Category: St. Macrina

“On the Soul and the Resurrection” VIII – The End or The End of Fallenness

by Andrea Elizabeth

St. Macrina wonderfully and respectfully explains how we are not our sins, and that the resulting damages caused by our passions will be washed away when we are purged.

But in that form of life, of which God Himself was the Creator, it is reasonable to believe that there was neither age nor infancy nor any of the sufferings arising from our present various infirmities, nor any kind of bodily affliction whatever. It is reasonable, I say, to believe that God was the Creator of none of these things, but that man was a thing divine before his humanity got within reach of the assault of evil; that then, however, with the inroad of evil, all these afflictions also broke in upon him. Accordingly a life that is free from evil is under no necessity whatever of being passed amidst the things that result from evil. It follows that when a man travels through ice he must get his body chilled; or when he walks in a very hot sun that he must get his skin darkened; but if he has kept clear of the one or the other, he escapes these results entirely, both the darkening and the chilling; no one, in fact, when a particular cause was removed, would be justified in looking for the effect of that particular cause. Just so our nature, becoming passional, had to encounter all the necessary results of a life of passion: but when it shall have started back to that state of passionless blessedness, it will no longer encounter the inevitable results of evil tendencies. Seeing, then, that all the infusions of the life of the brute into our nature were not in us before our humanity descended through the touch of evil into passions, most certainly, when we abandon those passions, we shall abandon all their visible results. No one, therefore, will be justified in seeking in that other life for the consequences in us of any passion. Just as if a man, who, clad in a ragged tunic, has divested himself of the garb, feels no 124more its disgrace upon him, so we too, when we have cast off that dead unsightly tunic made from the skins of brutes and put upon us (for I take the “coats of skins” to mean that conformation belonging to a brute nature with which we were clothed when we became familiar with passionate indulgence), shall, along with the casting off of that tunic, fling from us all the belongings that were round us of that skin of a brute;

Though she believes that this purging and restoration of our original state will happen to everyone, I believe that the horrid details with which she described such purging earlier on separate her “universalism” from the “A loving God won’t let anyone suffer in the life to come” associations of some. I hope that eventually everyone will be cleansed of evil and selfish ways, but I’m very sure it would be better to undergo it now rather than later.

Psalm 50. Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; and according to the multitude of Thy compassions blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil before Thee, that Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and prevail when Thou art judged. For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me. For behold, Thou hast loved truth; the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom hast Thou made manifest unto me. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me to hear joy and gladness; the bones that be humbled, they shall rejoice. Turn Thy face away from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and with Thy governing Spirit establish me. I shall teach transgressors Thy ways, and the ungodly shall turn back unto Thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation; my tongue shall rejoice in Thy righteousness. O Lord, Thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise. For if Thou hadst desired sacrifice, I had given it; with whole-burnt offerings Thou shalt not be pleased. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise. Do good, O Lord, in Thy good pleasure unto Sion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be builded. Then shalt Thou be pleased with a sacrifice of righteousness, with oblation and whole-burnt offerings. Then shall they offer bullocks upon Thine altar.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, Both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia: Glory to Thee, O God. (Three times). Lord, have mercy. (Three times).

– from The Dynamic Horologion

And for what do we leave our passionate afflictions behind?

The Divine power, in the superabundance of Omnipotence, does not only restore you that body once dissolved, but makes great and splendid additions to it, whereby the human being is furnished in a manner still more magnificent. “It is sown,” he says, “in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” The grain of wheat, after its dissolution in the soil, leaves behind the slightness of its bulk and the peculiar quality of its shape, and yet it has not left and lost itself, but, still self-centred, grows into the ear, though in many points it has made an advance upon itself, viz. in size, in splendour, in complexity, in form. In the same fashion the human being deposits in death all those peculiar surroundings which it has acquired from passionate propensities; dishonour, I mean, and corruption and weakness and characteristics of age; and yet the human being does not lose itself. It changes into an ear of corn as it were; into incorruption, that is, and glory and honour and power and absolute perfection;

