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Harvard Divinity School

The Body of Paradise and the Body of the Resurrection: Gender and the Angelic Life in
Gregory of Nyssa's "De hominis opificio"
Author(s): J. Warren Smith
Reviewed work(s):
Source: The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 99, No. 2 (Apr., 2006), pp. 207-228
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Harvard Divinity School
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4125294 .
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The Body of Paradiseand the Body

of the Resurrection:Genderand the
Angelic Life in Gregoryof Nyssa's De
hominis opificio*
J. WarrenSmith

As one of the centralconcerns of De hominis opificio, Gregoryof Nyssa attempts

to reconcile the biblical claim that God made human beings in the image of God
ca5T6v,Gen 1:27) with the realityof humanity's
(Kat' eIK6va
present misery
corruption.How, Nyssen asks, can God invest human beings
with rationalfaculties thatequip them as God's viceroys over creationand yet find
themselves subjectto the dominionof non-rational,sensualimpulses?'He answers
the questionby distinguishinghumannaturein its presentform andorientationfrom
those lofty, intellectualaspects of humannaturethatGod intendedfor humanityin
the beginning and in the resurrection.He characterizesthe formerby passions and
pain; the latter,by the blessedness of communion with God. But this raises some
key questions: If the passions cause our present misery, what does that say about
gender and sexuality? Does he associate them solely with our present condition?
Do they representan accommodationor a cause of our present corruption?Or do
gender and sexuality form partand parcel of humannatureas God willed it from
the beginning?
* I am grateful to Brian Daley, Carol Shoun, and the two HTR reviewers for reading drafts of
this essay and offering their extremely helpful suggestions.
I I use the term "non-rational"instead of "irrational"when
translating iXkoyo;in referringto the
impulses of the appetitive faculties. As I shall argue, Nyssen does not view the appetitive drives as
"irrational"in the sense of contrary to reason, but as "non-rational"in the sense of being prior to
and independent of the critical deliberation of the rational faculties.
HTR 92:2 (2006)






Over the last couple of decades, scholars have begun to reexamine Nyssen's
ascetic theology and specifically the place of virginity and sexuality in it. Mark
Harthas arguedthatscholarshave exaggeratedNyssen's praise of the celibatelife
as superiorto the life of marriage.2Hartclaims that the idealistic terms in which
Nyssen depicts virginity and the hyperbolicrhetoricwith which he critiquesmarriage suggest an intentionallyironic praise of celibacy. As HartinterpretsNyssen,
far frombeing superiorto the marriedlife, celibacy accommodatesweak Christians
who lack the couragenecessaryto withstandthe passionsandinsecuritiesof worldly
attachmentsthat would keep them from the contemplative life-the life which
calls to all Christians,single and married.3The absolute renunciationof marriage
remainsfor those who cannot rise above the temptationof "gratifyingsymbiosis"
thataccompaniesthe marriedlife.4Recently,JohnBehrhas soughtto supportHart's
interpretationof Nyssen's view of marriageand celibacy, arguingthatsuch a reading appearswholly consistent with Nyssen's theological anthropologyas laid out
in De hominis opificio.5By this account,God fashioned humanbeings as hybrids
possessing both the rationalnatureof God and the angels and the non-rationaland
corporealnatureof all the lower creatures.Essential to humans'kinship with the
animals,they sharethe genderand sexualityof the corporealnature.Whenordered
by the rationalsoul, the animal soul and body attainperfection,precisely because
reasongoverns them.6Behr concludesthatgiven the power of the rationalfaculties
to orderthe non-rational,Nyssen's theory of creationopens the possibility "fora
restoreduse of humansexuality, an exercise of sexuality underthe full autonomy
of reason, in an angelic mode, in which the human being fulfills its purposein
creationof upliftingand integratingthe life of the body and the senses with reason
and the divine."'
Hart'sandBehr's worksindeedhave advancedNyssen scholarshipby highlighting the dynamicrelationshipbetween the rationaland non-rationalfacultiesof the
soul-a relationshipthat,farfrombeing dualistic,reflectsNyssen's psychosomatic
2 MarkD. Hart,"Reconciliation
of Body and Soul: Gregoryof Nyssa's DeeperTheologyof
Marriage," Theological Studies 51 (1990) 450-78; and "Gregory of Nyssa's Ironic Praise of the
Celibate Life," HeythropJournal 33 (1992) 1-19. Hart'sinterpretationof Nyssen's views of marriage

of the emotionsandthe eroticin Nyssen's

andcelibacyhas influencedthe scholarlyreassessment
theology, especially his Commentariusin Canticum Canticorum. See Virginia Burrus, "Begotten,
Not Made": Conceiving Manhood in Late Antiquity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press,

2000); and MartinLaird,"UnderSolomon'sTutelage:The Educationof Desirein the Homilies

on the Song of Songs," Modern Theology 18 (2002) 507-25. For an excellent critique of Hart's

argumentbasedon the use of ironyin classicalrhetoric,see ValerieA. Karras,"A Re-Evaluation

of Marriage, Celibacy, and Irony in Gregory of Nyssa's On Virginity,"Journal of Early Christian
Studies 13 (2005) 111-21.


Ibid., 455-56.
John Behr, "The Rational Animal: A Rereading of Gregory of Nyssa's De hominis opificio,"

JECS7 (1999) 219-47.


Ibid., 226-27.

7 Ibid.,224.




anthropologyandrests at the foundationof his accountof the transformationof our

animal nature.Their work has explored one trajectoryof Nyssen's anthropology
from which we may glean insights useful for moderntheological reflection.Their
treatmentof gender and sexuality, however, does not take into considerationthe
centralrole of the fall and of eschatology in forming Nyssen's anthropology.One
must read De hominis opificio in terms of Nyssen's threefold distinction (which
provides the governing principleof the text) between God's original intentionfor
humannature,God's modificationof this planin the actualformationof the firsthumanbeings, andthe eschatologicalfulfillmentof God's originalpurpose.Focusing
on De hominisopificio andhis otherascetic texts writtenat roughlythe same time,8
I shall arguethatNyssen views the division of humanityinto male and female, not
as a partof God's originalintentionfor humanity,but merely as the resultof God's
anticipationof the fall. In otherwords, had God foreseen that humanitywould not
fall, he would not have genderedhumanbeings for a sexual mode of reproduction.
Humanity'srationalcorporealexistence, as God originally intendedit, represents,
for Nyssen, a reflectionof the angelic mode of life thatcharacterizesour existence
in the resurrection.To provethis thesis, we need to examine, first,Nyssen's account
of humans'relationshipwith the animals;second, the relationshipbetween sin and
sexuality; and third,the angelic body of the resurrection.

A Blending of the Earthlyand the Divine

Nyssen explainsthereasonfor God's creationof humanbeings as materialcreatures

in termsof their relationshipwith God and with the rest of materialcreation.God
hosts a feast, andhumanitycomes as God's honoredguest. Thus he saw fit to create
Adam last, so thathe might fully lay out the banquetbefore his arrival.9Humanity
rules over the materialcreation. The land representsthe imperial residence, and
the flora and fauna serve as the ruler's wealth and subjects. Throughthe delights
of creation and mankind'senjoyment of them, God intended that human beings
might "haveknowledge of the Giver, and by the beauty and majesty of the things
he saw might trace out that power of the Maker which is beyond speech and lan-

8 Behr objects to the "synthetic" reading of Nyssen that has led interpreters to import the
"garments of skin" allusion to Gen 3:21, which depicts sexuality and man's bestial nature as a
postlapsarian addition to human nature. This language, he rightly points out, does not appear in
De hominis opificio. We should read Nyssen's words carefully in terms of the internal logic of the
passage rather than "looking further afield for confirmation or corroboration" (Behr, "Rational
Animal," 222-23). The treatmentof the passions, virtue, the resurrection, and the images of God
is consistent within his works on ascetic theology, De hominis opificio, De vita Macrinae, and De
anime et resurrectione, which were written together between 379 and 381. Therefore, it is quite
reasonable to test one's reading of De hominis opificio against Nyssen's argumentsin De vita Macrinae and De anime et resurrectione.
9 Hom. opif 2.2 (Patrologia Graeca [PG] 44:133a).





