Wednesday, March 30, 2016

His Greatness Is Unsearchable

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Great is the Lᴏʀᴅ, and greatly to be praised,
    and his greatness is unsearchable.  (Ps 145:3)

Now if any one should ask for some interpretation, and description, and explanation of the Divine essence, we are not going to deny that in this kind of wisdom we are unlearned, acknowledging only so much as this, that it is not possible that that which is by nature infinite should be comprehended in any conception expressed by words.  The fact that the Divine greatness has no limit is proclaimed by prophecy, which declares expressly that of His splendor, His glory, His holiness, “there is no end.”  And if His surroundings have no limit, much more is He Himself in His essence, whatever it may be, comprehended by no limitation in any way.  If then interpretation by way of words and names implies by its meaning some sort of comprehension of the subject, and if, on the other hand, that which is unlimited cannot be comprehended, no one could reasonably blame us for ignorance, if we are not bold in respect of what none should venture upon.  For by what name can I describe the incomprehensible?  By what speech can I declare the unspeakable?  Accordingly, since the Deity is too excellent and lofty to be expressed in words, we have learned to honor in silence what transcends speech and thought.

And if he who “thinks more highly than he ought to think,” tramples upon this cautious speech of ours making a jest of our ignorance of things incomprehensible, and recognizes a difference of unlikeness in that which is without figure, or limit, or size, or quantity (I mean in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), and brings forward to reproach our ignorance that phrase which is continually alleged by the disciples of deceit, “‘You worship what you do not know,’ if you do not know the essence of what you worship,” we shall follow the advice of the prophet, and not fear the reproach of fools, nor be led by their reviling to talk boldly of things unspeakable, making that unpracticed speaker Paul our teacher in the mysteries that transcend knowledge, who is so far from thinking that the Divine nature is within the reach of human perception, that he calls even the judgments of God “unsearchable,” and His ways “past finding out,” and affirms that the things promised to them that love Him, for their good deeds done in this life, are above comprehension so that it is not possible to behold them with the eye, nor to receive them by hearing, nor to contain them in the heart.

Learning this, therefore, from Paul, we boldly declare that, not only are the judgments of God too high for those who try to search them out, but that the ways also that lead to the knowledge of Him are even until now untrodden and impassable.  For this is what we understand that the Apostle wishes to signify, when he calls the ways that lead to the incomprehensible “past finding out,” showing by the phrase that that knowledge is unattainable by human calculations, and that no one ever yet set his understanding on such a path of reasoning, or showed any trace or sign of an approach, by way of perception, to the things incomprehensible.

Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius 3.5

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