Gregory of Nyssa’s View of the Church

Status Quaestionis
  • José R. Villar
Part of the Pathways for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue book series (PEID)


It is generally accepted that the Fathers did not have a systematic ecclesiology or collective understanding of the Church.1 The Fathers sketch out a general outline de Ecclesia in an existential sense, based on their experience of the Church and the custody of the doctrines of the faith. Their thought amounts to an incipient theological reflection on the Church, scattered among their writings on other concerns and interests, particularly Trinitarian and Christological ones. The ecclesiology of the Cappadocian Fathers is characterized above all by being a Christology with ecclesiastical reflections—a Christology that develops into an ecclesiology.


Human Nature Perfect Image Virtuous Life Divine Life Earthly Life 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. Pierre-Thomas Camelot, “Die Lehre von der Kirche: Väterzeit bis ausschließlich Augustinus,” in Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte, vol. 3, ed. Michael Schmaus et al. (Herder: Freiburg, 1970);Google Scholar
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    Cf. Drobner, “Ecclesiology,” 250–51: the very title Ecclesiastes indicates that he teaches the correct ecclesiastical behavior (ἐκκλησιαστικὴ πολιτεία) to achieve the virtuous life. In Ecclesiastes, Christ speaks as the Church’s guide ((ὁ μεγάλος καθηγεμών, ὁ ἀληθινὸς ἐκκλησιαστής) to its members (τοῖς ἐκκλησιάζουσιν) (In Ecclesiasten homiliae [Eccl] 1: GNO V, 279, 4–281, 2; 2: 299, 3–9). Gregory understands the phrase “I am Ecclesiastes” (Eccles. 1:12) to be Jesus’s affirmation that “I am the Good Shepherd” (In ascensionem Christi Oratio [Ascens]: GNO IX, 324, 1–7). Christ is the mystagogue who leads to God (Eccl 5: GNO V, 353, 11 s.), who joins scattered humankind in one Church (Eccl 2: GNO V, 298, 5–9). Cf. Hubertus Drobner, “Verwendung und Bedeutung des Buches Ecclesiastes,” in Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on Ecclesiastes, ed. Stuart George Hall (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1993), 367–70.Google Scholar
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    Cf. the beginning of De hominis opificio [Op hom]: only man is the image of God; the universe was created in the perspective of man. On Gregory’s theory of a double creation—in the beginning (ἐν ἀρχῇ) and the six days of creation (Apologia in Hexaemeron [Hex]: PG 44, 72)—see Hans Urs von Balthasar, Présence et Pensée: Essai sur la Philosophie religieuse de Grégoire de Nysse (Paris: Beauchesne, 1942), 52, n. 5. Cf. Infant: GNO III/2, 77, 15–22; 79, 23; Op hom: PG 44, 198B; 200AC; 206AB; Cant: GNO VI, 458, 7; Eun I : GNO I, 82, 21; De virginitate [Virg]: GNO VIII/1, 297, 24.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Malevez, “L’Église dans le Christ,” 273–74. The importance that Gregory gives to the mysteries of the life of Christ, which are exclusive to his humanity, delegitimizes the idea of “collective incarnation” in Gregory; cf. Adolf Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, vol. 2 (Tübinguen: Mohr, 1909), 166. Cf.Google Scholar
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    Cf., for example, Cant 7: GNO VI, 256, 17–18. Gregory often quotes 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27; 15:28; Ephesians 1:22; 4:11–13, 15; 5:23; cf. Lexicon Gregorianum, vol. 3: Worterbuch zu den Schriften Gregors von Nyssa, ed. Friedhelm Mann (Leiden: Brill, 1999–2010), 114; Hubertus Drobner, Bibelindex zu den Werken Gregor von Nyssa (Paderborn: Selbstverlag, 1988).Google Scholar
  17. 35.
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  18. 37.
    Perf: GNO VIII/1, 197–98, 4. Cf. Jean Daniélou, “Conspiration (σύμπνοια),” in L’être et le temps chez Grégoire de Nysse (Leiden: Brill, 1970), 51–74.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Jean Daniélou, Platonisme et théologie mystique: Doctrine spirituelle de saint Grégoire de Nysse (Paris: Aubier, 1944), 34.Google Scholar
  20. 66.
    After crossing the Jordan, the faithful are fed with the body and blood of Christ: his body is food that gives strength to the soul, and his blood is a drink that gives cheer to the heart (Bapt: GNO X/2, 362; Ascens: GNO IX, 324). Cf. Gregorio Celada, “La catequesis sacramental y bautismal de Gregorio de Nisa,” La Ciencia Tomista 101 (1974): 565–665;Google Scholar
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  24. 68.
    The verbs used to describe the changes wrought in the bread imply a profound transformation: μεταποιέω, μετατίθημι, and above all μεταστοιχειόω, which should be translated as “alter,” “transfer,” and “change the nature of the elements” (cf. Geoffrey William Hugo Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961], 959–62).Google Scholar
  25. 70.
    Cf. Raymond Winling, “La résurrection du Christ comme principe explicatif et comme élément structurant dans la ‘Discours catéchetique’ de Gregoire de Nysse,” Studia Patristica 22 (1983): 74–80.Google Scholar
  26. 84.
    In Tunc et ipse, Gregory comments on 1 Corinthians 15:28 in the context of the unity that is consummated in heaven: He who is in the Father, by uniting all men to himself in a single body, carries out in his own person the union of humanity to God. Cf. Giulio Maspero, La Trinità e l’uomo: l’Ad Ablabium di Gregorio di Nissa (Rome: Città Nuova, 2004), 174.Google Scholar
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    Mort: GNO IX, 66. Cf. Lucas F. Mateo, “La unidad y la gloria: Jn 17, 21–23 en el pensamiento de Gregorio de Nisa,” in Signum et testimonium, ed. Juan Chapa (Pamplona: Ed. Universidad de Navarra, 2003), 179–200.Google Scholar

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© José R. Villar 2016

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  • José R. Villar

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