guage."'0The ineffable and unknowabletranscendentGod makes himself known

in his works, which reflect the divine beauty.
God fashioned humanityas a hybrid mixture of earthly and divine, so that by
means of his sensualnature,he mightenjoy the earthlycreationand,by meansof his
likeness to God, the divine. Nyssen locates the immaterialdivine aspect of human
naturein the mind, which, like the immanentbut incorporealWord,"'does not stay
confined to a single bodily organ but remains presentthroughoutthe body.12Yet
the rationalnatureand activities of the mind depend upon the form and function
of the body. The uprightposturenot only signifies humanity'sroyal dignity rising
above the servile posture of the other creatures,but it frees the hands for carrying, which allows the mouth more subtlety for speech in the service of reason.13
Throughthe senses, the portals of the mind, the intellect receives and interprets
a multidimensionalflow of perceptionsabout the world. These perceptionsequip
the mind to reason.14
As God's viceroyover creation,humanityexertsdominionover the earththrough
the governance of reason. The rule of reason perfects materialcreationby apprehending the properends of all things and orderingthem to those purposes.The
perfectingsovereigntyof reasonmanifests most clearly for Nyssen in the relationship of the rationalhuman soul and the body. He speaks of the soul as endowed
with an autocraticwill necessaryfor its royal commission. Thus the soul bearsthe
image of the Lord of the universe, whose rationaldignity appearsin those faculties and virtues necessary for the soul's autarchy.'"Throughthe rationalfaculties,
humanbeings enjoy what Nyssen calls "whatis free from necessity"
dvdaylcK).'6Non-rationalanimals remain subject to a kind of necessity, because
they can know only the immediate,sensualgood of a particularobjectandtherefore
can seek only sensualgoods. Moreover,because they lack reason,they do nothave
the capability of self-criticism and, consequently,may pursue the object of their
appetitewith a reckless abandonthat may prove destructive.7 Humanbeings, by
contrast,have the ability both to apprehendthe higher, intelligible goods of God
and to criticize themselves about the impulses of their appetitive nature.There-

toIbid. 2.1 (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2 [NPNF2] 5:390; PG 44:133a-b).
" Nyssen explains that the humanmind, in bearing the image of the divine, shares the inscrutable
nature of its archetype (ibid. 11.3 [PG 44:156b]).
12 Ibid. 12.3 (PG 44:157c).
' Ibid. 8.1-2 (PG 44:144b-c); 8.8 (PG 44:148d-149a); and 9.1-2 (PG 44:149b-c).
14 Ibid. 10.2-3 (PG 44:152b-c).
'5 Ibid. 4 (PG 44:136b-c). Nyssen identifies those virtues that display God's own beauty and
sovereignty and with which man is equipped as purity, freedom from passion, blessedness, and
alienation from all evil. The divine faculties are reason, rationaljudgment, and apprehension(ibid.
5.1 [PG 44:137b]).
'6Ibid. 16.11 (PG 44:184b).
17Anim. et res. (PG 46:61b-c).



fore, bodily appetites do not wholly determinehuman actions. The dominion of

the rationalsoul over the body has the effect of infusing the body with the beauty
of the divine.'8
The psychosomaticunity of the personproves centralto Nyssen's anthropology.
Yet in De hominis opificio, he emphasizes the rationalsoul, which bears the image
of God. Although the humansoul possesses the faculties of the vegetative soul of
plants and animals and the sentient soul of animals, human beings possess not a
tripartitebut a single trichotomoussoul thatfinds perfection,or completion, in the
rationalsoul.19The benevolenthegemony of the mind, invests the body with order,
form, and beauty.The logic of this view should imply that in mattersof sexuality,
the mind controls and orderssexual activity and transformsit from a bestial act of
passion to a loftier act of love for one's mate and of obedience to God's command
to "befruitfulandmultiply."In otherwords,given Nyssen's view of the hierarchical
relationshipof the soul to the body, one might expect a view of sex not radically
different from Augustine's. Adam and Eve, Augustine asserts, would have had
sexual intercourse,even if God had not expelled them from Paradise.He explains
the chief difference between sex in Eden and sex afterthe fall with the notion that
concupiscence would not have tainted intercoursein Paradise,but reason would
have controlledit.20Based on Nyssen's view of humanityas the unionof the rational
and animal natures,Behr reasons that, because gender remains an essential componentof the animalnature-which God intendsfor humanityto raise up-gender
must remain an essential component of human nature as well. Behr concludes
unequivocally: "Humanbeings are not and never were, nor were ever meant to
be, solely intellectualbeings, as the angels, but they embraceboth dimensions of
Yet Nyssen does
creation,the asexual rationalpartand the sexual non-rational."21
not present at all this pictureof sex and gender in De hominis opificio.

18"Thus so long as [mind] keeps in touch with [God], the communication of the true beauty
extends proportionallythroughthe whole series, beautifying by the superiornaturethat which comes
next to it; but when there is any interruptionof this beneficent connection, . . . then is displayed
the misshapen character of matter, . . . and by its shapelessness is also destroyed that beauty of
nature with which it [i.e., body] is adorned through the mind" (Hom. opif. 12.10 [NPNF2 5:399;
PG 44:161d]).
19"Let no one suppose ... that in the compound nature of man there are three souls welded
together..... The true andperfect soul is naturallyone, the intellectual and immaterial,which mingles
with our material natureby the agency of the senses .. ." (ibid. 14.2 [NPNF2 5:403; PG 44:176b]).
Although Nyssen readily describes ournatureas compound (which reflects the hierarchyof creation),
he steadfastly refuses to speak of it as a microcosm. Our dignity lies in our likeness to God, not in
our similarity to the gnat or the mouse (ibid. 16.1-2 [NPNF2 5:404; PG 44:180a]). Similarly, in De
anima et resurrectione, Nyssen insists that the essence of human naturelies in its uniqueness, what
distinguishes it from all other creatures, the rational image of God (PG 46:53a).
Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim 9, 3.5-6 and De civitate Dei 14.22-24.
Behr, "RationalAnimal," 235.





Gender,Sexuality, and the Fall

In chapter16 of De hominisopificio, Nyssen exploresthe seemingly contradictory

assertionof Gen 1:27-that God madehumankindin his own image yet at the same
aliento his divine
time createdmale andfemale (po(v Ica' Ofifudrioiroev
nature.For as Paul says in Galatians3:28, "InChrist... there is neithermale nor
female."Thisparadoxicalassociationof the imageof God andsomethingaliento the
divine archetype,Nyssen says, teachesa "loftydoctrine"-that humanityrepresents
the "mean,"or midpoint, between the two, created with both the rational,divine
natureof God and the non-rational,genderednatureof the beasts.22The wording
of Gen 1:27 suggests thatthe rational,divine nature"precedes"(nrporEpeietv)the
division of human beings into male and female.23This ordering,however, does
not mean thatGod performedtwo separateacts of creation.Rather,Moses' words
depict the double aspect of humannature:first,the rational,in common with God
andthe angels, which he does not differentiateaccordingto gender;and second,the
corporeal,in common with non-rationalbeasts, which he so divides. The qualities
of the divine image occur thus "prior"only at the level of God's intention.
Nyssen explains that Scriptureemploys the phrase"image of God"to express
God's will that humanbeings participatein the fullness of God's goodness: "For
if the Deity is the fullness of good, and this is His image, then the image finds its
resemblanceto the Archetypein being filled with all good"24-by thathe meansthe
moralandintellectualvirtues,chief among which he includes freedomfromnecesYet the languageof "image"suggests
sity, "notin bondageto any naturalpower."25
that God made humanitywith qualities differentfrom the divine nature:"Now as
the image bears in all points the semblance of the archetypalexcellence, if it had
not a difference in some respect, being absolutely without divergence it would no
longer be a likeness, but will in thatcase manifestlybe absolutelyidenticalwiththe
The criticaldifferencebetweenhumanbeings andthe divinearchetype
lies in the notion that whereas God constitutes both the source of goodness and
eternalduration-goodness thereforeinheringin God's immutablenature-human
beings, by the fact of their creationfrom nothing,remaininherentlychangeable.27
The Creatorforeknew thatthe mutabilityinherentin our creatednature,combined
with the unconstrainedfreedomof the humanwill, would lead to the fall anddeath.
Nyssen thus writes: "perceivingbeforehandby His power of foreknowledgewhat
Hom. opif 16.9 (NPNF2 5:405, PG 44:181b).
Ibid. 16.9 (PG 44:181c).
Ibid. 16.10 (NPNF2 5:405; PG 44:184b).
(ibid. 16.11 [NPNF2 5:405; PG 44:184b]).
25 "t
t^r7tE) v0a(tai
26 Ibid. 16.12

