Against Fate by Gregory of Nyssa Introduction



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M.172] of shallow understanding mock us, and I wish that I could briefly reveal their position. Countless examples show that human nature has certain aggressive qualities opposed to what is good. However, it is unnecessary at present to enumerate them all. We may perceive the divine nature in every good thought and name manifested in our lives such as light, truth, righteousness, wisdom, incorruptibility and any other good we can comprehend. We can recognize the divine nature and its attributes by all those things which are opposite to it, for example, death instead of life, deceit instead of truth and every type of evil inimical [J.59] to man. Anyone who embraces these becomes a abomination. Persons who often commit evil deeds offer a deadly cure since it is disguised with honey which cannot be tasted. Similarly, that corruptible nature within the soul seduces a person by assuming a good form and veils deception under the guise of a cure. People rush after this deadly poison thinking it to be good while it contains nothing beneficial. Thus whenever we encounter anyone with the pretense of knowing the future through deception which is controlled by demons, for example, through divinization, augury, omens, oracles about the dead and genealogies, each one is different and predicts the future in dissimilar ways. Therefore inspecting a liver or observing birds in flight to foresee the future do not promise their outcome by fate's compulsion. We claim that all these examples have one cause and assume one form (I mean demonic deception) since a prediction does not come true at [J.60] a given time if indeed it does occur. Thus the power of fate is demonstrated since every divinization is usually substantiated through some sort of prediction. Dreams form one kind of fate while another comes from bodily palpitations; yet another arises from augury, omens or symbols. If none thwarts prophecy and is not fate, then any number of genealogies cannot make a prediction. This gives us sufficient reason to believe that fate does not apply to such divinizations. There is nothing accurate and certain about their predictions. But should [M.173] they fail, persons who perform them offer excuses and invent reasons, for example, a sign was not appropriate due to the time. Generally [J.61] their predictions are ambiguous and they vacillate between them. In this way, any event turns into a prophesy. Often whatever is extraordinary and unusual is understood as foretelling the hour of one's birth. A person who makes these predictions refuses to be disappointed by unusual events because they are tainted by evil. Our memory of history testifies to this. Valens was a Roman emperor and impostor moved to rebel against its authority. He hastened to gain legitimacy for his reckless act through genealogies, but his venture ended when the chief magistrates became aware of it through the magnitude of this calamity. Valens' support from genealogies became known to many people when they realized the extent of this misfortune, not its advantage.
I decline to say that these fraudulent predictions are related to fate; rather, they and many similar notions are the invention of demons. For the gulping of water, [J.62] tasting of certain foods and breathing through the mouth for obtaining a prediction can induce mental derangement. If a woman engages in such practices, her stomach swells and her mental turmoil is soothed. All divinizations are deceptive: forecast of the future from a liver, fire and the flight of birds cannot make predictions by fate. Instead, all are forms of demonic possession.
In conclusion, I think that examples above are not true divinations because they are refuted by numerous contradictions. If anyone shows that fate prefigures a future event, each one strikes us as being some form of prediction. Every case is erroneous because their fulfillment appears true yet is the result of demonic deception which stamps them. The influence of fate turns man from God, the source of every good [J.63], and makes them hasten after demons. Therefore, people are easily persuaded not to direct their lives according to God's counsel but by the combination of stars. This depravity makes them hasten after that deception so typical of demons. If the demons rejoice at a person who rejects God, their duplicity makes them revolt. Clearly their influence causes error, for it is thought to lie in such deceitful methods which avert us from the authority of God all-powerful.
The End

1. "Die Entstehungszeit der Schrift ist nicht genau zu bestimmen. Zu Beginn wird die Bekehrung eines Eusebios als vor kurzem geschehen erwahnt; um wen es sich handelt, ist trotz der angeblichen Bedeutung dieses Mannes nicht bekannt. Der Adressat des Briefes ist nicht gennant; aus der Anrede o timia moi kai hiera kephale ist nichts zu entnehmen. Die Angabe, das das Gesprach in Konstantinopel stattgehunden hat, last an nicht allzu fruhe Abfassungszeit denken. Im Gesprach werden die Vernichtung Nikomediens durch ein Erdbeben mit anschliesendem Feuer sowie die Verwustung Thrakiens erwahnt; das Erdbeben ereignete sich 358, mit der Verwustung Thrakiens wird die Plunderung durch die Goten 377 gemeint sein. Spater wird von Kaiser Valens so gesprochen, das sein Tod vorausgesetzt zu seine scheint. Das wurde auf 378 fuhren. Vielleicht ist das Werk nicht viel spater entstanden." Der Dialog in der Fruhchristlichen Literatur by Bernd Reiner Voss (Munich, 1970, p.183.

2. Chance and Necessity (London, 1972), p.160.

3. "In this conception (the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution), the creative role of chance, of that which is indeterminate, is expressed in its interplay with necessity, that which is determinate. Here again, it is illuminating to see what happens when these abstract principles are personified. Just as nature becomes the Great Mother, they too come to life in the form of goddesses...This ancient image is parallel in neo-Darwinian thinking in a curious literal matter. The 'thread of life' which determines an organism's genetic destiny consists of the helical DNA molecules arranged in threadlike chromosomes." The Presence of the Past (New York, 1988), p.312.

