St. Gregory of Nyssa- On the Resurrection

(from On the Soul and the Resurrection, 380 A.D.)

It seems to me that the words of the Apostle in every respect harmonize with our own conception of what the Resurrection is. They indicate the very same thing that we have embodied in our own definition of it, wherein we said that the Resurrection is no other thing than “the re-constitution of our nature in its original form.” For, whereas we learn from Scripture in the account of the first creation, that first the earth brought forth the “green herb,” and that then from this plant seed was yielded, from which, when it was shed on the ground, the same form of the original plant again sprang up, the Apostle, it is to be observed, declares that this very same thing happens in the Resurrection also; and so we learn from him the fact, not only that our humanity will be then changed into something nobler, but also that what we have therein to expect is nothing else than that which was from the beginning.

In the beginning, we see, it was not an ear rising from a grain, but a grain coming from an ear, and, after that, the ear grows round the grain: and so the order indicated in this similitude clearly shows that all that blessed state which arises for us by means of the Resurrection is only a return to our pristine state of grace. We, too, in fact, were once in a fashion a full ear; but the burning heat of sin withered us up, and then on our dissolution by death the earth received us: but in the spring of the Resurrection she will produce this naked grain of our body in the form of an ear, tall, well-proportioned, and erect, reaching to the heights of heaven, and, for blade and beard, resplendent in incorruption, and with all the other godlike marks. For “this corruptible must put on incorruption;” and this incorruption and glory and honor and power are those distinct and acknowledged marks of Deity which once belonged to him who was created in God’s image, and which we hope for hereafter.

The first man Adam, that is, was the first ear; but with the arrival of evil human nature was diminished into a mere multitude; and, as happens to the grain on the ear, each individual man was denuded of the glory of that primal ear, and moldered in the soil: but in the Resurrection, we are born again in our original splendor; only, instead of that single primitive ear we become the countless myriads of ears in the cornfield. [1].

The virtuous life as contrasted with vice is distinguished thus: those who while living have by virtuous conduct exercised husbandry on themselves are at once revealed in all the qualities of a perfect ear, while those whose bare grain (that is the forces of their natural soul) has become through evil habits degenerate, as it were, and hardened by the weather, will, though they live again in the Resurrection, experience very great severity from their Judge, because they do not possess the strength to shoot up into the full proportions of an ear, and thereby become that which we were before our earthly fall.

The remedy offered by the Overseer of the produce is to collect together the tares and the thorns, which have grown up with the good seed, and into whose bastard life all the secret forces that once nourished its root have passed, so that it not only has had to remain without its nutriment, but has been choked and so rendered unproductive by this unnatural growth. When from the nutritive part within them everything that is the reverse or the counterfeit of it has been picked out, and has been committed to the fire that consumes everything unnatural, and so has disappeared, then in this class also their humanity will thrive and will ripen into fruit-bearing, owing to such husbandry, and will some day after long courses of ages get back again that universal form which God stamped upon us at the beginning. Blessed are they, indeed, in whom the full beauty of those ears shall be developed directly they are born in the Resurrection. [2].

[1] Gregory’s exposition of the resurrection is the best I’ve ever read. Adam was the full ear, who, after his fall, degenerated into many grains. We are the grains, which in the resurrection shall spring up into many full ears.–B.A.S.

[2] Here is an early teaching of the doctrine of Purgatory. Gregory’s views, however, are not those currently held by the Roman Catholic church.–B.A.S.

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