Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

38. Cappadocia: Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory, brother of Basil, was bishop of Nyssa from 372 until his death about 395. Three works are especially relevant for the study of baptism: the Catechetical Oration 33-36, 38–40;1 the liturgical sermon On the Day of Lights or On the Baptism of Christ;2 and the protreptic sermon Against Those Who Defer Baptism.3


Baptismal Ceremony

Gregory of Nyssa refers to those who have grown old and are still “dismissed with the catechumens … when the mystery is going to be spoken about” (Defer, PG 46.421C).4 He invites his hearers,

Give me your names so that I can inscribe them in the visible books, and I will
write them in ink; God has marked them in the invisible tablets and written them

1. Translations from Gregory of Nyssa are my own. The Greek text is by Ekkehard Mühlenberg, Gregorii Nysseni Oratio Catechetica, Opera Dogmatica Minora, Pars IV in Gregorii Nysseni Opera, III, Pars IV (Leiden: Brill, 1996), pp. 82–105; cited GNO, page, and line. Studies by Reinhard Jakob Kees, Die Lehre von der Oikonomia Gottes in der Oratio Catechetica Gregors von Nyssa (Leiden: Brill, 1995); Everett Ferguson, “The Doctrine of Baptism in Gregory of Nyssa’s Oratio Catechetica,” in Stanley E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross, eds., Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), pp. 224–234; Salvatore Taranto, “Il Cristo e i sacramenti in Gregorio di Nissa: il battesimo,” in M. Girardi and M. Marin, Origene e l’Alessandrinismo Cappadoce (III-IV secolo) (Bari: Edipuglia, 2002), pp. 171–201, whose thesis is that for Gregory baptism cannot be separated from the incarnation and the mediatorial work of Christ and the church.

2. Greek text by E. Gebhart GNO, Vol. 9: Sermones I (Leiden: Brill, 1967), pp. 221–242. Studied in my “Preaching at Epiphany: Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom on Baptism and the Church,” Church History 66 (1997): 1–17.

3. Not yet in GNO; PG 46.416C-432A. Studied in my “Exhortations to Baptism in the Cappadocians,” Studia patristica 33 (1997): 121–129.

4. The catechumens were outside paradise (Defer, PG 46.417C); on paradise see also 420C.

-603-

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