St. Gregory Nyssa on spiritual health

St. Gregory Nyssa on spiritual health

In a homily on the Beatitudes, Saint Gregory of Nyssa made a connection between seeking bodily health and spiritual health to illustrate a point. In both cases, he said, it’s not enough to just “know the causes of good health.” You have to take daily steps toward good health. It needs to be a consistent practice.

In our human life bodily health is a good thing, but this blessing consists not merely in knowing the causes of good health but in actually enjoying it. If a man eulogizes good health and then eats food that has unhealthy effects, what good is his praise of health when he finds himself on a sickbed? Similarly, from the Lord’s saying: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God, we are to learn that blessedness does not lie in knowing something about God, but rather in possessing God within oneself.

You men have within you a desire to behold the supreme good. Now when you are told that the majesty of God is exalted above the heavens, that his glory is inexpressible, his beauty indescribable, and his nature transcendent, do not despair because you cannot behold the object of your desire. If by a diligent life of virtue you wash away the film of dirt that covers your heart, then the divine beauty will shine forth in you.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa

I love how he tells his audience “do not despair.” That gentle reminder to “do not despair” is especially comforting to us today because we live in a culture that loves instant results. But discipleship isn’t an instant-result kind’a thing. It’s a lifelong journey.

Discipleship is a “diligent life of virtue,” and a practice that “washes away the film of dirt that” covers the heart so that the divine beauty will shine forth in us. We should not despair. We should be patient. How beautiful!

Saint Gregory of Nyssa, pray for us.


The quoted passage was taken from the Office of Readings for Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time, second reading. The Divine Office credits the text to “a homily by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, bishop (Orat. 6 De beatitudinibus: PG 44, 1270-1271).”

Incidentally, a copy of that entire day’s Office of Readings, which includes the entire second reading, can be found HERE.


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