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St Gregory of Nyssa on Anthropology
A study of the Spiritual Anthropology in St Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Making of Man
The treatise On the Making of Man by St Gregory of Nyssa is a work that is 30 chapters in length and assumes knowledge of St Basil’s work on the Hexaëmeron. The two should be studied side-by-side since the former is a study of the 6 days of creation which does not include the making of humankind while the latter is a study of anthropology.
This paper will be a study of the spiritual aspects of anthropology that are present in St Gregory’s work On the Making of Man. According to the Oxford Dictionary, anthropology is a study of humankind, human societies and their development. In addition, according to the online etymology dictionary, the word derives its etymology from two Greek words, anthropos meaning man or humankind and logia meaning a discussion about something.
The anthropological aspects that will be studied here include the making of humankind in the image and likeness of God, the appearance and anatomy of the human being in relation to the rest of creation, and finally the soul and resurrection of the human body.
Made in the Image and Likeness of God
Gregory’s overall exegesis of scripture demonstrates his loyalty to the literal interpretation of the scripture, especially when it comes to the book of Genesis. It is written in the Old Testament that after the six days of creation, God said: "let us make man in our image and likeness" (Gen. 1:26). When Gregory discusses this doctrine, he does not distinguish between the terms image and likeness but uses them interchangeably which is inconsistent with the commonly accepted opinion by other Fathers of the Church regarding the making of man in the image of God. Further study of Gregory’s work also reveals from one work to another he is inconsistent in describing what the image of God in the human being actually refers to. In one instance he refers to the soul of the human being as the rational part and an image of the archetype. On the other hand, he makes reference to the whole human person both body and soul since both parts participate in every action undertaken as a hybrid whole.
Gregory also undertakes to explain the image of God in the human being by use of the double creation which is written in the book of Genesis. The two creation accounts give different information from two different traditions, the first mentioning a “heavenly, generic, universal and sexually undifferentiated” being and the second introducing differentiation by gender. In Gregory’s perspective, the first creation was the original creation prior to the fall of humanity in its original state to which we will return to after the general resurrection because in Gregory’s opinion, “that which was made in the image is one thing and that which is now manifested in wretchedness is another.” Gregory also refers to New Testament pericopes to emphasise his point especially with reference to Luke 20:27-36 for example where the Sadducees question Jesus regarding the woman who was married several times. Here Gregory uses Jesus’ response to illustrate allegorically the difference between the two creation accounts. In his work On Virginity, he views marriage and reproduction as secondary to man’s original creation in the image of God and that it was brought about by the fall of humankind so prior to that, the human being would have reproduced in a similar manner to the angels, a state that will only be realised “in the final consummation, when the fullness of humankind [will] be reached.”
This sovereign creature is one of much unity and yet a great deal of diversity each person being alike in nature yet different in personality. This is the case though until the eschaton at which point humanity will be alike in many more ways. Humankind will be alike in their similarity to Christ but will differ in their distinct identity as a person, which is the way the human being was created initially. God gave us the ability to remain immortal, eternal and imperishable but with our freedom we denied these divine gifts and now we must seek our salvation and likeness to God in our current environment.
The Anatomy of the Human Being
According to the book of Genesis, the human being was made after the creation of the world and all things that are within it. Gregory goes into length in this work as to why humans were made last and why they were made in a particular way, for example without protective characteristics such as horns or venom and why the human being is erect in stature with two hands and two feet and does not walk on four legs. To Gregory, the time of creation and the anatomy of the human being was planned in a particular way for specific reasons and not by chance due to diachronic evolution from another created being such as the ape, since the Fathers did not read the book of Genesis like a textbook but allegorically and eschatologically.
The appearance of the human being on earth after the creation of the entire world as specified in the book of Genesis was a sign of the dominion of humankind over the rest of creation and its instatement as the ruler and the sovereign one over all things from the very beginning of its existence rather than part way through creation, where Gregory refers to all of creation as humankind’s wealth. Gregory preaches the human being to be a creature of God, a spiritual and carnal combination that was made to rule over the rest of creation as the “master of creation.” This hybrid existence was made in such a way that it had a need to utilise the gifts the rest of creation had to offer such as food and water for sustenance and the trees to build a place for shelter. Therefore, the human body was created in a way that it was to rule over the rest of creation and use it for its survival and as Gregory says, the world was created in a similar way as a smith would make a particular tool for a specific purpose to fulfil a specific need.
The obvious difference between the human being and the animals of the world would be the external features. Most animals walk on four legs or slide on their bellies but the human being is upright on two legs with two arms for productive uses. The human being also lacks weapons for protection and survival and a covering as a defence from the weather. Also, unlike animals such as the lion and the tiger who have their speed as their protection from prey, the human being is slow and requires for instance the horse for transportation or the sheep to create a covering or even objects of the earth to create for himself weapons to hunt or protect himself from wild beasts. Further to this, man’s stature is upright and looking towards the heavens and as Gregory describes it, he/she stands high over the other animals and dominates over them while the rest of creation looks downwards towards the earth subjected to humankind.