27 "Forit is verycertainlyacknowledged
natureis alsoimmutable,
remainsthe same,whilethe creatednaturecannotexist withoutchange;for its verypassagefrom

nonexistence to existence is a certainmotion and change of the nonexistent transmutedby the Divine
purpose into being" (ibid. 16.12 [NPNF2 5:405; PG 44:184c]).




... is the tendency of the motion of man's will-as He saw what would be, He
devised for His image the distinctionof male andfemale, which has no referenceto
the Divine Archetype,but, as we have said, is an approximationto the less rational
Thus while God addedgender as a partof humannatureprior to the fall,
the reason for the additionlay in God's anticipation of the fall.29
Behr contendsthatthis passage (16.14) introducesNyssen's catabaticanthropology, characterizedby the overturning(Fiutorpopif)of reason'spropergoverning of
creation.This overturningof the created orderresults from "humankind'sappropriation to the more non-rationalnature."30
Although passion certainlyoverturned
the rule of reason, humanity'sfailure to follow reason did not give our mode of
procreationits bestial character.Rather,Nyssen says, God's fashioningof humanity
as male and female, a function of our kinship with the non-rationalanimals, gave
the bestial characterto humanprocreation.One should note, however, that Nyssen does not present the account of God's creationof the double aspect of human
naturebased on Gen 1:26-27 in neutralterms. Rather,his exegesis grows out of
his concern for the discontinuitiesbetween the archetypaldivine nature and the
presentstate of humannature.He poses a question:"how then is man, this mortal,
passible, short-livedbeing, the image of that naturewhich is immortal,pure, and
He then introduceshis interpretationof Gen 1:27:
Let us turn our inquiry to the question before us-how it is that while the

is in misery,thelatteris yet in Scripture

Deityis in bliss,andhumanity
"like"the former?
We must,then,examinethe words[of Gen 1:26-27]carefully:for we find,
if we do so, thatthatwhichwas made"inthe image"is one thing,andthat
which is now manifestedin wretchednessis another.32

28 Ibid.

16.14 (NPNF2 5:406; PG 44:185a).

29Behr argues that for Nyssen, Gen 1:26-27 must be viewed as "unambiguouslyprelapsarian,"

without"evena hint"thatGod'sforeknowledge
of the fall influencedGod'sfashioningof humanity (Behr,"RationalAnimal,"235-36). Behris correctthatin 16.9, whereNyssen describesthe
distinctionbetweentherationalandthe non-rational
aspectsof humannature,he does not mention
of the fall as thereasonfor addinggender.Nyssendoes,however,makethis
pointlater,at 16.14.
restsuponhis translation
as "the distinc... i~ d&XoyuTdpa
"tiv iTpRi To ppev K Ofihu 5tagopdv .poo
eeiwa0t n oet"
tion of male and female, which ... has been appropriatedto the more non-rational nature"(237).
The word npooqKeiumcat from npoootFet6), according to Liddell and Scott, means "to assign" or
"to associate with." Therefore, the sense would be that the distinction between male and female is
associated with the non-rational nature of animals rather than the rational nature of God. This is
the more straightforwardmeaning of the term, given the contrast Nyssen is making between the
divine image and the non-rationalnature.

Hom. opif 16.4 (NPNF2 5:404; PG 44:180b).

Ibid. 16.6-7 (NPNF2 5:405; PG 44:180d-181a).





In articulatingthe twofold creation of humannature,Scripture"darklyconveys"

thatwe can identify the wretchednessof ourpresentconditionwith the additionof
gender and sexuality-"a thing which is alien from our conceptions of God.""33
Behr argues that althoughGod foreknew the fall into sin and saw how gender
would ensure that the species would not die out once he had imposed the penalty
of death,he tied his intentionto divide humanbeings into male and female to our
essential kinshipwith the beasts. Based on Nyssen's claim thatangelic procreation
would have occurredin paradisehad the fall not occurred,Behr says that the angelic mode does not refer to a specifically asexual mode but ratherto procreation
fully controlledby reason, that faculty which we share with angels.34Behr makes
a reasonableconclusion-that to have kinship with animals entails being marked
for gender.But the text does not supportit. Rather,while God divided animalsinto
male andfemale, he would not have genderedhumanbeings hadhe not foreknown
the fall into sin.
Nyssen says explicitlythatsexualreproductionconstitutesa necessaryandfitting
mode of procreationfor fallen humanity.The fall into sin entails a reorientation
of human desire from those lofty intellectual goods proper to human natureto
the sensual goods sought by animals. Having foreknown humanity'sinabilityto
maintainits focus on the divine goods, Nyssen says, God "formedfor our nature
that contrivance for increase (tfj;ga'aeiloog iFiivotav) which befits those who
had fallen into sin (iiv KcaradXXhXov
gaptiav), implantingin mankind,
instead of(&vr') the angelic majesty of nature,that animal and non-rationalmode
by which they now succeed one another.""One shouldnotice two importantpoints
in this briefpassage. First,Nyssen speaksof the "animalandnon-rationalmode"of
procreationas befittingthose who have fallen into sin. After the fall, humanbeings
orientedthemselves towardthose sensually appealinggoods and so remaindriven,
like the animals, by the appetitesof our non-rationalfaculties to sensual, material
goods. Since the non-rationalanimalscannotgraspnature'spurposes,God ensured
the preservationof species by endowing animals with a mode of procreationthat
provides a powerful, sensually pleasing inducementfor reproducing.Thus sexual
intercourserepresentsa fitting mode of reproductionfor those who have fallen,
because sexual procreationaccommodatesthe sensual orientationof sin.
At the very end of chapter 17, Nyssen explicitly links the bestial mode of
procreationto the hypersensualityof sin and identifies it as the cause of ourpresent misery. Commentingon Ps 48:13 (LXX)-"Manbeing in honour knew it not;
... he is comparedto the beasts that have no understanding,and made like unto
them"-Nyssen explainsthatthe honor,which humanbeings did not know,resided
in the angelic characterof their nature,whereastheir likeness to cattle lay in their
mode of procreation.
33 Ibid.

16.8 (NPNF2 5:405; PG 44:181a).

