From. M Christensen & J Wittung (edd). Partakers of the Divine Nature. The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Tradition Farleigh Dickinson University Press. 2006.
in Greek Patristic Thought:
The Cappadocian Fathers’ Strategic Adaptation of a Tradition
A Working Definition
It would not go amiss, perhaps, to begin our conference 1 with a preliminary attempt to define and contextualize our key term. Deification in the Greek Christian understanding of that concept 2 is the process of sanctification of Christians whereby they become progressively conformed to God; a conformation that is ultimately demonstrated in the glorious transfiguration of the just in the heavenly Kingdom, when immortality and a more perfect vision ( and knowledge and experience) of God are clearly manifested in the glorification () of the faithful. That shall serve as a brief initial introduction to a notion whose nuances we will proceed to refine extensively over the next two days in our common work. It is a notion that moves with a tensile dynamic3 from the moral domain into the anthropological in a profoundly suggestive way that closely relates it to the parallel Christian notion of Transfiguration (Metamorphosis). In the hands of several of the later Greek theologians the two ideas are explicitly related. In the work of Origen and the Cappadocians, especially Gregory of Nyssa, we see the insightful reminder to us that to differentiate the moral from the anthropological is a mistake; or to put it in other words, to imagine that the life of virtue is something other than our graced existential energy, is an ‘unredeemed’ notion unfitting for a Christian.
Deification (Greek : Theosis, Theopoiesis) was a bold use of language, deliberately evocative of the pagan acclamations of Apotheosis (humans, especially heroes, great sages, and latterly emperors, being advanced to the rank of deity) although that precise term was always strictly avoided by Christian writers because of its fundamentally pagan conceptions of creatures transgressing on divine prerogative: a blasphemous notion that several of the ancient Hellenes themselves, not least Arrian, found worthy of denunciation. Deification in classical Greek Christian thought is always careful to speak of the ascent of the creature to communion with the divine by virtue of the prior divine election and divine summoning of the creature for fullness of life. In other words, in all Christian conceptions of the notion, the divine initiation and priority is always at the basis of the creaturely ascent ( at once both a moral and ontological ascent) and that progress is part and parcel of the very understanding of what salvation is. Deification theory is, therefore, a basic element of Greek patristic theology’s articulation of the process of salvific revelation : put more simply, how the epiphany of a gracious God is experienced within the world (more precisely within the Church), as a call to more abundantly energised life. It is in this juxtaposition of the ideas of life and revelation ( the revelation of life that is) that Christian deification theory assumes its true grandeur, for it breaks down, at least in the best of Greek patristic thought, the limiting ‘differentiation’ between soteriology and creation theology. In speaking of fullness of communion as the ‘true life’ of the creature, deification language shows that the restoration of communion (salvation as redemption) is at root one and the same movement and motive of the God who seeks to disburse the gift of the fullness of life to his rational creatures: the gift of life and the experience of divine communion being synonyms for the enlightened saint who finally sees the purposes of creation (and the motives of redemption) as they really are.
A Brief Pre-History
Let me sketch, with very broad strokes, the pre-history of the term as it came into the purview of the Cappadocians 4. We could, of course, trace the origins of the concept of Theosis to the New Testament itself, as it reflects on the Psalms and on other biblical passages ( particularly texts such as John 10. 34-36). Often commentators have singled out the passage in 2 Peter 1.4 which speaks of believers becoming ‘participants in the divine nature’, and one might particularly note the rootedness of the idea in the Johannine notions of the Anabasis and Katabasis of the revelatory Word. But that is not our charge today 5, and it remains evident enough that the term Theosis itself is not explicitly advanced by scriptural authority – something that makes Gregory Nazianzen apologise for his ‘boldness’ in using it to sum up the message and meaning of the scriptures.
Irenaeus was the theologian who developed the notion imaginatively, and with freshness of insight, from the scriptural bases. In a few places, but with resonant language, Irenaeus sketched out many of the chief lineaments that would comprise the nexus of Theosis theory: its dynamic as a soteriological term, its rootedness in the concept of creation’s purposes, its close relation to the ideas of corruption and immortality; its essential closeness to the concept of transactive substitution in the doctrine of the incarnation of the Logos. All these primary elements are already noticeably assembled in Irenaeus, but in lapidary phrases that will require centuries of exegesis. No prizes for knowing the following: ‘God made himself man, that man might become God’ 6. But other sententiae might not be so well known: ‘When a man sees God,’ Irenaeus says, ‘the vision confers incorruptibility, because it glorifies the creature with the divine glory.’ 7 And again: ‘The Word of God was made man and he who was Son of God was made Son of Man united to the Word of God, in order that man should receive adoption and thereby become the Son of God. How else could we have received incorruption ? 8
It was, nevertheless, the Alexandrian theologians, Clement 9, Origen10, and Athanasius 11, who really elevated the soteriological theory of Theosis to new heights, each of them nailing it within the doctrine of the incarnation of the Divine Word, wherein the eternal Logos assumed flesh so that all humankind could be lifted up into the mystery of his personal divinity 12. The heavy Christological accent to this schema ensured that deification would be commonly understood, after the mid fourth century, as predominantly a ‘hypostatic’ term of reference: to do with communion of hypostases, and the results of such. In relation to Christ that means how the presence of the divine hypostasis in the flesh deified the very body of the Lord so that it became, in Cyril’s powerful language. ‘Life-Giving flesh’ 13. In the case of the Church it means how the communion of created and uncreated hypostases in the new life of the transcendent Kingdom refashioned the very boundaries of creaturely existences, by extending their capacities beyond earlier limitations. Salvation, therefore, was more than the forgiveness of sins, rather a profound reworking and Anakephalaiosis of the terms of ordinary humanity, into a divinely graced life-form that would experience an ascentive metamorphosis. It is not surprising that many commentators from the mid 20th century onwards have been enthralled by this scheme of Theosis as a key to the so-called ‘Mystical Theology’ of the Eastern Church. Even so, it is wise to remember that such a categorisation ‘Mystical’ is an odd one: and in describing it instead as the heart of Greek Christian Salvation and Creation Theology, we are surely closer to the syntax of the Fathers themselves.
I shall return shortly to the contribution of the Cappadocians, so shall pass over them here. Suffice it to say that they are probably best understood as the theologians who successfully transformed this largely Alexandrian theologoumenon into a universalised tradition of the Church. In spite of the fact that the Syrians at large sternly refused to employ the notion (preferring instead terms of adoptive sonship 14) the Cappadocians were collectively taken by the idea; led there in no small part by Gregory of Nazianzus’ enthusiastic reading of Origen, and his equal determination to take Athanasian theology as a standard on which to build the Neo-Nicene settlement in the late 4th century.