“On the Soul and the Resurrection” VII

by Andrea Elizabeth

On when the soul joins with the body,

For if we were to grant that the soul has lived previous to its body in some place of resort peculiar to itself, then we cannot avoid seeing some force in all that fantastic teaching lately discussed, which would explain the soul’s habitation of the body as a consequence of some vice. Again, on the other hand, no one who can reflect will imagine an after-birth of the soul, i.e. that it is younger than the moulding of the body; for every one can see for himself that not one amongst all the things that are inanimate or 118 soulless possesses any power of motion or of growth; whereas there is no question about that which is bred in the uterus both growing and moving from place to place. It remains therefore that we must think that the point of commencement of existence is one and the same for body and soul.

Next St. Macrina opines about why new generations proceed.

The reason for our race having some day to come to a standstill is as follows, in our opinion: since every intellectual reality is fixed in a plenitude of its own, it is reasonable to expect that humanity also will arrive at a goal (for in this respect also humanity is not to be parted from the intellectual world so that we are to believe that it will not be visible for ever only in defect, as it is now: for this continual addition of after generations indicates that there is something deficient in our race. Whenever, then, humanity shall have reached the plenitude that belongs to it, this on-streaming movement of production will altogether cease; it will have touched its destined bourn, and a new order of things quite distinct from the present precession of births and deaths will carry on the life of humanity.

One theory for why generations continue is that we are waiting for a deliverer. This is an explanation for how Mary was born in the fulness of time with all the generations before her being necessary to bring about one as she to be fit to be the Mother of God. But now that God has become Incarnate, why does the Lord tarry before the Second Coming? Indeed the earliest Christians thought they were enough, and that He would come in their lifetime.

Back to the deliverer theory, in That Hideous Strength Jane is severely chastised by a certain person who said that if she had not used birth control, an important person would have been born who would have established peace on earth. I have also heard people condemning abortion by saying that by today’s standards, Beethoven, for instance, would not have been allowed to be born. Something seems amiss by this line of reasoning, imo. It seems too utilitarian, and that it places some people as more important than others; that some people are expendable. Not that all things are equal, but is there anything more that needs to be done for the salvation of mankind by anyone? I think not or else it would not have been possible for anyone thus far to become Saints in union with God through Christ. I thank God for great men who do important things that benefit mankind, but again, did people before Edison really need electric bulbs to be saved? As much as I love the Moonlight Sonata, could I have been as happy with just Claire de Lune? I would not have made Beethoven suffer all he did just so that I could have that piece of music, well maybe for the Emperor Concerto. Doubtless many would-be criminals have probably been prevented by abortion as well, so there must be some other reason to keep producing new life, regardless of the person’s utilitarian benefit to society.

My first thought is that God wills abundance. This is why we have so many eggs and seeds in the animal and plant world. Way more than it is practical to raise to maturity. Many end up as food or compost, which is a utilitarian way to look at it too. Mostly I think it is God’s generosity and abundance of love for a multitude of objects of His affection. The number of objects speaks to the boundlessness of His ability to love. I like the idea of people as love objects better than as servants of humanity. This way human benefactors are seen as overflowing cups, spilling out the abundance of what God has given in an almost automatic way, not prey for deficient, needy vultures or leeches. So if one feels like a turnip whose blood is required, there is something wrong. The Fall for one thing. Getting to a state of blessed abundance so that one can assist in the maturation of one’s children, biological or otherwise, is the goal. It seems Orthodox to me to say that one must be fed from another overflowing person to get to this state, and be willing to share, or perhaps better, unable not to share, what one is given. Beethoven did not invent classical music by himself, but his increase in joy at producing it helps fill our cups, which hopefully, together with the other abundances graciously available, will overflow into the cups of others.

