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Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses (Classics of Western Spirituality series) Hardcover – 1978

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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Seminal Christian thinker 20 Oct. 2006
By Greg - Published on
Format: Paperback
Gregory of Nyssa, one of the three great 'Cappadocians', is well represented in this mystical biography of the prophet Moses.

Gregory of Nyssa is a towering intellectual figure in the Christian tradition. He is revered as one of the main Church Fathers, especially in Eastern Christianity, however he is somewhat below Augustine in the West, although much recent Catholic scholarship is recovering the theological and philosophical brilliance of this great man.

Gregory of Nyssa wrote several key works, including a long treatise against the heretic Eunomius (who using Aristotle's logic claimed the essence of God is finite and knowable to the human mind), a commentary on the Song of Songs, and a mystical biography on Moses.

In this work Gregory meditates on the famous life of Moses as recounted in the Old Testament, from his birth in Egypt to his calling in the field by the burning bush to his meeting with God on Mt Sinai. In his meditations Gregory introduces several themes which will dominate later Christian theology and mysticism, including the theme of the darkness of God, the notion of 'epikstasis' or endless progress into the Godhead for the saint, the infinity of God's Being (a critical concept for Gregory) as well as encountering God in light and unknowing. Gregory readily adapts several ideas from Platonic and Aristotlian philosophy but articulates a genuinely Christian understanding of God, as an ineffable and infinite mystery, One in three and three in One.

Gregory also extensively uses allegorical interpretation in his approach to Exodus, from seeing the slaying of Egyptians as also the slaying of internal selfish sins which turn the saint from God, to interpreting the pieces of the Ark of the Covenant in terms of fundamental parts of the physical and spiritual universe which manifest God's infinity, goodness and power. For Gregory, the entire cosmos becomes a sign of the infinitely beautiful and good hidden God. However Gregory is also careful to make sure we don't idolise God by substituting a false idea in him in his place. Like most mystics Gregory stresses constantly the ineffability and incomprehensibility of the divine, while stressing God is revealed to us in Christ.

Gregory's influence resounds in Christian theology and mysticism, especially in the Orthodox tradition. His great importance as a mystical theologian is starting to be recognised by scholarship, and his work is worth reading and pondering upon.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
"The loftier meaning is therefore more fitting. . ." 15 Mar. 2004
By Wesley L. Janssen - Published on
Format: Paperback
Paul the apostle and Augustine of Hippo both penned rather famous statements toward the fact that spiritual people discern spiritual things and not merely that which is familiar in any 'fleshly' or 'literal' or empirical sense. Although stating this in their own inimitable ways, neither of them were the first to see this. Jesus Christ taught in parable (allegory), explaining to his disciples that he did so for this very reason. The philosophy of scriptural exegesis that looks to deeper, allegorical / figurative, and spiritual meanings was certainly known, practiced and esteemed in the Judaic world which Christ entered. It is singularly prominent in Philo and, we might argue, is instructed a thousand years earlier by Solomon. Strongly influenced by the life and work of Origen (who is often credited, rightly or wrongly, with systematizing this ancient approach to exegesis) Gregory of Nyssa is one of the church "Fathers" and early theologians to teach this approach to scripture. Much of his work is perhaps known only to scholars, and his "Life of Moses" is one of his few works to be now available in an English text. For this we thank the Paulist Press.
Moses is seen by Gregory (c. 332-395) as a spiritual model. While he was very literally the historical personage who led the Hebrews out of Egypt, the history centered around him is not merely or purely a history. It is seen as a series of lessons and spiritual insights on a more or less historical armature. These kinds of statements from Gregory demonstrate the influence of Philo and Origen in particular: "How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? . . . Where is the holiness? . . .How can the history so contradict reason? Therefore, as we look for the true spiritual meaning, seeking to determine whether the events took place typologically, we should be prepared to believe that the lawgiver has taught through the things said." (II.91-92)
Many modern / post-modern men and women live their lives on or near the surface, so to speak, in a world of familiar and unquestioned illusions. Many modern Christians do the same. While these individuals might not esteem (or even trust) Gregory's approach to scripture, a merely 'surface' or wholly 'literal' reading will have to embrace dire internal contradictions. Gregory says, ". . . faith in Christ does not ally itself with those of such [irrational] disposition." (II.98)
I once heard a fundamentalist preacher, bristling defiantly, proudly pronounce (while actually thumping his Bible), "I don't interpret the Bible, I just read it!" Could we tell him that in demanding there is nothing deeper to be seen he has made an interpretation? He doesn't seem to notice, I guess God's already told him all there is to know?! Wow.
But "arrogance is slain by humility." (II.15) Passages from this work of Gregory that might profit our Bible-thumper, should he permit it: The Wealth of Egypt. II:112-116, and The Darkness: II:162-169.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A classic introduction to early church hermeneutics 25 Mar. 2008
By James Huffman - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a fine book on so many levels, as other reviewers have pointed out. So I will focus on one relatively narrow aspect of the book, and that's the nature of hermeneutics used by St. Gregory.

