Part 4
Chapter 3—Of Original Sin

Section 22—Gregorius Nyssenus. A.D. 380.

Gregory of Nyssa, frequently speaks of the corruption and weakness of human nature. He asserts,[1] that man is born in sin; that the image of God is lost in man;[2] that that which is good choran ouk echen, “hath no place in him;”[3] and that human nature, being in wickedness through sin, apokekritai tes kurias tou agathou kleseos, “is exempted from the proper appellation of good,”[4] or does not deserve the name of good; yea, so faulty is it, that it cannot understand exactly what is naturally good, and what through deceit supposed to be so.[5] He owns, that man's free will was originally good, and the gift of God, but that it is the instrument of sin;[6] yea, the last of evils.[7] Moreover he says,[8] that “man has changed ten poneran tes amartias douleian and tes autexou siou eleutherias, ‘ and has, instead of the freedom of the will, the wicked and base slavery of sin;' and has chose rather to be under the tyranny of a corrupting power, than to be with God.” Nay, he says,[9] “that he who was without lord and master, and of his own free will, nun upo toiouton kai tosouton kakon kurieutai, ‘is now lorded over by such and so many evils,' as it is not easy to number our tyrants. Hence he observes the impotency of man, and the necessity of the Spirit and grace of God. On Song of Solomon 1:2, he has this note:[10] “In what follows, the soul, the bride, touches a more sublime philosophy, showing to aprositon to kai achoreton logismois anthropinois tes theias dunameos, ‘that divine virtue is not to be come at and comprehended by human reasonings,' when she says, ‘Thy name is as ointment poured forth.'” And in another place he says,[11] that “the power of human virtue ouk exarkei kath' eauten, not sufficient of itself to raise up souls destitute of grace to a form of life.” Yea, he observes,[12] “that such mischievous evils, and so difficult of cure, are hid in the souls of men, oste me dunaton einai dia mones tes anthropines apoudes kai aretes, as that it is not possible, by mere human industry and virtue, to wear them out, and remove them, unless one receives the helping power of the Spirit.” And a little after,[13] “The tempter lays many snares for the soul, and human nature is in so bad a condition in itself, that it cannot get the victory of him.” He argues the weakness of human nature, and the necessity, of divine grace and assistance, from the several petitions in the Lord's Prayer; “What,” says he,[14] “does that petition mean, Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come? but this, oti asthenes esti pros agathou tinos ktesin e anthropine phusis, ‘that human nature is weak to procure any thing that is good;' and therefore none of the things that we are seeking diligently after befall us, unless the divine help works that which is good in us.” And a little after,[15] “He that says in prayer, hal1owed be thy name, prays thus, genoimen to sunergeia tes ses boetheias, ‘O that I might by thine help and assistance,' be unblameable righteous, godly, abstaining from every evil work, speaking truth, working righteousness etc.; for God cannot otherwise be glorified by man, unless his virtue witness, that the cause of good things is through the divine power.” Then he goes on to set forth the wretched condition that human nature is in by reason of sin, and adds,[16] “Well do we pray, that the kingdom of God may come upon us; for we cannot otherwise put off the wretched government of corruption, unless the quickening power takes the dominion over us.” Again, on that petition, Thy will be done, he asks,[17] “Why do we pray, that we may have a good will from God? Oti asthenes e anthropine phusis pros to agathon estin, because human nature is weak to that which is good.” And a little after he observes,[18] that “there is in us such a bias to that which is evil, that we have no need of an assistant, seeing wickedness perfects itself of its own accord in our will; but if the inclination is made to that which is better, tou Theou chreia ten epithumian eis ergon agontos, ‘we have need of God to bring the desire into action.' Therefore we say, because thy will is temperance, but I am carnal, sold under sin, “by thy power form aright this good will in me; the same of righteousness, godliness, the alienation of the affections. And yet after all this it cannot be denied, that Gregory drops several expressions which seem to favor free will; and among others of the like nature, that is said[19] by him, which is cited by Dr. Whitby,[20] that “it is in men's power to be the children of the day, or of the night; and that they are the children of God by virtue, and of the enemy by vice; which must be reckoned among his unguarded expressions, in which he carries the power of man's free will too far; unless the patrons of that doctrine can reconcile them to the numerous testimonies to the contrary produced here and elsewhere. To which may be added, that prayer of his at the close of one of his treatises;[21] “The Lord give us power, eis to ekklinein apo kakon, kai poiein agathon, ‘to decline from evil, and to do that which is good,' through the grace and philanthropy of the Lord and God, and our Savior Jesus Christ.”


[1] Gregor. Nyss. in Psalm, c. 16, p. 370, vol. 1.

[2] Ibid. contr. Eunom. 1. 11, p. 282, vol. 2.

[3] Ibid. Orat. Funebr. Pulcher. p 955.

[4] Ibid. contr. Eunom. 1. 10, p. 264.

[5] De Beatitud. orat. 5, p. 801.

[6] Ibid. in Ecclesiastes homil. 2, p. 338, vol. 1.

[7] De Beatitud. homil. 8, p. 459.

[8] Ibid. de Orat. Dominic. orat. 5, p. 754.

[9] De Beatitud. orat. 3, p. 785.

[10] Ibid. in Cant. homil. 1, p. 485.

[11] Ibid. de Scopo Christ. p. 372, vol. 2.

[12] Ibid. p. 734.

[13] Ibid. p. 736.

[14] Ibid. Orat. Dominic orat. 3, p. 784.

[15] Ibid. p. 735.

[16] Ibid. p. 736.

[17] Ibid. Orat. 4, p. 742.

[18] Ibid. p. 743.

[19] De Beatitud. contr. Eunom. 1. 2, p. 95, vol. 2.

[20] Discourse, etc. p. 97; ed. 2. p. 96.

[21] Ibid. in Christ. Resurrect. orat. 2, p. 848, vol. 2.