“On the Soul and the Resurrection” V

by Andrea Elizabeth

The next section relates the fate of the souls and atoms of the departed. St. Macrina through an explanation I’ll not relate, makes distinctions between our perception of “up”, “down” and “under” and where the soul and invisible beings reside. Hades is “down” because of the quality of those in it, rather than because it is physically below us. Same with heaven being “above” us. She also points out that God encloses all of existence, likening it to atmosphere surrounding the earth, so that what is down for one side of the earth, is actually in the middle of the sphere. Therefore a soul does not depart existence.

She then explains that the soul will remember which atoms composed her body, and be able to reassemble them upon the resurrection. She doesn’t seem to take into account (yet) the possibility of the atoms migrating into another person, then whose is it? This also doesn’t take into account that we are constantly shedding our atoms and cells and making new ones out of what we eat and drink. So it’s really more about DNA than specific atoms. However I like the focus on how our bodies come from the earth and return to it. (As an aside, this connection to the earth reminds me of the movie, “Sweet Land” which the Ochlophobist recommended. I really enjoyed it.)

St. Macrina then explains the nature of the Rich Man’s and Lazarus’ modes of existence. The former spent his short life on pleasure, and the latter in pain, and thus each inherited the opposite for eternity. She puts in the realm of choice though. I don’t remember Lazarus choosing poverty and sores, but maybe those resulted from making decisions for integrity.

This is the reason, I think, that the name of Abraham’s bosom is given to that good situation of the soul in which Scripture makes the athlete of endurance repose. For it is related of this patriarch first, of all up to that time born, that he exchanged the enjoyment of the present for the hope of the future; he was stripped of all the surroundings in which his life at first was passed, and resided amongst foreigners, and thus purchased by present annoyance future blessedness. As then figuratively we call a particular circuit of the ocean a “bosom,” so does Scripture seem to me to express the idea of those measureless blessings above by the word “bosom,” meaning a place into which all virtuous voyagers of this life are, when they have put in from hence, brought to anchor in the waveless harbour of that gulf of blessings.

She next makes an interesting point about fleshly attachments. It seems “nice” that the Rich Man is concerned about his relatives, but St. Macrina categorizes this worry as fleshly feeling as well. And that Lazarus had no such care or anxiety for things, people, or feelings of the material world, but left all behind for the “unpalpable”. Perhaps blessedness is not a feeling, and Abraham’s comfort is higher than what we with limited experience can relate to. She makes a distinction between desire and attainment. After attainment is reached, desire is no longer present, then only enjoyment and lack of want. It will dwell in perfect love.

To get to this state though, painful purging of fleshly attachments must take place, but, “Then it seems, I said, that it is not punishment chiefly and principally that the Deity, as Judge, afflicts sinners with; but He operates, as your argument has shown, only to get the good separated from the evil and to attract it into the communion of blessedness.”

The description of the painful process of purging can put the fear of God in a person. That it is impossible for any selfishness or sin to be compatible with the divine life and will prevent one from entering into it. How often are we convinced that we are cute enough even with our “little sins”? How much should we tolerate in ourselves and our environment? Is monastic single mindedness absolutely required for God to be all in us? Then all these overwhelming details can overcome one’s consciousness in contemplating possible contaminants on TV, uncharitable attitudes, what food to eat, and other ways we let ourselves escape and get distracted from God. And how much to expect of our children?

This is getting long, so I’ll continue later.

“On the Soul and the Resurrection” IV

by Andrea Elizabeth

There are so many things I’ve started and not finished yet. The other day in the Aristotle post I mentioned that life, unlike fiction, is open ended. Later I had the thought that fiction provides completion, and even though our lives will never reach an end, there is a beginning, middle, and end to our tasks. A well-woven tapestry must be completed and bound, a meal isn’t over until the dishes are cleaned and put away, and our children must be tucked in each night, warmed and filled. It is important to finish things, so I will try to finish St. Gregory of Nyssa’s “On the Soul and the Resurrection“, Plato’s Republic, and C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength before I move on to something else.

