Guarding and proclaiming the unchanging truth in a changing world

The Hope of Seeing God

16th September 2021

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Gregory of Nyssa was born in 335 to a devout aristocratic Christian family in Cappadocia, which had suffered persecution for their faith. Gregory's grandfather was martyred, his parents had their goods confiscated and were exiled for confessing Christ. Three of their sons became bishops: Gregory was elected bishop of Nyssa in 372 and joined his older brothers, Basil of Caesarea and Peter of Sebaste, in their fight against the Arian heresy.  Gregory contributed significantly to the Church's understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene Creed.

Blessed are those who possess a pure heart, for they shall see God. This promise of God is so great that it transcends the utmost limits of beatitude.  For what else could one desire after such a good, since he possesses all things in the one he contemplates?  According to scriptural use, "to see" means the same as "to have":  for example, May you see the good things of Jerusalem instead of "May you find," which is the meaning of the passage; and Let the ungodly be taken away, that he may not see the glory of God,  where by "not seeing" the prophet indicates "not participating in."

Hence the man who sees God possesses in this act of seeing all there is of the things that are good.  By this we understand life without end, eternal incorruption, undying beatitude.  With these we shall enjoy the everlasting kingdom of unceasing happiness; we shall see the true light and hear the sweet voice of the Spirit; we shall exult perpetually in all that is good in the inaccessible glory.

So magnificent a consummation is offered to our hope in the promise made in this beatitude.  But since, as has been shown before, the seeing has been made dependent on purity of heart, my mind once again grows dizzy, lest perhaps purity of heart should be impossible to achieve because it surpasses our nature.  For if the vision of God depends on this and if Moses and Paul did not see him -- and it is stated that neither he nor anyone else can see him -- the Word now seems to propose something impossible in this beatitude. 

What, therefore, do we gain from knowing how to see God if the mind finds it impossible to do so? It would be just as if one said that it is blessed to be in heaven because there one can contemplate what cannot be seen in this life. Now if this statement also showed a means of journeying to heaven, it would indeed be profitable to the hearers to learn that it is blessed to be there. But as long as the ascent is impossible, what use is it to know about the heavenly beatitude?  It only saddens those who have learned about it to realize of what things we are deprived, because ascent is not feasible.

Yet should the Lord command something so great that it completely surpasses our nature and the limits of its power?  Surely not. He does not tell those he had not provided with wings to become birds, nor does he bid creatures he has destined to sojourn on land to live in the water. The law is adapted to the capacities of those that receive it in everything else, and  nothing is enforced that is beyond nature.  Hence we shall realize that neither does this beatitude set forth what outstrips hope.  Nor have Paul, John, Moses and others like them been lacking in the transcendent beatitude that consists in seeing God.  No; for the one said: There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the just Judge will render to me; another lay upon the breast of Jesus; and the third heard the divine voice say: I have known you above all.

Now it cannot be doubted that those who have proclaimed the perception of God to be above human power are themselves blessed.  On the other hand, beatitude consists in seeing God, and this depends on being pure of heart.  Hence surely the purity of heart through which we may become blessed cannot be impossible.  How is it then that the voice of the Lord, which promises that God may be seen if we are pure, should not contradict those who, according to Saint Paul, evidently speak the truth if they contend that the contemplation of God is beyond our power?

Gregory of Nyssa (335-394)

2 Timothy 6:11-16
2 Corinthians 4:1-6


O God, whose blessed Son came into the world.
that he might destroy the works of the devil
and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life:
Grant that we, having this hope,
may be ourselves purified even as he is pure
that when he shall appear in power and great glory
we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Pray with us today's prayer request:

Anglican Missions Africa led a 'Wholesome Teens' mission in Eldoret Diocese, Kenya, visiting eight High Schools over four days. They report that 1399 youth were reached and that 1032 received Christ. Thank God for this ministry and pray for His blessing on the discipleship clubs in the schools. 

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