In his homilies On Ecclesiastes, Gregory discusses the notion of slavery where he argues that the human being was not intended to be ruler over other human beings but only over creation. The argument here is whether the human being who is the property of God can become the property of another human who in turn with this action claims to be greater than God. Gregory argues that there is no difference between master and slave, a stern position which is contrary to the view held by Aristotle regarding the inferiority of slaves to his or her owner.
The Soul and the Resurrection
In the fourth century, there arose a debate about whether the soul comes into existence before or after the body is made because based on the Genesis account, God first took dust from the earth and made man and then gave life to it. Gregory approached this by saying that if the former was to come about after the later, it would be younger and since that is not the case, they must come about at the same time. The human is a hybrid creation made up of both body and soul where the two parts come about together so that the whole created being is not divided within itself but in complete harmony.
In Chapter 2 of Gregory’s work On the Soul and the Resurrection, a discussion takes place with his sister Macrina about the nature of the soul. Macrina describes the soul as “something immaterial and bodiless, working and moving in accord with its own nature, and revealing its motions by means of the bodily organs." Further to this description, she also states that the soul is "an essence which has a beginning; it is a living and intellectual essence" that gives life to the body as long as it exists within it. Further to this, Gregory states that God and the soul of the human being are similar except that God is without beginning and the human soul is created and a copy of the former, the original being God who is the creator of the latter. He also emphasises the likeness of the soul with the triune God and because of this extreme similarity, “knowledge becomes love” where the persons of the trinity operate in complete unity as three unified yet distinctive persons of the whole. This debate also brought about another issue one regarding the reincarnation and the pre-existence of souls from other living things, which Gregory also opposed labelling it absurd and a doctrine fabricated by the ancient philosophers and inconsistent with Christian dogma.
In chapter 15 of the work at hand, Gregory states that the soul finds perfection in that which is intellectual and rational and this being said, Gregory associates the term soul with the use of the word mind which to Gregory is interchangeable and refers explicitly to the intellect and rationality that God gave to the human being as the pinnacle of creation.
The resurrection of the human being is a dogma based on the teaching of Christ and as Christians, we look towards the eschaton when the general resurrection will take place. Gregory makes mention in chapter 25 of the text that some doubt the occurrence of the resurrection even though it is written in the scriptures and was preached by St Paul the Apostle who spoke regarding the spiritual body and the change which will come about to our current bodies. During his time, many doubted whether a body which had been disfigured or dismantled will at the resurrection be once again restored to its original form. The restoration of the body after dissolution into the earth is a basic Christian dogma, where the resurrected body will not be irrelevant to the body we currently have but will be a renewed spiritual body without the propensity to age or attract disease and deformity and will be the body that God originally intended for us prior to the fall leading to a restoration of the image of God in the human being.
Contrary to the opinion of the Church Fathers, Gregory used the terms image and likeness interchangeably with reference to the creation of humanity and referred to the rationality of the soul as an imitation of the archetype. The two creation accounts of the book of Genesis are based on 2 traditions where one perceives the human as a heavenly being prior to the full and the second as an earthly creature divided by gender after the fall. The human being is the pinnacle of creation and was made to rule over creation which is symbolised by his/her vertical stature towards the heavens bare and without protection in order to utilise creation, which is his/her wealth. The human being is a hybrid creature made up of soul and body both of which are created at the same time, where the soul is immaterial and uses the body to express its motion by giving life to it. Finally, the resurrection of the body is a scriptural fact and a phenomenon that will renew the current body into a new spiritual being as was intended by God prior to the fall, restoring in the human the image of God.
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Fr Nectarios Joannou
6ess interchangeably with reference to the creation of humanity and referred to the rationality of the soul as an imitation of the archetype. The two creation accounts of the book of Genesis are based on 2 traditions where one perceives the human as a heavenly being prior to the full and the second as an earthly creature divided by gender after the fall. The human being is the pinnacle of creation and was made to rule over creation which is symbolised by his/her vertical stature towards the heavens bare and without protection in order to utilise creation, which is his/her wealth. The human being is a hybrid creature made up of soul and body both of which are created at the same time, where the soul is immaterial and uses the body to express its motion by giving life to it. Finally, the resurrection of the body is a scriptural fact and a phenomenon that will renew the current body into a new spiritual being as was intended by God prior to the fall, restoring in the human the image of God.
Blowers, Paul M. ‘Entering “This Sublime and Blessed Amphitheatre”: Contemplation on Nature and Interpretation of the Bible in t