Lights From The Past

Lights From The Past

Maximus Confessor (580 – 662 CE)

NOV 06

“The one who through asceticism and contemplation has known how to dig in himself the wells of virtue and knowledge as did the patriarchs will find Christ within as the spring of life.  Wisdom bids us to drink from it, saying, “Drink waters from your own vessels and from your own springs.”  If we do this, we shall discover that His treasures are present within us.”

(Chapters on Knowledge, Second Century, 40)

The honorific ‘Confessor’ could lead one to believe that Maximus was a confessor par excellence with multitudes flocking to him for confession in the manner they flocked to the Curé d’Ars.  Maximus, however, did not get this honorific because of his work at the confessional, but due to his confession of faith in the face of severe persecution.  The emperor was disappointed that Maximus did not give in to his diktats and, after the farce of a trial, banished him into exile.  Even exile did not silence Maximus. He continued to speak and write in defense of the faith.  Finally, he was given the incredibly cruel “Persian punishment,” i.e., his tongue and hand—which were used to confess the faith—were cut off.  This sacrifice led him to receive the honorific ‘Confessor.’

Maximus was born in 580 CE into a Christian family that belonged to the elite of the city.  He received the best education of the day and was appointed the proto-secretary of the then emperor Heraclius at an early age.  However, three years later, he entered monastic life and remained a monk in what is modern day Turkey until the spring of 626 when the Persians, Slavs and Avars were attacking Constantinople.  He departed for North Africa, where he remained for a quarter of a century.  During this period he strongly opposed Monothelitism (Christ having one will) and Monoenergism (one energy).  Though it seems a trivial and speculative debate, Maximus realized that this position seriously compromised the humanity of Christ.  During a famous theological debate in 645, he demolished Pyrrhus, the deposed Patriarch of Constantinople and a leading proponent of Monothelitism.  In 646 he went to Rome and was close to Pope Martin I.  Emperor Constans II tried to placate differing political groups by diluting the orthodox faith. This was what Maximus opposed. He was put on trial and the proceedings have been recorded in The Trial of Maximus.  Though he was exiled, he refused to be silenced and was brutally tortured for refusing to sign a compromise statement of doctrine.  The mutilation and tortures finally led to his death on the 13th of August, 662.

Maximus was an eminent figure for the Eastern and Western churches because he combined the profound speculation of the East and the historical salvific perspective of the West.  His life reveals to us an integration of the orthodoxy of faith and authentic Christian living.  His spirituality primarily revolved around the theme of divinization, which spoke of the human person truly becoming the image and likeness of God.  The process of divinization would be rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation where God became incarnate so that we might ‘become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet. 1: 4).  For him divinization was not an abstract theme but a genuine transformation of not just the human person but all of creation so as to participate in Divine life.  Though divinization was only possible through the grace of God, it also involved an act of free will.  Only when the human person lets go of one’s self-love and surrenders totally to God does the grace of God transform and divinize the person.  Maximus Confessor’ courageous response to the trials of his time was the result of his inner transformation – his progressive divinization.  His life challenges us to discover our true selves and live lives of greater authenticity and radical discipleship.


 

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Lights From The Past

Isaac of Nineveh (d. 700 CE)

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Practical guidelines on our journey to God.

The sum of the entire ascetic course consists in these three things—repentance, purity and perfection.  What is repentance? Desisting from former sins, and feeling pain at them.  What is purity, in a nutshell? A heart which has compassion on every natural thing in creation. What is perfection? Profound humility, which consists in the abandoning of everything visible and invisible—visible meaning everything involved with the senses; invisible meaning all thinking about them. (Discourse LXXIV)

Qatar was until the 7th century an important centre of Christianity and produced important spiritual writers.  Isaac of Nineveh was one among them and his treatise on monastic life had a tremendous impact on religious life within the Eastern church.  The information regarding his life is scarce and we know very little of his early childhood.  It is believed that he became a monk and teacher in his home country and may have moved away during a schism between the Patriarchate and bishops of Qatar.  However, when the Patriarch George I visited the area in 676, the schism was healed and Isaac was ordained a bishop of Nineveh (Mosul).  Within five months he abdicated his episcopacy and retired to the mountains to lead a solitary life.  It was during this period that he would write his treatise on spiritual life offering invaluable spiritual and psychological insights that would leave an imprint on Eastern Christian Spirituality.