By the time of Dionysius the Areopagite in the early 6th century, deification was a relatively frequent soteriological term 15. No longer was it felt necessary to apologize for the surprise effect of the words, an attitude which we still find in Gregory of Nazianzus. After Dionysius the idea became almost a commonplace in most eastern writers, used to connote the transformative effects of salvation. Maximus the Confessor brought the concept of Theosis to a peak of development in the early 7th century 16. He had learned much from the Christological controversies of his own day, and in reference to Theosis theory, he employed the language of Hypostasis, as it had been immensely refined in the post-Chalcedonian debates, in order to clarify what he saw to be the essential points of the earlier debates on deification; firstly that the term described the spiritual nature of the redeemed creature who, by a mysterious process of the communication of the divine life is called back to the orginal destiny of creation17 ; secondly that this is a beneficent and totally free gift on the part of God 18; and thirdly that the gift proceeds from God alone who commands, initiates, and determines this wondrously generous economy 19. Last, but not least, this powerful theologian amplified the ascetical context of the doctrine (something that became constitutive of it from his time onwards), by noting that the exercise of love on earth allows the eschatological mystery of divinisation to shine out even in the present moment . 20 Maximus was able to make this lasting synthesis from his close reading of Gregory of Nazianzus, whose works he annotated in his Ambigua.
To end the series, as it were, we should mention John of Damascus, who once more consolidated the theory of Deification by expounding it in his summative systematics, underlining the achievements of Maximus, but particularly reading them once again through the resolving lens of the theology of Gregory of Nazianzus, whom the Damascene, at those instances in his De Fide Orthodoxa where he expounds the idea 21, has clearly studied and has himself annotated closely. Gregory’s Oration 11. 11-13 is John’s primary authority, and his way even into an understanding of Maximus’ synthesis. This fertile theme, therefore, beginning with Irenaeus, loops its way forward rather than being linearly or progressively developed. Where in that overarching scheme should we locate the Cappadocian contribution exactly ? It will be my thesis that it belongs precisely to an explicit re-reading of Origen. Designed as a learned commentary on Plato, it was partly meant to show to learned Christians a refined synopsis of their faith; and partly meant to offer learned Hellenists, of that class of wealthy rhetoricians to which the Cappadocians themselves belonged, that in the newly ascendant Church of the 4th century, they could find a worthy home for the deepest religious aspirations they had nurtured through the late Platonic tradition. In the aftermath of the recent collapse of Julian’s revolt against the ascendancy of Christianity, that outreach to the rhetoricians was a strategic choice, a deliberate missionary strategy on the part of two theologians, the older mentor Gregory the Theologian and his rhetorical disciple the younger Gregory, who were themselves much involved in the anti-Julian intellectual propaganda. The project of rhetorics as missionary strategy is also the reason why it is the two Gregories who sustain that dialogue, more so than Basil, whose horizons are more set within the Christian camp itself, and who does not have much to offer on the explicit theme of Theosis, though what he does say is most memorable, as we shall see. 22
To elucidate the meaning of the two friends we ought to understand their common enthusiasms, and avowed agendas: that both wished to re-present Plato as a ‘door into Christianity’23, through the medium of the genius of Origen. Not only did Plato have to be nuanced, however, but by the late 4th century so did Origen, whose very name caused a frisson in a Church much traumatised by the Arian crisis. The Cappadocians were not willing to let his insights be lost, however, and if the Philokalia Origenis can rightly be seen as Gregory Nazianzen’s joint project with Basil, to rehabilitate the great Alexandrian ( though it was really Gregory foisting the idea of such a book on Basil), then the respective doctrines of the two on Theosis ought perhaps to be seen as another common effort to work again over the same ground. The two have not often been placed together, side by side, in respect of this teaching, but there are grounds to do so. We should not forget how Gregory of Nazianzus was an important mentor for Basil’s younger brother, nor how the two of them claimed responsibility for mentoring Evagrius who also is joined in with this same work, though he takes it across more dramatic tangents. It is clear when we put the two Gregories in tandem how much more insistent is Gregory of Nazianzus on the bold language of deification, while Gregory of Nyssa is more intent on the wider implications of assimilation theory. Both however, emerge in their respective teachings, as entirely absorbed by the same overall task : the re-reading of Origen on how to Christianize Plato, as part and parcel of the evangelisation of the educated classes of their day.
New School Platonism
Let us begin, then, by considering Plato’s views that are the raw material of the Greek theologians, and which continued well into the late 4th century to be the common reading of Christian and Hellenist religious theorists.
Plato’s description, in the Phaedrus of the initiate’s ascent to Beauty was much admired in the period. One of the most notable rewritings of it was the rhapsodic ‘Ode On the Ascent to Beauty’ that features in Plotinus’ Sixth Tractate of the First Ennead 24. The Academician himself describes the ascent of the pure mind to a transcendent condition of communion with ideal beauty, saying:
‘How resplendent was Beauty to behold in such a time as some have had that beatific vision, when united to choir of the blessed… when they were initiated in that initiation in which one can rightly say that one attains the supreme beatitude; the mystery that we celebrate in the integrity of our true nature, and exempt from all those limitations which attend on us in the later extension of time, in integrity, simplicity, immobility, and in that happiness deriving from the perception of those apparitions which the initiation has at last unveiled to us in the form of a pure and radiant light.’ 25
Here the phrase ‘integrity of the true nature’ signifies for Plato the ideal condition of pre-existent noetic being. The theme of initiation signifies also that the philosopher has the opportunity to return, by spiritual ascent, to the clarity and radiance of the authentic state of being which was the stasis, the foundational condition, of the transcendent mind, and to this extent the real and godlike nature of noetic being. This episode becomes a core passage which Gregory of Nazianzus directly alludes to and, in a sense, gives a commentary on when speaking about his own doctrine of Theosis. For Plato the soul was given the condition of immortality in its origin when it was able to contemplate the ideal forms. That idea ran on influentially into Origen, who continues to see Theosis in the manner of the Soul’s return to its unfallen condition. Gregory Nazianzen is determined to adapt this, changing the emphasis to a return to the transcendent condition when God purifies the soul of the believer, so that it can attain a more clarified insight into divine beauty. This is the initiation of the Christian philosopher 26, the ascetic life (not monastic exactly but certainly including the circle of refined intellects Gregory knew would recognise his quoted sources ) which Gregory is inviting his readership to belong to: to make a step towards the Church, as it were. But he will also teach that there is another purification awaiting the faithful soul 27, to give it a more capacious insight than is possible in the time of its enfleshment. Throughout his work Gregory implies that the post-death transfiguration of the human soul will involve, for the best and greatest of the initiates, a transfiguration of ontological order, moving up and out of humanity as such, into a stasis more directly comparable to angelic being. The third creation (humans) is in some cases, he will argue, admitted to become the first creation (angelicals) who more surely contemplate the mysteries of God. The path to such transcendence is begun on earth by the philosophical life. The outlines of that theory, based upon the Platonic principle that ‘only like can know like’ are set out in clear form in Gregory’s first two Theological Orations 28.