4. Gregory could be referring to Bishop Eusebios as referred by Theodoret in his Ecclesiastical History. "An de Eusebio episcopo Samosateno loquitur? cf. Theodoret Hist. Eccl. ex. Gr. II 31, 5 p.171." (Footnote to verses 5-6 in McDonough's critical text, page 31).

5. Mircea Eliade describes two fundamental perceptions of time: cyclical and linear. The former may be traced to Chaldean influence which ascribes to the periodic regeneration of history. The latter perceives time as governed by the unique event of Christ's birth, death and resurrection. Cf. The Myth of the Eternal Return (New York, 1954), pp.141-47.

6. See the study by Dom David Armand de Mendieta, "Fatalisme et Liberte dans l'Antiquite grecque, ch. ix. Gregoire de Nysse" (Louvain, Univ. Bibliotheques, Recueil de Travaux d'Histoire et de Philologie, 1945, 3,19), pp.405-439.

7. The Stoic system is essentially materialistic opposed to Aristotle's dualism and offers a particular kind of cosmic determination. In his Treatise of Providence Chrysippus explains astrological determinism as integral to the relationship between celestial and terrestrial things. He defines heimarmene as the natural disposition of things as a whole in virtue of which they are eternally connected. Nature is thus one and the same, and everything forms an immutable, identical chain.

8. La Conception der la Liberte chez Gregoire de Nysse (Paris, 1953), p.88.

9. Enneads, II, book 2, chapters 9 and 10.

10. Ibid, book 3, chapter 7.

11. "Bien mieux, la defense de la fatalite est faite avec tant de force, de precision et de comprehension, que la refutation de Gregoire parait inferieure a l'expose." La Liberte chez Gregoire de Nysse, p.92.

12. Reinhard Hubner has remarked that Gregory of Nyssa has borrowed this term, along with other similar ones, from Stoicism: "Sumphuia, sumpatheia, sumpnoia, taxis kai harmonia, to suneches im Weltenleib, die stoischen Termini fur die bezeichneten Sachverhalte, sind die Begriffe, die auch in Gregors Ausfuhrungen uber den Leib des Kosmos immer wiederkehren. Mit ihnen beschreibt er auch die umfassende Einheit des Leibes Christi, die wiederhergestellte Gemeinschaft der ganzen geschaffenen Natur." Die Einheit des Leibes Christi bei Gregor von Nyssa (Leiden, 1974), p.153.

13. Jean Danielou has noted with regard to this passage: "Mais dans son propre systeme, Gregoire reprend comme nous l'avons vu, la doctrine stoicienne de la sumpnoia, en la degageant de son contexte moniste. Il la reconnait a des niveaux divers. Le premier est celui de l'univers materiel. C'est en ce sens qu'il employait le mot dans le texte que nous avons cite. La sumpnoia designe ici chez lui le theme essentiel de sa cosmologie, a savoir la conspiration des diverse parties de l'univers par le fait que les deux principes a partir de quoi le monde materiel est constitue, le mouvement (kinesis) et le repos (stasis) se trouvent presents partout, mais dans une combinaison inegale." L'Etre et le Temps chez Gregoire de Nysse (Leiden, 1970), p.55.

14. PG.45.105A.

15. "Indeed, whatever belongs to time, extension, or interval (diastema) is determined by smallness and greatness. Time is the measure of conception...Time is not restricted by one measure (for each stage of growth is not the same because persons differ from one another), while everything subject to measure has the same all-encompassing time." Commentary on Ecclesiastes, J.377.

16. "Diastema and Diastasis in Gregory of Nyssa": Gregor von Nyssa und Die Philosphie (Leiden, 1976) p.253. Verghese continues, "Gregory's view of the relation between God and the world is fundamentally different from that of Plotinus or others of the so-called Neoplatonic School, that it is not correct to class Gregory among Neoplantonists or Christian Platonists. There is no theory of emanation in Gregory, no ontological continuity between the One and the Many. The relationship is by the will of the One, a concept basically unacceptable to Neoplatonists" (p.257).

17. Refer to the remarks of Roger Leys on this important point: "Le libre arbitre a une importance toute particuliere parmi les autres aspects de l'image parce qu'apres la chute, tandis que ceux-ci doivent etre lentement recouvres, lui reste intact, comme la condition d'un retour a Dieu qui soit digne de Lui...La liberte apparait ainsi comme le point d'attache de l'image dans la nature de l'homme (au sens occidental): il dependra d'elle que l'image surnaturelle vienne, ou non, s'ancrer dans l'ame." L'Image de Dieu chez Gregoire de Nysse (Paris, 1951), p.73.

18. Freedom of choice takes on a personal quality when a Christian is faced with choosing between good and evil: "[Christ's] words teach us that blessedness consists in observance of the commandments and this rejection effects condemnation. Let us love the blessing and avoid condemnation. We should make haste and not subject ourselves to such a dire sentence by choosing [the curse]" As You Did It To One Of These You Did It To Me (De Beneficia), J.113.

19. Cosmic Man: The Divine Presence (New York, 1988), p.142.



20. Op. cit. p.431.



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