Division of Being in St Gregory of Nyssa’s Contra Eunomium

by Robert F. Fortuin

The ultimate division of all that exists is made by the line between ‘created’ and ‘uncreated,’ the one being regarded as a cause of what has come into being, the other as coming into being thereby. Now the created nature and the Divine essence being thus divided, and admitting no intermixture in respect of their distinguishing properties, we must by no means conceive both by means of similar terms, nor seek in the idea of their nature for the same distinguishing marks in things that are thus separated.1


The collection of writings known to us as Contra Eunomium (hereafter CE) is Gregory of Nyssa’s response to the teachings of Eunomius bishop of Cyzicus, whose extreme Arian convictions rejected the divinity of Christ as well as that of the Holy Spirit. The justification for Eunomius’ Anomoean position, in Gregory’s words, is the absolute unity of the Godhead which cannot allow for multiplicity of being, essence (ουσία), nor persons. Eunomius understands the generation of the Son by the Father as an erroneous division of the divine nature, thereby resulting in a multiplicity of the Godhead. Generation and begetting for him is construed as a creative act of the divine will. The Cappadocian father, in turn, rejects the charge of polytheism by way of explicating that multiplicity of persons does not denote multiplicity of the divine ουσία—he insists on making a distinction between ουσία and personal subsistence, ύποστάσισ. For Gregory the divine nature is shared in common by the three persons—God is one in ουσία, but subsists in three persons. The Paternal begetting then does not constitute a creative act. Germane to the subject of this essay is that during the course of the drawn-out and at times repetitive response to the Anomoean teachings of Eunomius, Gregory of Nyssa develops a fundamental, two-fold ontological division between created and uncreated existence ‘διαίρεσις είς τό κτιστόν καί άκτιστον’. This binary ‘division of being’ is absolute, not permitting a half-way or mixture of any sort, for each is essentially a different nature of existence. The purpose of this essay is to present a brief survey of the ‘division of being’ in CE and to establish that 1.) for Gregory there exists a primary ontological ‘division of being’ which spans an infinite interval of dissimilarity; all other bifurcations fall under the primary division, and 2.) the division of being is central to Gregory’s argument for the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and 3.) the primary bifurcation is an absolute ontological divide between uncreated and created existence, and 4.) it is precisely this ultimate division of being which constitutes for Gregory the possibility for, and guarantee of, true divine revelation within creation. Gregory’s radical ontology of being was not only an effective argument against Arianism, but serves us now also as a necessary metaphysical foundation to ground contemporary debates about the doctrine of God and the God-world relationship.

The Ultimate Division of All Existing Things

Upon an examination of Nyssa’s understanding of being, the ontology of all that exists, a reading of CE exposes a startling contradiction—the Cappadocian father refers not to one άνωτάτω διαίρεσις , but two ultimate divisions of being. In Book I, Gregory speaks of a division of being, which at first reading appears to be without question his governing trope. He unequivocally affirms that the ‘ultimate division of all being is into the Intelligible and the Sensible.’2 This division is construed to be between that which is unseen (the intelligible, νοητόν ‘noetic’ world of divinity, the immaterial and the mind) and that which can be seen and apprehended by the physical senses, the ‘esthetic’ world, αίσθητόν. Gregory explains, ‘in the division of all existing things, then, we find these distinctions. There is, as appealing to our perceptions, the Sensible world: and there is, beyond this, the world which the mind, led on by objects of sense, can view: I mean the Intelligible,’ and he then further explains his vision of an additional division nestled within the Intelligible, ‘…and in this [the Intelligible existence] we detect again a further distinction into the Created and the Uncreate: to the latter of which we have defined the Holy Trinity to belong, to the former all that can exist or can be thought of after that.’3 Here then he lays out what seems to be for him the primary division all that exists, namely the division of the Intelligible and the Sensible worlds. In addition, below the Intelligible world he ranks another, apparently secondary, division—that of the uncreated and the created. However, and here the puzzling contradiction comes into play, in Book VIII, in an apparent retraction he declares that the ‘ultimate division of all that exists is made by the line between ‘created’ and ‘uncreated,’ the one being regarded as a cause of what has come into being, the other as coming into being thereby.’ We are confronted here with a contradiction in Gregory’s ontology in which he declares not one, but two divisions to be ultimate! How then are we to understand Nyssa’s ruling ontology, what is the true governing trope? I believe that a consideration of the rhetorical contexts in which both divisions are situated bears out that the διαίρεσις είς τό κτιστόν καί άκτιστον, the uncreated/created division (hereafter UCD) is Gregory’s governing trope, and a further ‘hierarchy of ontology’ can be observed in which the intelligible/sensible division (hereafter ISD), as well as any other division considered, fall below UCD in importance and meaning.

The incarnation of Christ, the understanding of which plays a pivotal role in the argument between Gregory and Eunomius, functions as a transgression of ISD which cannot be accounted for on its own terms. It is in the incarnation that Gregory claims in which the uncreated nature takes on created nature, or if were to put it in the terms of ISD, the Intelligible becomes Sensible. ISD then breaks down on the terms of the ontological argument formulated by Nyssa: pace Eunomius it is the Only-begotten God, the eternal Logos consubstantial in ουσία with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who takes on human nature. Which is to say—the ISD division has no purchase in Nyssa’s argument against Anomoeanism—the long established Platonic division of νοητόν vs. αίσθητόν could not account for the incarnation and consequently a more radical division had to be construed, a division along the lines of being instead of mere noetic intelligibility, of forms and perception. It is significant to note that ISD only appears early in CE, before Gregory has detailed the implications of the ‘enfleshed’ uncreated nature of the pre-temporal Logos in Jesus of Nazareth. Only at this early juncture of his treatise does Gregory insist that

… the ultimate division of all being is into the Intelligible and the Sensible. The Sensible world is called by the Apostle broadly ‘that which is seen.’ For as all body has colour, and the sight apprehends this, he calls this world by the rough and ready name of ‘that which is seen,’… The common term, again, for all the intellectual world, is with the Apostle ‘that which is not seen:’ by withdrawing all idea of comprehension by the senses he leads the mind on to the immaterial and intellectual.4

