St Gregory of Nyssa - Humanity & Spirituality
“He did not make the heavens in his image, nor the moon, sun, the stars’ beauty, nor anything else you see in creation.
You alone are made in the likeness of that nature which surpasses all understanding, the image of incorruptible beauty, the impression of true divinity, receptacle of blessed life, seal of true light…
Nothing in creation can compare to your greatness.”
(Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on the Song of Songs, Homily 2).
If you’ve ever wrestled (or are wrestling) with how you feel about being human whilst sitting in a Western pew, come and hear what Gregory has to say. Whilst not denying the reality of the worst of human nature, the Eastern Fathers, as typified by Gregory of Nyssa, also spent quite a lot of time focussing on the blessedness and potential of our being “made in the image of God” rather than our being “not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table” (as per the Anglican liturgy).
This Study Day will provide an introduction to the thought of St Gregory of Nyssa (the youngest and more mystically inclined of the three “Cappadocian Fathers”) on human nature and spirituality, which will be pitched in deliberate contrast to the contemporary views-from-some-Western-pews.
The day will commence with an introduction to the 4th century context in which St Gregory found himself, along with an overview of his life and work. This will provide a useful introduction and orientation if you’re looking to continue reading & understanding more about Gregory of Nyssa and perhaps the other Cappadocian Fathers afterwards.
The second session will set out a summary of the (often overly negative) narrative I believe can be communicated by the contemporary Western Church around what it is to be human. This will touch on the topic of shame, the language used in the Anglican liturgy, and the resulting picture of God that can be formed by the person-in-the-pew.
After lunch we’ll explore the contrasting views on humanity and spirituality as set out by Gregory of Nyssa. Using his text the Life of Moses as a guide we’ll dive into his understanding of what it is to be human, the importance of our image-likeness and free will, the choices set before us, our (infinite) journey into God, and the necessity of an ever changing perception of the divine. It’s really quite a different vision!
No previous knowledge of Church history or theology is assumed (although clergy or readers with some background knowledge will still find much of interest).
Refreshments and lunch are included.The location for this Study Day is the Harriet Monsell Hall at Ripon College Cuddesdon. Advanced booking is required for catering purposes!