St. Gregory of Nyssa
What other objection is alleged by our adversaries? This; that (to take the preferable view2014) it was altogether needless that that transcendent Being should submit to the experience of death, but He might independently of this, through the superabundance of His power, have wrought with ease His purpose; still, if for some ineffable reason or other it was absolutely necessary that so it should be, at least He ought not to have been subjected to the contumely of such an ignominious kind of death. What death, they ask, could be more ignominious than that by crucifixion? What answer can we make to this?
(The objection appears to be that it is unworthy of the Divine Nature or God to die, especially an execution as shameful as crucifixion. To have such a thought objecting to Christian Faith is, according to St. Gregory, a sickness (of the mind) and the Catechism is written to be the cure to such ailments of mind. The answer to such an objection as mentioned above is therefore not merely a counter argument. It is a medicine. The entire Catechism was composed as a medicine to cure the mind. )
Why, that the death is rendered necessary by the birth, and that He Who had determined once for all to share the nature of man must pass through all the peculiar conditions of that nature. Seeing, then, that the life of man is determined between two boundaries, had He, after having passed the one, not touched the other that follows, His proposed design would have remained only half fulfilled, from His not having touched that second condition of our nature. Perhaps, however, one who exactly understands the mystery would be justified rather in saying that, instead of the death occurring in consequence of the birth, the birth on the contrary was accepted by Him for the sake of the death; for He Who lives for ever did not sink down into the conditions of a bodily birth from any need to live, but to call us back from death to life.
The natural cycle of life for human beings is such that our birth is the cause of our death. Had we not been born we would not die. Death is the consequence of our birth. For the Lord Jesus Christ things are different. The birth of Jesus Christ is the consequence of His death on the Cross. St. Gregory goes on to explain below.
Since, then, there was needed a lifting up from death for the whole of our nature, He stretches forth a hand as it were to prostrate man, and stooping down to our dead corpse He came so far within the grasp of death as to touch a state of deadness, and then in His own body to bestow on our nature the principle of the resurrection, raising as He did by His power along with Himself the whole man. For since from no other source than from the concrete lump of our nature2015 had come that flesh, which was the receptacle of the Godhead and in the resurrection was raised up together with that Godhead, therefore just in the same way as, in the instance of this body of ours, the operation of one of the organs of sense is felt at once by the whole system, as one with that member, so also the resurrection principle of this Member, as though the whole of mankind was a single living being, passes through the entire race, being imparted from the Member to the whole by virtue of the continuity and oneness of the nature. What, then, is there beyond the bounds of probability in what this Revelation teaches us; viz. that He Who stands upright stoops to one who has fallen, in order to lift him up from his prostrate condition? And as to the Cross, whether it possesses some other and deeper meaning, those who are skilled in mysticism may explain; but, however that may be, the traditional teaching which has reached us is as follows.
Did you get that? Death is a condition that has spread throughout human nature. For that reason, every human being must inevitably die. This is the so-called human condition. God descends into human nature (by becoming man in Jesus Christ) to take on death itself. At this lowest point of His descent He then plants the seed of resurrection. For He Himself rises from the dead. Death has died – so to speak – and life has been restored (at least in principle).
This resurrection to life is planted in human nature in a similar way that sin planted death there. This means that the resurrection to life is given to all that participate in human nature. St. Gregory uses the image of our body and its senses. Whatever happens at one end of it affects the whole system of our body (building on St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12). The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ are truly and totally the undoing of death. The resurrection to life is as inevitable as is death. The resurrection is certain for all participants in human nature. The resurrection is not subject to free will the same way death is not. Let that sink in for a while.
More St. Gregory to come. Stay tuned.
Fr. Gregory Wassen