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)

David Bentley Hart on Freedom

‘Of course, we are inclined (especially today) to think of freedom wholly in terms of arbitrary or pathetic volition, a potency made actual every time one chooses a particular course of action out from a variety of other possibilities. And obviously, for finite intellects, this is the bare minimum that liberty must assume; but it is also, just as obviously, a form of subordination and confinement. All possible choices are external to the will that chooses; they shape it from without, defining it before it has even chosen. Moreover  these possibilities are exclusive of one another: one makes a possible course of action real by rendering other courses of action impossible. And, as we all know, one can choose foolishly, or maliciously, or with a divided will. Freedom, so understood, would consist in no more than a certain kind of largely vacuous and limited potentiality dependent on other limited and limiting potentialities.

A higher understanding of human nature, however, is inseparable from a definition of human nature. To be free is to be able to flourish as the kind of being one is, and so to attain the ontological good toward which one’s nature is oriented; freedom is the unhindered realization of a complex nature in its proper end (natural and supernatural), and this is consummate liberty and happiness.’ (‘The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?’ p. 70-71)