In our time, almost all biblical interpreters use a sometimes painfully literal approach to the texts. This was often not the approach used by the New Testament writers in their Old Testament citations, and that alone leads to a lot of confusion in our readings of the New Testament.

So it shouldn't be surprising that early church Fathers such as St. Gregory will sometimes use a less than literal approach to the text, as here in his treatment of Moses' life. And that's one of the treasures of this book, reading and hearing the story of Moses' life in a way that I had never heard before, in a manner that illuminated stories that had sometimes not made sense, and shed light on some obscurities of Moses' life.

You don't have to agree with everything the dear saint says to treasure this book, and appreciate his humble insights. This book also (like a number in the "Classics of Western Spirituality" series) provides a helpful segue into the early Fathers for those like myself who grew up Protestant, and had little by way of introduction to the Fathers. This is a good way of learning about them, fun and easy to read, and even a bit of a page-turner. How could you go wrong with something like that?
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Levels of Interpreting & Applying for Spiritual Growth 9 Feb. 2004
By PhiloX - Published on
Format: Paperback
St. Gregory of Nyssa birth date is unknown but most scholars believe he died around 385 to 386 AD. He came from a religious family where his brother St Basil the Great was the streamliner of the eastern liturgy still in used today in the Eastern Orthodox Church during the Great Fast before Pascha (Easter). Many believe that Gregory was married with Theosebeia before becoming a Bishop. He wrote many books, "The Life of Moses" being his most famous & influential where he tries to find allegorical interpretations & the mystical meanings beyond the normal reading of the texts.
This book may make great reading for most people to reveal the many layers of the Bible by its many different uses of symbolism. Or better written: How to read the life of Moses & reinterpret it to exam your life & become closer to God.
There are many levels of spiritually within the Eastern Orthodox Christian Mystical tradition; interpreting & applying the Bible to help with your spiritual life is but one method. If you're into silent prayer & trying to remove allegory from your thought processes, this book may get in the way. In other words: there is a time to apply the many levels of the Bible to your life & there is a time to clean your mind from its process to experience God directly. Find out which level you're at or which works for you, & see if this fine written ancient book of wisdom can help.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Interesting commentary on the life of Moses and more! 2 Nov. 2005
By Brent A. Venglish - Published on
Format: Paperback
St. Gregory of Nyssa is regarded as one of the most prominent of the Greek Cappodocian fathers, the brother of St. Basil the Great, and friend of Gregory of Nazianzen.

St. Gregory lets us know all about Moses. He mentions some things that really happened which were previously obscure now become brilliantly recognizable, and also tells us what every step along the Way meant for both Moses, Israel, and for us as Orthodox Christians.

No matter who you are this book is going to open the eyes of your understanding. Moses was an amazing man and prophet, miracle worker, and "He who was drawn out of the water and called upon the name of the Lord."

Moses' life is a perfect representation of what it means to live in the presence of God.
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