Isaac was a brilliant writer and belonged to the tradition of East Syriac writers who lived in what is today Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and Qatar.  Most of his writings were based on his personal spiritual experience and written during his old age.  Such was its impact that within less than 100 years it was translated into Greek and became popular within both Byzantine and Western Christianity.  It is believed that Isaac wrote five volumes of instructions for monks of which much has been lost.  Two parts of his work have survived to this date and its first English translation appeared in the year 1923.   He primarily dealt with the theme of spiritual growth and prayer and, like Evagrius Ponticus, spoke of a three-stage ascent to God.

Three-Stage Ascent to God

The first phase consists in asceticism, where a person engages in ascetical practices, such as fasting, vigils and the like.  There is no short cut to growth in spiritual life. Without going through this phase a person cannot experience inner peace and serenity.  During the second phase there is growth in self/control and reverential fear of the Lord.  The person has an understanding of the transitory nature of the world and an awareness of its delusions/deceptions.  Along with this enlightenment regarding the world, a person also begins to experience God more and more as loving and providential.  This sets the stage for another level of the spiritual journey wherein there is a growing abandonment of self leading to greater insights into the reality of God and creation.  A person experiences growing harmony in one’s life and prayer progressively elevates the person towards God.

 No-Prayer as the Highest Form

Isaac firmly believed that time, place and posture played an important role in prayer and would elaborate it in Texts on Prayer and Outward Posture.  A unique contribution of Isaac was the concept of ‘no-prayer’ as the highest form of prayer.  It is a state where a person goes beyond conventional prayer and experiences extraordinary stillness, serenity, silence and equanimity.  This state may be fleeting or transitory but is a foretaste of eternal life.  In his treatise on prayer he underlined its intrinsic relationship with the Eucharist, psalms and liturgy.  His suggestions on dealing with distractions in ‘Pure Prayer’ are as relevant today as they were centuries ago.  In today’s world of frenzied activity, Isaac of Ninveh’s insights on spiritual life come across as a refreshing pointer towards authentic peace and harmony.

 

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Lights From The Past

John Chrysostom

Sep 06

“It behooves the priest to be as pure as if he stood in heaven…  Picture Elias and the immense multitude standing, while the prophet prays and fire descends…  In the sacrifice which is now offered the priest brings down not fire, but the Holy Spirit and prays that that grace may descend and inflame the souls of all.”

(On the Priesthood 3.4-6)

John (349-407 CE) received the honorific of ‘Chrysostom’ or ‘golden mouth’ because of his extraordinary oratorical gifts.  Only one more person, the bishop of Ravenna Peter Chrysologus (380-450) had this unique distinction; he was referred to as ‘golden word.”  John Chrysostom was brilliant, outspoken, direct and many of his sermons have survived to this day.

John was born into a well-to-do family in Antakya (Antioch) in Southern Turkey.  His father died when John was very young and his mother Anthusa, a devout woman, instilled in him a deep Christian faith and ensured he received an excellent education under the rhetorician Libanus, a non-Christian.  The exact year of his baptism is disputed (368 or 372).  After his baptism he studied Antiochene exegesis and later spent six years as a hermit.  His severe asceticism ruined his health and he had to return to the city.  On his return he was first made a deacon and later a priest in 386.  He was an extraordinary preacher and crowds flocked to hear his sermons.  After a difficult first year he had a serene period of intense pastoral work from 387 to 397.  In the year 397 he was made bishop of Constantinople and zealously worked for the people, especially the poor.  His life challenged the political class, the clergy and monks who had succumbed to laxity.  The so-called Synod of Oak dismissed him in 403 and the king decreed that he be exiled.  This was not carried out because of an accident in the imperial palace.  He continued to preach fearlessly.  However, in 404 the emperor signed a decree definitively exiling him to Armenia.  In 407 his opponents, who did not want him to have any contact with his friends, persuaded the emperor to send him farther away. During an extremely brutal deportation he died of exhaustion in Pontic Comana on the 14th of September.

