In recent times, Gregory of Nyssa has been thought to be a universalist. The concern here is that much of the views are read into his works. Many in the East and the West find it difficult to pin his work down without taking what he taught out of context. Even the Arians would try and ‘cut and paste’ his work construct them into dogmas in such a way to support their views. The risk of doing so today is evident by those who drift into the thinking of the pagans of Gregory’s day. Gregory often sourced Origen’s work. There is evidence to suggest the Arians were also sourcing Origen. Yet we have to take great care as not to jump to the conclusion of what might be a poor premise to begin with. Much of Origen’s work was not as highly regarded in his day by his contemporaries. In the doctrine of apokatastasis, the following should be considered.
For example, In, De Pauperibus Amandis, 2. p. 240, he says of the last judgment that God will give to each his due; repose eternal to those who have exercised pity and a holy life; but the eternal punishment of fire for the harsh and unmerciful: and addressing the rich who have made a bad use of their riches, he says, ‘Who will extinguish the flames ready to devour you and engulf you? Who will stop the gnawings of a worm that never dies?’ Cf. also Orat. 3, de Beatitudinibus, I.; contra Usuarios, II.
When tackling the heretics, Gregory, just like the other fathers did, often had to use their material and their sources in such a way as to show them the error of their thinking. If we come to certain passages of his writings with pagan glasses then we are going to jump to the wrong conclusions i.e. universalism. There maybe distinctions between God’s intention for humanity and whether or not God’s intention is actualised in all human being regardless should not be a foregone conclusion. The are continual pleas by Gregory to undertake a more virtuous path that leads to life with consequences for straying off the path. At this stage, arguments tend to go round in circles.
Nevertheless, some of what Gregory says poses some concerns and he comes very close to the edge of the boundary of what constitutes sound Trinitarian theology. Yet, we may have the problem of historical distance, culture and context that may hinder us from a sound understanding of what he is trying to say. There are numerous cases where theologians jump to the wrong conclusions when assessing the work of the church fathers. We have to take great care that we do not do the same here.
Of his work on the Trinity
Translated by Philip Schaff
The Dogmatic Treatise