Alongside the handful of references to ISD, featured only in early chapters of Book I, no further mention of ISD in all of CE occurs. After establishing the incarnation along orthodox lines, Gregory then no longer refers to the ultimate division of being as ISD, but strictly identifies UCD as the ultimate ontological distinction of all that exists. The argument is formulated such that in the incarnation the unity of person does not violate the division of being: for Gregory, as it is for the pro-Nicene party, in the incarnate Christ essential integrity endures in the en-hypostatized union of the two distinct natures: the divine uncreated nature and the human nature are united without confusion or mixture. The implications for Gregory was that he could no longer fall back on the Platonic division of ISD to counter Anomoeanism—Gregory on several occasions makes it clear that both the created and uncreated nature belong to the Intelligible, indicating ISD was incapable to establish divinity of the Son.5 In the tussle with Arianism this meant that it was within the terms of ISD (for Eunomius) to claim that Christ was a creature, and thus essentially unlike the Father, while yet belonging to the Intelligible world. Gregory then had to employ a more fundamental distinction along ontological lines—the absolute, binary distinction between the uncreated and created nature. He could then maintain that the Only-begotten and the Holy Spirit shared the same self-existent, uncreated ουσία as of the Father, in contrast to all other existence which is created, derivative, acquired by participation. Gregory summarizes: ‘The whole controversy, then, between the Church and the Anomoeans turns on this: Are we to regard the Son and the Holy Spirit as belonging to the created or the uncreated existence?’6 The primary ontological ‘division of being’ for Nyssa then is that between the ‘uncreate’ self-existence and all other existence which is, in stark contrast, dependent on its existence on the uncreated Creator. The ontological gulf spans an infinite interval of dissimilarity; all other bifurcations fall under this primary division.

Division of Being: God and Creation

Having identified the ultimate division to be along the lines of uncreated/created being it is now necessary to take a closer look at how Gregory utilizes UCD, why it is the division of ontology is indispensable to his argument against Eunomius. As noted, the overriding concern in CE is to effectively demonstrate the divinity of Christ without compromising the humanity in the incarnation—to do so Gregory must formulate two metaphysical concepts simultaneously to avoid the construal of a multiplicity of gods on the one hand, and identifying creation with the Godhead on the other. He must allow for multiplicity within divinity whilst demonstrating radical dissimilarity of divinity from all other, that is to say non-divine, existence. Demonstrating Christ’s divinity, to put it in modern day language, he is to avoid polytheism, maintaining Christ’s humanity he is to avoid pantheism. Unity on the basis of being is how Gregory includes multiple subjects without division within the Godhead: ‘… we must not divide our faith amongst a plurality of beings, but must recognize no difference of being in three Subjects or Persons, whereas our opponents posit a variety and unlikeness amongst them as Beings.’7 Elsewhere he states, ‘divided as Persons, though united in their being.’8 It is then on the level of being, of ουσία, that unity is established by Gregory, pace Eunomius, and thereby he is able to avoid the charge of polytheism whilst insisting on the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. There are three subjects, but not three gods. God is one, as there is ‘no difference of being,’ whereas there is a difference according to προσώποις καί ύποστάσεσι. The three Subjects then have in common the one being—the question arises as to the nature of what is in common—does multiplicity not introduce pantheism, blurring the identity of existence, all existence? Not for Nyssa, for according to him the divine nature is radically dissimilar from all other being, ‘wide, indeed, is the interval in all else that divides the human from the divine; experience cannot point here below to anything at all resembling in amount what we may guess at and imagine there.’9 He introduces the unique divine attribute (held in common by the three divine persons) which sets it apart from all non-divine existence, ‘we regard it as consummately perfect and incomprehensibly excellent yet as containing clear distinctions within itself which reside in the peculiarities of each of the Persons: as possessing invariableness by virtue of its common attribute of uncreatedness, but differentiated by the unique character of each Person.’10 The divine nature is άκτιστον, uncreated. By raising an absolute διαίρεσις between the uncreated and created nature, the division of being UCD, he prevents pantheism: identities of each existence remain unmixed, separated one from the other according to its unique and distinct nature.

The division of being construed by Gregory is so fundamental and of such importance that to alter its meaning would be set to aside the very Gospel: ‘our conception of existences is divided into two, the creation and the uncreated Nature, if … we should say that the Son of God is created, we should be absolutely compelled either to set at naught the proclamation of the Gospel, and to refuse to worship that God the Word Who was in the beginning.’ Following this error of thought, if one were to worship the Son, then one puts ‘… the created and the Uncreated on the same level of honour; seeing that if, according to our adversaries’ opinion, even the created God is worshipped, though having in His nature no prerogative above the rest of the creation, and if this view should get the upper hand, the doctrines of religion will be entirely transformed to a kind of anarchy and democratic independence.’11 The stakes then are extremely high, and he returns to it time and again in his argument; in no uncertain terms the division of being must be upheld and each nature remain distinct and separate, the creator from that which is created: ‘now to create and to be created are not equivalent, but all existent things being divided into that which makes and that which is made, each is different in nature from the other, so that neither is that uncreated which is made, nor is that created which effects the production of the things that are made.’12 The division of being is fundamental to Gregory’s argument and serves a dual purpose: the ontological identity of divinity is juxtaposed to created existence and thus allows him to make an absolute distinction between God and creation, whilst establishing the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Absolute Ontological Divide

The division of being for Gregory functions as a binary under which all other divisions are placed, which is to say that there is only one division which governs all other divisions. This could be represented as follows:

Uncreated    ≠    Created

Intelligible   ≠    Intelligible /Sensible
Infinite         ≠    Finite
Necessary    ≠    Contingent

Ranking order of the subordinate divisions is not of importance to Gregory. They are used interchangeably with no particular hierarchy, with the only exception that UCD is presented as the governing trope from which all other tropes derive their meaning in relation to it. I have used the not equals symbol ≠ to indicate that the binary division represents acute difference (‘otherness’ if you will) to the point of signifying mutual exclusive opposition one in contrast to the other. Each side of the division is said to be unlike, dissimilar to, the other, so that the division serves as what Nyssa calls an ύπεναντίος13, or opposition, representing a logical and absolute contrary. For Gregory there can be no middle ground, each side of the division constitutes an undeniable contradiction of its opposite, for ‘the difference between contradictories is not one of greater or less intensity, but rests its opposition upon their being mutually exclusive in their signification: as, for example, we say that a man is asleep or not asleep, sitting or not sitting, that he was or was not, and all the rest after the same model, where the denial of one is the assertion of its contradictory.’14 In this framework of opposition then Gregory affirms that the uncreated is said to be self-existent (‘owning the same cause of His being’ as he puts it), without beginning or cause—the uncreated does not become, but simply ‘is’—and there was never a time when the uncreated was not. The created, however, for the reason of being created, cannot be self-existent (for if it were, it would be uncreated), has a cause for its existence, with a beginning in time (‘a time when it was not’), and is always in a state of becoming. The antithesis serves as a demarcation of setting apart the divine uncreated nature from created nature, so that it is said the two contrasting sides have, at least as far as their essential natures are concerned, nothing in common. Gregory utilizes this radical disjunction in his argument to demonstrate the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He posits that ‘… as the creation was effected by the Only-begotten, in order to secure that the Spirit should not be considered to have something in common with this creation because of His having been manifested by means of the Son, He is distinguished from it by His unchangeableness, and independence of all external goodness. The creation does not possess in its nature this unchangeableness.’15 So we see then that the idea of opposition and antithesis is key to understanding Nyssa’s division of being and its role in his argument for the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As if anticipating criticism for posing an ontology of opposition, Gregory leans on the prophets and apostles to support his position,