34 Behr,"Rational

35 Hom. opif 17.4 (NPNF2 5:407, emphasis added; PG 44:189c-d).




For [humanity]truly was made like the beasts, who received in his naturethe
presentmode of transientgeneration,on account of his inclinationto material
Tv tp6;gtr61o6Seg I otnv).
things (86t&h

For I think thatfrom this beginning all our passions issue as from a spring,
and pour their flood over man's life; and an evidence of my words is the
kinship of passions which appearsalike in ourselves and in the brutes;for it
is not allowable to ascribe the first beginnings of our constitutionalliability
to passion to that human naturewhich was fashioned in the Divine likeness;
but as brute life first enteredinto the world, and man, for the reason already
mentioned, took something of their nature(I mean the mode of generation),
he accordingly took at the same time a share of the other attributescontemplated in that nature;for the likeness of man to God is not found in anger,
nor is pleasure a mark of the superiornature;cowardice also, and boldness,
and the desire of gain, and the dislike of loss, and all the like, are far removed
from that stamp which indicates Divinity.36
Here Nyssen restates his earlier claim that God made humans like the beastsof their sensual inclinations. But he
equipped for sexual procreation-because
also asserts that the passions proceeded from this animal mode of generation. His
words at the beginning of chapter 18-'!from this beginning all our passions issue as from a spring"-suggest that the "beginning" of passion springs from the
"inclination to material things" and that this inclination arises specifically from
the animal mode of generation.
The list of impulses that constitute this "beginning" (anger, pleasure, cowardice,
boldness, desire of gain, dislike of loss, and the like) do not seem to have anything
to do with sexual procreation per se. Yet he makes the point that human beings
took "something of their nature (I mean the mode of generation)" and "a share of
the other attributes contemplated in that nature." The passions arise from those
impulses that necessarily accompany the animal mode of procreation. He does
not consider the impulses in themselves as bad; on the contrary, he regards them
as necessary for the survival of the animals. Yet in human beings, the impulses of
animals become passions precisely when they receive direction not from reason
but from the uncritical drives of the non-rational faculties:
These attributes,then, humannaturetook to itself from the side of the brutes;
for those qualitieswith which brutelife was armedfor self-preservation,when
transferredto human life, became passions; for the carnivorousanimals are
preservedby their anger,and those which breed largely by their love of pleasure. ... All these and the like affections enteredman's composition through
the animal mode of generation (8th Ti;g

What does Nyssen mean by saying that "all these and the like affections entered
man's composition through the animal mode of generation"? One possible reading

Ibid. 17.5-18.1 (NPNF2 5:407-8, emphasis added; PG 44:189d-192b).

Ibid. 18.2 (NPNF2 5:408, modified and emphasis added; PG 44:192b-c).





may assert that all passions representexpressions of the non-rationalappetitive

aspectof the soul-desire (int0oglia), fear,andirascibility,or spirit(Otg6g;).Therefore, when God gave to humanbeings the bestial mode of procreation,drivenby
a desire for sexual pleasure,he necessarily gave them the sensual appetitesof the
non-rationalsoul. If Nyssen intendsthis in fact, thenhe makes a circularargument:
God made humanity male and female and equipped them for a bestial mode of
procreationin orderto accommodatethe sensual hedonism characteristicof fallen
humanity;at the same time, God's giving mankindthe animal mode of generation
from which those passions arisecausedthe fall into sensualhedonism.This implies
thathumanityarrivesvirtuallyborninto a stateof fallenness. The last line contains
the key point. The love of pleasure-the driving force behind sexual procreation
and the impetus for all passions-God gave to humanityalong with the capacity
for sexual reproduction.The passions arise in humanbeings because the animal
mode of generationexacerbatesthe soul's sensualorientation,which compromises
the intellect's ability to control the non-rationalimpulses.
Nyssen says clearly that one does not find the fully developed, humanpassions
among the beasts. As Behr notes, the passions-malevolence, envy, deceit, conspiracy,hypocrisy, and the like-result from "the evil husbandryof the mind."38
These distinctly human sins arise from the mind's voluntary submission to the
non-rationalimpulses. Nyssen writes:
So man seems to me to beara doublelikenessto oppositethings-being
moldedin the Divineelementof his mindto theDivinebeauty,butbearing,
in the passionateimpulsesthatarisein him,a likenessto the brutenature;
whileofteneven his reasonis renderedbrutish,andobscuresthebetterelementby the worsethroughits inclinationanddispositiontowardswhatis
for whenevera man dragsdown his mentalenergyto these
affections,andforceshis reasonto becomethe servantof his passions,there
takesplacea sortof conversion
of thegoodstampin himintothenon-rational
image,his wholenaturebeingtracedanewafterthatdesign,as his reason...
cultivatesthe beginningsof his passions,andgraduallymultipliesthem;for
onceit lendsits co-operation
to passion,it producesa plenteousandabundant
cropof evils."3
The non-rationalimpulses of the soul corruptthe mind by co-opting reason.When
the soul submitsto non-rationaldrives, innatelyorientedtowardthe materialgoods
apprehendedby the senses, it falls into a state of passion. Thus one exchanges the
stamp of the divine naturefor a likeness to the non-rationalanimals, because the
soul has ceased to participatein the highergoods of God's natureand thereforehas
lost its likeness to the divine beauty.When the mind turns to the materialgoods
by the love of pleasure, it no longer mirrorsthe rationalorderof God's goodness

38 Ibid. 18.4 (NPNF2 5:408; PG 44:193b);

3 Ibid. 18.3 (NPNF2 5:408; PG 44:192d).

Behr, "Rational Animal," 238 and 246.




and so cannot rightly orderthe body.40Invoking the metaphorof the mirrorin De

virginitate,Nyssen says thatthe mind dominatedby the passions cannotreflectthe
divine image any morethana mirrormarredby staincan reflecta handsomeface.41
For when the love of the sensual directs the mind to the mundaneratherthan the
eternal,the mind does not enjoy contemplativecommunionwith God and so does
not bear likeness to God.
While sins grow out of the sensualorientationthatbegins with the bestialdimension of humannature,this orientation,combined with the imaginativepower of the
intellect,leads humanbeings to seek materialgoods quantitativelyandcategorically
beyond the scope of those goods desiredby non-rationalanimals. "Thus,"Nyssen
concludes, "ourlove of pleasure took its beginning from our being made like to
the non-rationalcreation,and was increasedby the transgressionsof men, becoming the parentof so many varieties of sins arising from pleasureas we cannot find
among the non-rationalanimals."42The present misery of fallen humanity,which
standsin discordantjuxtapositionwith the blessings of the divine image, exceeds
the injurycaused by the simple desire and irascibility of the beasts.
Nyssen goes on to point out thatthese same non-rationalimpulses,the precursors
of humanpassions, become virtues when governed by reason. Desire (C'ttuagia)
becomes godly love (dyd16r);irascibility (08gi6;)becomes courage (dv6pEia) in
the face of temptation.43In this way, one raises the lower nature,just as Behr argues. Thatdoes not necessarily say, however, thatGod intendedthese non-rational
impulses for humannatureirrespectiveof the fall. In De anima et resurrectione,
Nyssen, speakingthroughthe voice of Macrina,says thatthe non-rationalfaculties
of the soul-desire (Ft7ctOntgr
rc6v) and spirit(0-ogoetSilg)-remain necessary for
moralactionin the presentlife but do not, properlyspeaking,representcomponents
of the soul made in the image of God. Rather, one should view them simply as
auxiliaryfaculties that lie on the soul's margin:
thatthedivinealso,whateverit is by nature,hasits
existencein these activitiesof observingeverythinganddistinguishing
of the soul,
goodfromthebad,butwhateverlies on the margin(iv teOopico)
incliningtowardseachof the extremesaccordingto its own peculiarnature,
which we need when we take a step towardsthe good or its opposite,for
example,angeror fearor anyof theotherimpulsesin the soulwithoutwhich
40 "The mind, as being in the image of the most
beautiful, itself also remains in beauty and
goodness so long as it partakesas far as is possible in its likeness to the archetype;but if it were at
all to depart from this it is deprived of that beauty in which it was" (ibid. 12.9 [NPNF2 5:398-99;
PG 44:161c]).
41 Nyssen repeatedly describes the soul beset with sin and passion by comparing it to a shining object (a mirror,water, metal) that is capable of reflecting light as long as it is free of dirt and
corrosion. When the external filth is allowed to accumulate, the mirror is unable to reflect a true
image, and the metal loses its beauty (see Virg. 11-12).
42 Hom. opif 18.4 (NPNF2 5:408; PG 44:193a).
43 Ibid. 18.5 (NPNF2 5:408; PG 44:193b).





