In the final articles of the Nicene Creed, we confess that “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
Previously, in episode 9, we learned from Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus about how the Spirit proceeds from the Father, and some of what is entailed in the confession that we worship and glorify the Spirit together with the Father and the Son. We also explored Basil’s exhortations for Christians to worship God by caring for the poor and hymns such as those of Prudentius in praise of the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Now, we reach the final articles of the Nicene Creed. These might seem like short throwaway lines, leftover after all the important stuff about God has already been confessed in the creed. Alternatively, they might simply sound confusing; we might know what it means to confess that we believe in God, but what does it mean to confess that we believe in a church, or in baptism, or that we are looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come?
In Episode 10 we introduce one of the most consequential figures of the fourth century and a bishop who participated in the council of Constantinople where the creed we confess was ratified: Gregory of Nyssa. In this episode we only briefly introduce Gregory’s life and work; there will be more to come on Gregory’s life in the next episode of Passages. Here, we focus on a few of Gregory’s most significant contributions to Christian theology, namely, the language of ‘person’ and ‘essence’ for naming how God is three and how God is one.
But this episode especially focuses on Gregory of Nyssa’s vision of the Christian life as participation in Christ. Especially in his work “The Life of Moses,” we invite you to listen with us to Gregory’s invitation into ever-increasing, ever-expanding wonder at the mutual glorification of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We also briefly explore how Gregory of Nyssa regarded baptism in his “Catechetical Discourse.”
And finally, this episode concludes with Gregory’s thunderous sermon against slavery, which is an outstanding example of how Gregory’s theological vision can speak prophetically to and against the challenges of a particular time and place. As David Bentley Hart writes, “Nowhere in the literary remains of antiquity is there another document quite comparable to Gregory of Nyssa’s fourth homily on the book of Ecclesiastes: certainly no other ancient text still known to us—Christian, Jewish, or Pagan—contains so fierce, unequivocal, and indignant a condemnation of the institution of slavery.”
Next time on Passages, we will continue learning from the Cappadocians on the final articles of the Nicene Creed. What did early Christians mean in the confession of belief in the resurrection of the dead and looking for the life of the world to come? What does it mean to say we believe the church is ‘holy’ and ‘catholic’ and ‘apostolic’, since our experience of the church can sometimes seem less than holy, catholic, and apostolic? To explore these questions and more in the backstory of the Nicene Creed, we will continue learning from Gregory of Nyssa and at last meet one of the most compelling figures in Christian history, Gregory’s teacher and older sister, St. Macrina the Younger. Passages is available on most podcast platforms.
Joshua Heavin (PhD, Aberdeen) is a curate and deacon at an Anglican church in the Dallas area, and an adjunct professor in the School of Christian Thought at Houston Christian University, and at West Texas A&M University.