Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wisdom from the Fathers - Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus

Selected passages from Vladimir Lossky's Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

   For Christianity is not a philosophical school for speculating about abstract concepts, but is essentially a communion with the Living God.

   For the Divinity has no need to manifest its perfection either to itself or to others, it is the Trinity and this fact can be deduced from no principle.

   Men have therefore a common nature, one single nature in many human persons. This distinction of nature and person in man is no less difficult to grasp than the analogous distinction of the one nature and three persons in God. Above all, we must remember that we do not know the person, human hypostasis in its true condition, free from alloy. We commonly use the words persons or personal to mean individuals, or individual. We are in the habit of thinking of these two terms, person and individual almost as though they were synonyms. We employ them indifferently to express the same thing. But, in a certain sense, individual and person mean opposite things, the word individual expressing a certain mixture of the person with elements which belong to the common nature, while person, on the other hand, means that which distinguishes it from nature.

   A person who asserts himself as an individual, and shuts himself up in the limits of his particular nature, far from realizing himself fully becomes impoverished. It is only in renouncing its own possession and giving itself freely, in ceasing to exist for itself that the person finds full expression in the one nature common to all. In giving up its own special good, it expands infinitely, and is enriched by everything which belongs to all. The person becomes the perfect image of God by acquiring that likeness which is the perfection of the nature common to all men . . . for as St Gregory of Nyssa says; Christianity is an ‘imitation of the nature of God.’

   Made in the image of God, man is a personal being confronted with a personal God. God speaks to him as to a person, and man responds. Man, according to St Basil, is a creature who has received a commandment to become God. But this commandment is addressed to human freedom and does not overrule it. As a personal being man can accept the will of God; he can also reject it. Even when he removes himself as far as possible from God, and becomes unlike Him in His nature, he remains a person. The image of God in man is indestructible. In the same way, he remains a personal being when he fulfills the will of God an in his nature realizes perfect likeness with Him. For according to St Gregory Nazianzus, ‘God honored man in giving him freedom, in order that goodness should properly belong to him who chooses it, no less than to Him who placed the first fruits of goodness in his nature. Thus whether he chooses good or evil, whether he tends to likeness or unlikeness, man possesses his nature freely, because he is a person created in the image of God.

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