Basil equally stressed that idea of ‘like assimilated to like’ in his famous account of the soul’s deification by the grace of the Holy Spirit 29 as being comparable to an eye flooded with radiant light. That passage in Basil, culminating as it does with the claim that even beyond ‘resemblance to God’ lies: the ‘supremely desired goal of becoming god’, owes much to the Timaeus and the Theatetus 30, with many passing allusions to Plotinus 31. But this remarkable passage is really the most overt use he will make of the term Theosis itself. The two Gregories are much freer than him in that regard.
Plato reprised his idea of the purified ascent of the soul in his Timaeus, which again was closely studied by the two Gregories, and formed a common text for their wider circle, both in and outside the Church. He describes it in these terms:
‘When a man has cultivated in himself the love of knowledge and true thinking; when with all his faculties he has exercised principally the capacity to think on things immortal and divine, then such a man, if he comes to touch upon the truth, will find it absolutely necessary to enjoy that truth entirely, at least in so far as human nature is capable of participating in immortality. For incessantly he shall give worship to the divinity in so far as he constantly engages with the god who is within him… whosoever contemplates, renders himself like the object which he contemplates, in conformity with its original nature; and being thus rendered similar to it such a man attains, both for present and future, the perfect fulfilment of life which the gods have proposed to humans.’ 32
is the engine which drives the process of Theosis. Origen is
clearly at one with him in this when he says in his turn:
‘The Nous which is
purified is lifted above all material realities so as to have a clear
Vision of God, and it is deified by its vision
But Origen feels it is necessary to say that even the Logos is deified by his incessant contemplation of the Father’s divinity, 34 and it was sentiments like that which required the two Gregories to rehabilitate the very idea of ‘degrees of participation’ for a later Christian generation that was deeply scarred by the Arian crisis. Gregory of Nyssa, in particular, will take the concept of contemplative penetration into the deifying mystery of the Godhead to new depths in his remarkable notion of Epektasis. Let us consider the two Gregories, briefly, in turn.
Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory is not averse, in a poem entitled (with a wink) De Incarnatione, to repeating Athanasius’ maxim that: ‘God became man so that man might become god’,35 but he cannot resist cleaning up the syntax and metre, just as he cannot resist pointing out how Athanasius ought to have solved the problem of the attributed soul of Christ, but did not. In the end, and typically so, Gregory makes an even better syllogism by classicising it :
Throughout his Orations and poetry Gregory is very enthusiastic about the language describing the soul’s ‘kinship’ or ‘affinity’ with the divine nature. He regularly describes the soul as a ‘breath of God’ 37 or a ‘spirit emanating from the invisible deity’, or an ‘offshoot of the divine.’38 Adam was deified, he says, by his inborn propensity towards God 39 and it is that natural kinship which is at the root of our return to God and the deified life; but understood as a gift of God the creator, not the reassertion of any divine element innate within creaturely nature. To live the life of the true philosopher is, par excellence, the life lived in God. Already on this earth it is a deification, but for Gregory this transformation begun is only a harbinger of a greater glory to come when we are transfigured after this life. 40
Sometimes he apologises for the language 41, knowing that it is pressing the envelope, but clearly delighting in doing so. This is no careless theologian who blurs the distinction between creature and the Uncreated. His Five Theological Orations 42 are masterpieces in drawing those distinctions, but it is with a poet’s eye for paradoxical expression of mysteries that his poetry seeks to match the rapture of Plato’s own poetic conception of the initiate’s communion with the godhead, and thus Gregory powerfully presses home on the implications of the Holy Spirit’s deifying work in the soul 43. This theme he learned from Athanasius but took to its logical end in his clarified doctrine of the Homoousion of the Spirit and the co-equal divine trinity, itself the archetype of all transcendence of duality and matter, which is the goal of the enlightened and restored Nous.
It is in Oration 21, however 44,
that Gregory gives his most dramatic account of Theosis. Here
he speaks of the possible ascent of a soul to God, even in the
present life, which can be taken as a type of the soul’s
ascent to deification. Referring to Plato, he designates this process
as ‘Assimilation to the divine’. The idea, nakedly
expressed in that way, was perhaps troubling to Gregory of Nyssa, who
probably heard this Oration read out in the great Symposium the
Nazianzen arranged for his friends who attended the Council of
Constantinople in 381, on which occasion Gregory Nyssa himself read
selections from his Contra Eunomium. In a telling phrase in
his Catechetical Oration 45 Gregory of Nyssa alludes to the concept of assimilation with a note
to the effect that when humans attain to immortality they do not find
that which Socrates spoke of in Plato’s Phaedrus, rather
that which God has given them as a gratuitous gift which was far
above the limits of material natures. Gregory Nazianzen’s
reference to deification in this passage also troubled Maximus the
Confessor in the 7th century, so much so that he devoted
one of the longest sections of his Ambigua 46 to explicating what he thought Gregory ‘must’ have meant. 47
begins with a loud and deliberate reference to Plato’s
Republic: ‘God,’ he says, ‘is to intelligible
things what the sun is to sensory things. The one lightens the
visible, the other the invisible, world.’ 48
Through the philosopher, Gregory sets the terms of reference of what
he means by divine assimilation - Theosis. In his Preface to
the Oration he elevates Athanasius as a prime example of illuminated
saint, and singles out, from all the graces that form a plethora of
blessings in this world: ‘the highest and kindliest of all
blessings, which is our inclination and relationship to God.’
‘Enlightenment,’ Gregory says, ‘is akin to God
who gives virtue to humans and thereby exalts them to himself.’
The noetic power of the human
soul is compared by Gregory to a light that is ascentive and
naturally restless in its quest for the God it relentlessly desires,
because its desire can have no limit. It is thus a form of authentic
experience of the illimitable by the limited creature, and a
participation in God’s infinity 50.
Gregory’s Oration continues as follows:
‘Just as the sun (which
bestows on things which see and are seen, the very power of seeing
and being seen), is itself the most beautiful of all visible things:
just so is God (who creates for those who think and are thought of,
the very power of thinking and being thought about) himself the
highest of all objects of thought, in whom every desire finds its
limit, beyond which it cannot pass. For not even the most
philosophical, the most acute, and curious intellect has, or ever can
have, a more exalted object, since God is the apex of all that can be
desired, and those who arrive here find total rest from theoria.’51
This ‘rest’is that beatific cessation of the 8th age, which on numerous occasions elsewhere he compares to the soul’s advent to the true temple of God; an entering of the heavenly sanctuary where finally one can see, with unveiled eyes, the holy of holies where God dwells. Such an image, clothed in Gregory’s habitual liturgical idioms, is meant to imply his overarching ( yet here lightly-handled) supposition that the posthumous condition of the ascended Nous is not simply the same ontological stasis of personhood in a disembodied state, but rather that the saint in the next age undergoes a transfiguration into angelical form, entrance into a new ontological stasis that permits a greater capacity for spiritual vision, and a priestly access to the inner sanctum of the divine that is not possible to earth-bound intellects.