I believe I last left off (if the posts under the category “St. Gregory of Nyssa” are filed correctly) about three-eighths through with St. Macrina saying that passions are not the soul, but are like a wart on top of it. She described how our rational faculties are needed to keep the passions at bay and to use our fears and other feelings appropriately, “Thus too, with ourselves, if these instincts are not turned by reasoning into the right direction, and if our feelings get the mastery of our mind, the man is changed from a reasoning into an unreasoning being, and from godlike intelligence sinks by the force of these passions to the level of the brute.”

She then illustrates further the nature of the source of passions with the parable of the wheat and the tares. The wheat and tares are our desires for Beauty (the Good) and for impassioned pleasure. (If desired, read the more complete explanation in the part before this section,)

on account of this the wise Husbandman leaves this growth that has been introduced amongst his seed to remain there, so as to secure our not being altogether stripped of better hopes by desire having been rooted out along with that good-for-nothing growth. If our nature suffered such a mutilation, what will there be to lift us up to grasp the heavenly delights? If love is taken from us, how shall we be united to God? If anger is to be extinguished, what arms shall we possess against the adversary? Therefore the Husbandman leaves those bastard seeds within us, not for them always to overwhelm the more precious crop, but in order that the land itself (for so, in his allegory, he calls the heart) by its native inherent power, which is that of reasoning, may wither up the one growth and may render the other fruitful and abundant: but if that is not done, then he commissions the fire to mark the distinction in the crops. If, then, a man indulges these affections in a due proportion and holds them in his own power instead of being held in theirs, employing them for an instrument as a king does his subjects’ many hands, then efforts towards excellence more easily succeed for him. But should he become theirs, and, as when any slaves mutiny against their master, get enslaved by those slavish thoughts and ignominiously bow before them; a prey to his natural inferiors, he will be forced to turn to those employments which his imperious masters command. This being so, we shall not pronounce these emotions of the soul, which lie in the power of their possessors for good or ill, to be either virtue or vice. But, whenever their impulse is towards what is noble, then they become matter for praise, as his desire did to Daniel, and his anger to Phineas, and their grief to those who nobly mourn. But if they incline to baseness, then these are, and they are called, bad passions.

Thank the Lord for this merciful approach. If we mistakenly and deludedly follow the wrong object as the fulfillment of our desires, He does not cut out or mutilate our ability to love. How then would we ever love God? What to do while still in the deluded state? We can’t just stop loving something. I think we have to be convinced of a more worthy object, or way of loving first. Love seeks perfection and fulfillment. We may rationally realize that God can only provide this fulfilment, but our emotional experience may tell us otherwise, until we have a better experience with Him. Or we may have rotating experiences of pleasure with God, then pleasure with something else, then pleasure with God again, depending on the circumstances. We may feel that this is not right, but during the attraction to something else, it feels like you have to cut out your heart completely and go numb. It feels like death, and it is depressing. Also with this is the thought that cutting ones self off completely from the enjoyment of created things is a gnostic, creation-vilifying error. God made and loves the thing that gives us joy and pleasure. So then it seems a matter of the use of the thing. Is there a way to love and enjoy it while not breaking commandments? One should not idolize, lie, steal, covet, murder, or dishonor others while interacting with it. One should be in obedience to God through prayer, with appropriate fasting in order to keep mindful of His presence which should instruct one’s conscience. But still we are prone to delusion, so one must keep open with one’s priest if there is doubt whether one is indulging in the passions instead of rejoicing with thankfulness in God’s creation. It is very difficult for me to comprehend the distinct energies of God active in creation. It seems an either/or situation, which causes opposition and conflict that results in mutilation of ones desire-er, or the object, in order to stay true to God. This is the nature of iconoclasm, I think. Instead, all of creation can be seen as an icon of Christ. The Orthodox Church shows us how to venerate icons, but they are sanctified and holy in the Church…

I’m glad to get back to St. Gregory and his sister St. Macrina, and to learn from the example of their relationship. They do a conscience good.