humannaturecannotreflect,thesewe considerexternalsbecausetheyarenot
perceivedin thebeautyof the archetype.44
In otherwords, the intellectualfaculties of the soul enable us to participatein and
enjoy the blessings of the divine nature, while the non-rationalfaculties of the
soul serve the mundanepurposeof acting in the world. When reason controlsthe
non-rationalfaculties, the resultingmoral good can serve the contemplativeends
of the soul's ascent to God.
Returningthen to Nyssen's explanation of the human mode of reproduction
in chapter 17.4-that God "formedfor our naturethat contrivance for increase
which befits those who had fallen into sin .. ."-we note the second important
point in Nyssen's statement that God "implant[ed]in mankind, instead of the
angelic majesty of nature,that animal and non-rationalmode [of procreation]."
Here Nyssen answers the question of how humanbeings would have procreated,
had they not fallen. Had God known thathumanswould remainturnedtowardthe
intelligible goods properto theirnature,he would have equippedthe humanform
with the mechanism that allows for asexual procreationamong the angels. Since
God foreknew our fall and our sensual orientationakin to the animals, however,
he gave humans a mode of procreationlike the animals: "God contrivedfor His
work the distinctionof male and female."45Nyssen's significantcontrastbetween
the animal mode of procreationand the angelic nature suggests an alternative
form of humanembodiment.Contraryto Behr's insistence that genderand sexual
reproductionremainessential to human natureas the perfect synthesis of the rational and animal natures,Nyssen says explicitly that the structureof the human
body could have and would have taken anotherform had human history been on
trackfor a differentdestiny. In otherwords, humanitycould representthe unionof
the rational,divine natureof angels with the sentient, materialnatureof animals
without incorporatinginto the humanbody all the functions and capacities of the
animals. Nyssen regardsthis as true in two ways. First, although mankindforms
the midpointbetween the divine andthe animals,God intentionallydid not give to
humanbeings the naturalpowers of speed or covering or strengthor "weaponry"
(e.g., horns or claws or venom).46Even as human beings obtain food and defend
themselves by different means than do animals, so too might they procreatedifferently. Second, and more importantly,the human body in the resurrectionwill
transforminto the angelic naturethatGod intendedfromthe beginning,while at the
same time retainthe materialcomposition of the animal-likebody. To understand

44Anim. et res. (Fathers of the Church [FC] 58:220-21; PG 46:57c).

17.4 (NPNF2 5:407; PG 44:189c).
This dissimilarity, Nyssen explains, was intended to force human beings to exert dominion
over the animals through reason, by means of domestication or technology--turning the ox into a
beast of burden, for example, or the dog into a "live sword" (see Horn.opif. 7.3 [NPNF25:392-93;
PG 44:141c-144a]).
45 Hornm.




this point, one must examine Nyssen's treatmentof the relationshipbetween the
angelic natureand the body of the resurrection.

The Angelic Life and the Body of the Resurrection

In his preface to De hominis opificio, Nyssen writes: "Forit is necessary to know

those things concerningman which came to be-of that which we believe to have
come to be, of thatwhich we expect to appearlater,and of that which is now seen
and leave nothing unexamined."47The wording of this passage seems curious;
for, Nyssen divides his discussion of human beings into humankindin the past,
then in the future,and finally in the present.This groupingof the past and the future togetherfollowed by the present shows that Nyssen identifies God's original
purpose for humanityin the beginning with humanity'seschatological destiny, in
contradistinctionfrom humanityin the present: "Now the resurrectionpromises
us nothing else thanthe restorationof the fallen to theirancient state;for the grace
we look for is a certainreturnto the firstlife, bringingback again to Paradisehim
who was cast out from it."48His equationof the creationin the beginning with the
end shall resemblethe
eschatonechoes Origen'sprincipleof &dnoK-arcr
God's creativeintenFor
tion for humanityin the beginningby understandingthe natureof the resurrection.
Nyssen does acknowledgethatany eschatological speculationmust begin with the
caveat thatthe precise natureof the resurrectionbody lies outside the scope of our
presentexperience andknowledge. Although he considers Christ'sresurrectionas
paradigmaticof our resurrection-as a bodily resurrection-Paul's metaphorsof
"thehouse not made with hands"(2 Cor 5:1-2) and the transformationof the grain
(1 Cor 15:42-44) imply the body of the resurrectionchanges into a form more
glorious thanourpresentbodies. Since the resurrectionwill bringa transformation
of the body into something different than the body as we know it now, Nyssen
resists making definitive pronouncementsabout that which necessarily remains
"completely hidden and unknown."49Nevertheless, while not dogmatic as to the
exact natureof the resurrectionbody, Nyssen does venture some suggestions as
to the qualities of the resurrectionbased on his readingof certainkey apocalyptic
passages from Scripture.
One of the key apocalyptictexts, Jesus' descriptionof "childrenof the resurrection"as "equalto the angels"(Luke20:35-36), becomes paradigmaticfor Nyssen's
understandingof the resurrection.Thus, he says, "if... the life of those restoredis
47 Ibid.preface(PG 44:128a).HenryA. Wilson'stranslation
in NPNF altersthe orderof the
Greekgivingit thelineartemporalorderingof past-present-future.
Sucha rendering
point.I am gratefulto RowanGreerfor pointingthis out to me.

Ibid. 17.2 (NPNF2 5:407; PG 44:187d).

49De mortuis.(GregoriiNysseniOperaIX [Leiden:Brill, 1967] 62.9-18) quotedin BrianE.
Daley, "'The HumanForm Divine': Christ's Risen Body and OursAccording to Gregory of Nyssa"





closely relatedto thatof the angels, it is clear that the life before the transgression
was a kind of angelic life, and hence also our returnto the ancientconditionof our
life is comparedto the angels."50Nyssen repeatedlyspeaks of the resurrectionas
a "restoration"or a "return"to the angelic life.
One shouldnot, however,interpretthe languageof restoration
or ird6voSo;)to mean that the resurrectionindicates simply a returnto Eden.As
Brian Daley has observed, the "restorationto our ancient state"does not referto
some prehistoricalexistence; rather,it means "the actual perfection or 'fullness'
of the rationalcreature'spossible reality,eternally presentin the mind of God, a
that pre-exists the human race's historicaljourney and becomes
6onog; goal
realizedin creaturesgraduallyin time."5'Thusthe resurrectionbringsthe fulfillment
of the germinallyperfect form, or nature,fashioned accordingto the divine image
that God createdpotentially at the level of his will and foreknowledge before his
actualmakingof Adam.52The only sense in which the resurrectionrepresentsa true
restorationof humanity'shistoricalpast arises from the notion that God will free
the body of the resurrectionfrom the effects of sin. Comparingthe resurrectionto
the cleansing of the leper Naamanthe Syrianin the riverJordan,Nyssen says that
"the deformity of sickness takes possession of the form [of the body] like some
strangemask, and when this is removed by the word, ... the form that had been
hiddenby disease is once more by means of health restoredto sight again with its
The form (E'i8o;)here does not referto universalhuman
own marksof identity.""53
naturebut to the distinctive form of each individualpreservedin the soul, which
ordersthe body's scatteredbits of matterto that form. He makes the criticalpoint
that the body restoredwill resemble the body of Eden only as a pristinematerial
body devoid of the effects of sin.
Nyssen elsewhere identifies aspects of Eden that God will restorein the resurrection-the tree of life, the original grace of the image and dignity of rule-yet
he says explicitly that we hope not for those things given to humanityby God for
the "necessary uses of life" but ratherfor the things of a kingdom of ineffable
As does Origen,Nyssen appealsto Paul's analogy of the grainandbody
of corruptionin 1 Cor 15:42. Even as the plantthatemerges from the buriedgrain
50 Hom. opif 17.2 (NPNF2 5:407; PG 44:187d).
5' Brian E. Daley, The Hope of the Early Church:A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Cam-

bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) 85-86. Morwenna Ludlow concurs: "Gregory'sidea of
the perfection of human kind is more a forward-lookingattainmentof an ideal than a retrospective
restorationto an actual previous state."(Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thoughtof Gregory
of Nyssa and Karl Rahner [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000] 43).
52See Johannes Zachhuber's discussion of De hominis opificio 16 and 22 in Human Nature in
Gregory of Nyssa: Philosophical and Background Theological Significance (Boston: Brill, 1999)
opif. 27.4 (NPNF2 5:418; PG 44:225d-228a).
54 Ibid. 21.4 (NPNF2 5:411; PG 44:204a). Nyssen repeats the reference to the restorationof
our primal grace, i.e., the beauty of the divine image untarnishedby sin, in Anim. et res. (PG 46:




produces "the same species ... born again as had grown in the beginning,"but in
radically glorified appearance,so too humanityof the resurrectionreproducesits
state in Eden, but changed into something more magnificent.55Thus resurrected
humanitywill resemble humanityaccordingto the divine image as God willed it
in the beginning, free from non-rationalimpulses given in accommodationof the
impending fall. Consequently,the angelic life of the resurrectioncannot suit the
life of animals, then perfectly governed and orderedby reason, as Behr argues.
Rather,for Nyssen, the angelic life of the resurrectionmeans a life oriented not
at all to the sensual but to God, whose life-giving power sustains human beings
in body and soul.
Nyssen groundshis understandingof the transformationof our earthlybodies
into spiritualor angelic bodies upon his ontology of quality. Ratherthan basing
his anthropologyon a hylemorphictheory of substance (i.e., prime mattergiven
identity by the imposition of form), Nyssen sees human beings as a collection of
intelligiblepropertiesor qualities(0tot6tnlev).56This does not say thathe abandons
the concept of matter.As in his discussion of the incarnationin AntirrheticusadversusApollinarium54, Nyssen uses the term Xkrlto refer,notjust to the matterof
the body, but to the whole person, body and soul, which Christtook from Mary's
womb.57This ontology of quality lays the foundation for Nyssen's accounts of
the resurrectionand of our divinization in this life. As a collection of intelligible
qualities, which can change, a human being can, by contemplative participation
in God and asceticism, take on the divine qualities or attributesof God. So too in
the resurrection,the creative powers of God change the qualities of the body, and
the soul whose vision of the divine communicates the divine qualities of purity
and incorruptibilityto the body sustains it. Since "one grace will shine upon all,"
all will transforminto homogeneous bodies, which will manifest the virtues and
This understandgraceof Christ,who shinesuponus, andin whom we participate.58
qualities by contemplativeparticipationconstitutes
the central grounds for his conception of the angelic life and thus the life of the
At the end of chapter 18, Nyssen appeals to the model of the angelic life to
describe the characterof the divine image restoredin humanityeschatologically.
He addressesthe imagined objection of someone who "feels shame at the fact that
our [present]life, like that of the brutes, is sustainedby food, and for this reason
deems manunworthyof being supposedto have been framedin the image of God."
Such an objectionassumes an incongruitybetween our sharedlife with the beasts,
in which food sustains us, and the life characteristicof one made in the image of
55Anim. et res. (FC 58:270; PG 46:156c).
Richard Sorabji, Matter, Space, and Motion: Theories in Antiquity and their Sequel (Ithaca,
N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988) 52-55 quoted in Daley, "HumanForm Divine," 6.
57See Daley's very helpful discussion in "HumanForm Divine," 6-7.
58De mortuis (Gregorii Nysseni Opera 9, 65.13-66.16) in Daley, "HumanForm Divine," 16.





a God, who does not need food. According to the logic of Behr's reading,Nyssen
should simply reply: humanity as the midpoint of creation must share with the
beasts a naturenourishedby food-for thatremainsessential to the animalnature
humanitypossesses. Unlike the beasts, however, reasoncontrolshumans'appetite
for food. Therefore,our sharedmode of sustenanceshould not cause shame.This,
however, Nyssen does not reply.To begin with, he does not dismiss the suggestion
thatwe shouldfeel shameat being like the non-rationalanimals.Rather,he accepts
the premisethatthis formof animalnaturerepresentsless thanwhatGod originally
intendedfor humanity.In fact, freedomfrom this aspect of animal natureremains
partof our eschatological destiny.
But he [i.e., the personfeeling shame]may expectthatfreedomfromthis
function[i.e., eating]will one day be bestoweduponour naturein the life
we look for;for,as theApostlesays,"theKingdomof Godis not meatand
drink;"andtheLorddeclaredthat"manshallnot live by breadalone,butby
as the resureverywordthatproceedethout of the mouthof God."Further,
rectionholdsforthto us a life equalwiththe angels(i6cyyekov),andwith
the angelsthereis no food,thereis sufficientgroundforbelievingthatman,
who will live in like fashionwiththe angels,will be releasedfromsuch a
Nyssen's position has clear logic. In the resurrectionwe shall cease resemblingthe
beasts sustainedby food; instead, as creaturesbearingthe uncompromisedimage
of God, we shall resemble the angels, sustained by the word of God, the object
of our eternal adorationand contemplation. Since human beings will derive an
immortal existence from their contemplative participationin God's eternal and
incorruptiblebeing, no need for the non-rationalfaculties currentlynecessaryfor
our survivalindividuallyand as a species will arise. Even as we shall have no need
for eating or drinkingto sustain the humanbody, neithershall we have a need for
sexual reproductionto perpetuatethe humanrace.
Nyssen's suggestion thatour contemplativeparticipationin God will sustainus
eschatologically reflects his view of the soul's mediatorialrole in relationto the
body. Earlierin De hominis opificio, he explains that as the soul acts as a mirror
thatreflects or possesses the qualities of the object of its contemplation,so too the
body functions as a "mirrorof the mirror"and reflects the qualities of the soul.
Thus the mind, when set upon God, conforms to the beauty of God's virtuesand
transmitsthat beauty to the body, which it rules.6"Nyssen may well draw on the
Plotinianview of the mediatorialrole of the soul in giving form to matter.Plotinus
explains that Mind, or vo;g, apprehendsthe unitarybeauty of the One as a multiplicity of ideas or forms. When the soul unites with voig in contemplationof the
One, it communicatesthe beautyof the One to the materialbody by imposingform
on matter.Thus the soul can rightly govern the body and give it its properform

Hom. opif 18.9 (NPNF2 5:409; PG 44:196a-b).

Ibid. 12.9 (NPNF2 5:399; PG 44:161c-d).




and beauty, only as long as it actively participatesin the One throughcontemplation.61This may indeed reflectthe logic of Nyssen's view of directedparticipation.
When the soul unites with God in contemplation, it receives life and beauty by
participatingin God, who representslife itself. This divine life transmitsin turnto
the body.62In this way the soul's communionwith God, not physical nourishment,
sustains the body.
This view of angelic humanityof the resurrectionappearsfully consistent with
the account Nyssen gives of the resurrectionin another work, De anima et resurrectione, written about the same time as De hominis opificio. The body of the
resurrection,he says, will remainthe very body thatwe have possessed in this life,
restoredwith all the elements as well as the form it had duringthis life.63Although
Nyssen does not say explicitly, he implies that the bodies of the resurrectionwill
retain the phenotypic features that markedit for gender in this life. In the eschaton, however, when God becomes "all and in all," we shall use neitherthe sexual
organs nor the organs used for eating and digesting food; no one will need to eat
or to drink or to procreate,since our participationin God will sustain our lives.
Contrastingthis life with that to come, he writes:
Ourpresentlife is lived by us in variedand multifarious
of manythings,suchas time,air,place,eatinganddrinking,the lightof the
sun, lamplight,andthe manyothernecessitiesof life, and God is none of
these.However,the blessednesswe look forwardto requiresnone of them
and,insteadof these,thedivinenaturewill becomeeverythingto us impartto everyneed of thatlife. This is clearfromsacred
ing itself harmoniously
whichtell us thatGod becomesa place to thosewho are
worthyanda homeanda garmentandnourishment
wealthanda kingdomandeveryideaandnamewe havefor whatmakesup
the good life.64