Again using deliberate text-markers from Plato’s Timaeus 52, Phaedrus 53, and Symposium 54 , in the second paragraph of the same 21st Oration, Gregory sets out his concept of the noetic ascent which deifies, saying:
‘Whoever has been permitted to escape from matter, and from the fleshly cloud (or should we call it a veil?) by means of reason and contemplation, so as to hold communion with God, and be associated with the purest light (in so far as human nature can attain to it): such a man is truly blessed: both in terms of his ascent from here, and in terms of his deification there, a deification which is conferred by true philosophy, and by virtue of his rising above all the duality of matter through that unity which is perceived in the Trinity.’55
No one reading this can fail to be impressed by the fine synthesis it makes between the Platonic themes of ascent, communion, and contemplation, on the one hand, and on the other the biblical paradigms of the generous love of the Trinity, and the access of the divine presence through the image of liturgical service in the transcendent holy of holies. The concept of the deified man being the ‘priest’ of the cosmos is a theme that Gregory Nyssa will further develop 56, and it is to his work that we now finally turn.
Gregory of Nyssa
The idea of deification is as much in the fabric of Gregory Nyssen’s thought as it was in the teaching of his older mentor, although his employment of the actual word Theosis is very limited, a praxis in which he imitates his brother Basil, and shows that he feels more constrained than the ‘boldness’ of the Nazianzen. There is, in the theology of Gregory of Nyssa, more of an explicit concern to mark the great difference and distance ) between the creature and the divine archetype 57, and in this he is more faithful to Origen than Gregory of Nazianzus sometimes ‘appeared’ to be. That vast difference between the two 58, and the dynamic spiritual energies that connect them, is a keynote of his thought and this is probably why Gregory Nyssen uses the exact term ‘deification’ only once, and in his Catechetical Oration, to suggest it is an image with which we can begin, but not end. Once more in this insight he is being very faithful to Origen’s teachings on the multitude of levels comprising the Soul’s entrance into the fathomless abyss of God. When he does use the word Theosis, it is simply to reiterate the basic teaching we find in Athanasius’ De Incarnatione 54, that the incarnation of the Logos is the deification of the human race.59 Elsewhere he replaces Theosis with the concept of - participation in God.
Yet even if it was intended as an introductory primer, the text in the Catechetical Oration where he introduces this idea 60 is one of remarkable profundity. It was clearly a book being offered to Christian initiates who were not of the common order. Borrowing the image of the radiant eye from his brother Basil, and also from Plato’s Timaeus 61, which he thereby signals to his attentive readers as a significant parallel, he describes how man was made to find communion with God:
Since he was created to take part in divine blessings, man must have a natural affinity with that object in which he has participation. It is just like an eye which, thanks to the luminous rays which nature provides it, is enabled to have communion in the light. ….. It is just so with man, who since he was created to enjoy the divine blessings must have some affinity with that in which he has been called to participate. And so he has been endowed with life, reason, wisdom, and all those truly divine advantages so that each one of them should cause that innate desire of his to be demonstrated within him. Since immortality is one of those benefits that are appropriate to deity, it follows that our nature cannot be deprived even of this in its constitution, but must possess within itself the disposition to immortality in order that (thanks to this innate capacity) it might be able to recognise that which is transcendent far beyond it and might thus experience the desire for divine eternity. (Catechetical Oration 5.)
The doctrine of spiritual kinship is once again taken far beyond Plato’s idea of ontological assonance by the telling context of the divine invitation and the creator’s grace that supplies the means to the creature to rise up to its challenging vocation to transcendent life.
In a parallel passage in the Discourse on Children Gregory returns to the concept of affinity at the heart of participation, and to Platonic Mimesis doctrine, but he welds them both to the biblical doctrine of the Image – a consummately clever way of retaining Platonic resonances while simultaneously transcending them. This he has learned from Origen :
‘To allow participation in God,’ he says, ‘there must, of necessity, be something in the nature of the participant which is akin to that in which it participates. This is why Scripture says that man was born in the image of God. It was surely that he could see as like does to like. For the vision of God is unquestionably the life of the soul. 62
But the largest departure of the two Gregories from Origen is that they both reject the presupposition that sin happened before embodiment, and thus that the fall of the body to mortality is a punishment of guilt. Both Gregories understand the constitution of the human condition ( what the Nazianzen calls the peculiarof the ‘Third Order’63) as a creation grace. It is Gregory Nyssen’s guiding light to insist that it is within this grace of the fundament of humanity’s being, not despite it, or outside it, or after its annihilation, that the divine gift of communion takes place. This is not to say, of course, that Gregory imagines our true nature is exactly that which we now represent within the cosmos. This is why resurrection plays so central a role in his thought about the restoration of the human race to its original design. He understands humanity’s reconstitution and renewal as a gift of the resurrection of Christ, beginning in a person’s moral life, and consummated in our bodily resurrection from the dead, but also having much deeper implications as a symbol of the wholesale return of the alienated created order to unity with God. This radical consummation of the Kingdom is referred to by Gregory, using many of the ideas of Origen, as ‘The Reconstitution’.
Gregory’s notion of Apokatastasis is evidently related in fundamental ways to the generic idea of deification. He is so concerned that the growing Christian reaction against the Origenian ideas of Apokatastasis (which were deeply rooted in ideas of pre-cosmic fall) might threaten the continuance of this whole scheme of cosmic soteriology, that he takes decisive action to distance himself from Origen at this point. It is the only instance where Gregory explicitly attacks his great Alexandrian mentor by name 64 He still keeps the word Apokatastasis, of course, thus signifying to all and sundry that he is a believer in Origen’s great scheme 65 even while he makes the necessary corrections to the master.
While Origen taught that the physical body and the spiritual body of the just saints after death were two different somata, Gregory insisted that they were two different states of the same body 66. And yet, in the Apokatastasis, or total restoration of all the creation, Gregory like Origen before him, envisages the whole assembly of the saints restored to full and total communion with each other and with the divinity through endless contemplation of the blessed and absolute glory of God. His self-distancing from Origen was not so radical as some would have liked, of course, and in the De Anima 67 he taught that even the wicked would be restored the choir of saints in the end, so that God’s glory will be entirely triumphant in fulfilling the purposes of creation.68
Another of Gregory Nyssa’s quiet, though extensive, corrections of Origenian ideas is his replacement of the latter’s concept of perfection as a conditional stasis 69 with his own dynamic notion of perfection as an endless progress into the divine life. This theology of the endless progress of a limited creature into the boundless infinity of God, and the resultant dynamic tension of the creaturely ‘stretching out’ in the authentic but paradoxical experience of the limited directly knowing the illimitable, is something that has been extensively studied in recent decades and has accounted for a large revival in the popularity of Gregory.70 The key notion here is the thoroughgoing replacement of the Platonic term of assimilation, by Gregory’s Christianised 71 keyword ‘Participation’.