John Chrysostom is one of the most prolific Church Fathers with his most fruitful years being the years of his priestly ministry in Antioch.  He produced 67 homilies on Genesis, 59 on the Psalms, 88 on the Gospel of John, 90 on Mathew and smaller collections on other biblical books.  However, his specialty was St. Paul, on whom he gave more than 200 sermons.  Other works included seventeen treatises and two hundred and forty-one letters.  One of his best-known works is a treatise on The Priesthood which is arranged in six books and presented in the form of a dialogue with a certain Basil.  Books three to six offer an excellent picture of a priest’s tasks.  It underlines the pastoral duties of a priest—the protection of widows and virgins, righteousness, proclamation of the word of God, responsibility towards others, defending the faith and so on.  In the treatise John develops the spirituality of a priest, pointing out that, unlike a monk who takes care of his own salvation, the priest is accountable for his entire community. Thanks to the years of pastoral engagement, John Chrysostom’s spirituality evolved.  It moved from a rigid asceticism of his earlier days towards one which was more understanding, inclusive and other-centered.  Even today the life of John Chrysostom offers us the image of an exemplary priest and bishop – a courageous, zealous and committed person who went through various persecutions, sufferings and eventual martyrdom.  His golden words shone forth in his life as he bore witness to the Good News until the very end.

 

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Lights From The Past

Benedict of Nursia:

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Tips on Leadership and Spiritual Growth

(480-547 CE)

“The Abbot should use prudence and avoid extremes…  He should prune faults with prudence and love as he sees best for each individual.  Let him strive to be loved rather than feared.”  (Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 64,12.14-15)

The entire Rule of St. Benedict stands out for its spirit of discernment.  Chapter 64, where the qualities of an Abbot are outlined, emphasizes the need of ‘prudence’ (repeated twice) and juxtaposes it with the age-old philosophical principal of ‘avoiding extremes.’  The chapter, which is a synthesis of the Christian ideal and profound humanism, is indeed a must read for anyone who has to elect a superior or has been appointed as one.

Though monastic life existed for many centuries in western Europe, Benedict is considered the Father of Western monasticism. He was born in Nursia, Northeast of Rome. After experiencing a religious conversion, he decided to renounce the world.  He first lived with a group of ascetics in Affile, east of Rome, and then spent three years in total solitude in Subiaco. He had a bitter experience as head of a group of decadent monks, following which he returned to Subiaco and founded twelve monasteries.  From there he went to Mount Cassino, where he founded a fully cenobitic community – a community which would be autonomous and confer the abbot with a great deal of authority. His Rule would go on to become the foundation of monastic spirituality. On various occasions, when monasticism was in crisis, groups of monks would return to the original spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict.

Benedict’s life was popularized by the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great, who presented him as a Vir Dei, i.e., a man of God.  In keeping with the literary style of the day, Benedict is presented as a great prophet, miracle worker…

 

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Lights From The Past

Tips on Leadership and Spiritual Growth

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Benedict of Nursia: (480-547 CE)

“The Abbot should use prudence and avoid extremes…  He should prune faults with prudence and love as he sees best for each individual.  Let him strive to be loved rather than feared.”  (Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 64,12.14-15)

The entire Rule of St. Benedict stands out for its spirit of discernment.  Chapter 64, where the qualities of an Abbot are outlined, emphasizes the need of ‘prudence’ (repeated twice) and juxtaposes it with the age-old philosophical principal of ‘avoiding extremes.’  The chapter, which is a synthesis of the Christian ideal and profound humanism, is indeed a must read for anyone who has to elect a superior or has been appointed as one.

Though monastic life existed for many centuries in western Europe, Benedict is considered the Father of Western monasticism. He was born in Nursia, Northeast of Rome. After experiencing a religious conversion, he decided to renounce the world.  He first lived with a group of ascetics in Affile, east of Rome, and then spent three years in total solitude in Subiaco. He had a bitter experience as head of a group of decadent monks, following which he returned to Subiaco and founded twelve monasteries.  From there he went to Mount Cassino, where he founded a fully cenobitic community – a community which would be autonomous and confer the abbot with a great deal of authority. His Rule would go on to become the foundation of monastic spirituality. On various occasions, when monasticism was in crisis, groups of monks would return to the original spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict.

Benedict’s life was popularized by the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great, who presented him as a Vir Dei, i.e., a man of God.  In keeping with the literary style of the day, Benedict is presented as a great prophet, miracle worker, combatant against the demonic powers and performer of extraordinary feats which are proper of a Father of the Desert.  However, the essence of Benedict’s life consists in offering a method that helps us move towards greater union with God…

 

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Lights From The Past

Ambrose of Milan

AUGUST 11

(339-397 CE)

“The Emperor is within the Church, not above it…  I say this with all humility, so also, I state it with firmness.  Some threaten us with fire, sword, exile; we have learnt as servants of Christ not to fear.”