Realignment of Passions

by Andrea Elizabeth

This following reminds me of St. Maximus’ discussion on pleasure and pain. St. Gregory continues in “On the Soul and the Resurrection” with St. Macrina’s explanation about desire and anger being superfluous, not innate, to the soul.

But none of these accounts of it tally with the definition of the soul. Again, if we were to define what desire is in itself, we should call it a seeking for that which is wanting, or a longing for pleasurable enjoyment, or a pain at not possessing that upon which the heart is set, or a state with regard to some pleasure which there is no opportunity of enjoying. These and such-like descriptions all indicate desire, but they have no connection with the definition of the soul. But it is so with regard to all those other conditions also which we see to have some relation to the soul, those, I mean, which are mutually opposed to each other, such as cowardice and courage, pleasure and pain, fear and contempt, and so on; each of them seems akin to the principle of desire or to that of anger, while they have a separate definition to mark their own peculiar nature. Courage and contempt, for instance, exhibit a certain phase of the irascible impulse; the dispositions arising from cowardice and fear exhibit on the other hand a diminution and weakening of that same impulse. Pain, again, draws its material both from anger and desire. For the impotence of anger, which consists in not being able to punish one who has first given pain, becomes itself pain; and the despair of getting objects of desire and the absence of things upon which the heart is set create in the mind this same sullen state. Moreover, the opposite to pain, I mean the sensation of pleasure like pain, divides itself between anger and desire; for pleasure is the leading motive of them both. All these conditions, I say, have some relation to the soul, and yet they are not the soul, but only like warts growing out of the soul’s thinking part, which are reckoned as parts of it because they adhere to it, and yet are not that actual thing which the soul is in its essence.

[St. Gregory defends desire, anger, and fear thusly,] And yet, I rejoined to the virgin, we see no slight help afforded for improvement to the virtuous from all these conditions. Daniel’s desire was his glory; and Phineas’ anger pleased the Deity. We have been told, too, that fear is the beginning of wisdom, and learnt from Paul that salvation is the goal of the “sorrow after a godly sort.” The Gospel bids us have a contempt for danger; and the “not being afraid with any amazement” is nothing else but a describing of courage, and this last is numbered by Wisdom amongst the things that are good. In all this Scripture shows that such conditions are not to be considered weaknesses; weaknesses would not have been so employed for putting virtue into practice.

I think, replied the Teacher, that I am myself responsible for this confusion arising from different accounts of the matter; for I did not state it as distinctly as I might have, by introducing a certain order of consequences for our consideration. […]anger, for instance, and fear, and any other such-like emotion of the soul divested of which human nature cannot be studied—all these we reckon as accretions from without, because in the Beauty which is man’s prototype no such characteristics are to be found. […] “passions”; [natural appetites] which have not been allotted to human nature for any bad purpose at all (for the Creator would most certainly be the author of evil, if in them, so deeply rooted as they are in our nature, any necessities of wrong-doing were found), but according to the use which our free will puts them to, these emotions of the soul become the instruments of virtue or of vice. They are like the iron which is being fashioned according to the volition of the artificer, and receives whatever shape the idea which is in his mind prescribes, and becomes a sword or some agricultural implement. Supposing, then, that our reason, which is our nature’s choicest part, holds the dominion over these imported emotions (as Scripture allegorically declares in the command to men to rule over the brutes), none of them will be active in the ministry of evil; fear will only generate within us obedience , and anger fortitude, and cowardice caution; and the instinct of desire will procure for us the delight that is Divine and perfect. But if reason drops the reins and is dragged behind like a charioteer who has got entangled in his car, then these instincts are changed into fierceness, just as we see happens amongst the brutes. For since reason does not preside over the natural impulses that are implanted in them, the more irascible animals, under the generalship of their anger, mutually destroy each other; while the bulky and powerful animals get no good themselves from their strength, but become by their want of reason slaves of that which has reason. Neither are the activities of their desire for pleasure employed on any of the higher objects; nor does any other instinct to be observed in them result in any profit to themselves. Thus too, with ourselves, if these instincts are not turned by reasoning into the right direction, and if our feelings get the mastery of our mind, the man is changed from a reasoning into an unreasoning being, and from godlike intelligence sinks by the force of these passions to the level of the brute.

