Comprehending the incomprehensible

Daily Reading for March 9 • Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, c. 394

Now the divine nature, as it is in itself, according to its essence, transcends every act of comprehensive knowledge, and it cannot be approached or attained by our speculation. Men have never discovered a faculty to comprehend the incomprehensible; nor have we ever been able to devise an intellectual technique for grasping the inconceivable. For this reason the great Apostle calls God’s ways ‘unsearchable’, teaching us by this that the way that leads to the knowledge of the divine nature is inaccessible to our reason; and hence none of those who have lived before us has given us the slightest hint of comprehension suggesting that we might know that which in itself is above all knowledge.

Such then is God whose essence is above every nature, invisible, incomprehensible. Yet he can be seen and apprehended in another way, and the ways of this apprehension are numerous. For we can see him, who has ‘made all things in wisdom’, by the process of inference through the wisdom that is reflected in the universe. It is just as in human works of art, where the mind can in a sense see the author of the ordered structure that is before it, inasmuch as he has left his artistry in his work. But notice that what we see here is not the substance of the craftsman, but merely the artistic skill that he has impressed in his work. So too, when we consider the order of creation, we form an image not of substance but of the wisdom of him who has done all things wisely.

From the On the Beatitudes, sermon 6 by Gregory of Nyssa, quoted in Spiritual Classics from the Early Church, an anthology compiled and introduced by Robert Atwell, OSB (London: National Society / Church House Publishing, 1995).

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