Following this view to its logical conclusion, he admitsthatif our directparticipation in God sustains our whole being, then we shall not need even those organs
(such as heart,liver, brain, lungs, stomach) that constitute "the life-giving cause

Once the soul becomes distracted and immersed in the material world, which does not inherently possess form or beauty, it can no longer communicate form and beauty to the body. See
Plotinus, Enneads 1.6.2 and 4.8.6.
62 "Thus so long as one [i.e., mind]
keeps in touch with the other [i.e., God], the communication
of the true beauty extends proportionallythrough the whole series [including the body], beautifying by the superior nature that which comes next to it; but when there is any interruptionof this
beneficent connection, or when, on the contrary, the superior [i.e., the mind] comes to follow the
inferior [i.e., the body], then is displayed the misshapen character of matter, when it is isolated
from nature (for in itself matter is a thing without form or structure), and by its shapelessness is
also destroyed that beauty of nature with which it is adorned through the mind" (Hom. opif. 12.10
[NPNF2 5:399; PG 44:161d]).
63The soul remains with all the elements of the body, dispersed though they are, so that they
may come together at the resurrection(Anim. et res. [PG 46:44c-d and 73b-77b]).
64 Ibid. (FC 58:243-44; PG 46:104b-c).





and power"of the body. Moreover,on the sustainedassumptionthat no marriage

will take place in the resurrection,Nyssen observes: "If for the sake of marriage
there are partswhich pertainto marriage,when marriageno longer exists, we will
have no need of those parts."65Behr construes Nyssen's interpretationof Jesus'
statementabout marriageand the resurrectionto mean that no maritalunion will
occur for the sake of repopulationas a result of death. But this, he says, leaves
open the possibility that marriageand sexual union may continue in the resurrection without procreationas its objective.66In this passage, however, Nyssen, far
from suggesting that sexual relations will take place governed by reason, states
simply that there will be no need of sexual organs. He therebyrules out theiruse
for procreationor any otherpurpose.Even the non-rationalfaculties of desire and
spirit, on which the soul relies in this life to "lead us to the beautiful,"will have
no use, when God becomes "all and in all."67Rather,we shall rely solely upon
Then the sheer enjoyment (dRt6Xka~ntg)
the contemplativefaculties
will replace our desire
of the God immediatelypresentto the
God.68As the characterof our experience of our relationshipwith God changesin
the resurrection,so will the characterof our love. In De anima et resurrectione,
Nyssen speaks of our presentlove as ie~poand our love of God in the eschatonas
aydaa.69 In whateverway our eschatological love retainssome qualities of ipo;g,
it will become qualitativelydifferentthan our erotic longings in the presentlife.
This understandingof the resurrectionas an angelic existence free from the
sensual erotic desires and the need for sexual reproductionlies at the foundation
of Nyssen's ascetic ideal. He maintainsthat the Christianlife in the presentnot
only anticipatesthe resurrectionin hope but strives to embody the angelic life of
the resurrectionthroughasceticism and sexual renunciation.Nyssen takes as the
exemplar of the ascetic life-life ordered according to a philosophical regimen
which separatesthe soul from the desires of the body-his elder sister,Macrina,to
whom he often refers as simply 1 nap0~vog, "thevirgin."Impelledby the deathof
the man to whom her parentshad betrothedher, Macrinaenteredthe life of virginity. After the death of her father,Basil the Elder, Macrinapersuadedher mother
to allow her to convert the family estate at Pontus into a monastic community
for female virgins. Throughher life of perpetualchastity and the renunciationof
65 Ibid. (FC 58:264;

PG 46:144c-145a).

66Behr, "RationalAnimal," 246.


Anim. et res. (FC 58:237; PG 46:89b-c).

68 Ibid.

(PG 46:89b-c).

In later works, such as De vita Moysis and Commentarius in Canticum

Nyssenrevisesthis view,insistingthateven eschatologicallywe will be guidedby a
holy desirefor God.Eroticlonging,in fact,necessarilycharacterizes
betweenthe creatureandthe creator.See J. Warren
Godbecausetherewill alwaysbe a "distance"
Smith, Passion and Paradise: Human and Divine Emotion in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa

(New York,N.Y.:Crossroad,2004) 202-16.

69 As is typical, Nyssen is not fully consistent in this regard and at places uses dydnc as synonymous with irtO14tia. See Anim. et res. (FC 58: 224 and 240; PG 146: 64c and 96b).




childbearing,Nyssen says, Macrinatranscendedher natureas woman.70 He does

not mean by this that she became male. Rather,she reclaimed that pure humanity
made in the image of God, free from the accretionof sexuality.71 Nyssen describes
her celibate withdrawalfrom the desires of the body as "an imitation of the existence of the angels."72In fact, his language here reminds one of the view in De
hominisopificio thathumanityrepresentsthe midpointbetween the life of rational
and non-rationalcreatures:"their[i.e., the virgins'] existence borderedon both the
human and the incorporealnature..... A naturefreed from human cares is more
than human, whereas, to appearin the body and to be embracedby form and to
live with the senses is to have a natureless thanangelic and incorporeal."73
In other
words, Macrina,whose life in the presentage was characterizedby dependenceon
food for sustenanceandby bodily weakness and suffering,lacked the full blessedness of the angels. At the same time, she had a life "morethan human,"because
through her virginity she transcendedthe bodily preoccupations of the present
Here De vita
life and prolepticallyembracedthe angelic life of the resurrection.74
Macrinae appearsconsistent with De hominis opificio. Gender and sexuality do
not constitute essential components of human naturethat will continue to play a
significantrole for us eschatologically;rather,the celibate life enables the Christian
to rise above the corporealdistractionsof gender and sexuality and so to possess
V. Macr. 1.10-12 (Sources chrdtiennes [SC] 178:138).
For an extended discussion of the relationship between Nyssen's anthropology in De hominis
opificio and his treatmentof gender, see Verna E. F. Harrison, "Male and Female in Cappadocian
Theology," JTS n.s. 41 (1990) 465-71; and J. WarrenSmith, "AJustand Reasonable Grief:The Death
and Function of a Holy Woman in Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Macrina," JECS 12 (2004) 57-84.
72 "Just as by death souls are freed from the body and released from the cares of this life, so
their life was separated from these things, divorced from all mortal vanity and attuned to an imitation of the existence of the angels" (V. Macr. 11.16-20 [FC 58:170-71; SC 178:176]). Nyssen
here is drawing on the language of Plato's Phaedo (64b-e) that views the philosophical life as
the separation of the soul from the body in this life in anticipation of the soul's ultimate, blessed
liberation from the flesh at the time of death. One should not assume, however, that Nyssen in this
text has abandonedthe Christianbelief in the resurrectionof the body in favor of the Platonic view
of immortality (the soul's disembodied existence in the eternal realm). See his discussion of the
resurrectionin V. Macr. 5.14 and 24.15 (SC 178:156 and 218).
73 V. Macr. 11.36-40 (FC 58:171; SC 178:178-80).
74 The clearest statement of her strength in virtue comes in Nyssen's account of Macrina and
their mother's hearing the news of the death of Macrina's younger brother Naucratius. While her
mother was overcome with grief and fainted, "Macrina'sexcellence was evident. By setting reason
against passion, she kept herself in hand, and, becoming a bulwark of her mother's weakness, she
lifted her out of the abyss of grief, and, by her own firmness and unyielding spirit, she trained her
mother's soul to be courageous. . .. Macrina's life became for her mother a guide towards the
philosophical and unworldly way of life, and, turningher aside from all that she was used to, she led
her to her own standardof simplicity" (V. Macr. 10.1-6 and 11.5-13 [FC 58:169-70; SC 178:172
and 174-76]). Given Nyssen's depiction of Macrina's virtue and self-mastery, it is hard to see his
praise of virginity in De virginitate as being ironic. This account of Macrina's life does not accord
with Hart's interpretationof De virginitate that the celibate life is the resort of those too weak of
character and virtue to be able to hold in balance marriage and the life of contemplation.






