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Brian C. Leport
- Published on Amazon.com
IVP was gracious enough to send me a book from their Classics in Spiritual Formation series. I received Michael Glerup's paraphrase of Gregory of Nyssa's Sermons on the Beatitudes. This work (and apparently others in this series that are forthcoming) uses "conversational language" that is a paraphrase of the Greek from which it is translated (Latin for some other works). IVP's blurb on the back of the book says that, "The Classics in Spiritual Formation series is designed for those who want to read the church fathers for the first time as well as for those who want a fresh new paraphrase of a beloved work."
The Introduction gives a brief overview of Gregory and his times (pp. 11-20). This is a simple section that tells the reader a bit about Gregory and his relationship to Basil (his brother) and Gregory of Nazianzus (friend) who together were some of the most influential "defenders of trinitarian Christianity (p. 12)." The background sections tells the reader about Gregory's influential family (compared to the Kennedys by Glerup), his education, his "love of learning" (p. 13), his role as a lector, his appointment as Bishop of Nyssa, some of his writings, and so forth.
Glerup gives a "context" for Gregory's sermons, including some of his theological motivations and his understanding of the Psalter as a whole. Gregory connected the "blessedness" of Psalm 1 with the Beatitudes. "Gregory had a strong sense of God's transcendence and the infinity of God (p. 18)." He emphasized that our words can never fully explain God, but they do give us access to him. Glerup writes,
"God is incomprehensible in God's nature but remains accessible to humans through the inner workings of the soul. God may be known through a way of life that develops the interior attitude and characteristics of Christ (p. 19)."
Gregory was a man who felt that human effort mattered to God, but he was not a legalist because, "...justification by faith opposes earning God's favor, not our efforts to become like Christ." For Gregory is was not about faith and works. Faith was followed by works. Rather, it was about "...love for the Father and love of the world." Our deeds showed our love of the Father (p. 19).
Gregory argued that our "progress in the spiritual life and knowledge of God" was something that continued forever. As my friend Jerome Wernow has remarked, we are not "becoming what we will always be" but rather "becoming what we will always be becoming." This was Gregory's view of theosis/sanctification as well (p. 20).
Glerup notes that Gregory was unwilling to separate things like action-contemplation, compassion-prayer, "just living"-Scripture study. These virtues worked hand-in-hand. In our climate of faith-work, justice-grace, Gospel proclamation-social action we can use someone like Gregory who dismisses our false dichotomies.
The eight chapters of the book are Gregory's eight sermons on each of Jesus' beatitudes from the Gospel of Mark. This book is designed to lead the reader into contemplation and spiritual nourishment. Readers should not move hastily through each chapter. It may be better to do a sermon a day for a week or so.
When I speak of this book being a "paraphrase" I am not kidding. It takes far more poetic license than The Message. Actually, Scripture references are from The Message (unless noted otherwise), so that should help you gain an idea of how this book works. It is Glerup's goal to convey "ideas" and "concepts," not word-for-word. Other English translations accomplish this.
For example, I found an English translation on Google Books that provided this translation from one section of the first sermon:
"But as he who fashioned man made him in the image of God; in a derived sense that which is called by this name shall also be held blessed, inasmuch as he participates in the true beatitude. For as in the matter of physical beauty the original comeliness is in the actually living face, whereas the second place is held by the reflection shown in a picture; so also human nature, which is the image of the transcendent beautitude, is itself marked by the beauty of goodness, when it reflects in itself the blessed features. But since the filth of sin has disfigured the beauty of the image, He came to wash us with His own water, the living water which springs up into eternal life. And so, when we have put off the shame of sin, we shall be restored once more to the blessed form (p. 88)."
This is how Glerup renders that same section:
"Yet God made us `in the image of God.' So indirectly we, who are created in the likeness of true blessedness, experience blessedness. Let me give you an example of what I'm trying to say. Take, for instance, the physical beauty of a supermodel captured on the cover of a women's magazine. The real beauty is the supermodel herself. Yet, secondarily, we can attribute that same beauty to the photographic image. Likeswise, human beings are images of the transcendent blessedness, and similarly as copies we may be said to possess the same beauty when we display the features of blessedness. Unfortunately sin has stained and defaced the image of God in humanity such that we. as humans, no longer image God as we should. Yet, when Christ came with his own cleaning solution, the living water `welling up to eternal life' (Jn 4.14 NIV), the appalling discoloration of sin was washed away and the image of God restored (pp. 24-25)."
Sometimes the "paraphrase" becomes ridiculously modern, such as a reference to "the movie The Incredible Hulk" (p. 42) or Spock from Star Trek (p. 41) or Gollum from Lord of the Rings (p. 105).