 (Letter XXI, no. 37—Sermon against Auxentius)

Ambrose of Milan is well known for his role in the conversion of Augustine.  At the same time, a close reading of his life reveals a political spirituality which offers us insights for dealing with modern day situations.  The above-mentioned quote forms part of a sermon opposing the attempt by emperor Valentinian to take over the Portian Basilica in Milan.  The emperor was only fourteen years old; real power lay with his mother Justina, who was an Arian.  She sought to strengthen Arianism in Milan by bringing the Arian bishop Auxentius and wanted to offer him the Portian Basilica—a Basilica used by the Catholics.  After three unsuccessful attempts to usurp the basilica, the emperor and his mother gave up their efforts.  This and other incidents from Ambrose’s life led to the emergence of a spirituality of political engagement which demarcated the domains of both, the church and the state.

Ambrose was born into a political family in the year 339. His father was the praefectus praetorio in Gaul.  They had been Christians for generations and among their ancestors was the martyr Soteris.  However, in keeping with tradition, Ambrose delayed his baptism until he was an adult.  A good education in philosophy, rhetoric and literature prepared him for the juridical service of the state. By 370 he was the governor of a province which had Milan as its capital.  In 374, while exercising his duties in enforcing order during the election of a new bishop, he himself was unanimously elected as the bishop by the different factions of the city.

 


 

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Lights From The Past

Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 CE)

MAY 8

Christ set forth in Himself patterns of both lives, that is, the active and the contemplative, united together. Our Redeemer, by coming Incarnate, united both in Himself. For when He wrought miracles in the city, and yet continued all night in prayer on the mountain, He gave His faithful ones an example not to neglect, through love of contemplation, the care of their neighbours, nor again to abandon contemplative pursuits, from being too immoderately engaged in the care of their neighbours.

(Morals on the Book of Job, Bk. 28,13)

Pope Gregory was born in 540 CE. At the young age of thirty, became the prefect of Rome and presided over the senate. Despite his extraordinary political success, he believed he had a vocation to become a monk. In 574, soon after the death of his father, he sold his family property and transformed his Roman estate into a monastery. Later Pope Pelagius II ordained him a deacon and appointed him the papal representative in Constantinople. In 585 he returned to Rome, became an abbot at St. Andrew’s and was made the pope’s personal counsellor. Despite his attempts to avoid election, he was made Pope in 590. His papacy was dynamic and influential, coinciding with the invasion of the Lombards, tensions with Imperial powers, corruption within the church and other disasters, such as floods, famines, and diseases. He responded to these challenges and proved to be an able administrator, a deft diplomat, a deeply spiritual person and, above all, an exemplary Pastor. Despite his political, religious and ecclesiastical responsibilities, he paid attention to the poor of Rome and fed them daily. Along with Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine, he is considered to be one of the four doctors of the Latin Church.

Gregory was a prolific writer. His various writings on Scripture include his homilies on the Gospels and Ezekiel, as well as thirty-five volumes on the book of Job. He was an accomplished spiritual writer who affirmed that all of us are created in order to ‘contemplate God’s beauty and dwell in His love.’ He outlined the spiritual journey as consisting in three stages: a) recollection, where a person becomes aware of oneself as a fragmented being; b) introversion, by which there is self-contemplation and an awareness of one’s true nature; and finally c) contemplation, where a person transcends oneself and contemplates the Maker. Only a meditative study of scriptures makes contemplation possible. His Book of Pastoral Rule written to his fellow Bishop John presents the vocation to be a bishop as that of a true shepherd combining both contemplative love of God and active charity. It is divided into four parts: a) the qualities necessary for spiritual leadership, b) the life of a Pastor, c) manner of teaching, advising and guiding the laity and d) the need to return to oneself after doing one’s duty.

The importance of both contemplative and active life was stressed in Morals in the Book of Job. Gregory believed that a life of contemplation was favored and necessary for an authentic active life. However, both forms of life had their place within the call to follow Christ, because Christ Himself lived a life of contemplation and action. Affirming the role of both Martha and Mary, he said, “Martha’s concern is not reproved, but that of Mary is commended” (Morals… Bk.6,61). Today we find, within the Church, a variety of vocations with a variety of charisms that include both the active and contemplative vocations. The spiritual wisdom of Pope Gregory the Great helps us fruitfully live our unique call by guiding us towards an integration of both profound contemplation and loving action.


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Lights From The Past

Augustine of Hippo

MARCH 14

Late have I loved you, O Beauty, so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! And behold, you were within me and I was outside… You were with me, and I was not with you. Those outer beauties held me far from you, yet if they had not been in you, they would not have existed at all.

