced in Himself all creative power, or rather Who is very power with an impulse to all good; Who works out effectually whatever He wills by having a power concurrent with His will; Whose will and work is the life of all things that exist; by Whom, too, man was brought into being and adorned with the highest excellences after the fashion of Deity. But since that alone is unchangeable in its nature which does not derive its origin through creation, while whatever by the uncreated being is brought into existence out of what was nonexistent, from the very first moment that it begins to be, is ever passing through change, and if it acts according to its nature the change is ever to the better, but if it be diverted from the straight path, then a movement to the contrary succeeds—since, I say, man was thus conditioned, and in him the changeable element in his nature had slipped aside to the exact contrary, so that this departure from the good introduced in its train every form of evil to match the good (as, for instance, on the defection of life there was brought in the antagonism of death; on the deprivation of light darkness supervened; in the absence of virtue vice arose in its place, and against every form of good might be reckoned a like number of opposite evils), by whom, I ask, was man, fallen by his recklessness into this and the like evil state (for it was not possible for him to retain even his prudence when he had estranged himself from prudence, or to take any wise counsel when he had severed himself from wisdom)—by whom was man to be recalled to the grace of his original state? To whom belonged the restoration of the fallen one, the recovery of the lost, the leading back the wanderer by the hand? To whom else than entirely to Him Who is the the Lord of his nature? For Him only Who at the first had given the life was it possible, or fitting, to recover it when lost. This is what we are taught and learn from the Revelation of the truth, that God in the beginning made man and saved him when he had fallen.
(The Great Catechism, ch. VIII)
But he who has regard for truth will agree that the essential qualities of justice and wisdom are before all things these; viz. of justice, to give to every one according to his due; of wisdom, not to pervert justice, and yet at the same time not to dissociate the benevolent aim of the love of mankind from the verdict of justice, but skilfully to combine both these requisites together, in regard to justice returning the due recompense, in regard to kindness not swerving from the aim of that love of man. Let us see, then, whether these two qualities are not to be observed in that which took place. That repayment, adequate to the debt, by which the deceiver was in his turn deceived, exhibits the justice of the dealing, while the object aimed at is a testimony to the goodness of Him who effected it. It is, indeed, the property of justice to assign to every one those particular results of which he has sunk already the foundations and the causes, just as the earth returns its harvests according to the kinds of seeds thrown into it; while it is the property of wisdom, in its very manner of giving equivalent returns, not to depart from the kinder course. Two persons may both mix poison with food, one with the design of taking life, the other with the design of saving that life; the one using it as a poison, the other only as an antidote to poison; and in no way does the manner of the cure adopted spoil the aim and purpose of the benefit intended; for although a mixture of poison with the food may be effected by both of these persons alike, yet looking at their intention we are indignant with the one and approve the other; so in this instance, by the reasonable rule of justice, he who practised deception receives in return that very treatment, the seeds of which he had himself sown of his own free will. He who first deceived man by the bait of sensual pleasure is himself deceived by the presentment of the human form. But as regards the aim and purpose of what took place, a change in the direction of the nobler is involved; for whereas he, the enemy, effected his deception for the ruin of our nature, He Who is at once the just, and good, and wise one, used His device, in which there was deception, for the salvation of him who had perished, and thus not only conferred benefit on the lost one, but on him, too, who had wrought our ruin. For from this approximation of death to life, of darkness to light, of corruption to incorruption, there is effected an obliteration of what is worse, and a passing away of it into nothing, while benefit is conferred on him who is freed from those evils. For it is as when some worthless material has been mixed with gold, and the gold-refiners burn up the foreign and refuse part in the consuming fire, and so restore the more precious substance to its natural lustre: (not that the separation is effected without difficulty, for it takes time for the fire by its melting force to cause the baser matter to disappear; but for all that, this melting away of the actual thing that was embedded in it to the injury of its beauty is a kind of healing of the gold.) In the same way when death, and corruption, and darkness, and every other offshoot of evil had grown into the nature of the author of evil, the approach of the Divine power, acting like fire , and making that unnatural accretion to disappear, thus by purgation of the evil becomes a blessing to that nature, though the separation is agonizing. Therefore even the adversary himself will not be likely to dispute that what took place was both just and salutary, that is, if he shall have attained to a perception of the boon. For it is now as with those who for their cure are subjected to the knife and the cautery; they are angry with the doctors, and wince with the pain of the incision; but if recovery of health be the result of this treatment, and the pain of the cautery passes away, they will feel grateful to those who have wrought this cure upon them. In like manner, when, after long periods of time, the evil of our nature, which now is mixed up with it and has grown with its growth, has been expelled, and when there has been a restoration of those who are now lying in sin to their primal state, a harmony of thanksgiving will arise from all creation, as well from those who in the process of the purgation have suffered chastisement, as from those who needed not any purgation at all. These and the like benefits the great mystery of the Divine incarnation bestows. For in those points in which He was mingled with humanity, passing as He did through all the accidents proper to human nature, such as birth, rearing, growing up, and advancing even to the taste of death, He accomplished all the results before mentioned, freeing both man from evil, and healing even the introducer of evil himself. For the chastisement, however painful, of moral disease is a healing of its weakness.
(The Great Catechism, ch. XXVI)
There is a wide interval between those who have been purified, and those who still need purification. For those in whose lifetime here the purification by the laver has preceded, there is a restoration to a kindred state. Now, to the pure, freedom from passion is that kindred state, and that in this freedom from passion blessedness consists, admits of no dispute. But as for those whose weaknesses have become inveterate, and to whom no purgation of their defilement has been applied, no mystic water, no invocation of the Divine power, no amendment by repentance, it is absolutely necessary that they should come to be in something proper to their case, just as the furnace is the proper thing for gold alloyed with dross, in order that, the vice which has been mixed up in them being melted away after long succeeding ages, their nature may be restored pure again to God. Since, then, there is a cleansing virtue in fire and water, they who by the mystic water have washed away the defilement of their sin have no further need of the other form of purification, while they who have not been admitted to that form of purgation must needs be purified by fire.
(The Great Catechism, ch. XXXV)
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