Today, January 10th, the universal Church celebrates St. Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century thinker, philosopher and theologian (330-95). He was raised by his older brother, the wonderful St. Basil the Great, and his sister, Macrina, in what is now called Turkey.
He became a professor of rhetoric, but decided to devote his learning and talents to the Church. He was ordained a priest and appointed the Bishop of Nyssa (lower Armenia) in 372, defending the Council of Nicea, from which came the Nicene Creed, from the heresies of his time, including the Arian heresy which denied the divinity of Christ. He produced numerous sermons and letters on the Scriptures, was an original thinker and theologian, being especially familiar with Platonism.
In our Catholic Study Group, we studied one of St. Gregory’s ascetical writings, On What It Means to Call Oneself a Christian (De Professione Christiana), which is absolutely thought-provoking and brilliant. The purpose of this work is to set forth the foundation for the attainment of holiness by following in the footsteps of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As Father John A. Hardon, S.J. set out in his commentary, “Since He is the Incarnate Son of God in human form, the virtues He practiced on earth were the attributes of God lived out in recordable history. . . Gregory shows how important is sound doctrine in the faith, especially faith in Christ as true God and true man, as the precondition for achieving holiness.”
In the De Professione Christiana, in discussing what is meant by the term, Christian, St. Gregory states in part, the following:
If, therefore, someone puts on the name of Christ, but does not exhibit in his life what is indicated by the term, such a person belies the name and puts on a lifeless mask. . .For it is not possible for Christ not to be justice and purity and truth and estrangement from all evil, nor is it possible to be a Christian, that is, truly a Christian, without displaying in oneself a participation in these virtues. If one can give a definition of Christianity, we shall define it as follows: Christianity is an imitation of the divine nature. . .
. . .Therefore, the One who orders us to imitate our Father orders us to separate ourselves from earthly passions, and this is a separation which does not come about through a change of place, but is achieved only through choice. . .
. . .For just as we are, in accordance with our nature, accomplish little in making our deposit because we are what we are, so, also, it is likely that the one who is rich in every way will give to the depositor a return which reflects His nature. So let no one be discouraged when he brings into the divine treasury, what is in keeping with his own power, assuming that he will go off with what corresponds to the amount he has given, but let him anticipate, according to the Gospel which says he will receive in exchange large for small, the heavenly for the earthly, the eternal for the temporal, such things as are not able to be grasped by thought or explained by word, concerning which: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.”
St. Gregory is known as the defender of orthodoxy, and was sent on missions to counter other heresies and held a position of importance during the Council of Constantinople. Indeed and in fact, “St. Gregory contributes to the mystical tradition in Christian spirituality. . .”
St. Gregory, please help us on our journey, to be real Christians, to examine ourselves daily, to convert ourselves daily with the guidance and assistance of the Church, and to love and trust God completely; our upcoming eternal lives depend on our choices. . .
The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, Edited and with an Introduction by John A. Hardon, S.J., 1995 Ignatius Press;