And let no one think it unreasonable that the creature should be set in opposition to God, but have regard to the prophets and to the Apostles. For the prophet says in the person of the Father, ‘My Hand made all these things’, meaning by ‘Hand,’ in his dark saying, the power of the Only-begotten. Now the Apostle says that all things are of the Father, and that all things are by the Son, and the prophetic spirit in a way agrees with the Apostolic teaching…so that we are hereby taught the difference of nature between the created and the uncreated, and it is shown that, in its own nature, that which makes is one thing and that which is produced is another.16

Below it is noted that the ontology of an absolute division of opposites poses some difficulties for Gregory, but here a brief summary of the main aspects of the uncreated and create being is in order. The unique, uncreated nature of God, Gregory notes the main dimensions or attributes which belong to God exclusively and in contrast to created being: divine immutability, infinity, simplicity, perfection and aseity. Uncreated nature ‘does not possess the good by acquisition, or participate only in the goodness of some good which lies above it: in its own essence it is good, and is conceived as such: it is a source of good, it is simple, uniform, incomposite …’17 Divine immutability signifies God is unchanging as meaning that He ‘always is identical with himself,’18 for the divine nature does not degenerate, neither becomes nor is altered in any way. This also means for Gregory that there is no ‘reckoning of time’, that there is no prior, during or after—immutability then means a timelessness, or perhaps more accurately, that all is instant and simultaneous to God, there is no succession of events or passing of time. As he puts it, ‘…within that transcendent and blessed Power all things are equally present as in an instant: past and future are within its all-encircling grasp and its comprehensive view.’19 Closely related for Gregory is the absence of a beginning and end for God, and this signifies the infinity of God’s existence: God always exists, there was never a time when God was not, ‘He is always to be apprehended as in existence; He admits not a time when He was not, and when He will not be.’20 Gregory calls infinity ‘divine illimitation’ marking the absolute absence of limitation whatsoever for the uncreated nature. But infinity not only speaks to the absence of time, but also to the absence of dimension in space: there is no spatial extension to God and this points to simplicity—the divine nature is not composed of parts. This simplicity signifies the incomposition of the divine nature: God is one and simple for if God were composite this would denote a limit—a beginning and end of a particular attribute of the divine nature. But for Gregory, God’s being, his existence, will or power, does not have limits of any kind whatsoever. God is therefore ‘unlimited in goodness.’ What this means is that for God attributes are not possessed, as one who participates in, shares partially in, something or someone else. For God, unlike created existence, attributes are identical to His being: God is what He has or what He does. Thus Gregory can assert that ‘God is truth’ or ‘God is love.’

God then does not change, exists infinitely without beginning or end, and is simple without composition. Quite naturally for Gregory divine perfection is another aspect of uncreated, divine being: God was, is and will be always be perfect, without necessity of anything or anyone whatsoever. Perfection denotes then an absence of ‘increase and loss,’ for nothing could be added to make the divine nature perfect. Gregory grounds perfection then in immutability, for God neither becomes, nor comes into being: He is always perfect and without need nor dependency on anything outside himself. This for Gregory then also points to divine aseity: the divine nature is self-existent, complete without dependency on something outside itself, nor contingent in any way. For uncreated existence then there is nothing that is greater than, or prior to, itself.

Divine self-existence Gregory calls the ‘only true existence’—all other existence, created existence, in contrast, is contingent, subject to and participating in something greater and prior to itself. Gregory’s understanding of created being in CE can be summarized as follows: it is wholly contingent and derivative—it comes into being out of nothingness by the command, or Logos, of God by whose will and goodness it derives its existence and its ultimate fulfillment. Likewise it will, or at least can, return to the state of nothingness or non-existence. Created existence comes into being, there was a time when it was not, and as such it is mutable, subject to change, time, and limitation. Mutability also signifies a degenerative degeneration according to Gregory, and this means that it possesses itself partially, in degrees—it merely participates by a smaller or greater measure in the Good, in Truth, in Love, etc.; change then is a movement towards or away from its Cause. Gregory explains that created existence, because it has its origin from God, is drawn to God who is the Good and its Cause. Quite interestingly there exists a ‘natural’ attraction to God, a quest which like its Cause is in some way infinite in that it is a ceaseless movement towards the divine, never ‘overtaking its Object’ but always, infinitely moving towards it. The creature then is never able to reach its Good, although it does paradoxically attain it truly and in measure, for its goal is always infinitely beyond its reach.21 In every consideration then created being is the ‘contrary opposition’, ύπεναντίος, of the uncreated. Whereas the uncreated is perfect, simple and infinite, having no spatial or temporal extensions limits, nor ‘inactualized’ power, the created is defined by limitation of place, time, unrealized potential, fragmentation and composition. For Gregory this is then the fundamental reality of all that exists, the fabric of the cosmos (and beyond), the metaphysical conceptualization of which he returns to time and again.

Creation.jpg~original.jpegThe absolute division of being raises an important question—in what way can theology proceed, speak about God, given the infinite interval of dissimilarity? Can words and concepts, grounded as they are in created existence bound by finitude, accurately signify divinity which knows no limits? Is it possible for the finite to signify the uncreated at all? Gregory recognizes this problematic and addresses it in several passages. At one point he posits an apophatic epistemological abyss which does not allow for univocal signification of ‘those matters which transcend language’ whatsoever: ‘wide, indeed, is the interval in all else that divides the human from the divine; experience cannot point here below to anything all resembling in amount what we may guess at and imagine there.’22 Elsewhere he faults his interlocutor for speaking univocally about ‘generation’ and points to it as the source of Eunomius error, for he ‘has in view this material generation of ours, and is making the lower nature the teacher of his conceptions concerning the Only-begotten God …’ The generation as applied to uncreated nature is fundamentally dissimilar to created generation. Gregory concludes that concerning created an uncreated existence, ‘we must by no means conceive both by means of similar terms.’23 One can however theologize, following Nyssa, but to do so is not possible by univocal/equivocal means. Rather it is by way of analogy and the admission of the symbolic quality of our concepts—although words can signify the uncreated in truth, words always remains ineffably dissimilar and beyond the bounds of our complete comprehension. So it is that utilization of anthropomorphic language is appropriate for ‘… it describes by terms well worn in human use, facts that are beyond every name, while by each of the terms employed concerning God we are led analogically to some more exalted conception.’24 To sum up then, the primary bifurcation of all ‘that is’ is according to the Cappadocian father an absolute and fundamental ontological divide between uncreated and created existence. This divide is indeed infinite, yet theology is possible by way of analogy and recognition of the limitations inherent in creaturely finitude.

