Lesson 14B Preview: Gregory of Nyssa Selection from “The Great Catechism; Saint Basil Selection “On the Spirit”; Video “The Churches of Cappodocia”; Dr. Carl Trueman “The Trinity”

Gregory of Nyssa: Selections from The Great Catechism


The Trinity

Prologue and Chapter 1.—”The belief in God rests on the art and wisdom displayed in the order of the world: the belief in the Unity of God, on the perfection that must belong to Him in respect of power, goodness, wisdom, etc. Still, the Christian who combats polytheism has need of care lest in contending against Hellenism he should fall unconsciously into Judaism. For God has a Logos: else He would be without reason. And this Logos cannot be merely an attribute of God. We are led to a more exalted conception of the Logos by the consideration that in the measure in which God is greater than we, all His predicates must also be higher than those which belong to us. Our logos is limited and transient; but the subsistence of the Divine Logos must be indestructible; and at the same time living, since the rational cannot be lifeless, like a stone. It must also have an independent life, not a participated life, else it would lose its simplicity; and, as living, it must also have the faculty of will. This will of the Logos must be equalled by his power: for a mixture of choice and impotence would, again, destroy the simplicity. His will, as being Divine, must be also good. From this ability and will to work there follows the realization of the good; hence the bringing into existence of the wisely and artfully adjusted world. But since, still further, the logical conception of the Word is in a certain sense a relative one, it follows that together with the Word He Who speaks it, i.e. the Father of the Word, must be recognized as existing. Thus the mystery of the faith avoids equally the absurdity of Jewish monotheism, and that of heathen polytheism. On the one hand, we say that the Word has life and activity; on the other, we affirm that we find in the Λόγος, whose existence is derived from the Father, all the attributes of the Father’s nature.”

Chapter II.—”By the analogy of human breath, which is nothing but inhaled and exhaled fire, i.e. an object foreign to us, is demonstrated the community of the Divine Spirit with the essence of God, and yet the independence of Its existence.”

Chapters V. and VI.—”God created the world by His reason and wisdom; for He cannot have proceeded irrationally in that work; but His reason and wisdom are, as above shown, not to be conceived as a spoken word, or as the mere possession of knowledge, but as a personal and willing potency. If the entire world was created by this second Divine hypostasis, then certainly was man also thus created; yet not in view of any necessity, but from superabounding love, that there might exist a being who should participate in the Divine perfections. If man was to be receptive of these, it was necessary that his nature should contain an element akin to God; and, in particular, that he should be immortal. Thus, then, man was created in the image of God. He could not therefore be without the gifts of freedom, independence, self-determination; and his participation in the Divine gifts was consequently made dependent on his virtue. Owing to this freedom he could decide in favour of evil, which cannot have its origin in the Divine will, but only in our inner selves, where it arises in the form of a deviation from good, and so a privation of it. Vice is opposed to virtue only as the absence of the better. Since, then, all that is created is subject to change, it was possible that, in the first instance, one of the created spirits should turn his eye away from the good, and become envious, and that from this envy should arise a leaning towards badness, which should, in natural sequence, prepare the way for all other evil. He seduced the first men into the folly of turning away from goodness, by disturbing the Divinely ordered harmony between their sensuous and intellectual natures; and guilefully tainting their wills with evil.”


De Spiritu Sancto

Chapter X.

“Against those who say that it is not right to rank the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son.”

24.  “But we must proceed to attack our opponents, in the endeavour to confute those “oppositions” advanced against us which are derived from “knowledge falsely so-called.” [Editor Phillip Schaff’s Note: The intellectual championship of Basil was chiefly asserted in the vindication of the consubstantiality of the Spirit, against the Arians and Semi-Arians, of whom Euonomius and Macedonius were leaders, the latter giving his name to the party who were unsound on the third Person of the Trinity, and were Macedonians as well as Pneumatomachi.  But even among the maintainers of the Nicene confession there was much less clear apprehension of the nature and work of the Spirit than of the Son.  Even so late as 380, the year after St. Basil’s death, Gregory of Nazianzus, wrote “…of the wise on our side some held it to be an energy, some a creature, some God.  Others, from respect, they say, to Holy Scripture, which lays down no law on the subject, neither worship nor dishonour the Holy Spirit.”]