St. Macrina prescribes following reason instead of feelings. This sounds like it could contradict being centered on our hearts rather than our intellect. I see the necessity of not letting my heart get out of control by letting it go unchecked and regardless of consequences, commandments, and other people. Fr. John Romanides in Patristic Theology speaks of how theosis does not make one unaware of their surroundings. The ideal state is awareness, not disengagement. But why does my heart want to escape and not attend to the things of the Lord, while at the same time, desiring to seek the Lord? I have unhealthy attachments to earthly things, not that they are bad things. I think my problem is when I get tunnel vision and neglect other things and obsess over gratification with one thing. Delaying gratification is a sign of maturity. This is what dieting is all about. So is this what is meant by following reason instead of feelings? The nous has been compared to the mind. It is what we have control over, but we are to put it into our heart. I think the heart is more like a place that contains many things. The rational faculty should keep focused on Christ and the things and friends of Christ in obedience. Christ stays on the throne that way. But if I see some of His blessings and turn to them and desire them above Him, and try to put one of them in my pocket to partake of in another room where no one is looking, I get in trouble. I have to keep dedicating them to Christ and learn to desire that they fulfill their own telos, not be used to fulfill my own desire.

More “On the Soul and the Resurrection”

by Andrea Elizabeth

Continuing the discussion between the Saintly brother and sister,

I rejoined, Nay, it may be very possible to infer a wisdom transcending the universe from the skilful and artistic designs observable in this harmonized fabric of physical nature; but, as regards the soul, what knowledge is possible to those who would trace, from any indications the body has to give, the unknown through the known?

Most certainly, the Virgin replied, the soul herself, to those who wish to follow the wise proverb and know themselves, is a competent1758 instructress; of the fact, I mean, that she is an immaterial and spiritual thing, working and moving in a way corresponding to her peculiar nature, and evincing these peculiar emotions through the organs of the body. For this bodily organization exists the same even in those who have just been reduced by death to the state of corpses, but it remains without motion or action because the force of the soul is no longer in it. It moves only when there is sensation in the organs, and not only that, but the mental force by means of that sensation penetrates with its own impulses and moves whither it will all those organs of sensation.

Interesting distinction between the presence of the soul and it’s force.

The soul is an essence created, and living, and intellectual, transmitting from itself to an organized and sentient body the power of living and of grasping objects of sense, as long as a natural constitution capable of this holds together.

Following an interesting explanation of the apophatic approach to the invisible, which Devil’s Advocate St. Gregory replies may mean that the invisible does not exist, St. Macrina describes how the mind (not sure if she is distinguishing this from the soul) is like the invisible aspects of God,

Shame on such absurdity! said she, indignantly interrupting. A fine conclusion this narrow-minded, grovelling view of the world brings us to! If all that is not cognizable by sense is to be wiped out of existence, the all-embracing Power that presides over things is admitted by this same assertion not to be; once a man has been told about the non-material and invisible nature of the Deity, he must perforce with such a premise reckon it as absolutely non-existent. If, on the other hand, the absence of such characteristics in His case does not constitute any limitation of His existence, how can the Mind of man be squeezed out of existence along with this withdrawal one by one of each property of matter?

Well, then, I retorted, we only exchange one paradox for another by arguing in this way; for our reason will be reduced to the conclusion that the Deity and the Mind of man are identical, if it be true that neither can be thought of, except by the withdrawal of all the data of sense.