Division as Sublimation

There is another, quite profound, function of Gregory’s formulation of UCD beyond division and opposition. That is to say that the division of being signifies for him not merely a fundamental opposition of absolute ύπεναντίος, but it also constitutes, as if it were counter-intuitively, a relation between the opposites, an interrelation grounded in ontology. Created existence, for Gregory, is always a work of, by, and for God—as such there is a sense in which the opposites of the division are inseparably related. On the one hand we see the infinite interval of difference, while on the other we see divine causation, sustenance, and presence in creation. The tension between the difference and relation is demonstrated by means of Gregory’s formulation of so-called absolute and relative names of God. The absolute names, such as ‘immortality’, ‘infinity’, ‘simplicity’, denote divine aseity (the name containing ‘in itself a complete thought about the Deity’25); the relative names signify God in relation, such as ‘savior’, ‘healer’, ‘conqueror’, etc. He also supposes names which signify both difference and relation at the same time, such as ‘God’ and ‘good’. The significance of this lies far beyond an abstract theory of the meaning and signification of words—for Nyssa the very possibility of salvation of creation is at stake. It is the absolute difference, the ontological opposition which makes God ‘God’ and not a being among beings, which constitutes the possibility and guarantee of salvation. Only the Creator who by nature, ουσία, is life and not merely participates by degree in that life, who is able to accomplish creaturely salvation. As Gregory explains it, the preternal Logos in the incarnation took ‘… to Himself humanity in completeness, and that He mingled His life-giving power with our mortal and perishable nature, and changed, by the combination with Himself, our deadness to living grace and power. And this we declare to be the mystery of the Lord according to the flesh, that He Who is immutable came to be in that which is mutable, to the end that altering it for the better, and changing it from the worse.’26

The ontological division is always already for Gregory a sublimation of transcendence, a relation of absolute difference and ‘otherness’ to the ύπεναντίος of creation. It is UCD that secures the very possibility for immanence, the revelation of God in creation. When, and only when, contrary to Eunomius, the infinite interval of dissimilarity is maintained in the division between the uncreated and created, can the presence of the divine be a reality. Few indeed would dispute that Gregory’s radical ‘ontology of being’ as presented in Contra Eunomium was an effective argument against Arianism to establish the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. His vision of an absolute division, and relation, of ‘all that exists’, however, has a use beyond the fourth century Christological debates—contemporary debates about the doctrine of God, and theologies concerning God-world relationship would be served well by paying close attention to Gregory of Nyssa’s metaphysics.


[1] Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium (hereafter CE) VIII (NPNF V, 208). Note: all references to works of Gregory in this essay are from NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1880ff.)
[2] CE. p. 60
[3] CE, p. 62-63
[4] CE, p. 60
[5] That ISD is defunct can be observed during the late stages of his argument against Eunomius, in Book XI, in which Gregory quotes Eunomius and demonstrates the central disagreement is over ontology of being and has formulated his rhetoric accordingly. The passage starts with a quote from Eunomius: ‘‘We affirm that the Son is not only existent, and above all existent things, but we also call Him Lord and God, the Maker of every being, sensible and intelligible.’’ Gregory then follows, ‘What does he suppose this ‘being’ to be—created or uncreated? For if he confesses Jesus to be Lord, God, and Maker of all intelligible being, it necessarily follows, if he says it is uncreated, that he speaks falsely, ascribing to the Son the making of the uncreated Nature. But if he believes it to be created, he makes Him His own Maker.’ CE, p. 237
[6] CE, p. 56
[7] CE, p. 57
[8] CE, p. 74
[9] CE, p. 93
[10] CE, p. 61, italics added for emphasis.
[11] CE, p. 172
[12] CE, p. 116
[13] Ύπεναντίος denotes a very strong sense of opposition, and can be used to signify ‘hostile adversary’. See Walter Bauer, A Greek –English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1979), p 838.
[14] CE, p. 248, see also p. 98-101.
[15] CE, p.61, italics added for emphasis.
[16] CE, p.194, italics added for emphasis. It is of interest to note that for Eunomius (as his position is related to us by Gregory) opposition plays a pivotal role in his ontology as well. The key difference is however that for Eunomius opposition of nature is placed within the Godhead, an opposition Eunomius bases not on the particular characteristics of each Person, e.g. the Father is unlike the Son and the Holy Spirit based on personal differences, but in respect of a difference of nature by reason of ‘generate’ and ‘ungenerate’. Eunomius claims the Son is of a created nature in contrast as that of the divinity of the Father by reason of the Son’s is generated whereas the Father is ‘ungenerated’. Gregory returns to this argument re: άγγεννετος repeatedly and thus the issue of division of being, and where to place it, looms large in CE. See page 143 for an example of this argument.
[17] CE, p. 60. Elsewhere he states ‘For It does not perceive any other good outside of Itself, by participation in which It could acquire any accession, but is always immutable, neither casting away what It has, nor acquiring what It has not: for none of Its properties are such as to be cast away.’ P. 103.
[18] See CE, p. 90. ‘but that which the God now existing is He always is….He is always identical with Himself,’ and ‘we must remember God is not a compound; whatever He is is the whole of Him’.
[19] CE, p. 70
[20] The scope of this essay does not permit to go into further detail. This quote is taken from a fascinating passage on the eternity of God, see p. 98ff. Gregory uses the notion of timelessness to argue for the divinity of Christ, frequently alluding to the opening verses of the Gospel John.
[21] CE, p. 62. Gregory construes a fascinating understanding of the capacity of created nature to receive the infinity: ‘The First Good is in its nature infinite, and so it follows of necessity that the participation in the enjoyment of it will be infinite also, for more will be always being grasped, and yet something beyond that which has been grasped will always be discovered, and this search will never overtake its Object, because its fund is as inexhaustible as the growth of that which participates in it is ceaseless.’
[22] CE, p 93ff
[23] CE, p. 206-210
[24] CE, p. 2044. For an extended treatment on this issue, see CE Books VIII and IX.
[25] CE, p. 88
[26] CE, p. 179

Copyright © 2016 Robert F. Fortuin. All rights reserved.

Robert F. Fortuin is Adjunct Professor of Orthodox Theology at St Katherine’s College in San Diego, California. He has frequently commented on Eclectic Orthodoxy under the alias “apophaticallyspeaking.”

