Gregory of Nyssa on the Nearness of Heaven

I came across this passage in a letter of Gregory of Nyssa to a friend of his, and immediately wanted to share it:

“It does not seem to me that the Gospel is speaking of the firmament of heaven as some remote habitation of God when it advises us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, because the divine is equally present in all things, and, in like manner, it pervades all creation and it does not exist separated from being, but the divine nature touches each element of being with equal honor, encompassing all things within itself.”

If there is a heaven, it is to be seen in the dignity borne by each bit of being; not infinitely elsewhere, but breaking out from within the dishonor and decay with which we are more familiar.

3 Replies to “Gregory of Nyssa on the Nearness of Heaven”

  1. Apologies, I should leave the reference as well. This is from a letter which can be found in Vol. 58 of the Fathers of the Church series, under the title “On What it Means to Call Oneself a Christian,” translated by Virginia Callahan.

    Incidentally, there is also a fascinating anecdote about a dancing monkey, who ends up being an example of Christians imitating the divine nature.

  2. Thank you for the post. I think what strikes me is that Gregory’s insight is born of faith, there’s a confident presupposition of heaven; albeit a non-literal one. Whereas today, many of us, read him with your qualifier,”if there is a heaven.” Can we share your concluding comment about dignity borne by each particle of being, without Gregory’s confidence? I’m not sure we can…

  3. Thank you for your thoughts, Robert. This is a ridiculously late response, but I’ll leave it regardless.

    I’m not sure just how to take your concluding question, literally (especially the “can”).

    If you mean that a theologian must be proscribed from thinking and speaking about heaven unless she “really, really, really” believes it to be so, then nothing remains for theology other than parroting formulaic dicta.

    If you mean that a theologian must distrust every reductionism and place her trust outside of her own capabilities of comprehension, then “confidence” is something other than certainty, and the theological project is one of wonder-filled inquiry—requisite conditional statements included.

    It’s a mistake to read the bravado of 4th century rhetoric as an established epistemological framework.

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