Say not so, she replied; to talk so also is blasphemous. Rather, as the Scripture tells you, say that the one is like the other. For that which is “made in the image” of the Deity necessarily possesses a likeness to its prototype in every respect; it resembles it in being intellectual, immaterial, unconnected 96with any notion of weight1771 and in eluding any measurement of its dimensions1772; yet as regards its own peculiar nature it is something different from that other. Indeed, it would be no longer an “image,” if it were altogether identical with that other; but1773 where we have A in that uncreate prototype we have a in the image;

[…] Just, then, as we have no doubts, owing to the display of a Divine mysterious wisdom in the universe, about a Divine Being and a Divine Power existing in it all which secures its continuance (though if you required a definition of that Being you would therein find the Deity completely sundered from every object in creation, whether of sense or thought, while in these last, too, natural distinctions are admitted), so, too, there is nothing strange in the soul’s separate existence as a substance (whatever we may think that substance to be) being no hindrance to her actual existence, in spite of the elemental atoms of the world not harmonizing with her in the definition of her being. In the case of our living bodies, composed as they are from the blending of these atoms, there is no sort of communion, as has been just said, on the score of substance, between the simplicity and invisibility of the soul, and the grossness of those bodies; but, notwithstanding that, there is not a doubt that there is in them the soul’s vivifying influence exerted by a law which it is beyond the human understanding to comprehend.

I was waiting for the explanation! Yet I want to know more about the unvivifying presence of the soul in the perished body that I think she alluded to earlier.

[…] so, when that framework is dissolved, and has returned to its kindred elements, there is nothing against probability that that simple and incomposite essence which has once for all by some inexplicable law grown with the growth of the bodily framework should continually remain beside the atoms with which it has been blended, and should in no way be sundered from a union once formed. For it does not follow that because the composite is dissolved the incomposite must be dissolved with it.

[St. Gregory logically follows,…] but once these atoms are separated from each other, and have gone whither their nature impels them, what is to become of the soul when her vessel is thus scattered in many directions? As a sailor, when his ship has been wrecked and gone to pieces, cannot float upon all the pieces at once which have been scattered this way and that over the surface of the sea (for he seizes any bit that comes to hand, and lets all the rest drift away), in the same way the soul, being by nature incapable of dissolution along with the atoms, will, if she finds it hard to be parted from the body altogether, cling to some one of them; and if we take this view, consistency will no more allow us to regard her as immortal for living in one atom than as mortal for not living in a number of them.

[To which she replies,…] In locality, in peculiar qualities, these elemental atoms are held to be far removed from each other; but an undimensional nature finds it no labour to cling to what is locally divided, seeing that even now it is possible for the mind at once to contemplate the heavens above us and to extend its busy scrutiny beyond the horizon, nor is its contemplative power at all distracted by these excursions into distances so great. There is nothing, then, to hinder the soul’s presence in the body’s atoms, whether fused in union or decomposed in dissolution. […] Therefore the soul exists in the actual atoms which she has once animated, and there is no force to tear her away from her cohesion with them. What cause for melancholy, then, is there herein, that the visible is exchanged for the invisible; and wherefore is it that your mind has conceived such a hatred of death?

So the properties of union still exist even if the parts are separated, and this is of sufficient nature (apparently for St. Macrina) to maintain the presence of the individual, including his body, among us.

Since the discussion turns to the emotions, I assume of those still living, I will continue, Lord willing and me cooperating, in another post.