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37 Responses to Division of Being in St Gregory of Nyssa’s Contra Eunomium

  1. brian says:

    Well done, Robert. If I might compactly recapitulate some of the more important assertions drawn from Nyssa: The radical transcendence of God from creation requires the Absolute difference between UnCreated and created Being. The simplicity of UnCreated Being is imaged by complex created being. The creature’s bearing of the trace of the Creator is paradoxically to be found in the creature’s dissimilarity from God. Any attempt to speak Being univocally refuses the fundamental gulf between UnCreated and created, implicitly rejecting the difference that makes a redemptive transfiguration of created existence possible. I would further emphasize the conjunction of several important elements: where you have the transcendent, ungraspable, simplicity of the Good one also has a participation metaphysics. Properly understood, this also implies the priority of relation over essence, the mysteric/sign bearing nature of created being, the analogy of being as coincident with being’s dual nature as both receptive and communicative. In my opinion, the modern turn towards univocal being rejects the entire nexus adverted to above. This plays out as a strong disjunction between theology and ontology. Ironically, the loss of radical difference is also the loss of divine intimacy with creation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:


      Thank you. Yes indeed, this loss of difference and intimacy of which you speak and which is encountered in so much of ‘theologizing’ going on today, this loss is a main motivating factor for my work. My interest lies in Nyssa’s approach of theology-by-analogy. The priority of relation over essence – this too is quite interesting: in our quest to make God capable of creaturely relation our modern intuition leads us to erase difference, to make God less different. This is where patristic insight has much to bring to the table.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. thomas says:

    I enjoyed the lucid discussion of Gregory of Nyssa’s metaphysics. Are further posts planned? I’d be interested in hearing in more detail on how Gregory discusses the simplicity of uncreated being with the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Given recent posts, I’d also be interested to hear how the created/uncreated distinction bears is taken up (or not taken up) in the later essence/energies distinction of Palamas and his commentators.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:


      Yes, quite certainly other essays will follow as this is part of my PhD research project (University of Aberdeen). Just a few brief thoughts on the topics you raise:

      Divine simplicity features quite prominently in Gregory’s writings, he often links DS to divine perfection, the understanding that nothing can be added (or subtracted), God the Trinity is complete, without need, always completely Himself in all things. As such then creation and the incarnation are gratuitous, utterly unnecessary, making these ‘events in time’ all the more remarkable.

      As far as the Incarnation. What my research thus far has allowed me to conclude is that Gregory’s ‘division of being’ provides him the proper metaphysical framework by which to understand and explain the Incarnation – the ontological division of being remains in tact whilst yet, paradoxically, the most intimate of relations between the opposites takes place. It is takes place in the confines of time and space, and personally by God-self no less. Of course this is what is theologically expressed as the hypostatic union, the ‘taking on’ of human nature in His person, and what is furthermore known as the communicatio idiomatum, the interpenetration of the essential properties of each essence without mixture and confusion. The point is that without the division of being in place, the orthodox understanding of the incarnation, truly Christology in its entirety, would break down. Without a sound ontological footing, interpenetration of essential properties turns into confusion of identity, such as pantheism or polytheism. Or alternatively, interpenetration does not take place at all – that is to say that Christ is only God, or only man.

      I am quite critical of the Essence/Energy distinction, at least as it has been popularized the last 100 years or so. Like David Hart, I don’t have much use for it.


  3. Tom says:

    Univocally speaking, it’s good to meet you Robert! Clear and well-written!

    I’m reading a couple of works on Scotus. Pray for me as I feel drawn to certain aspects of his theory of univocity! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Thank you Tom. Scotus is not all bad, I would say that his approach to univocal predication is most problematic. Let’s us know what you find out.

      -Robert (formerly apophaticallyspeaking)


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Of course you are drawn to Scotus, Tom. We all know that you are a radical Protestant modernist. And probably a nominalist to boot! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • brian says:

        Poor, benighted fella, he does try.

        And Scotus is sound in his intuition that the Incarnation would have happened even if there had been no Fall. Hart pointed out his strong insight into the epistemological importance of intentionality; the loving soul sees more. So, Scotus is not all bad, but Tom will like him for all the wrong reasons. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Robert, I was hoping you might clarify something for me. In your paper you characterize God as Intelligible. How does that parse with the Cappadocian insistence that the divine essence is incomprehensible? Was this not in fact a point of contention between the Cappadocians and Eunomius?


    • Rob says:

      Not Robert but maybe I’m close enough. I think the issue is that for Robert (and also for Gregory) “incomprehensible” and “unintelligible” are not synonyms. In fact, God’s incomprehensibility stems from his infinite intelligibility. Comprehensible here means to take something into the intellect and, in a sense, make it subject to it. However, this is surely impossible for a finite being to do with God who is infinite. Even so, as Robert touches on here, Gregory is quite clear that we are quite naturally drawn toward a knowledge of God. If God is infinite Goodness, Truth, and Beauty (which is really just the same as saying he is infinitely intelligible), he is the true aim of our all true desire, all the things here below and above, both in the sensible and intelligible realm owe there existence to Him by way of participation. As God is infinite and we finite our movement towards Him, is necessarily ecstatic and endless. To put it tersely, we will never get to the bottom of Him. This is also, incidentally, why I tend to side with those who find the essence/ energy distinction (at least as I currently understand it) less that illuminating. When Thomists or what have you speak of taking in the infinity of God in a necessarily finite mode they do not mean, as some E/E defenders tacitly seem to think, they are receiving some “abridged” version of God’s infinity somehow presented in finite form, as if humans were doing something akin to receiving the more “accessible” version of Shakespeare’s plays my mother gave me when I was child. Rather we receive that “knowledge” (by which I really mean intimacy) of God that we can and we are led on endlessly to seek it ever more. (Gregory gives a good discussion of this in the Life of Moses) However, as Augustine would note we do not seek it insatiably, ravenously or desperately (this would make us what he calls the “curious person” who seeks to dominate knowledge and make it his), but rather we desire more because we love and appreciate what we have already been given (the mark of the studious person). In other words we are always, in a sense, satiated on our journey toward God, but are incited to proceed ever forward but the loving way in which God continues to present himself to us. Hope this adds something to discussion and I must cite Paul Griffths’ Intellectual Appetite as an excellent aid to my thoughts here.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Well put, Rob.

        St Gregory states at one point in book 1 of CE that time flows from infinity, which is quite profound, indicating if you will a compatibility of infinity and time. Note however that he does not compromise the division, even while indicating the relation of time to infinity:

        It is clear, even with a moderate insight into the nature of things, that there is nothing by which we can measure the divine and blessed Life. It is not in time, but time flows from it; whereas the creation, starting from a manifest beginning, journeys onward to its proper end through spaces of time; so that it is possible, as Solomon somewhere says, to detect in it a beginning, an end, and a middle; and mark the sequence of its history by divisions of time. But the supreme and blessed life has no time-extension accompanying its course, and therefore no span nor measure.

        The compatibility between the infinite and the finite shouldn’t surprise us as the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo indicates as much. Space, time, matter, finitude, it all comes from the infinite life of God-self, ‘flowing’ from nothing without intermission, without intermediary. We have the tendency, time and again, to want to ‘abridge’ as you say, the infinite interval of difference in an effort to relate the infinite to the finite. The interjection of a distinction between divine essence and energy as suggested by neo Palamite theologies functions as such an abridgment.


