(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Gregory of Nyssa, a bishop in Nyssa, Cappadocia (central Turkey), wrote five homilies on the Lord’s Prayer and eight homilies on the Beatitudes to guide his readers to a deeper understanding of these biblical passages and make them aware of the importance of prayer and the value of striving to lead a better Christian life. In his homilies on the Lord’s Prayer, he states that the soul is made in God’s image and that image remains although it has lost its original beauty. Therefore, one should therefore pray in accordance with the dignity of that image. A prayer of request (proseuche) is proper only after making a vow (euche) of an acceptable spiritual gift. Christ, by instructing us to address God as Father, set a high standard.

In the Lord’s Prayer, according to the homilies of Gregory of Nyssa, when “hallowed be Thy name” is said, the person praying is hallowed by affirming that God’s name is not to be blasphemed. “Thy kingdom come” is said not because we think that God should become king. We say those words because as slaves to death and the impulses of the flesh, we need the Kingdom of God to come as our only means of escape from the power of corruption. “On earth as it is in heaven” asks that the peace, obedience, and freedom from evil enjoyed by the angels may also be on earth. “Our daily bread,” asks for what we need and nothing that we do not need. “Give us this day” means that we should not be troubled about tomorrow, for God provides what is needed in its time. Forgiving our debtors allows us to imitate the divine nature.

In sum, Gregory of Nyssa says, the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we are made in God’s image and can still call on God as Father. Just as we ask God to be good and just and merciful toward us, so too must we be toward our neighbor. We should not think like the Pharisee that we are personally free from sin. The corrupt world’s effect on our corrupt nature makes our own sinning inevitable. Thus we pray, “Lead us not into temptation” and “Deliver us from evil.” These words mean the same: We ask to be released from the corruption and temptation of the devil and this world.

The Beatitudes show a path upward, like the rungs of a spiritual ladder, according to Gregory of Nyssa. He explains that “poverty of...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of Nyssa. Translated by Mark Sebanc. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995. Works on the premise that Gregory is the most successful translator of ancient Hellenic philosophy and spirituality into the Christian context.

Drobner, Hubertus R., and Albert Viciano, eds. Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Beatitudes—An English Version with Commentary and Supporting Studies, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 52. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2000. Provides a translation of homilies on the Beatitudes with commentary by many scholars on individual aspects of Gregory’s perspective.

Laird, Martin. Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith. Oxford Early Christian Studies series. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Related to the homilies on the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes as they both help their audience understand how God is and is not known by the human mind.

Meredith, Anthony. Gregory of Nyssa. Early Church Fathers series. New York: Routledge, 1999. Offers an accessible introduction to Gregory’s environment and basic teachings. Includes representative passages from Gregory’s theological, philosophical, and devotional writings.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993. Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of Aberdeen, 1992-1993. Studies the presence of Greek philosophical concepts within the writings of the three Cappadocians (Saint Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa).