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“Gregory of Nyssa  Life of St Macrina

Excerpts from the original Greek text with English Translation

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Relevant books available at Amazon

Many Gregory of Nyssa studies
and translations with links to Amazon

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A selection below

STUDIES

Presence and Thought
Hans Urs von Balthasar

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Re-thinking Gregory of Nyssa
Sarah Coakley

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Gregory of Nyssa, Ancient and (Post)modern
Morwenna Ludlow

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TRANSLATIONS

Gregory of Nyssa
Anthony Meredith

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Ascetical Works
Virginia Woods Callahan

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Macrina has a profound influence on her brother Basil and her mother Emmelia.
When the mother had arranged excellent marriages for the other sisters, such as was best in each case, Macrina's brother, the great Basil, returned after his long period of education, already a practised rhetorician. He was puffed up beyond measure with the pride of oratory and looked down on the local dignitaries, excelling in his own estimation all the men of leading and position. Nevertheless Macrina took him in hand, and with such speed did she draw him also toward the mark of philosophy that he forsook the glories of this world and despised fame gained by speaking, and deserted it for this busy life where one toils with one's hands. His renunciation of property was complete, lest anything should impede the life of virtue. But, indeed, his life and the subsequent acts, by which he became renowned throughout the world and put into the shade all those who have won renown for their virtue, would need a long description and much time. But I must divert my tale to its appointed task. Now that all the distractions of the material life had been removed, Macrina persuaded her mother to give up her ordinary life and all showy style of living and the services of domestics to which she had been accustomed before, and bring her point of view down to that of the masses, and to share the life of the maids, treating all her slave girls and menials as if they were sisters and belonged to the same rank as herself.

Following the death of Macrina's fiancé Naucratius, Macrina and Emmelia make progress in the ascetic life.
When the cares of bringing up a family and the anxieties of their education and settling in life had come to an end, and the property----a frequent cause of worldliness---- had been for the most part divided among the children, then, as I said above, the life of the virgin became her mother's guide and led her on to this philosophic and spiritual manner of life. And weaning her from all accustomed luxuries, Macrina drew her on to adopt her own standard of humility. She induced her to live on a footing of equality with the staff of maids, so as to share with them in the same food, the same kind of bed, and in all the necessaries of life, without any regard to differences of rank. Such was the manner of their life, so great the height of their philosophy, and so holy their conduct day and night, as to make verbal description inadequate. For just as souls freed from the body by death are saved from the cares of this life, so was their life far removed from all earthly follies and ordered with a view of imitating the angelic life. For no anger or jealousy, no hatred or pride, was observed in their midst, nor anything else of this nature, since they had cast away all vain desires for honour and glory, all vanity, arrogance and the like. Continence was their luxury, and obscurity their glory. Poverty, and the casting away of all material superfluities like dust from their bodies, was their wealth. In fact, of all the things after which men eagerly pursue in this life, there were none with which they could not easily dispense.1 Nothing was left but the care of divine things and the unceasing round of prayer and endless hymnody, co-extensive with time itself, practised by night and day. So that to them this meant work, and work so called was rest. What human words could make you realise such a life as this, a life on the borderline between human and spiritual nature? For that nature should be free from human weaknesses is more than can be expected from mankind. But these women fell short of the angelic and immaterial nature only in so far as they appeared in bodily form, and were contained within a human frame, and were dependent upon the organs of sense. Perhaps some might even dare to say that the difference was not to their disadvantage. Since living in the body and yet after the likeness of the immaterial beings, they were not bowed down by the weight of the body, but their life was exalted to the skies and they walked on high in company with the powers of heaven. The period covered by this mode of life was no short one, and with the lapse of time their successes increased, as their philosophy continually grew purer with the discovery of new blessings.

Macrina's influence on her youngest brother Peter.
Macrina was helped most of all in achieving this great aim of her life by her own brother Peter. With him the mother's pangs ceased, for he was the latest born of the family. At one and the same time he received the names of son and orphan, for as he entered this life his father passed away from it. But the eldest of the family, the subject of our story, took him soon after birth from the nurse's breast and reared him herself and educated him on a lofty system of training, practising him from infancy in holy studies, so as not to give his soul leisure to turn to vain things. Thus having become all things to the lad---- father, teacher, tutor, mother, giver of all good advice----she produced such results that before the age of boyhood had passed, when he was yet a stripling in the first bloom of tender youth, he aspired to the high mark of philosophy. And, thanks to his natural endowments, he was clever in every art that involves hand-work, so that without any guidance he achieved a completely accurate knowledge of everything that ordinary people learn by time and trouble. Scorning to occupy his time with worldly studies, and having in nature a sufficient instructor in all good knowledge, and always looking to his sister as the model of all good, he advanced to such a height of virtue that in his subsequent life he seemed in no whit inferior to the great Basil. But at this time he was all in all to his sister and mother, co-operating with them in the pursuit of the angelic life. Once when a severe famine had occurred and crowds from all quarters were frequenting the retreat where they lived, drawn by the fame of their benevolence, Peter's kindness supplied such an abundance of food that the desert seemed a city by reason of the number of visitors.

Visiting his sister near the end of her life Gregory finds her weak and close to death, yet still speaking in moving terms about her Christian faith and hope.
Lest she should vex my soul she stilled her groans and made great efforts to hide, if possible, the difficulty of her breathing. And in every way she tried to be cheerful, both taking the lead herself in friendly talk, and giving us an opportunity by asking questions. When in the course of conversation mention was made of the great Basil, my soul was saddened and my face fell dejectedly. But so far was she from sharing in my affliction that, treating the mention of the saint as an occasion for yet loftier philosophy, she discussed various subjects, inquiring into human affairs and revealing in her conversation the divine purpose concealed in disasters. Besides this, she discussed the future life,2 as if inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that it almost seemed as if my soul were lifted by the help of her words away from mortal nature and placed within the heavenly sanctuary. And just as we learn in the story of Job that the saint was tormented in every part of his body with discharges owing to the corruption of his wounds, yet did not allow the pain to affect his reasoning power, but in spite of the pains in the body did not relax his activities nor interrupt the lofty sentiments of his discourse----similarly did I see in the case of this great woman. Fever was drying up her strength and driving her on to death, yet she refreshed her body as it were with dew, and thus kept her mind unimpeded in the contemplation of heavenly things, in no way injured by her terrible weakness. And if my narrative were not extending to an unconscionable length I would tell everything in order, how she was uplifted as she discoursed to us on the nature of the soul and explained the reason of life in the flesh, and why man was made, and how he was mortal, and the origin of death and the nature of the journey from death to life again. In all of which she told her tale clearly and consecutively as if inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the even flow of her language was like a fountain whose water streams down uninterruptedly.
 



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original Greek text
Basil of Caesarea
Macrina the Younger
Vita Sanctae Macrinae
Macrina the Elder
Emmelia
Monastic Life
Pontus
River Iris
Migne Greek Text
Patrologiae Graecae Cursus Completus
Patrologia Graeca

 

 

 

Gregory reflects on the relation of the human and the divine in Christ. "The Godhead “empties” Itself that It may come within the capacity of the Human Nature, and the Human Nature is renewed by becoming Divine through its commixture with the Divine."  An image of "a drop of vinegar" is used. Just as a drop of vinegar mingled with the ocean "does not continue in the infinity of that which overwhelms it", so the the perishable nature of Christ is "made anew in conformity with the Nature that overwhelms it".

 

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