Thursday, March 3, 2016

Known by His Deeds

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

The Lᴏʀᴅ is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  (Ps 103:8)

For God is not an expression, neither does He have His essence in voice or utterance.  But God is of Himself what also He is believed to be, but He is named, by those who call upon Him, not what He is essentially (for the nature of Him Who alone is is unspeakable), but He receives His appellations from what are believed to be His operations in regard to our life.  To take an instance ready to our hand; when we speak of Him as God, we so call Him from regarding Him as overlooking and surveying all things, and seeing through the things that are hidden.  But if His essence is prior to His works, and we understand His works by our senses, and express them in words as we are best able, why should we be afraid of calling things by words of later origin than themselves?  For if we stay to interpret any of the attributes of God till we understand them, and we understand them only by what His works teach us, and if His power precedes its exercise, and depends on the will of God, while His will resides in the spontaneity of the Divine nature, are we not clearly taught that the words which represent things are of later origin than the things themselves, and that the words which are framed to express the operations of things are reflections of the things themselves?  And that this is so, we are clearly taught by Holy Scripture, by the mouth of great David, when, as by certain peculiar and appropriate names, derived from his contemplation of the works of God, he thus speaks of the Divine nature: “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, long-suffering, and of great goodness.”

Now what do these words tell us?  Do they indicate His operations, or His nature?  No one will say that they indicate anything but His operations.  At what time, then, after showing mercy and pity, did God acquire His name from their display?  Was it before man’s life began?  But who was there to be the object of pity?  Was it, then, after sin entered into the world?  But sin entered after man.  The exercise, therefore, of pity, and the name itself, came after man.  What then?  Will our adversary, wise as he is above the Prophets, convict David of error in applying names to God derived from his opportunities of knowing Him?  Or, in contending with him, will he use against him the pretense in his stately passage as out of a tragedy, saying that “he glories in the most blessed life of God with names drawn from human imagination, whereas it gloried in itself alone, long before men were born to imagine them”?  The Psalmist’s advocate will readily admit that the Divine nature gloried in itself alone even before the existence of human imagination, but will contend that the human mind can speak only so much in respect of God as its capacity, instructed by His works, will allow.  “For,” as says the Wisdom of Solomon, “from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.” [Wisdom 13:5]

Gregory of Nyssa, Answer to Eunomius’ Second Book

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