The Life of Moses is, in fact, an extended revision of Origen’s ideas on this theme, and can be considered as a major source for Gregory’s doctrine of deification couched in other terms. Here he describes the dynamic of participation in God:
‘The prime and chief good whose nature is goodness itself, is God himself. And whatever one may think about the deity, nevertheless it both exists and can be named. Since, therefore, no limit () of virtue can ever be demonstrated, except evil, (though the divine is, of course, unreceptive of its opposite), just so the divine nature must be understood to be limitless () and boundless (). Even so, the man who pursues true virtue participates in nothing other than God, because God is perfect virtue. That which is good by nature is altogether desirable to those who recognise it and want to participate in it, and since it has no set limit, then the desire of the one participating, as it stretches out alongside the limitless, finds that it too has no necessary stopping point.().’ 72
While many of the earlier Greek Fathers had spoken of participating in God himself through the grace of the divine Spirit, and though Gregory of Nazianzus had set this on a new foundation by his insistence on the Homoousion of the Divine Spirit 73, it was Gregory of Nyssa who developed this insight more speculatively by identifying goodness as one of the essential perfections of God. It followed then, that participation in sanctity was, in fact, participation in true being. At a stroke the distinction between morality and ontology in the case of a divinely graced creature, became a false one. It was an illumined insight the Christian ascetic tradition did not fail to take to heart, as well as one that modern theology is in great need of rediscovering.
The concept of participation is also elaborated in the Treatise On the Making of Man. Gregory designed this work to complete Basil’s Hexaemeron after the sudden death of his brother. It thus takes its whole impetus from the words of Genesis 2: ‘Let us make man in our own image and likeness.’ Here Gregory’s chief argument is one that simplifies Origen’s two-fold doctrine of the 74 arguing instead that the divine image in man means essentially that human beings possess within themselves all the divine perfections as part of that constitutive nature which God appointed for the race. But whereas these perfections are found in God ontologically, or essentially ), and as something that is proper to him , humans possess the same things, or at least their copies (as types from the archetype), as a gift by participation 75. Gregory pushes the ontological implications of this endowed charism, nonetheless, by insisting that it would not be proper to say that God ‘gave’ such gifts to humankind, rather that he imparted them ) to his own Image, saying that: ‘He added to the image the proper ornament of his very own nature.’ 76 For Gregory the participation of humanity in the being of God is nothing short of the entire purpose and point of the creation of Mankind 77, and thus the whole purpose of our individual ontology. In fulfilling that destiny of Man in general, and therefore humans in particular, are called to becomes priests of the cosmos, rendering by their dynamic engagement with the world’s order, a degree of divine life, a sacred blessing as it were, to all the fabric of God’s created existence.
For Gregory, this dynamism of the changes a person progressively even in this life time, but especially so in the life of the Kingdom. In this life, the progressively increases the capacity of humans for the infinite, thereby deepening their desire for it:
‘It was for this reason that rational nature was brought into existence, namely that the riches of the divine benefits should not lie by idly. The all-creating Wisdom fashioned souls as vessels, so to say, endowed with freedom, for this purpose alone that there should be some receptacle for the reception of those benefits, a vessel which always becomes larger according to the increase of what is poured into it. For such is the metousia of the divine, that God makes the person who shares in it ever larger and more capable of receiving.’ 78
Is Gregory’s doctrine of the
same as the concept of deification, under a more moral and
philosophic term of reference ? There is no question about it. In the
Contra Eunomium, which he brought out after Basil’s
death to defend his honour posthumously from continuing attacks by
the Neo-Arians, Gregory returns to defend the concept of deification
as an important anti-Arian argument when set within the context of
the Christological controversy. Here he combines the ideas of
Metousia and Theosis, showing their essential
synonymity by saying that, while deity does not participate in
anything as of itself, since it transcends all other realities,
nevertheless in Christ the humanity was indeed ‘brought to
participate in the very deity itself’79;
and in his treatise De Perfectione Hominis80
he goes further and explicitly says that Christ did not merely unite
his own nature to godhead but through the dynamic of the incarnation
will also admit human beings to participation in deity, at least if we are purified of sin.
Gregories are clearly enthusiastic disciples of Origen’s great
and mystical vision of the cosmic mystery which is the soul’s
long journey to union with God. But they are not uncritical
disciples. Both of them, in different ways, in relation to the
tradition of deification theory which was already established before
them, show themselves to be simultaneously respectful of the
tradition, yet willing to advance it in new directions and for new
ends. Gregory of Nazianzus more enthusiastically endorses Theosis
language. In his Orations and his poetic corpus he clearly
addressed himself more directly to a circle of readership he knew to
be steeped in Platonic literature and its concomitant religious
philosophy, and (I suggest) was deliberately appealing to that circle
of initiates to make the step forward to accepting Christianity as a
suitably serious vehicle for articulating religious philosophy in the
new world of the Christian imperium.
Gregory of Nyssa was less of a theologian in camera than his older tutor and friend from Nazianzus. His teachings are modeled more from the sterner stuff of his other tutors, Macrina and Basil, who had both tried ( in vain) to curb his love of philosophical speculation. The lessons seem to have been learned nonetheless, for Gregory’s doctrine is clearly the Origenian doctrine of Theosis but now with a new language code, designed to clear up once and for all the critical differences between Christian deification theory, and Platonic assimilation language. It was something Gregory felt that Origen had not been able to do because he had not distanced himself sufficiently from the myth of the fall of pre-existent souls into the material cosmos. Gregory of Nyssa’s audience comprised many of the same readers that were to be found in the frequent Symposia which the Nazianzen arranged in Cappadocia and Constantinople, but it also spilled out further afield, because of the extensive episcopal duties he undertook in his maturity; involving many travels and much pastorally sensitive ‘brokering’ in the years after the Council of Constantinople, when he was appointed by Theodosius to be one of the imperial arbiters of orthodox theology in the East.
The juxtaposition of the thought of these two very ‘close’ theologians shows essential similarities of approach, but also a clear line of differentiation. Gregory of Nazianzus regularly presumes that the post-death transfiguration of the deified saint-philosopher-ascete, will be comparable to a ‘promotion’ to the much higher priestly capacity of the angelic order, which is able to see God’s life-giving vision with greater acuity than the flesh-bound Nous finds possible. He imagines the heavenly metamorphosis as an eventual ‘clarification’ of the peculiar problem of human nature in the earth-bound condition, that it is Nous ‘mixed with’ clay. In the day of deified glory all will be light. The spiritual body will not be one of clay (as Paul also taught in 1st Corinthians) but will have the same harmony and focus as the First Creation – the angelicals. His stress, in the doctrine of deification, therefore, is to use the strong idioms of a poet to emphasize the metamorphosis involved in glorification. On the part of Gregory of Nyssa, however, we see a concern to temper the language to clarify an aspect of the authentic Christian tradition of deification, which will remain an important element of the doctrine for all time to come. The deification, he suggests, is not a posthumous transcending of human nature, rather a passing beyond the limits of human nature, in that glorified nature. The restricting limitations that were once imposed on human nature by long ages of its common experience as a ‘nature that was separated from God’, will be lifted, in Gregory Nyssen’s understanding, by the admission of the creature into the radiant fullness of the very purpose of creaturely human being, which is intimate communion with the endless mystery of the Life-Giving Presence.
