In the Christian world of the fourth century, the family of St. Gregory of Nyssa was distinguished for its leadership in civic and religious affairs in the region of the Roman Empire known as Pontus. Cardinal Newman, in an essay on the trials of St. Basil, refers to the family circle which produced these two eminent Fathers as “a sort of nursery of bishops and saints.” From St. Gregory’s life of his sister, St. Macrina, a work included in this volume, we learn of the fortitude of the three preceding generations. On her death-bed, St. Macrina, recalling details of their family history, speaks of a great-grandfather martyred and all his property confiscated, and grandparents deprived of their possessions at the time of the Dioceltian persecutions. Their father, Basil of Caesarea, a successful rhetorician, outstanding for his judgment and well known for the dignity of his life, died leaving to his wife, Emmelia, the care of four sons and five daughters. St. Gregory praises his mother for her virtue and for her eagerness to have her children educated in Holy Scripture. After managing their estate and arranging for the future of her children, she was persuaded by St. Macrina to retire from the world and to enter a life common with her maids as sisters and equals. This community of women would have been a counterpart of the monastery founded nearby by St. Basil on the banks of the Iris River. In a moving scene, St. Gregory tells of his mother’s death at a rich old age in the arms of her oldest and youngest children, Macrina and Peter. Blessing all of her children, she prays in particular for the sanctification of these two who were, indeed, later canonized as saints. Newman notes the strong influence of the women in the family, and in one of his letters, St. Basil gives credit to his mother and his grandmother, the elder Macrina, for his clear and steadfast idea of God.
For The Fathers of the Church series in its entirety, see Fathers of the Church Series (127 vols.).
“As long as we keep grasping opposites with each of our hands, it is impossible for there to be participation in both elements in the same being. For, if we are holding evil, we lose the power to take hold of virtue.” (Page 100)
“They do not know that the distribution of graces is in proportion to one’s faith, meager for those of little faith, great for those who have within themselves great room for faith.” (Pages 190–191)
“The harvest of pure prayer is simplicity, love, humility, strength, lack of evil, and such things, which the toil of the person eager in prayer produces here during the course of his life, even before the eternal fruits. Prayer is crowned by such fruits and, if it is lacking, the toil has been in vain. And not prayer alone, but the whole philosophical road, if it produces such offspring, is truly the road of justice and leads to the right goal; but, if it is barren of these, it leaves an empty name and is like the foolish virgins who have no oil in the bridal chamber at the moment that it is needed.95 They do not have in their souls the light which is the fruit of virtue, nor do they have the lamp of the Spirit in their thinking.” (Page 154)
“Let no one offer as an excuse for his lack of zeal for fair deeds that he is not able to achieve the deeds that will save his soul. God never enjoins upon his servants what is impossible, but shows the love and goodness of his Godhead as something rich and poured out like water upon all, so that He furnishes to each person according to his will the ability to do something good, and none of those eager to be saved is lacking in this ability.” (Page 157)
St. Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394) was a Christian bishop and saint. He was a younger brother of Basil the Great and a good friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. His significance has long been recognized in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity. Some historians identify Theosebia the deaconess as his wife, others hold that she, like Macrina the Younger, was actually a sister of Gregory and Basil.