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St Gregory of Nyssa The Great Catechism, Complete

Translated by W. Moore and H. A. Wilson

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The Great Catechism [1934] .


The Trinity.

Prologue and Chapter 1.--The belief in God rests on the art and wisdom displayed in the order of the world: the belief in the Unity of God, on the perfection that must belong to Him in respect of power, goodness, wisdom, etc. Still, the Christian who combats polytheism has need of care lest in contending against Hellenism he should fall unconsciously into Judaism. For God has a Logos: else He would be without reason. And this Logos cannot be merely an attribute of God. We are led to a more exalted conception of the Logos by the consideration that in the measure in which God is greater than we, all His predicates must also be higher than those which belong to us. Our logos is limited and transient; but the subsistence of the Divine Logos must be indestructible; and at the same time living, since the rational cannot be lifeless, like a stone. It must also have an independent life, not a participated life, else it would lose its simplicity; and, as living, it must also have the faculty of will. This will of the Logos must be equalled by his power: for a mixture of choice and impotence would, again, destroy the simplicity. His will, as being Divine, must be also good. From this ability and will to work there follows the realization of the good; hence the bringing into existence of the wisely and artfully adjusted world. But since, still further, the logical conception of the Word is in a certain sense a relative one, it follows that together with the Word He Who speaks it, i.e. the Father of the Word, must be recognized as existing. Thus the mystery of the faith avoids equally the absurdity of Jewish monotheism, and that of heathen polytheism. On the one hand, we say that the Word has life and activity; on the other, we affirm that we find in the Logos, whose existence is derived from the Father, all the attributes of the Father's nature.

Chapter II.--By the analogy of human breath, which is nothing but inhaled and exhaled fire, i.e. an object foreign to us, is demonstrated the community of the Divine Spirit with the essence of God, and yet the independence of Its existence.

Chapter III.--From the Jewish doctrine, then, the unity of the Divine nature has been retained: from Hellenism the distinction into hypostases.

[1934] It is not exactly clear why this Instruction for Catechizers is called the "Great": perhaps with reference to some lesser manual. For its apologetic intention, see Prolegomena, p. 12. Its genuineness, which has been called in question by a few merely on the ground of opinions in it Origenistic and even Eutychian, is confirmed by Theodoret, Dial. ii. 3, contr. Eutych. Aubertin and Casaubon both recognize Gregory as its author. The division, however, of the chapters, by whoever made, is far from a correct guide to the contents; but, by grouping them, the main argument can be made clear.

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