It was to be Gregory Nazianzen’s destiny to become the standard theological authority for the Byzantine world, and an undoubted overshadowing of Gregory Nyssa’s work came about after his death. It was ironical in many respects that the younger theologian who felt he ought to tone down Nazianzen’s enthusiastic Greek on the subject of Theosis, was himself to be put in the shade because of his retention of the Origenian belief in universal restoration 81. The situation has today rather been reversed. A long overshadowing of interest in Gregory of Nazianzus has been a mark of western scholarship in the 20th century, which has also witnessed a revival of attention to Gregory Nyssa among scholars of great acumen. Can an intelligent consideration of all the Greek Fathers, in an age when we finally possess the textual resources to call for this, bring us at last to a point when we can truly appreciate the ‘symphonicity’ of the two Gregories and their common agenda ? Because of their work, Christian theorists of the later Byzantine age were able to see the potentiality of the rich language of Theosis, apply the best of the heritage of Platonism to the illumination of the faith, and still have the answers to all those who, perhaps from a narrower basis of Christian culture, wanted to know how this dynamic approach of Greek patristics was to be differentiated from the old paganisms of Apotheosis rituals, and needed some reassurance before they could be led out into a cosmically enlarged perception that the exegesis of a biblical faith need not be fundamentalistic, in order to be held as true.
AH Armstrong. ‘Platonic Elements in St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Doctrine of Man.’
Dominican Studies. 1. 1948. 113-126.
D Balas Metousia Theou : Man’s Participation in God’s Perfections According to
St. Gregory of Nyssa. Rome. 1966.
G Bonner ‘Augustine’s Conception of Deification.’ JTS. 37. 1986. 369-386.
M Lot-Borodine La Déification de l’homme selon la doctrine des pères grecs.
Paris. 1970. [ reprising her long article ‘La doctrine de déification dans
l’église grecque jusqu’à XI-ième siècle.’ In: Revue de l’Histoire des
Religions. vol. 53. 1932. pp. 5-43 & 325-574; and Ibid. Vol. 54. 1933.
H Cherniss. The Platonism of St. Gregory of Nyssa. Berkeley. Ca. 1930.
J Daniélou Platonisme et theologie mystique: Doctrine spirituelle de S. Grégoire de
Nysse. Paris. 1954.
AJ Festugière. L’Idéal religieux des Grecs et l’Évangile. Collection d’Études Bibliques.
R Gillet ‘L’Homme divinisateur cosmique dans la pensée de S. Grégoire de
Nysse.’ Studia Patristica. 6. (Texte und Untersuchungen. 81.)
Berlin.1962 pp. 62-83.
J Gross La Divinisation du chrétien d’après les pères grecs. Paris. 1938.
Reprinted in E.T : The Divinization of the Christian According to the
Greek Fathers. ( tr. P Onica). Anaheim. California. 2002.
V Lossky The Vision of God. London. 1963.
Idem In the Image and Likeness of God. (Repr.) New York. 1974.
Esp. pp. 97-110 (‘Redemption and Deification’).
J A McGuckin St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography. New York. 2001
H Merki von der platonischen Angleichung Gottes zur
Gottahnlichkeit bei Gregor von Nyssa. (Paradosis 7). Fribourg. 1952.
JT Muckler ‘The Doctrine of St. Gregory of Nyssa on Man as Image of God.’
Medieval Studies. 7. 1945. 55-85.
1 Keynote address given at the international conference on Theosis at Drew University. May 2004.
2 The language of deification was never quite as dominant in the West, where it did not carry the main burden of redemption theory as it did with the Greek Fathers, but it is a notion certainly found in parts of Augustine (Sermon 192; Exposition of Ps. 49; Exposition of Ps. 146) who uses it to denote the trans-formative effects of grace. See J.A. McGuckin. ‘Deification’, in: A Hastings (ed) The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought. Oxford. 2000.
3 Gregory of Nyssa applies that richly evocative word Epektasis to this end : the stretching out of the blessed soul alongside the endlessly fathomless being of God, in whose participation it finds itself rendered, though creaturely, in a truly authentic ‘illimitability’.
4 I H. Dalmais gives a good discussion of many of the chief texts of the Greek Patristic tradition relating to the concept of Theosis, in his article ‘Divinisation’ in: Dictionnaire de Spiritualité. vol. 3. Paris. 1957. cols. 1376-1389.
5 A good biblical survey is given in J Gross. The Divinization of the Christian. ( tr. P Onica) California. 2002. pp. 61-92. [ originally published in French, in Paris. 1938].
6 Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses. 5. (praef.) The idea and phrase were reprised and thereby made even more famous in Athanasius’ De Incarnatione. c. 54.
7 Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses. 4.38.3-4; ibid 5.8.1.
8 Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses. 3.19.1.
9 Clement’s theological aphorisms are as lapidary as those of Irenaeus in this regard. ‘The Word of God became man,’ he says, ‘So that you should learn from a man, how it is that man can become a god ().’ Protreptikos. 1.8. Clement says that God divinizes () man by means of his heavenly teaching, given as a beneficent and free gift out of his paternal love for his creatures ((Protreptikos. 11.14); see also Pedagogus. 1.6. 26; and Stromata. 7.10.57. Clement, much more so than Irenaeus, is playing with the philosophical implications of the doctrine of ‘deification’, which he knows to have a loud resonance in contemporary Middle Platonism ( Numenius and Posidonius expressly). But his play is in a very identifiable Christian modality. Not only does he root the concept in the theology of the incarnation of Logos, but he makes a profoundly biblical stress on the gracious priority of God’s fatherly love. Human deification for Clement and his school, does not grow out of any ontological capacity of the soul’s primal nature, but from the gift of salvation. It is this constant emphasis on the divine priority which will identify all later Christians on the theme, and always radically distinguish Christian deification theory from the many varieties of paganism. Further on this : see G.W. Butterworth. ‘The Deification of Man in Clement of Alexandria.’ JTS. 17. 1916. 157-169; also : J. Gross. (E.T. 2002). Pp. 131-141.
10 Origen’s Commentary on John is the main book where he expands on this theme ( based on Jn. 10.34), but it is one that permeates much of his writing ( c.f. Homily on Exodus 6.5; De Principiis. Praef.3; ibid. 1.3.4; ibid. 1.3.8; ibid. 1.7.5; ibid. 2.3. 1-2; ibid.2.10.1-3; ibid. 2.6.6.; ibid. 4.4.4.; ibid. 4.4.9; Commentary on John 1.288; ibid. 2.219; ibid. 32.338; Contra Celsum. 6.13; Ibid. 7.44. c.f. P Martens. ‘Divinization.’ In: J.A. McGuckin (ed) The Westminster Handbook to Origen. Louisville. 2004. pp. 91-93. See also J Gross (E.T. 2002). Pp. 142-149.
