Friday, 9 March 2012

What's that then Ted?

I liked this image:

for obvious reasons!  I'm currently having the slightly surreal experience of being consulted by the memsahib on wine for the wedding reception (with my history I am virtually an expert on cheap good plonk!).  Which has left me a bit confused.  I seem to actually have trained my brain NOT to think about booze these days, so it's a very strange sensation indeed to be planning a major bevvy buy of which I will drink zero.  However, I feel no compulsion to actually go and drink, so that's OK.

Today is the feast in some Calendars of one of my favourites, Gregory of Nyssa.  His theology is interesting and not uncontroversial!  Gregory was one of the first theologians to argue, in opposition to Origen, that God is infinite. His main argument for God's infinity is found in Against Eunomius, that God's goodness is limitless, and as God's goodness is of his very essence and nature, God is therefore also limitless.  A major follow on from this is that the limitless God is basically beyond the comprehension of the limited minds of human beings. His theology was "apophatic": God is defined in terms of what we know God's NOT like, rather than what we think the Divine Persons might be like.

Gregory taught that since God is infinite, we can never reach a full understanding of God, and so in both life and thereafter, there is a constant progression [ἐπέκτασις] towards the unreachable knowledge of God, as the individual continually transcends all the knowledge and experience they have previously had. In his Life of Moses, Gregory speaks of three stages of this spiritual growth: initial darkness of ignorance, then spiritual illumination, and finally a darkness of the mind in mystic contemplation of the God who cannot be comprehended.

Gregory also believed in universal salvation or resurrection. (Shock, horror!) In his Life of Moses, he wrote that just as the darkness left the Egyptians after three days, perhaps redemption [ἀποκατάστασις] will be extended to those suffering in hell. Thus salvation may not only extend to humans; a la  Origen, there are passages where he seems to suggest that even demons will have a place in Christ's "world of goodness". Gregory's interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:28 ("And when all things shall be subdued unto him ...") and Philippians 2:10 ("That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth") support this understanding of his theology.  However, in the Great Catechism, he suggests that while every human will be resurrected, salvation will only be for the baptised. While he believes that there will be no more evil in the hereafter, this does not rule out God might justly damn sinners for eternity. The main difference between Gregory's conception of ἀποκατάστασις and Origen's would be Gregory believing that the human race will collectively return to sinlessness and Origen holding that personal salvation will be universal.  In other words, his take is a slightly skewiff orthodoxy that appeals to my Anglican craziness!

St. Gregory of Nyssa jaw bone, 4th century, Visoki Decani Monasetry, Serbia

St. Gregory of Nyssa jaw bone, 4th century, Visoki Decani Monastery, Serbia

Inspired by his example and aided by his prayers,  let us pray:

Lord of eternity, creator of all things,
in your Son Jesus Christ you open for us the way to resurrection
that we may enjoy your bountiful goodness:
may we who celebrate your servant Gregory press onwards in faith to your boundless love
and ever wonder at the miracle of your presence among us;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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