|dc.description.abstract||God and Time: St Gregory of Nyssa’s Teaching on Time
The Introduction justifies the need for a scholarly treatment of the notion of time in the early Christian thought. It brings a new perspective on the fourth century theological debates, by shifting the scholarly focus from the static notion of divine nature to the more dynamic notion of change, which introduces time in God. Gregory of Nyssa is presented as unique in his approach to the concept of time. The extensive survey of the Christian teaching on time in Origen, Methodius of Olympus, Arius, Alexander and Athanasius of Alexandria, Eunomius and Basil the Great is intended to set the background for the development of Gregory’s idea of time.
Origen and Methodius of Olympus
This chapter examines the teaching on divine creation in regard to time in Origen and Methodius of Olympus. In the first of the two sections, Origen is presented as the first Christian author who reflected on the concepts of time and eternity. It is argued that, in order to preserve God’s role as eternal creator, Origen relativizes the distinction between time and eternity. The second section examines how Methodius of Olympus attacked Origen on this point, claiming the impossibility of the existence of two first principles, God and matter. Methodius commenced his refutation from the widely accepted arguments of the perfect and omnipotent nature of God, proceeding toward the core of his argumentation, that created things must have their beginning in time otherwise they are not created and developing this argument further. Methodius used the term διάστημα in the sense of temporal extension between present time and the second coming of Christ.
Arius and the Orthodox Reaction in Alexandria
This chapter focuses on the role Alexander and Athanasius of Alexandria played in the early period of the Arian controversy. The attribute “unbegotten” applied by Arius to God the Father was a synonym for a class of other divine qualities, which included eternity, while for his opponent Alexander the term meant the distinctive feature of the Father in comparison with the Son. Both Alexander and Arius maintained that the Son was begotten, while for Arius the Father’s logical precedence implied the precedence in temporal or quasi-temporal sense. Alexander also clearly indicated that each interval that Arius claimed to have existed before the generation of the Son could not have other nature than temporal. Athanasius shifted from the moderate Origenian position of his predecessor Alexander by bonding the Son to the Father within the divine essence, and by differentiating ontologically God as creator from the creation. Apart from denying the existence of the temporal interval between the Father and the Son’ generation, Athanasius also denied any distance that may exist between them in creating and governing the world. He argued not only for the lack of the distance between the Son and the Father in the divine power or energy, but also for the absence of any interval that may separate God’s essence from the divine power employed in the temporal order of the world.
Eunomius the Anomean
The chapter engages in Eunomius’ hierarchical structure of beings and the role that time plays in it. Eunomius placed God as ‘Unbegotten’ or unbegotten essence at the top of his hierarchical structure of beings, claiming that only God’s essence together with His power to act are eternal. The Son as the effect of the generative activity of God is restricted by his beginning, but contrary to generative activity He is everlasting. As the second in order after God, the Son by his own power and activity creates the Holy Spirit. The creative power and activity of the Son are implemented in the process of creation of the Holy Spirit, incorporeal and sensible beings. For Eunomius, the kingdom of endless ages begins after the creation of the Holy Spirit and with the creation of the spiritual world. The Son also created the sensible world that is characterized by change and corruption and subjected to time. According to Eunomius, the Only-begotten ended the creative activity, but He has continued to be present in the world through the Holy Spirit, who by his own providential activity in bringing things to the completion in world resembles the Son’s creative activity. The activity of the Holy Spirit happens in time, since He arranges and perfects the things that are created by the Son during the process of creation, but whose realization would happen in due course.
Basil the Great
The chapter sets the stage for the subsequent discussion of Basil the Great and his opponents. In order to prove the Son’s coeternity with the Father Basil has refuted Eunomius’ claim concerning the existence of the interval, prior to the generation of the Son. On the basis of the similarity in nature between the inserted interval and the created ages, Basil held that Anomaens introduce age prior to the generation of the Son. Moreover, irrelevantly to Eunomius’ claim that the life of the Son is infinite, any limitation of His life by the beginning of the generation from the Father was unacceptable for Basil. For Basil, the Father’s ingeneracy does imply His sole eternity, since eternity is also applicable to those, who transcend time and all ages. Both the Father and the Son are eternal because their lives lack any boundaries. Basil brought the eternity in the connection to the age, but in the case of the created nature. Since everything was created to partake in eternal divine glory, the whole created nature tends to be eternal. For Basil this tendency to reach eternity is especially expressed in the liturgical cycles of Eucharistic prayers.
The chapter is the first in the series of chapters on Gregory of Nyssa. It begins with the elaboration of the first Gregory’s work On virginity. It challenges the established scholarly distinction of Gregory’s works into an early, platonic period and a late, mystical period by claiming the theological consistency from his earliest to the latest works. It also sets the stage for further elaborations by highlighting the four principles of his theology present in the work On virginity: a) the ontological division of created and uncreated nature, b) movement as the distinctive property of created beings, c) temporal extension (διάστημα) as the essential mark of creation, and d) permanent spiritual advancement (ἐπέκτασις).
Created and uncreated nature
The chapter focuses on Gregory’s distinction between created and uncreated nature, arguing, against David Balás, that Gregory rather follows St Paul’s distinction between seen and unseen nature than Plato’s distinction between spiritual and sensible nature. Contrary to the sensible nature that is perceived by senses, the spiritual created nature is together with the uncreated nature called unseen nature. For Gregory the created sensible nature and the created spiritual nature share more than the created spiritual nature and the uncreated nature. Since for Gregory only God has the fullness of every being and attributes such as goodness, beauty, eternity, by nature, while other beings possess all these qualities by participation, he does not maintain that the sensible nature participates in spiritual nature like Plato, but that both spiritual and sensible created natures participate in uncreated divine being. For Gregory the limits of the created nature are also the limits of its knowledge of God, and the human being is able to learn the unknowability of the divine nature only by faith.