11 Athanasius signals his reading of Irenaeus most dramatically when he more or less repeats his aphorism : ‘The Word became man that man might become god.’ In the De Incarnatione. 54. The notion of Theosis appears throughout his writings in a consistent and clearly enunciated form (De Incarnatione. 54; De Decretis.14; Contra Arianos 1.39; ibid. 2.70; ibid. 3.19; ibid. 3.33; ibid. 3.53; Ep. Ad Serapionem.1.24; De Synodis.51; Ep. Ad Adelphium. 4). Athanasius’ contribution is to emphasise the elements he chiefly found in Irenaeus, namely that the vision of God immortalises mankind, and to combine them with the gloriously ‘cosmic’ incarnational soteriology of Origen, whom he knows well but seeks to simplify and ‘bring back home’. For Athanasius there tends to be a binary emphasis in all his passages on the theme: something that becomes definitive for most patristic commentators after him. The first of these emphases is Pedagogic (the Word becomes man to show once more the lost Image of the Father; and the second has often been called ‘Physical’, that is the Word enters into our humanity in order to restore the lost gift of immortality to the race, in the deepest levels of its being. Athanasius brings a simpler clarity to the underlying thesis that the vision of God is indeed immortalizing and life-giving, and that this is a noetic process that is worked out in and through the enfleshment of the Logos. Further on this: see J Gross ( E.T. 2002). Pp. 163-175.
12 Origen, despite a common mis-belief that he underestimates the economy in the flesh, is very determined to note how the incarnation of the Logos is the root of the hopes for the theosis of the human race: In discussing the body of Christ he says: ‘The divine nature and the human nature became very closely bonded together () in order that, by its communion with that which was more divine, human nature itself might become divine; and this not only in the case of Jesus, but also in the case of all those who in faith have embraced the life which Jesus taught, that life which leads to friendship and community with God.’ Contra Celsum. 3.38. Cyril of Alexandria would be the heir to this language and would re-express the implications of deification theory most strongly in his robust defence of Alexandrian thought, in the Christological domain, at the Council of Ephesus. See J.A. McGuckin. St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.(Leiden. 1994), repr. New York. 2004.
13 The sacramental implications of this are not lost on the patristic theologians, especially John Chrysostom (who in his Eucharistic doctrine most nearly approximates to the concept of Theosis he otherwise avoids). Gregory of Nyssa regards the sacramental ‘seals’ of Baptism and Eucharist as absolutely essential for growth in the divine life ( c.f. Catechetical Oration c. 37). Cyril of Alexandria sees the Eucharist as the pre-eminent paradigm of deification as well as its primary energy when transmitted to the Church. See Homily on the Gospel of Luke 142. (tr. R Payne –Smith. A Commentary Upon the Gospel According to Luke by St. Cyril of Alexandria. Oxford. 1859. pp. 664-669 – text revised in D J Sheerin (ed) The Eucharist.[ Message of the Fathers of the Church]. vol. 7. Wilmington. Delaware. 1986. pp.229-235. See also: E Gebremedhin. Life-Giving Blessing An Enquiry into the Eucharistic Doctrine of S. Cyril of Alexandria. Uppsala. 1977.
14 See J Gross ( E.T. 2002). Pp. 200-214.
15 Dionysius Areopagita. Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. 1.3
16 Maximus gives a classical exposition of the doctrine of Theosis in his Questions to Thalassius. 59. PG. 90. 608d- 609b; see also: Ambigua. PG 91. 1237b-c; and Questions to Thalassius. 22. PG 90.321a. I.H. Dalmais offers a useful overview of his doctrine in Dictionnaire de Spiritualité. Vol. 3. Paris. 1957. col.1387.
17 Maximus Confessor. Ambigua. PG 91. 1237 bc
18 Maximus The Confessor. Questions To Thalassius. 22. PG 90. 321a
19 Maximus The Confessor. Questions To Thalassius. 60. PG 90.620.
20 Maximus The Confessor. Ambigua. PG 91. 1113bc; ibid.1385bc.
21 John Damascene. De Fide Orthodoxa. 2.11-12 .PG 94. 909-929; ibid.3.1. PG. 94.981-984;
ibid. 4.13. PG. 94. 1136-1153.
22 See f.n. 27.
23 I think this missionary motive is the correct perspective – the concept of ‘Christianizing Plato’ is not born out by the evidence of how both theologians treat the Philosopher ( eclectically and incidentally in the main), nor is it seen in Origen’s approach either. These learned Christians use Platonic resonances, certainly, but only as these are directed and shaped by their Christian agendas. Plato becomes, as it were, the rhetorical hook to catch new fish. The strategy was described by Amphilokius of Iconium, Gregory Nazianzen’s cousin, as : ‘Stripping the roses of Hellenism of all their thorns.’ The recent study of MJ Edwards. Origen Against Plato. Ashgate. Aldershot. 2002 sustains that argument with abundant evidence sufficient (one hopes) to overturn decades of scholarly mis-readings of the agenda.
24 English translation in: S McKenna. Plotinus The Enneads. New York. 1969. pp. 56-64.
25 Phaedrus. 250bc.
26 Gregory regularly describes Christianity as ‘philosophia nostra.’
27 Just as the purification of fire will await the unfaithful soul.
28 Orations 26-27. I have commented on them in: JA McGuckin. St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography. New York. 2003; and also covered related aspects of this idea of transfigured initiation in: The Vision of God in St. Gregory Nazianzen. Studia Patristica. 32. (Ed. E A Livingstone). Peeters, Leuven. 1996. pp. 145-152.
29 ‘The Paraclete takes possession of a pure eye, as the sun does, and will show you in Himself, the Image of the Invisible One. In blessed contemplation of the Image, you will see the ineffable beauty of the Archetype. It is He who shines in those that are cleansed of every impurity to make them spiritual through communion with Him. Just as bright and transparent bodies themselves become scintillating when light falls upon them, and reflect another brightness from themselves, just so Spirit-bearing souls, illuminated by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves, and send forth grace to others…. That form is the source of all that flows therefrom: the foreseeing of the future, the understanding of mysteries, the understanding of things that are hidden, the distribution of charisms, the participation in heavenly life, the chanting in the choir of angels, endless joy, the permanent indwelling within God, resemblance to God, and finally that supremely desired goal – to become god.’ St. Basil of Caesarea. On the Holy Spirit. 9.23.
30 Theatetus. 176.
31 Enneads. 6.9.9.
32 Timaeus. 90 bd.
33 Commentary on John. 32. 27.
34 ‘The Word himself would not have remained divine if he had not persisted in his uninterrupted contemplation of the abyss of the Father.’ Commentary on John. 2.2.