It is not permissible, they assert, for the Holy Spirit to be ranked with the Father and Son, on account of the difference of His nature and the inferiority of His dignity.  Against them it is right to reply in the words of the apostles, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

For if our Lord, when enjoining the baptism of salvation, charged His disciples to baptize all nations in the name “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,”  not disdaining fellowship with Him, and these men allege that we must not rank Him with the Father and the Son, is it not clear that they openly withstand the commandment of God?  If they deny that coordination of this kind is declaratory of any fellowship and conjunction, let them tell us why it behooves us to hold this opinion, and what more intimate mode of conjunction.

If the Lord did not indeed conjoin the Spirit with the Father and Himself in baptism, do not  let them lay the blame on us.  If on the contrary the Spirit is there conjoined with the Father and the Son, and no one is so shameless as to say anything else, then let them not lay blame on us for following the words of Scripture.

25.  But all the apparatus of war has been got ready against us; every intellectual missile is aimed at us; and now blasphemers’ tongues shoot and hit and hit again, yet harder than Stephen of old was smitten by the killers of the Christ. And do not let them succeed in concealing the fact that, while an attack on us serves for a pretext for the war, the real aim of these proceedings is higher.  It is against us, they say, that they are preparing their engines and their snares; against us that they are shouting to one another, according to each one’s strength or cunning, to come on.  But the object of attack is faith.  The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of “sound doctrine” is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by leveling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it.  So like the debtors,—of course bona fide debtors—they clamour for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. But we will not slacken in our defence of the truth.  We will not cowardly abandon the cause.  The Lord has delivered to us as a necessary and saving doctrine that the Holy Spirit is to be ranked with the Father.  Our opponents think differently, and see fit to divide and rend asunder, and relegate Him to the nature of a ministering spirit.  Is it not then indisputable that they make their own blasphemy more authoritative than the law prescribed by the Lord? Come, then, set aside mere contention.  Let us consider the points before us, as follows:

26.  Whence is it that we are Christians?  Through our faith, would be the universal answer.  And in what way are we saved?  Plainly because we were regenerate through the grace given in our baptism.  How else could we be?  And after recognising that this salvation is established through the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, shall we fling away “that form of doctrine” which we received?  Would it not rather be ground for great groaning if we are found now further off from our salvation “than when we first believed,”and deny now what we then received?  Whether a man have departed this life without baptism, or have received a baptism lacking in some of the requirements of the tradition, his loss is equal. And whoever does not always and everywhere keep to and hold fast as a sure protection the confession which we recorded at our first admission, when, being delivered “from the idols,” we came “to the living God,” constitutes himself a “stranger” from the “promises”of God, fighting against his own handwriting,  For if to me my baptism was the beginning of life, and that day of regeneration the first of days, it is plain that the utterance uttered in the grace of adoption was the most honourable of all.  Can I then, perverted by these men’s seductive words, abandon the tradition which guided me to the light, which bestowed on me the boon of the knowledge of God, whereby I, so long a foe by reason of sin, was made a child of God?  But, for myself, I pray that with this confession I may depart hence to the Lord, and them I charge to preserve the faith secure until the day of Christ, and to keep the Spirit undivided from the Father and the Son, preserving, both in the confession of faith and in the doxology, the doctrine taught them at their baptism.”