St. Gregory of Nyssa: On the Soul and the Resurrection

by Andrea Elizabeth

I really like the language in this dialogue between St. Gregory and his sister St. Macrina after the death of their brother, St. Basil. I’m only to the middle of section 90 so far, and The Teacher, St. Macrina, has not yet addressed to my satisfaction this question,

By what device, then, can we bring ourselves to regard as nothing a departure from life even in the case of a stranger, not to mention that of relations, when so be they cease to live? We see before us the whole course of human life aiming at this one thing, viz. how we may continue in this life; indeed it is for this that houses have been invented by us to live in; in order that our bodies may not be prostrated in their environment1749 by cold or heat. Agriculture, again, what is it but the providing of our sustenance? In fact all thought about how we are to go on living is occasioned by the fear of dying. Why is medicine so honoured amongst men? Because it is thought to carry on the combat with death to a certain extent by its methods. Why do we have corslets, and long shields, and greaves, and helmets, and all the defensive armour, and inclosures of fortifications, and iron-barred gates, except that we fear to die? Death then being naturally so terrible to us, how can it be easy for a survivor to obey this command to remain unmoved over friends departed?

Why, what is the especial pain you feel, asked the Teacher, in the mere necessity itself of dying? This common talk of unthinking persons is no sufficient accusation.

St. Gregory admits that he is too overcome by grief to think straight, and maybe I am too because I’m not quite getting the segue into atheism that the discussion turns into. I don’t think that grief over being bodily parted from loved ones amounts to disbelief in the soul’s continuance. But maybe it does. For me, I think I believe that Isaac’s soul is still alive, but maybe my disbelief comes as a result in believing in a distant Second Storey (Father Stephen Freeman’s famous blog and podcast expoundings on the ‘up there’ instead of ‘everywhere present’ impressions of heaven) where the invisible dwells.

When I think of Isaac, it is of his still, lifeless body, which I regret I had autopsied because when I next held him, it was stiff in some weird body cast. I was horrified all during the funeral after I experienced him that way. I wished I only had the memory of his warmed body right after he was born instead. But mercifully, the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos gives me a better association with the state of his body upon burial. The swaddled bundle in Christ’s arms looks exactly as Isaac’s body did in the little casket, so I can picture him in that environment instead.

A few other notes about St. Gregory’s treatise so far: Macrina’s prostratedness in grief has not yet been explained; and the style of the dialogue reminds me a lot of Plato’s Republic, but St. Gregory is more relatable and deals with the issues in more of a heart-felt rather than coldly rationalistic manner.

St. Gregory’s St. Macrina

by Andrea Elizabeth

To continue with St. Gregory of Nyssa, I turn to his Life of Macrina, a tribute to his sister. As we homeschool, I find this part about her upbringing inspiring.


Well, the child was reared. Although she had her own nurse, yet as a rule her mother did the nursing with her own hands. After passing the stage of infancy, she showed herself apt in acquiring childish accomplishments’ and her natural powers were shown in every study to which her parents’ judgment directed her. The education of the child was her mother’s task ; she did not’ however, employ the usual worldly method of education, which makes a practice of using poetry as a means of training the early years of the child. For she considered it disgraceful and quite unsuitable, that a tender and plastic nature should be taught either those tragic passions of womanhood which afforded poets their suggestions and plots, or the indecencies of comedy’ to be’ so to speak, defiled with unseemly tales of ” the harem.” But such parts of inspired Scripture as you would think were incomprehensible to young children were the subject of the girl’s studies ; in particular the Wisdom of Solomon, and those parts of it especially which have an ethical bearing. Nor was she ignorant of any part of the Psalter’ but at stated times she recited every part of it. When she rose from bed, or engaged in household duties’ or rested, or partook of food’ or retired from table, when she went to bed or rose in the night for prayer, the Psalter was her constant companion, like a good fellow­traveller that never deserted her.

St. Theophan the Recluse in The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation also talks about nurturing children in the Church and sheltering them from worldly influence.

I was already intrigued by St. Gregory writing about his sister, but I confess this statement in the preceding list of St. Gregory’s works spurs me on, “St. Macrina was Gregory’s sister and a major influence on his thought. Apart from its religious aspect, this is one of the few ancient biographies of a woman intellectual.”

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