35 Athanasius De Incarnatione. 54; c.f. Gregory. Oration 29.19: ‘I may become god in so far as he became man.’
36 Gregory. Carmina Dogmatica 10. 5-9. ( De Incarnatione) PG. 37. 465. ‘ And since, then, God is made man, so man is perfected as God, and that is my glory.’
37 Carmina Dogmatica.8.1-3. PG 37.446; Carmina Moralia.1.156. PG 37.534.
38 Carmina Dogmatica. 8.70-77. PG 37. 452; Carmina Moralia.10.135. PG 37. 690 ; Oratio de Amore Pauperum (24.7.) PG 35.865c.
39 Orat. 38.11,13. PG 36.324; c.f. parallels in Orat. 45.7. PG.36. 632b.
40 Carmina Dogmatica. 10. 140-143. PG. 37. 690.
41 Cf. Orat. 11.5. PG. 35. 837c; Orat. 14.23. PG 35. 888a.
42 Orations. 27-31.
43 C.f. Oration 31.4.
44 Also a Panegyric for Athanasius.
45 Catechetical Oration. 5.4.
46 Maximus The Confessor. Ambigua. 10.
47 It is not our primary concern here, but we can note that Maximus is most concerned not to read this as a motion to divine assimilation that dispenses with asceticism and moral effort, a path which he thought the Origenists of the generations after Gregory had more or less taken. It is clear, nonetheless, that Gregory’s overt use of Plato disturbed Maximus at this juncture, and the later Origenists appealed to Gregory for support in their Platonic-Origenian reading of the idea of noetic assimilation.
48 Greg. Naz. Orat. 21. 1; Republic Book 6. Tr. B Jowett. The Works of Plato. Vol. 2. Oxford. 1875. (repr. Tudor Publications. New York – no date - p. 261).
49 C.f. 1 Jn. 1.5.
50 The idea will be reprised and developed to great effect in Gregory of Nyssa’s doctrine of Epektasis, which we shall come to momentarily.
51 Orat. 21.1.
52 Timaeus 90.
53 Phaedrus 250 bc.
54 The discourse of the Priestess Diotima, translated in B Jowett. Works of Plato. Vol.3. pp. 343: ‘For he who has been instructed thus far in things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes toward the end will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty – and this Socrates is that final cause of all our former toils, which in the first place is everlasting: not growing and decaying or waxing and waning; not fair in one point of view and foul in another….but beauty only, absolute, simple, separate, and everlasting, which is without diminution and without increase. And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to use the beauties of the earth as steps along which we mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty…..until we arrive at the essence of beauty. This my dear Socrates,’ said the stranger of Mantineia, ‘Is that life above all others which a man should live, in the contemplation of beauty absolute…. In such a communion….man could become the friend of God, and be immortal, in so far as lies in the capacity of mortal man.’
55 Orat. 21.2.
56 see: R Gillet . ‘L’Homme divinisateur cosmique dans la pensée de S. Grégoire de Nysse.’
Studia Patristica. 6. (Texte und Untersuchungen. 81.) Berlin.1962 pp. 62-83.
57 Creatures, Gregory says, can participate in the properties of God but can never attain to identity of nature (). Gregory Nazianzen teaches exactly the same thing ( cf. Orat. 45.4. PG. 36. 628c).
58 Gregory does not posit it so much in terms of power differentiation, as in the fact that the image and its archetype represent changeability and unchangeability. Created being moves and is in flux while the Godhead is perfect and unchanging in the stability of its life. C.f. Catechetical Oration.21. 1-2.
59 ‘[The Logos] was transfused throughout our nature, so that our nature, by virtue of this transfusion, might itself become divine.’ Catechetical Oration. 25.
60 Catechetical Oration 5.
61 Timaeus 45.bd.
62 Discourse on Children. Gregorii Nysseni Opera. Ed. E Muhlenberg. Leiden. 1996.Vol. 3.2. p.79.
63 The first two orders of creation were Angelicals and Materials. The first being wholly spiritual, the second being radically material, and neither having any admixture within their being. The Third order of creation ( Mankind) was, for Gregory, a unique admixture of the spiritual within the material – man’s double constitution as an ensouled body is thus the very basis of his hope to see God, and the pan for salvation which God has constituted to allow that possibility. Gregory Nazianzen understood that as a progressive promotion of the blessed soul to the constitution of the First Order of Creation. Gregory of Nyssa shifted that emphasis on ontological metamorphosis to a complex understanding of the endless ‘stretching out’ Epektasis of a limited being to participation in the Endless being of God.
64 De Opificio Hominis. 28. PG. 45.229b; De Anima. PG.45. 113b-c.
65 see. FW Norris. ‘Apokatastasis’ in : J.A. McGuckin. (ed) The Westminster Handbook to Origen. Louisville. 2004. pp. 59-62.
66 On the Dead. PG 46.109.
67 De Anima 69.
68 His idea of the eventual restoration of the wicked, including the damned and demons, does not vitiate the fact that he saw this as being accomplished only after the ages of punishment appointed for sins would themselves have been fulfilled. The restoration was proof that the punishments had been effective in transfiguring the wicked to the good; and to this extent the Apokatastasis does not so much deny the eternal Justice of God but fulfill it. See: J Daniélou. L’Etre et le Temps chez Gregoire de Nysse. Leiden. 1970. p. 223.
69 The Purified Noes of the elect are reconstituted in the first circle of heaven around the Logos, contemplating God with rapt attention. But he still wonders aloud in the De Principiis if their attention will again lapse from that attentiveness, resulting in another cosmic fall from true being.
70 Jean Daniélou, and Henri de Lubac were among early and important commentators. The concept of Par-ticipation in God is magisterially studied by D Balas in his monograph: Man’s Participation in God’s Perfections According to S. Gregory of Nyssa. (Pont Inst. S.Anselmi). Rome. 1966
71 It is central to Balas’ thesis, for example that although the notion of participation in the divine by means of the praxis of the philosophic life was a common motif in much late Platonic theory of the 4th century, Gregory’s unique synthesis represents the most thorough-going Christianization of the idea attempted since Origen. C.f. Balas. Rome. 1966. p. 164.
72 See: Life of Moses. 1. 7-8.
73 Oration 31.
74 C.f. J.A. McGuckin. ‘Image of God.’ In idem (ed) The Westminster Handbook to Origen. Louisville. 2004. pp. 131-134.
75 De Opificio Hominis. 4.
76 De Opificio Hominis. 9; Dalmais ( ‘Divinisation’. Dictionnaire de Spiritualité. Vol. 3) notices a parallel to this notion in Plutarch. De Iside et Osiride. 1.351D. The idea is developed especially in ch. 16 of the De Opificio Hominis.
77 ‘The nature of Man was made precisely in order to be a participant () in every good.’ PG 44. 184b.
78 On the Soul and Resurrection. PG. 46. 105.a-b; See also : Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses. 4.11.2.
79 E Contra Eunomium. 3.4.22.
80 De Perfectione Hominis. 8.1.
81 Catechetical Oration.8, 26, 35. PG. 45. 92ab.