The Churches of Cappodocia:

A brief history of the Church, from an Orthodox perspective, up to the break between the western and eastern churches in 1054 AD:

Dr. Carl Trueman is vice president for academic affairs and professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (conservative Calvinistic) in Philadelphia. This interview, conducted on the Christ The Center radio program, is hosted by Camden Bucey and his guest interviewers, Calvinistic pastors and theologians. Dr. Trueman offers in his responses an  historical overview of Trinitarian theology. He discusses the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Theologians of the past who are discussed include the Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, and Basil the Great), Athanasius, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Karl Barth, and Cornelius Van Til.

You will need to click here and when the page at Community Audio appears, go to the upper right corner of the screen to click on the player to hear Dr. Trueman’s responses to some excellent, probing questions.

Bible Verses for Reflection: Acts 15: 1-4; Acts 10: 44-48; Eph 1: 3-6

A Quote for Your Consideration: “Authentic interpreters of the holy scripture are persons who have had the same experience of revelation and inspiration within the body of Christ as the biblical writers had. Therefore it is necessary for authentic understanding that anybody who reads or hears the Bible be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox believe that such authentic interpretation is the service of the fathers of the church especially expressed in the decisions of the ecumenical councils. Lutherans agree in principle. Lutheran confessional writings affirm that no one can believe in Jesus Christ by one’s own reason or abilities but that it is the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers and illuminates believers through the gospel even as he calls, gathers and enlightens the whole church on earth keeping it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith (Luther’s Small Catechism).” (From 7th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
5-10 July 1993, Sandbjerg/ Denmark)

Discussion questions for Lesson 14B:

1. How would you respond to this question? “Why is God, the Holy Spirit, viewed as a person and not as a Spirit?” How do you think Basil would respond? (Question adapted from one received by the LCMS.)

2. How would you respond to this question: “Is it correct theology to say that Jesus is God, or is it better to say God is Jesus?” How do you think Gregory of Nyssa would respond?  Eusebius of Nicomedia? (Question adapted from one received by the LCMS.)

3. Schaff, in a note inserted into the selection by Basil, refers to a movement, the Macedonians, (see also Macedonians at this site) we have heard about before. Who were they and what did they proclaim? If asked by a Sunday School participant, how would distinguish them from the Semi-Arians?

4. How are we saved? What’s your quick response to this question? Now read again Basil’s statement from above in De Spiritu Sancto: “Whence is it that we are Christians?  Through our faith, would be the universal answer. And in what way are we saved?  Plainly because we were regenerate through the grace given in our baptism.  How else could we be?  And after recognizing that this salvation is established through the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, shall we fling away “that form of doctrine” which we received?” Does this statement express your Lutheran understanding of “the way we are saved”? Is Basil’s statement reflective of a Lutheran’s understanding of justification and salvation?

5.  A Sunday School student, following a discussion of salvation, asks, “As I understand you can be regenerated through Baptism and also regenerated by believing in Jesus, but without Baptism…though you can still be later baptized.  Does the Lutheran position force us to come to this conclusion:  there are two ways to be saved, although both are by faith alone, just two different means?” How should you respond to this student? (Adapted from a question submitted to LCMS}

6. The narrator of the video Orthodoxy Is The Only True Faith sees the tradition of ecumenical councils being established early in the history of the church. According to the narrator, who was responsible and what was the purpose of the first council? Do you agree with the narrator?

7. After hearing Dr. Trueman discuss the fourth century theological controversies, how would you describe what occurred between the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople that impacted hypostases as a key concept for resolving Trinitarian controversies? In the context of discussing John Owen’s contribution to the theology of the Holy Spirit, Trueman points out that Owen postulated that the only role of the Holy Spirit in the incarnation was “the hypostatizing of the human nature of Christ”. What was the theological dilemma that Owen perceived that moved him to define the Holy Spirit’s role with this concept?

8. An interviewer, who is a pastor, asks Dr. Trueman about the use of the technical, theological terms “ontological” and “economical” when preaching. What was Dr. Trueman’s response? Why do you think he took this position and do you agree with his approach?


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