For centuries, the orthodox church tolerated slavery. While St. Gregory of Nyssa, the fourth homilist of Ecclesiastes, was one of the early abolitionists, other orthodox Christians held that slavery was a natural part of human nature. Gregory of Nyssa’s abolitionist views were in contrast to those of St. Augustine, who blamed the slaves for their own enslavement. This stance did not go far in Latin Christianity, and slavery continued into the relatively recent past.
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St. Gregory of Nyssa
While the New Testament clearly does not abolish Greco-Roman slavery, it does establish a radical redefinition of the slave-master relationship. Gregory takes this radical redefinition one step further, making a deeply theocentric argument that the existence of sin is no reason to accept slavery. The orthodox church would have no part in this kind of practice. Therefore, Gregory argued that the orthodox church must oppose slavery.
The early life of St. Gregory of Nyssa is littered with contradictions. During his youth, he pursued a non-clericastical career as a rhetorician, acting as a lector. During this period, he married Theosebia, who is sometimes identified as Theosebia the Deaconess. The orthodox church views her as a saint.
St. Gregory of Nyssa’s fourth homily on Ecclesiastes
St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Fourth Homily on Ecclesiastes and slavery has been called the most influential Christian text on the subject. It offers an early critique of the Christian understanding of slavery and the place of slavery in the Christian world. Gregory makes three main arguments against slavery. First, only God is entitled to enslave human beings. Second, people are created in God’s image. Third, slavery is wrong.
Third, both master and slave suffer the same suffering and emotions. They see the same sun and draw in the same air. They have the same bodily organs and experience the same judgment. Moreover, both must return to dust after death. As such, it is impossible to distinguish between master and slave. Finally, the slave cannot prove that he is a master or a slave.
St. Gregory of Nyssa’s second homily on Ecclesiastes
St. Gregory of Nyssa’s second homily on Ecclesiastes is the best known of his apologetics and expositor’s comments. The Greek text is followed by his comments at the head of the passage, with the modern translation based on the Hebrew original. His comments are a brilliant summation of the ideas of Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria.
Unlike most other commentators, Gregory’s account of creation emphasizes the existence of God as the cause of all things. He argues that God has a nature, and that his energies are a projection of that nature. God’s nature is revealed through the world, and the universe is guided by these energies. Gregory’s view of the world is rooted in a cosmological vision of the nature of God.
The commandment of the Lord enlightens the simple eyes. It says that good cleaves to God, not pleasure, pain, fear, anger, and cowardice. God is Truth, Joy, and Sanctification. Therefore, it is absurd to judge a sinner. It is better to live by God’s commandment than to condemn it.
St. Gregory of Nyssa’s third homily on Ecclesiastes
The Third Homily on Ecclesiastes by St. Gregory of Nyssa was written in the fifth century. It is a short homily, which is also popularly known as the “Song of Songs.” In this text, St. Gregory discusses the meaning of life, and how man participates in the perfections of God. It is a work of classical philosophy, and many of its ideas are still relevant today.
Gregory was born in Cappadocia, central Asia Minor, and is considered one of the most philosophical Cappadocians of all time. He was also a great friend and colleague of Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil the Great, and was one of the most original thinkers of his time. Gregory synthesized influences from pagan Greek philosophical schools with Jewish and Eastern Christian traditions. This work has had a significant impact on Western thought.