    • Robert Fortuin says:

      St Gregory uses the platonic Intelligible/Sensible bifurcation of being, which at one time he identifies as the ultimate division (άνωτάτω διαίρεσις). Early in Contra Eunomium he falls back on this, as if perhaps out of habit from his exposure to and familiarity with Hellenistic pre-Christian metaphysics. He later develops what I contend to be his true άνωτάτω διαίρεσις, along the lines of uncreate/created existence. As an aside, this uncreate/created division of being is picked up later, not insignificantly, by St Maximus Confessor, although I am not sure if the later saint obtains this directly from Gregory’s works or by means of other and additional sources. In all likelihood it was through a variety of patristic sources, but I could be wrong. Back to the point – intelligible here does not denote comprehensibility. Rather, intelligible being is juxtaposed to the sensible world which is comprehended by the finite senses. Intelligibility then carries with it the notion of illimitation, of existence and being marked by infinity. Intelligibility always remains beyond exhaustive comprehension and does not, as such, constitute a problematic for the construal of the incomprehensibility of the divine nature. How the incomprehensibility of divine essence functions in Gregory’s scheme of things, this is a question I am looking into, as I am not convinced it is as plain and simple as it is often portrayed (for instance in anachronistic projections of Palamite theologies onto Nyssa).


  5. Rob says:

    Oh and I somehow forgot to say: great article Robert. Very much enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dale Tuggy says:

    Glaring non sequitur in the opening quote! Note the yawning gap between 1 & 2 and 3.

    1. X is uncreated.
    2. Y is uncreated.
    3 There is no term which applies to both X and Y in the same, or in similar senses.

    Let me suggest “exists” as such a term. “X exists necessarily and independently.” “Y exists contingently and dependently.” These statements together entail “X exists, and Y exists.” Even if, I suggest, a revered “father” says otherwise.


    • Tom says:

      I agree 3 doesn’t follow from 1 & 2 as is. More has to be said to establish meanings for ‘uncreated’ and ‘created’ in terms of which 3 would follow. But in fairness to GN in that quote, I don’t think he means to be explicit. I’m sure he’s explicit throughout his works and assumes agreement on certain commitments. That said, he does bridge the move from 1 & 2 to 3 with “Now, the created nature and the Divine essence being thus divided, and admitting no intermixture in respect of their distinguishing properties” before he concludes “we must be no means conceive of both by means of similar terms.”

      So the flow of his argument is more this:

      1. X is uncreated.
      2. Y is created.
      3. X and Y admit no intermixture in respect of their distinguishing properties.
      4. There is no term which applies to both X and Y in the same, or in similar senses.

      Whether or not, and in what senses, 3 is true is another question and one about which I doubt GN is silent on throughout his writing. I don’t mean to argue for or against it. I’m just saying that he’s not guilty of a non sequitur. Would you agree with that much, Dale?

      That said, I’m very new to Scotus, just getting into him, but I think he’d agree that (4) is false. Doesn’t he argue precisely that “being” (actually, if I’m reading Cross’ summary rightly, it’s “infinite being”) that’s the proper, univocal attribution?



      • Tom says:

        I meant “Y is created” (not both X and Y uncreated). I think you have them both as uncreated too, Dale. Oops.


      • Tom,

        To understand GN, I believe one has to look at point 3 carefully, with emphasis on ‘distinguishing’. So if we take infinity as an example of a distinguishing property (which exclusively applies to one, and not to the other) there cannot be an intermixture without compromising the meaning of the division and that of the terms employed. Point 4 then stands only insofar as it applies to distinguishing properties. For shared properties, however, there are terms which apply to both X and Y in a sense similar. Being, for instance, is not a distinguishing property, hence applies to both albeit in different modalities.


    • Tom says:


      I don’t always agree with what classical theists think is implied in God’s being Being and not a being, but I do agree there’s a very helpful sense in which we ought to agree God isn’t “a” being in the sense that he’s just another item on the inventory of things that exist or that he exists in all the essential ways created things exist (chiefly in, as, or by means of temporal becoming). If we don’t say something like this then God is essentially a disembodied but supersized human being who has a necessity operator in front of him. I know some believe that supersized being is precisely what we need God to be, but my own existential needs (who functions independently of them, right?) tend in different directions.

      It seems to me that necessity of being (or aseity) can’t be just an added fixture upon being, a fixture God enjoys and we don’t such that “what” we are and “what” God is are the same “what” but that God is this “what” without failure while we become this “what” and can cease to be it (by ceasing to be). Necessary/uncreated being is so categorically unique it constitutes its own “what.” I say this because it seems definitionally true that to exist necessarily or self-sufficiently, “what” one is is something which cannot be instantiated contingently. If saying “God is Being and not ‘a’ being” helps us get at this categorically exceptional nature of divine being, I’m OK with saying it. I don’t think it exiles all conceivable unrealized potentiality from God, but that’s another issue.

      I have lots of questions myself, but that’s sort of where I am.



  7. Hi Dale,

    The non-sequitur is on purpose to draw attention to the wide interval of dissimilarity between uncreated and created existence. In St Gregory’s words, ‘the gulf between these worlds is the real measure of the separation of meanings.’ NPNF V, p 93. But nevertheless, yes Gregory would agree that both X and Y exist. It is a whole other question of course as to what existence means for X and for Y – the answer to that question requires an unqualified dose of ‘separation of meanings’.


  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Robert, a question:

    Which “school” does Gregory fall into: God is Being, God is Above Being, or God is a being.

    The answer, I think, might be germane to understanding how Gregory might respond to the alleged sequitur noted by Dale.


    • Robert Fortuin says:

      That’s a good question Fr Aidan.

      Briefly, I believe for Gregory God is both ‘Being’ and ‘above Being’. God is the latter in the sense that He is above or ‘more than’ the sum of all existent being. Which is to say that neither any one being nor the sum of all being is equal to or above uncreated divine being and existence, where the inequality constitutes an infinite qualitative gulf of ontological differentiation. Gregory employs phrases such as ‘the real measure of the separation of meanings’ to point to the ontological break between created being and uncreate being which is above all other being. God is the former in the sense that He is the source of all being, as Nyssa’s use of the appellation ‘Truly Existent One’ signifies. As fount of being God is not merely ‘one of many beings’ but Being itself. Another way of expressing this is to say that God is what he has, which can only be said of a ‘Truly Existent One.’

      How do you see that this applies to Dale’s comment?


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I’m not sure what I am suggesting, Robert. Perhaps you can help me here. But it seems to me that “existence” is a difficult concept. I checked out the Stanford Encyclopedia page on the topic and found that it’s a matter of some controversy in philosophical circles. Is it a property? If not, what then?

