Gregory of Nyssa on Unlimited Perfection  

Posted by Joe Rawls

    Gregory of Nyssa (ca 330-395), the younger brother of Basil, was a monk in the monastery founded by the latter.  He later became bishop of Nyssa and took part in the Council of Constantinople where he vigorously defended the Nicene Creed.  He wrote extensively in theology (in particular elaborating the doctrine of the Trinity) and about ascetical practices.  One of his concepts was that growth in spiritual perfection continued after death and was neverending.  The Greek term for this is epektasis.  The following excerpt deals with this notion and is found in Gregory of Nyssa's Mystical Writings, translated and edited by Herbert Mursillo, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1979.  The great Apostle told the Corinthians of the wonderful visions he enjoyed during the time of his mystical initiation in paradise. It was a time when he even doubted his own nature, whether he was body or spirit - and he testifies: I do not count myself to have apprehended. But forgetting the things that are behind, I stretch myself forth to those that are before Philippians 3:13). And clearly this is meant to include even that third heaven that Paul alone saw; for even Moses told us nothing of it in his cosmogony. Yet even after listening in secret to the mysteries of heaven, Paul does not let the graces he has obtained become the limit of his desire, but he continues to go on and on, never ceasing his ascent. Thus he teaches us, I think, that in our constant participation in the blessed nature of the Good, the graces that we receive at every point are indeed great, but the path that lies beyond our immediate grasp is infinite. This will constantly happen to those who thus share in the divine Goodness, and they will always enjoy a greater and greater participation in grace throughout all eternity. […]

Thus though the new grace we may obtain is greater than what we had before, it does not put a limit on our final goal; rather, for those who are rising in perfection, the limit of the good that is attained becomes the beginning of the discovery of higher goods. Thus they never stop rising, moving from one new beginning to the next, and the beginning of ever greater graces is never limited of itself For the desire of those who thus rise never rests in what they can already understand; but by an ever greater and greater desire, the soul keeps rising constantly to another that lies ahead, and thus it makes its way through ever higher regions towards the Transcendent.


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