PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

 



St. Gregory of Nyssa


(Cappadocian bishop, theologian and spiritual guide, 335-394; To non-Catholics, I hope you’d read the passage for the beauty of the writing, at least, if not for the beauty of the thought.)


“[St. Gregory of Nyssa] developed a unique [spiritual] concept that has been termed the via negativa, or “negative way” of knowing God.


“Gregory’s thinking about this “negative way” flows from the fact that God cannot be known through human reason or senses. His beauty is beyond description. His glory is beyond human comprehension.


“As Gregory wrote in his Homilies on the Song of Songs: ‘What now is meant by [‘Moses entering the darkness and so seeing God within it in Exodus 20:21’]? The true knowledge and the true vision of what we seek consist precisely in this – in not seeing: for what we seek transcends all knowledge, and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.’


“Was Gregory saying that it is impossible for us to know God? Not at all. Rather, recognizing our human limitations, he proposed a different way entirely: quieting our souls in contemplation before God. Then, the darkness is penetrated, and we come to find glory and joy in the God whom we can never fully comprehend.”


***


“At the root of Gregory’s teaching is the revelation that we are drawn toward God because he made us in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26).


“[Again, from Homilies on the Song of Songs, ‘He did not make the heavens in his image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars, nor any other thing you can see in the created universe.’


“’You alone are made in the likeness of that nature which transcends all understanding; you alone are a likeness of the eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness, an image of the true Light; and if you look up to him, you will become what he is, imitating him who shines within you, whose glory is reflected in your purity.’”


“’All the heavens can fit in the palm of God’s hand; the earth and the seas are measured in the hollow of his hand. And though he is so great he can grasp all creation in his palm, you can wholly embrace him; he dwells within you… his entire being pervades you, saying: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them.’’”


- from Word Among Us (Feb. 2004)



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