Throughout the book there are little side-bars on topics like "Servant Leadership," "Medicine for Salvation," and "Mirror." These dive into patristic/devotional thinking on matters related to what Gregory says in his sermons.
This book would do well for a small-group leader. The back of the book has questions for each chapter. As The Message accomplishes its goal so I think this series will accomplish its goals. For some the flexibility of the paraphrase may be too distracting. If you are reading this book for scholarly interest put it down. That is as useful as reading The Message for biblical scholarship. But if you struggle with reading patristics like someone may struggle with the language of Scripture, and you want something that can function devotionally, this series is a very good idea. Honestly, it depends on the reader. Personally, at times I was frustrated with things like the mention of a modern movie. I thought that was a tad too flexible. But I did enjoy reading this book, wrestling with Gregory's throughts via Michael Glerup. I think if you approach it knowing what it intends to communicate you will enjoy this book and probably others like it in the series.
- Published on Amazon.com
Numerous books have been written on the Beatitudes, but how many are authored by a Church Father? Gregory of Nyssa: Sermons on the Beatitudes, paraphrased by Michael Glerup, is a collection of sermons published 1700 years ago.
What relevance could these messages have today? That these sermons were preached in a world much different than our own makes them unique. Gregory stands outside of our time providing a different perspective than our contemporaries, who are not immune from the influence of our environment. We pick-up prejudices and are blind to neglected truths. Though the same might apply to Gregory through the realities that shaped him, it’s a reason why a collective witness from saints past and present is worth gaining. Those who have gone before help us to see what we have missed and supplement our faith through their insights.
One beauty of gifting in the body of Christ is that individual uniqueness illuminates different facets of the same truth. We have four gospels that provide different portraits of the life and ministry of Christ. We have multiple commentaries and books on the beatitudes that together give us a more composite picture.
How does Gregory add to our understanding? “Gregory has a strong sense of God’s transcendence and the infinity of God. As a result, he consistently highlights the importance of trust, love, adoration and obedience to God. He also cautions believers not to think that their words describe God fully or with complete accuracy. Because of God’s infinity our words or mental images will always fall short of the actuality of God. This does not indicate that we know nothing or almost nothing about God. Rather, it suggests that our talk about God should be tempered by humility” (18-19).
Gregory’s reasoning appeals to me. He frequently moves from the natural to the spiritual, from the lesser to the greater. This kind of deductive teaching fits well with his view that the beatitudes our progressive. Each one is like taking a step up a ladder.
In our day there can be a rush to application, which though practical, can be unsatisfying if exposition is neglected. We need to be doers of the Word, but we also need to discover the richness that is in Christ and the Scriptures. Gregory is practical, but he also provides expansive views that are not as common in our time. We need those moments of inspiration to carry us when the work is long and hard.
Gregory’s take on the fifth beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” is a window into his heart. “Compassion is loving identification with those in misery. Just as hardheartedness and malice originate in hate, so compassion flows from love, for without love compassion cannot exist. In fact, if one wanted to dig in to the distinctiveness of compassion, one would find two qualities: a growing attitude of love combined with an understanding of the emotional ache of another. It is not unusual for our friends and our enemies to be willing to share in our prosperity, but the willingness to share in our misfortune is unique to those who are governed by loving kindness. I think most people would agree that practicing a life of love is the best way to live. Compassion is the deepening of love. As such, compassionate persons are truly blessed since they have reached the high point of goodness” (74).
Further in the same chapter, as Gregory reflects on humankind’s state after the Fall, he offers a unique application: “Is it advisable, having a realistic view of our situation, to be only concerned with the misfortunes of others? Shouldn’t we also feel compassion for our own heart, as we consider our current situation, and what we have lost? … We don’t have compassion on ourselves because we are oblivious to our real situation. We are like the mentally ill, whose disorder renders them unconscious to their disease. If we did wake up to both our past and present situation—as Solomon says, the wise know themselves—we would continually have compassion on our souls, and this disposition of spirit would attract the compassion of God. That is why it says, ‘Blessed are the compassionate, for they will receive compassion’” (80). This is a surprising take but one worth considering, especially for those who are overly hard on themselves.
What makes the book a little startling are the pop culture references supplied by the paraphrase. Though purists may have preferred a literal translation, Glerup’s work makes Gregory more accessible, especially to those who like The Message, which is the standard Bible translation for this work. Some of the revised vocabulary shares that style, which makes it easier for those not well-versed in theology to grasp the concepts.
In keeping with the other volumes in the Classics in Spiritual Formation series, Glerup occasionally adds shaded boxes that clarify content.
For those hungry to glean in the fields of a Boaz, Gregory has left behind many rich insights. Having gone to his reward, he speaks to a new generation through this paraphrase. As valuable as it is to commune with the living, we can also profit from the great cloud of witnesses that cheer us toward the rest they now enjoy.