You called, and cried out to me and broke open my deafness; you shone forth upon me and you scattered my blindness: You breathed fragrance, and I drew in my breath and I now pant for you: I tasted and I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for Your peace.

(Confessions, Bk. 10,27)

There is hardly a text in spiritual literature as eloquent as this to describe an experience of conversion.  It resonates with our longing to move away from a fragmented existence towards an authentic fulfillment within the Divine.  St. Teresa of Avila expressed it well when she said of the Confessions, “I saw myself described there.”

Augustine (354-430 AD), born in Tagaste (Souk-Ahras) in modern day Algeria close to the border with Tunisia, has had an enormous impact on theology as well as spirituality.  The son of Patricius, a middle-class Roman councilor, and Monica, a devout Christian, Augustine was a brilliant student who went to Carthage at the age of seventeen.  The reading of Cicero’s Hortensius led him to a greater search for wisdom.  He spent nine years following Manichaeism but was disenchanted when Faustus, a Manichee bishop, could not respond to his doctrinal difficulties and dilemmas related to natural science.  He applied for and was appointed the Public Orator of Milan and this put him in touch with Bishop Ambrose.  At first Augustine was drawn to him because of his eloquence, but later on would learn to appreciate the Old Testament, understand the unity of the will (self-indulgent will and the will directed to good) and experience an overall integration within his life.  The moment of conversion would take place in a garden during the month of August, 386, while reading Romans 13:13.  Along with some of his disciples, he asked for baptism.  They returned to Tagaste and began living a monastic life.  He was ordained by Bishop Valerius of Hippo, succeeded him after his death and remained the bishop of Hippo for forty years.

The focus on Augustine has often been on his phenomenal contribution to theology.  However, Augustine also stands out as one of the great spiritual writers in history, with the Confessions becoming a genre or style emulated by others in order to describe their spiritual experience.  Two aspects stand out in the spirituality of Augustine: a) conversion and b) community life.  For him, conversion was a movement from a fragmented image to a re-formation of the image of God (the Trinity) within a person through the gifts of faith and love.  His philosophical formation led him to move from the senses to the interior dimension of his life.  However, it was by contemplating Scripture that he experienced the reconciling and transforming power of Christ leading to a growing union with God.  He explained this  process is explained as consisting in seven steps through which a person moves from the sensory level to a serene contemplation of the Truth.

Augustine’s conversion was an ongoing process. Many years later, as priest and Bishop, he still experienced the need to be reconciled and renewed by God (Confessions, Book 10).  This experience would be institutionalized through the Rule of Augustine, where a structure is offered to build a community of friendship, joyful hope and Christian charity.

Augustine’s search for the Divine finds many parallels among the sages within the Indian sub-continent.  His life, as well as his spiritual insights, continues to inspire and guide authentic seekers as they struggle with their own conversion process.


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Lights From The Past

Pachomius of Egypt

06

“When someone comes to the door of the monastery, wishing to renounce the world and be added to the brothers, he shall not be free to enter.  First, the father of the monastery shall be informed.  He shall remain outside at the door a few days and be taught the Lord’s prayer and as many psalms as he can learn.  Carefully shall he make himself known…  If they see that he is ready for everything, then he shall be taught the rest of the monastic discipline.”

 (Rule of Pachomius, 49)

Pachomius (290-346/47 CE) was the first person in the Christian tradition to offer a systematic Rule for religious life—a Rule which included instructions about whom to admit and the method of training a novice.  The beginning of his spiritual itinerary was similar to Antony’s (Magnet, December 2017).  After being baptized at the age of twenty-one, he was trained under a well-known hermit called Abba Palamon.  Unlike Antony, who remained a hermit all his life, Pachomius set up monasteries in order to train novices by institutionalizing some stage of the solitary experience of hermits.  His first experiment in the year 324 to have an organized community life was a failure.  Though the experiment failed, he learnt that in order to successfully organize a religious community, the virtues of poverty and obedience were crucial; there could be no compromise on them.  His second attempt would be successful. Within a few years more than 9000 monks would be living according to the Rule of Pachomius.