The movement of the created nature
The chapter focuses on the movement of the created being. It commences from Gregory’s twofold definition of movement as the consequence of the transition of created nature from non-being to being, and as constant strife to achieve full stability of its being. Gregory describes the complex structure of the movement of created being on the basis of the difference between the created spiritual and physical nature, while uncreated or divine nature remains motionless for him. According
The human motion can be both vertical and horizontal, to God and to the created world. The
The Stoic doctrine of time
The chapter shows the development of the Stoic teaching about time from Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school, over Chrysippus, the third head of the school, to Apollodorus of Seleucia, one of the later Stoic representatives. Early Stoics were equally unhappy with Aristotle’s definition of time as number of the movement and with the definition of Aristotle’s student Strato of Lampsacus that describes time as a measure of movement, since both definitions undermine the continuous nature of time. Therefore, Zeno replaced Aristotle’s term ‘number’ with ‘distance’ or ‘interval’ (διάστημα), which better expresses the idea of continuity and it possesses both spatial and temporal dimensions.
Methodius of Olympus’ teaching on time
The Stoic doctrine of time that had inspired Plotinus and other Neoplatonists, Philo of Alexandria underwent a crucial development in the works of Methodius of Olympus. Methodius borrows Stoic terminology and its metaphysical framework of dividing time into three periods, past, present and future. For Methodius, the division of time into three periods did not play a role in cosmology, but rather in psychology. He also makes use of the Stoic theory of the beginning and end of the time by fitting it into the Christian vision of the beginning of time in God's creation, and the end time in the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. The first and most important feature of time for him was the end of time and Christ’s coming, which is determined, yet unknown to us. The second feature is our place in the timeline, by which is determined our present. The time between present moment and the second coming of Christ is future, and it is charactarised by human hope and faith in the universal resurrection. The past is all that is behind us. For Methodius, we are witnesses of our past and we know it either as our life, or as the history of humankind through the testimony of the previous generations.
∆ιάστημα in the works of Gregory of Nyssa
The chapter focuses on Gregory’s development of the concept of temporal extension (διάστημα), derived from the Stoics, through Philo and Methodius, and from the Arian debates. The chapter consists of four sections that distinguish four different temporal categories in Gregory: cosmological time, psychological time, historical time and Christological time. The first, cosmological or physical time (χρόνος) is based on the circular movements of stars and is perceived through the day-nights cycles and the change of seasons. In the second section Gregory bases the soul’s experiences of psychological time on the emotional and mental states, which are oriented toward events in past, present and future. It is a certain perception of the soul characterized by the memory of the past and
hope in what lies ahead. The line that divides the memory from hope expectations is present and it represents the opportune moment for action. Human freedom is reflected in the choice of καιρὸς, i.e. the right moment to do good, and not in the choice between two or more options. The characteristic of this time is freedom. The third section deals with the historical time. This time represents the liner movement toward the end and acquires historicity through the eschatological perspective. Due to this eschatological perspective the historical time is extended toward age (αἰὼν) by permanent determination of human beings to find the repose of their motion in God. Historical time is characterised by continual longing for God and reaching out for knowledge of Him (ἐπέκτασις). The last, Christological time characterises the realised eschatology in the Incarnation of Logos, where one’s salvation is not placed anymore at the end of the historical time, but in the historical process itself. By Christ’s presence among human beings through the Incarnation and liturgical celebration the divine eternity intersects physical time transforming moments of historical time into moments of eternal significance.
God as ἀδιάστατος
The chapter sets the stage for Gregory’s differentiation between divine and human persons on the basis of διάστημα. Gregory combined the two separate senses of διάστημα, to insist that God is not ‘extended’, while the extension is the distinctive mark of creation. In his work Ad Ablabium, Gregory argues against the charges that Christians confess three gods, but also against some Anomean accusations, which imply temporal distinction in the divine being. Therefore, by developing the doctrine of the adiastematic nature of God, Gregory shows that there is no separation or διάστημα in the Divine essence and operations. Gregory applied the argumentation developed in the course of refuting Eunomius to the Trinitarian context of the work Ad Ablabium. I have tried to demonstrate that by focusing on the Anomean accusations that the Orthodox introduce time in the divine being, Gregory not only rejects these charges, but also develops a new Trinitarian doctrine. Thus, the newly developed theory presupposes two things, the adiastematic unity of the Divine essence and energies, together with the hypostatic distinction between the Persons.
Constant Spiritual Advancement - ἐπέκτασις
The final chapter deals with Gregory’s understanding of spiritual development. For him the purpose of the created beings is to move along the temporal διάστημα toward the divine, experiencing on their way permanent spiritual advancement, which will be prolonged even in eternity. In the case of human beings this spiritual advancement is interconnected with the transformation of soul’s desires. The soul, which in her earthly life was used to satisfy her desire by reaching the subject of desire, begins to realize that God as object of her desires cannot be reached. However, each level that the soul reaches in her spiritual advancement toward God, does not only satisfy her desire without reaching the objects of desire, but also increases the desire toward God. By reaching out toward God, the soul constantly experiences new desire for what lies ahead. The continual longing is advancement in divine goods and increasing susceptibility to receive greater and greater goods. The process of ascent is not based only on the effort of the soul, but at the same time it is the movement of God towards her, so that her progress is constantly rewarded by new grace. Gregory claims that the human being that aspires to God always grows in proportion to his advancement in grace.
The Conclusion recapitulates the main book’s arguments regarding created and uncreated nature, the movement of the created nature, the presence of temporal and ontological diastema between God and creation, and finally the transformation of time into eternity. It also argues that the achievement of Gregory’s understanding of time has ongoing relevance for the Christian thought.||en