Nyssa on the Infinity of the Good

In his treatise Against Eunomius, Gregory begins with a discussion on “pure being,” which is, by necessity of its pure being-ness, infinite. All else that “be’s” is only able to do so as it moves towards that which is pure being. That which is totally pure is also infinite, for it lacks all detractive motion. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since they share the divine being, are all equally infinite and incapable of admitting gradations among themselves. Gregory explains:

Good, as long as it is incapable of its opposite, has no bounds to its goodness: its opposite alone can circumscribe it, as we may see by particular examples. Strength is stopped only when weakness seizes it; life is limited by death alone; darkness is the ending of light: in a word, every good is checked by its opposite, and by that alone. If then he supposes that the nature of the Only-begotten and of the Spirit can change for the worse, then he plainly diminishes the conception of their goodness, making them capable of being associated with their opposites. But if the Divine and unalterable nature is incapable of degeneracy, as even our foes allow, we must regard it as absolutely unlimited in its goodness: and the unlimited is the same as the infinite. But to suppose excess and defect in the infinite and unlimited is to the last degree unreasonable: for how can the idea of infinitude remain, if we posited increase and loss in it? We get the idea of excess only by a comparison of limits: where there is no limit, we cannot think of any excess.

~Against Eunomius 1.15

Since there cannot be excess in pure being, it must be the case that the Son and Holy Spirit are also infinite, without any greater or lesser. To make them “less” is to put them on the other side of the infinite/finite divide, and thus to steal away their divine nature.

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One thought on “Nyssa on the Infinity of the Good

  1. This point opens up Trinitarian insights for Gregory, but is also important for him ethically. From The Life of Moses 1.5, 7:

    “The perfection of everything which can be measured by the senses is marked off by certain definite boundaries. [Here he gives examples similar to those in the section you quoted.] … But in the case of virtue we have learned from he Apostle that its one limit of perfection is the fact that it has no limit. … The Divine One is himself the Good (in the primary and proper sense of the word), whose very nature is goodness. This he is and he is so named, and is known by this nature. Since, then, it has not been demonstrated that there is any limit to virtue except evil, and since the Divine does not admit of an opposite, we hold the divine nature to be unlimited and infinite. Certainly whoever pursues true virtue participates in nothing other than God, because he is himself absolute virtue. Since, then, those who know what is good by nature desire participation in it, and since this good has no limit, the participant’s desire itself necessarily has no stopping place but stretches out with the limitless.”

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