Pachomius was the first great organizer of religious life within the Christian tradition and the success of his organization centered around three activities—liturgy, work and the community meal. Though the Eucharist was the main celebration, the synaxis or regular common prayer would be an important feature of the Pachomian Rule.  The synaxis consisted in readings from Scripture with a period of silent reflection and ended with the common recitation of the Our Father.  The work that the monks engaged in was directly or indirectly related to agriculture and was conducted in groups.  The community meal was an activity which led to collaboration among the monks and helped them grow into a close knit community.  The daily routine of prayer, work and common meal nourished their inner life and helped them cultivate a life of virtue.  Details of the manner in which community life was organized can be known by reading the three volumes of the Pachomian Koinonia, translated by Armand Veilleux (Cistercian Publications Inc., Michigan).

Though small communities existed, Pachomius gave organized religious life a totally new dimension.  His genius lay in offering guidelines to help identify persons who were apt for religious life and then provide a framework within which such persons could be formed to live a life of service.  Though religious life in common did not have the rigorous asceticism of hermitical life, it trained a monk towards a life of sharing.  The dynamics of living together and rubbing shoulders with a variety of persons helped them grow in discipline, self-examination and discernment leading to greater inner freedom.

The death of Pachomius would provoke a minor crisis.  However, the monks looked at the life of Pachomius for encouragement and fell back to the Rule as proposed by him to stabilize the situation.

As we look at religious life in today’s context, we see that the structure offered by Pachomius continues to be relevant.  Many centuries have gone by and religious life has adapted itself to a variety of differing situations.  Through all these vagaries of time, the core elements of the Pachomian Rule and the endearing personality of Pachomius continue to be an inspiration.


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Gregory of Nyssa

14

Restore the Image of God in the Human Person

The Cappadocian region in Turkey is home to three great saints—Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa.  They were outstanding theologians who made important contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity.  Of these three saints, Gregory of Nyssa is considered to be an eminent spiritual writer. His books, The Life of Moses and Commentary on the Song of Songs are considered to be spiritual classics.  Gregory of Nyssa was born between 335 and 340 CE to a pious family.  He did not go to the famous ‘schools’ of the time, but was well versed in rhetoric, philosophy and other sciences of his time.  It is believed that he married Theosebeia and on the division of the Province of Capadocia in 372, was named bishop of Nyssa.  His episcopate can be divided into two parts—with the first part until his exile in 374 being rather uneventful.  However, after his return in 379 to the joyous acclaim of the faithful, his theological and spiritual brilliance stood out.  He was a prominent figure in the synods of Antioch and Constantinople.  It is believed that he died a few years after the synod of Constantinople in 394.

 He was a prolific writer and his writings cover a variety of themes, such as Christology, Trinity, Biblical exegesis, writings against heresies, biographies, sermons, discourses, catechetical teachings and various letters.  His spiritual classic, The Life of Moses is also considered an exegetical work and was probably written in his old age because of its mature spiritual wisdom and insights.  Gregory of Nyssa made use of the person of Moses, a revered figure among Jews and Christians, and presented it as a model for spiritual life.  The text contains a prologue (Part I: 1-15), biblical history (Part I:16-77), contemplation (Part II: 1-318) and conclusion (Part II: 319-321). Moses began his life by a desire for solitude in order to return and serve society.  Though the book speaks about the need of asceticism, dealing with one’s passions and a life of virtues, the main focus is on having an internal knowledge of God and right behaviour.  His spirituality of ‘following God’ stands out because of its emphasis on spiritual life as an unending progress towards God.

Cardinal Jean Daniélou titles his book on the mystical writings of Gregory of Nyssa as From Glory to Glory.  The creation of the human person reflects the glory of God.  The distorted use of free will led to the fall; the spiritual process consists in the restoration of the fallen nature.  Thus the spiritual process is a movement from the glory of being created in God’s image towards greater glory.  The three ways proposed by Gregory of Nyssa were built upon the idea of Origen. These are: a) the way of light for beginners; b) knowledge of God akin to being in a cloud and c) knowledge of God in the darkness.  This paradoxical movement from light to darkness offers us one of the most sublime expression of apophatic (negative) mysticism and depicts the call to Christian perfection as an ongoing process.  Instead of depicting perfection as an immobile state, it is presented as something dynamic leading the human person towards every greater participation in divine life—a continual transformation which leads from ‘glory to glory’ (2 Cor. 3,18).

The great Moses, as he was becoming ever greater, at no time stopped in his ascent, nor did he set a limit for himself in his upward course.  Once having set foot on the ladder which God set up (as Jacob says), he continually climbed to the step above and never ceased to rise higher, because he always found a step higher than the one he had attained.

 (The Life of Moses, Bk. 2, 228)


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