Gregory of Nyssa on Nature and Persons

This will hopefully be the first of many posts on the thought of Gregory – Hans urs Von Balthasar’s essay on Gregory should be arriving any day.

‘Our first point is this: To use in the plural the word for the nature of those who do not differ in nature, and to speak of “many men” is a customary misuse of language. It is like saying that there are many human natures. That this is so is clear from the following instance. WHen we address someone we do not call him by the name of his nature. Since he would have that name in common with others, confusion would result; and everyone within hearing would think that he was being addressed. For the summons was not by an individual name, but by the name of a common nature. Rather do we distinguish him from the multitude by using his proper name, that name, I mean, which signifies a particular subject. There are many who have shared in the same nature – disciples, apostles, martyrs, for instance – but the term “man” in them all is one. Hence, as we have said, the term “man” in them does not refer to the particularity of each, but to their common nature. For Luke is a man, as is Stephen. But that does not mean that if anyone is a man he is therefore Luke or Stephen. Rather does the distinction of persons arise from the individual differences we observe in each. When we see them together, we can count them. Yet the nature is one, united in itself, a unit completely indivisible, which is neither increased by addition or nor diminished by subtraction, being and remaining essentially one, inseperable even when appearing plurality, continuous and entire, and not divided by the individuals who share in it.’ (Gregory of Nyssa, ‘Theological Orations: On Not Three Gods’, ‘Christology of the early Fathers’, p. 258)

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