        If this is so for finite beings, then how much more controversial must it be to maintain that “exists” means the same thing in these statements:

        God (Being or Beyond Being) exists.

        Dogs exist.

        Tom Belt exists.

        Now I know that dogs exist, and I’m fairly confident that Tom Belt exists (though he may have fooled all of us); but things become murkier when it comes to the One who is Existence or who exists Beyond Existence. It’s not like debating whether fairies exist.


        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Controversial indeed! This is a burden theologians of the analytical persuasion must carry, luckily not us ‘mystical types’. 🙂

          Gregory demonstrates the failure of univocal signification in various passages in CE, here’s an example in which he refers to ordinary human language taken to mean something quite different when applied to signify divine existence, a similarity pointing to a greater dissimilarity. Language he says is ‘taken from human life to illustrate symbolically divine things.’ He then explains what he means by this, it is worth quoting at length.

          As, then, each one of these names has a human sound, but not a human meaning, so also that of Father, while applying equally to life divine and human, hides a distinction between the uttered meanings exactly proportionate to the difference existing between the subjects of this title. We think of man’s generation one way; we surmise of the divine generation in another. A man is born in a stated time; and a particular place must be the receptacle of his life; without it it is not in nature that he should have any concrete substance: whence also it is inevitable that sections of time are found enveloping his life; there is a Before, and With, and After him. It is true to say of any one whatever of those born into this world that there was a time when he was not, that he is now, and again there will be time when he will cease to exist; but into the Eternal world these ideas of time do not enter; to a sober thinker they have nothing akin to that world. He who considers what the divine life really is will get beyond the ‘sometime,’ the ‘before,’ and the ‘after,’ and every mark whatever of this extension in time; he will have lofty views upon a subject so lofty; nor will he deem that the Absolute is bound by those laws which he observes to be in force in human generation.

          It is of interest in all this to point out, and this is most relevant to our conversation here, that according to St Gregory the fundamental error Eunomius commits is univocal signification. According to Eunomius the Son is generated in the same manner as humans are generated, indicating a beginning in time.

          Allow me yet another passage of Gregory which addresses your concern. Here we see that divine existence is contrasted with created existence. Divine existence is ‘in an ineffable way’, our existence is by ‘our individual share’ in It, whose Being does not have a distinctive attribute, which makes it that our created being has ‘nothing in common’ with It. Again, worth quoting in full:

          But the existence which is all-sufficient, everlasting, world-enveloping, is not in space, nor in time: it is before these, and above these in an ineffable way; self-contained, knowable by faith alone; immeasurable by ages; without the accompaniment of time; seated and resting in itself, with no associations of past or future, there being nothing beside and beyond itself, whose passing can make something past and something future. Such accidents are confined to the creation, whose life is divided with time’s divisions into memory and hope. But within that transcendent and blessed Power all things are equally present as in an instant: past and future are within its all-encircling grasp and its comprehensive view. This is the Being in which, to use the words of the Apostle, all things are formed; and we, with our individual share in existence, live and move, and have our being. It is above beginning, and presents no marks of its inmost nature: it is to be known of only in the impossibility of perceiving it. That indeed is its most special characteristic, that its nature is too high for any distinctive attribute. A very different account to the Uncreate must be given of Creation: it is this very thing that takes it out of all comparison and connection with its Maker; this difference, I mean, of essence, and this admitting a special account explanatory of its nature which has nothing in common with that of Him who made it. The Divine nature is a stranger to these special marks in the creation: It leaves beneath itself the sections of time, the ‘before’ and the ‘after,’ and the ideas of space: in fact ‘higher’ cannot properly be said of it at all. Every conception about that uncreate Power is a sublime principle, and involves the idea of what is proper in the highest degree.

          So it is that Gregory demonstrates the utter inadequacy of univocal theologies. And he is right, such ‘philosophies of men’ collapse the Uncreate/created distinction with catastrophic consequences to the meaning of the Christian faith. No wonder he got so worked up!


  9. Rob says:

    Dale, I see u move quickly into advocating a univocity of being, but I think that step unwarranted. First off, Gregory of Nyssa is not guilty of non sequitur there. You have to understand what it is that Gregory means by uncreated before you dismiss him so quickly. This may be an example of imposing one’s own tacit philosophical grammar on other systems of thought. (A quite easy thing to do.) When Gregory says uncreated he is does not simply mean “exists independently or “non-contingently”. Merely claiming this as a attribute of God would be rather arbitrary. You are talking about God’s necessity as if it was just a natural property He happens to possess (or concept he happens to instantiate, if you like), like me happening to possess blond hair. In opposition to this, to my mind, inadequate account of God’s necessity, and following an ancient tradition of thought, Gregory arrives at God’s necessity by essentially taking note of everything that makes the things of this world contingent: conditionality, composition, mutability, boundaries, and contrasts and exclusion, any external limits. These things denote the finite and of course God is infinite. In God there can be no unrealized potentialities otherwise he would be dependent upon some higher reality or some “more encompassing reality”. God cannot be the subject of a larger category called “being” that somehow encompasses us and him in the same way. Rather, if you want to get Thomistic, (though if I remember correctly you most certainly don’t), he is Being. But both the “beyond being” (which I would say Gregory is classified in) and “being” camps are, I think, saying the very same thing: God is not a being or anything like the community of existents that we come in contact with in the finite world rather: “He is in whom we (the created) live and move and have our being.” We arrive at God first and foremost from negation.

    Now to be quite honest I don’t know where exactly Gregory might argue for this (if I remember correctly they’re really interspersed all over many of his treatises because a huge theme for him his God’s infinity but Robert would no much better than I) because my edition of some his collected works (the very same version I see you have used here Robert, excellent taste) is in the sunny and oppressively hot land of Charleston, SC and I in strangely rainy France. But every word he says (or doesn’t say) about God assumes this understanding of God. The definition of God implicit in your univocal account in which God is definitely “a being” would be unintelligible to him (I don’t mean that mean-spiritedly I just genuinely mean he would not understand it). And from this brief sketch it should be clear why there is no term that applies to God, the uncreated, and the created in the same or similar manner: because to do so would be to presuppose a higher plain of being to which God is subject which would thus make him ultimately logically unnecessary. This doesn’t mean that we can’t speak of God analogically, after to all the finite world receives its being from him and thus reflects his nature in a limited mode. But the concepts we use to speak of him are not “above” they are below him or perhaps to put it better “in” him.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    For everyone’s interest. I posted a six-part series on St Basil & St Gregory two years ago. These articles touch on some of the same issues discussed here by Robert, though at times offering a different perspective. I encourage you to read them and bring back to Robert any questions my articles might have raised for you.

    The first article is titled “The Cappadocian Brothers and the Propria of God.” You will find a hyperlink at the bottom of each article that will take you to the next article in the series.