the contemplative life of one endowed with the imago Dei, which, for Nyssen,
representsthe essence of humannature."7

Conclusion:The Essential Disunity of Nyssen's Anthropology

We find Behr's reading of Nyssen's anthropologyattractiveprecisely because it

reconcilesthe confusingandcontradictorylines of Nyssen's thought.Unfortunately,
however, this interpretationimposes a coherence on Nyssen's anthropology-a
vision of humanity in which the rationaland the corporealnatures appearfully
integrated-that the text does not support. Nyssen, as Origen, writes as both a
speculative theologian and rhetoricianwho has more interestin using suggestive
language to explore the range of possibilities within the divine economy implied
by Scripturethan in laying out a systematic and fully coherentdescriptionof that
which remains veiled in mystery.As we have seen, Nyssen portraysthe angelic
natureas paradigmaticfor human life as God willed it both in the beginning and
in the resurrection.The body of the resurrectionindicatesa transformedbody having no physical needs and contributingin no way to the soul's communionwith
God. Although the resurrectedbody will retainall the physical characteristicsthat
constitute our identity in the presentlife-including organs of digestion, respiration, sensation, reproduction,and so on-these features will serve no purposein
the resurrection.The angelic characterof the resurrectionrefers to communion
with God akin to the life of angels, who sustain themselves by contemplativeand
doxological participationin God. In the resurrection,when God will become "all
and in all," humanbeings, like the angels, will gain immortalityby feeding upon
"every word that proceeds from the mouth of God," who will sustain us as food
and air and light and life itself. Consequently,no one will need to eat or to engage
in sexual intercourse.This, Nyssen insists, constitutes humanity'seschatological
destiny. Moreover, since the end shall resemble the beginning, the angelic life of
the resurrectionactualizes God's intentionfor humanityfrom the beginning.
This conclusionmay leave moderninterpretersscratchingtheirheadsandasking
(as did Nyssen himself) why the resurrectedbody would include physical features
of which we shall have no need. Yet this understandingof the angelic life of the
resurrection-for all of its apparentcontradictions-remains importantfor two key
aspects of Nyssen's thought.First, Nyssen's whole ascetic theology rests uponhis
understandingof the angelic life as the fulfillment of God's creative purposefor
humanity.His praise of the life of virginity and of virgins such as Macrinamakes
sense only when one sees it in the light of his understandingof the angelic character of the resurrection.The virgin, throughsexual renunciation,transcendsher
gender-this accommodationof humanfallenness alien to the divine image-and
embracesthe philosophicallife properfor rationalcreaturesmade in God's image.
75Nyssen is explicit that the essence of something is that which is distinctive about it; in the case
of human beings, the distinctive feature is the imago Dei (Anim. et res. [PG 46:53a]).




In this way, the virgin enters prolepticallyinto the angelic life of the resurrection.
This explains why the celibate life, for Nyssen, representsboth a radical break
from the ordinarylife in the world and a hopeful reorientationof that life toward
our eschatological destiny.
Second, the seeming contradictionssurroundingNyssen's discussion of gender,
the fall, and the angelic life of the resurrectionexpose a fault line in his soteriology
that he never fully overcomes. Two soteriological concerns influence Nyssen's
anthropology:first,the redemptionof the materialbody from corruptionand death,
and second, the purificationand perfection of the soul in the image of God. Yet
neitherin his earlierworks, such as De anima et resurrectioneor De hominis opificio, nor in his laterworks, such as De vita Moysis or Commentariusin Canticum
Canticorum,does he integrate his account of the resurrectionwith his account
of the soul's participationin God. Unlike Origen, for whom the material body
comprises a mere epiphenomenon,useful only as a place of convalescence for the
fallen voS;, Nyssen insists thatthe materialnatureof the body must survive in the
eschaton. One might then reasonablyexpect him to give it the same sacramental
function in the resurrectionfor which God made it in the beginning: to enable us
to see God's goodness andbeautyin creation.Nyssen, however, does not conclude
this. Unlike Augustine, who says that the saints in the eschaton will eat and enjoy
the physical fruits of Paradise(though they will not need to eat in order to live)
and will "see" God in the glorified bodies of the other saints,76 Nyssen says explicitly that no eating or drinkingor having sex or any other physical activity will
take place in the eschaton. He might have concluded that in the resurrectionGod
will become "all and in all" in the sense that in all things we shall discern God's
omnipresentindwelling and thus allow the redeemed material world to mediate
God's presence.Instead,Nyssen insists thatGod's naturewill become all things to
us, and solely ourcontemplativeparticipationin God will sustainus. Thus, Nyssen
places primaryemphasis on the spiritualredemptionof the soul, not the physical
redemptionof the body.
Interestinglyenough, Nyssen remainsconscious of this incongruitybetween his
accountof the resurrectionbody and his view of the soul's angelic participationin
God. Towardthe end of the dialogue De anima et resurrectione,Nyssen objects
thatin Macrina'saccountof the resurrection,God raises the body to little purpose.
Specifically, on the restorationof genitalia in the resurrection,he comments: "If it
is true, as it certainlyis, thatthere is no provision for marriagein the life afterthe
resurrectionand that our life then will not depend on eating or drinking,what use
will the parts of the body be, since in that life we no longer expect these activi-

76Augustine, Civ. 22.29. For an extended discussion of Augustine's eschatology, see Daley, Hope
Early Church, 131-50; and Rowan A. Greer, Christian Hope and Christian Life: Raids on
the Inarticulate (New York, N.Y.: Crossroad, 2001) 112-60.





ties for whose sake the parts of the body now exist?"77While conceding that her
brother,throughskilled rhetoric,has raised reasonableobjections from a worldly
perspective, Macrina dismisses these objections on the ground that they do not
appearrooted in the hidden mysteries of the age to come: "The true reasoning
on these mattersis stored in the hidden treasuresof wisdom and will come into
the open only when we have experienced the mystery of the resurrection."78
other words, Nyssen confesses, throughthe voice of his sister,that for the present
time being we must accept certain necessary, though paradoxical,claims of the
faith-here, that a resurrectionof this materialbody will occur and that our lives
will derive from our participationin God-trusting that only in the resurrection
will the divine logic become apparent.
While modernreadersmay find it frustratingthatNyssen never fully integrates
his accounts of the resurrectionbody and the soul's angelic life of the eschaton, we may find it helpful to rememberthat De hominis opificio, as De anima
et resurrectione,constitutesa workof EOopia(like Origen'sDe principiis or Basil's
Hexaemeron)-a speculative work that does not offer a single, unified portrait
of human naturebut ratherexplores the many possible trajectoriessuggested by
Scripture.79In the end, Nyssen has a kaleidoscopic anthropology:by twists and
turns,it reveals strikinglydifferentinsights into a mysterytoo great to graspin its
entiretyor to express as a unity.


Having voiced this objection, Nyssen falls back to a posture of pious submission to the teach-

occurs,theone bringingit aboutwills whatis vain

ings of theChurch:"Ifa completeresurrection
anduselessforourlife then.However,it is necessaryto believethatthereis a resurrection
it is notfutile.Therefore,we shoulddirectourattentionto preservingthereasonableness
of all the
details of the dogma" (Anim. et res. [FC 58:264; PG 46:145a]).
78 Ibid. (FC 58:265; PG 46:145a).
79Hom. opif preface (NPNF2 5:387; PG 44:128a)

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