Encyclopedia Britannica – Saint Gregory of Nyssa

illustration of Saint Gregory of Nyssa; by Francesco Bartolozzi after Domenichino, 19th century; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Saint Gregory of Nyssa (c.331–c.396), one of the four great fathers of the Eastern Church, designated by one of the later ecumenical councils as “a father of fathers,” was a younger brother of Basil (the Great), bishop of Caesarea, and was born (probably) at Neocaesarea about A.D. 331. For his education he was chiefly indebted to his elder brother. At a comparatively early age he entered the church, and held for some time the office of anagnost or reader; subsequently he manifested a desire to devote himself to the secular life as a rhetorician, an impulse which was checked by the earnest remonstrances of Gregory of Nazianzus. Finally, in 371 or 372 he was ordained by his brother Basil to the bishopric of Nyssa, a small town in Cappadocia. Here he is usually said (but on inadequate data) to have adopted the opinion then gaining ground in favour of the celibacy of the clergy, and to have separated from his wife Theosebia, who became a deaconess in the church. His strict orthodoxy on the subject of the Trinity and the Incarnation, together with his vigorous eloquence, combined to make him peculiarly obnoxious to the Arian faction, which was at that time in the ascendant through the protection of the emperor Valens; and in 375, the synod of Ancyra, convened by Demetrius the Arian governor of Pontus, condemned him for alleged irregularities in his election and in the administration of the finances of his diocese. In 376 he was deprived of his see, and Valens sent him into exile, whence he did not return till the publication of the edict of Gratian in 378. Shortly afterwards he took part in the proceedings of the synod which met at Antioch in Caria, principally in connexion with the Meletian schism. At the great ecumenical council held at Constantinople in 381, he was a conspicuous champion of the orthodox faith; according to Nicephorus, indeed, the additions made to the Nicene creed were entirely due to his suggestion, but this statement is of doubtful authority. That his eloquence was highly appreciated is shown by the facts that he pronounced the discourse at the consecration of Gregory of Nazianzus, and that he was chosen to deliver the funeral oration on the death of Meletius the first president of the council. In the following year, moreover (382), he was commissioned by the council to inspect and set in order the churches of Arabia, in connexion with which mission he also visited Jerusalem. The impressions he gathered from this journey may, in part at least, be gathered from his famous letter De euntibus Hierosolyma, in which an opinion strongly unfavourable to pilgrimages is expressed. In 383 he was probably again in Constantinople; where in 385 he pronounced the funeral orations of the princess Pulcheria and afterwards of the empress Placilla. Once more we read of him in 394 as having been present in that metropolis at the synod held under the presidency of Nectarius to settle a controversy which had arisen among the bishops of Arabia; in the same year he assisted at the consecration of the new church of the apostles at Chalcedon, on which occasion there is reason to believe that his discourse commonly but wrongly known as that Eis ten heautou cheirotorian was delivered. The exact date of his death is unknown; some authorities refer it to 396, others to 400. His festival is observed by the Greek Church on the 10th of January; in the Western martyrologies he is commemorated on the 9th of March.

Gregory of Nyssa was not so firm and able an administrator as his brother Basil, nor so magnificent an orator as Gregory of Nazianzus, but he excelled them both, alike as a speculative and constructive theologian, and in the wide extent of his acquirements. His teaching, though strictly trinitarian, shows considerable freedom and originality of thought; in many points his mental and spiritual affinities with Origen show themselves with advantage, as in his doctrine of apokatastasis or final restoration. There are marked pantheistic tendencies, e.g. the inclusion of sin as a necessary part of the cosmical process, which make him akin to the pantheistic monophysites and to some modern thinkers.

MLA Citation

  • “Saint Gregory of Nyssa”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911. CatholicSaints.Info. 18 January 2020. Web. 8 May 2021. <>