  11. Andrew Radde-Gallwitz says:

    Dear Robert,

    Fr Kimel invited me to have a look at your interesting article, and I’m glad he did. Thanks for this lucid account—I especially like how you handle Gregory’s view of theological language. The first section of the article does raise a question for me: given that Gregory views the UCD as more fundamental than the ISD, what do you think Gregory’s view of the ISD itself is? It seems to me that both within Against Eunomius and throughout his corpus, Gregory accepts the ISD fully (and even thinks that Paul cryptically endorsed it), though I’m not sure whether you agree. You say at one point that you think the intelligible-sensible distinction “breaks down,” but I’m not sure that I see this point.

    Warm regards,


    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hi Andy,

      Thank you for the kind words. The essay is a condensed version of research I am doing for a PhD thesis. It is a good question you raise about Gregory’s use and view of ISD, which I plan to address and expand upon in future work.

      To summarize – yes, indeed Gregory does accept and use ISD but it fails him most crucially as it pertains to the Incarnation, and the contention as to the meaning of the Incarnation is of course the central concern for Gregory in CE. This is my take on it: Whereas UCD can accommodate, indeed explicate, the Uncreate-become-flesh (that is, the Uncreate remains essentially unchanged, with pro-Nicene orthodoxy the ontological division is upheld), this cannot be said of ISD. Were ISD to be maintained, on its terms the Incarnation implies the Intelligible has become Sensible and the division is compromised. Such a collapse of division would lend support to either Miaphysitism (mixture of natures) and Arianism (rejection of divine nature). At any rate, ISD would call into question the disciples’ claim they encountered God-the-Word-become-sensible (i.e. perceivable by the physical senses), ‘that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands.’ (1 John 1:1) A question to be looked into is whether UCD is a result of, or rather a cause for, orthodox christology. It seems to me that for Gregory, at least at the time of writing CE, UCD hasn’t quite settled. Perhaps the use or disuse of ISD in later writings by him and others would shed light on this question. My intuition is to say that recourse to ISD falls out of favor by the middle of 5th century, but I could be wrong.

      Gregory, then, does use ISD but it is for him very limited in use against Eunomius’ claim that Christ is dissimilar in essence from God the Father.

      I hope that is of help, and convincing at that.

      – Robert


      • Andrew Radde-Gallwitz says:

        “Gregory, then, does use ISD but it is for him very limited in use against Eunomius’ claim that Christ is dissimilar in essence from God the Father.”

        I agree with that. Best wishes on your thesis!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, Andy. Thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment. While I have you on the line, as it were, I’d like to ask you about the St Gregory and the divine propria. When I read your book Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity two years ago, I recall (at least I think I recall) finding your chapter on Gregory less convincing than your chapters on St Basil with regard to the divine propria and divine simplicity. Robert’s article here raised this question anew for me. I have not read Gregory’s Contra Eunomium, hence I am not in a position to advance any criticism or even raise an intelligent question; but I would like to ask you this:

      Since the publication of your book, how have other patristic scholars received your view regarding Gregory and divine simplicity, and have you altered your views in any substantive way?


      • Andrew Radde-Gallwitz says:

        Thanks for reading the book! You asked about reviews, so this list of journals where reviews have appeared is pasted from my CV—sorry I don’t have more specific bibliographical details: Journal of Early Christian Studies, Classical Review, Theological Studies, International Journal of Systematic Theology, Journal of Theological Studies, Vigiliae Christianae, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Thomist, Journal of the History of Philosophy, Westminster Theological Review, and New Blackfriars.

        Most of the reviews have been positive. There have been criticisms of my reading of Gregory, though I’m not sure anything has really convinced me yet. Some have balked at the substance/essence distinction that appears in the work To the Greeks. That work, I will admit, is very odd. I think I’d stand by essentially what I said in that book, though I’d love to hear your criticisms. From my own reading since writing that book, I’ve come to see Gregory as even more slippery than I used to think. I’m currently writing on his notion of the activity of the Trinity—which I didn’t really touch on in the first book—and it seems he simply oscillates between diverse metaphors and models for it. Which I think is a strength for him as a writer. Peace, A.


      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Fr Aidan & Andy,

        A follow-up question about propria in relation to the Palamite essence/energy distinction – what are your thoughts as to the nature of the propria? Understood by the Cappadocian fathers are propria mere ‘conceptual’ identifying markers of the essence (as in ‘epinoia’ perhaps), or to be understood as a real distinction (from essence) within the Godhead?

        The nature of distinction is what fuels the essence/energy question and I am wondering if propria can be of help here.


  12. Alex Abecina says:


    Thanks for this post. I’d just add that the concept of diastema is also very important for Gregory’s understanding the division of being. Also, Alden Mosshammer wrote an interesting article on this very topic. Have you read it yet – sorry I don’t recall where to find the article? A few years ago I also wrote a brief monograph that dealt with this: “Time and Sacramentality in Gregory of Nyssa’s Contra Eunomium.” Perhaps you might find it helpful for your thesis (even if you disagree) if you can get your hands on it. I agree with you that Gregory treats the UCD as primary, despite the quotes you identify in CE. I would say the ICD continues to be of use to Gregory for his philosophy of language and thought, as well as his understanding of epinoia. To that extent I think that he does rely on it to some degree in his polemics against Eunomius.

    I hope there are more posts forthcoming!

    BTW, Fr. Kimel, I am an avid reader of this blog! Thank you!

    Alex Abecina

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hi Alex,

      Are you referring to Mosshammer’s article ‘Non-Being and Evil in Gregory of Nyssa’? I am familiar that piece and the implications of the diastemic difference between uncreate and created being for the nature of evil is indeed very interesting. It underscores in my mind the centrality of UCD, as it features frequently and prominently in Gregory’s thinking.

      In what way(s) does Gregory utilize ISD in his philosophy of language and epinoia? It seems to be worth exploring.

      I would like to see if I can get a copy of your book – is it available online perhaps?


      • Alex Abecina says:

        Yes, that’s the article I’m referring to. In response to your question, in Contra Eunomium, I think Gregory sees diastema applying to language and thought in slightly different ways, and that this is predicated on the ISD. On the one hand, the ISD places certain limits on what we can say about God. On the other hand, it allows for the possibility of intellectual ascent toward God. The monograph is available through Australian Catholic University’s Centre for Early Christian Studies. Alternatively, you can get it from St. Paul’s bookstore. Shameless plug I know 🙂 Maybe you can check if it’s available on an inter-library loan.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          I sent an inquiry to ACU to find out about availability. Thank you!


          • Father Gregory says:

            That particular article is also avialabe at the JSTOR website. All on needs to do is make a free account and you get 3 “shelfs” where you can park articles to read. You do need internet access to read them though.

            Non-Being and Evil in Gregory of Nyssa by Alden A. Mosshammer:

            Gregory Wassen +

            Liked by 1 person

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