When (the Father) Will Subject All Things to (the Son), Then (the Son) Himself Will Be Subjected to Him (the Father) Who Subjects All Things to Him (the Son)
A treatise on First Corinthians 15.28 by
Gregory of Nyssa
"And when all things have been subjected to him (the Son), then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him (the Father) who subjected all things to him, that God may be all in all." Such are the words from Saint Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (15.28) which Saint Gregory of Nyssa comments upon in a treatise l especially devoted to this verse. This relatively short treatise, bearing more or less the same heading as the above quoted verse from First Corinthians, may be grouped together with Gregory's other works which basically center around the consecration of mankind in Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection - the 'Commentary on the Song of Songs,' 'On Perfection,' 'On Ecclesiastes,' and the 'Great Catechesis.' We might say that these works stand apart from those writings of Gregory dealing with trinitarian and Christological topics. Although Gregory of Nyssa's treatise on the Son's subjection is brief, it nevertheless demands attention because of the rather thorny problem Saint Paul's above quoted verse to the Corinthians has caused ever since its composition. We might observe that the Christian life, conceived and developed in Gregory's treatise 'On Virginity' and the 'Life of Moses,' is a practical application of the reality contained in Christ's mystical body, the Church. The 'Commentary on the Song of Songs 2 centers around the development of the body of Christ in individual souls as opposed to Origen's vision of the Church as the bride of Christ; Gregory does not neglect this, but he relegates it to a place of less importance.
When we hear the word 'subjection' (hupotage) in the early development of the Church's dogma, the Arian heresy usually comes to our minds. Arios (256-336) and his later followers held a kind of theological rationalism where the Godhead is not only uncreated, but unbegotten (agennetos). A logical sequence of such a doctrine is that the Son of God, the Logos, cannot truly be God. He is the first of all creatures and, like them, was brought out of nothing, not from the divine substance. Hence, He is essentially different from the Father. He is the Son of God not metaphysically, but in the moral sense of the word. The Logos, whose sonship is by adoption, lacks real participation in the divinity and has a kind of middle position between God and the world. Such a superficial rationalism was appealing since it gave a simple answer to the difficult question of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Arios' theory was not new, but the theory of subordinationism 3 had been fashionable before his time; Arios simply took up the theme and added his own notions.
The treatise on the Son's subjection by Gregory of Nyssa has some noticeable polemical overtones, and Gregory indeed intended to defend the catholic tradition from such 'evil frauds' in the trinitarian controversies of the day 4. Nevertheless, when reading the treatise, one might get the impression that Gregory is talking about something more profound, namely his teaching on the Church as deeply embedded in eschatology. Due to the fact that the Son's subjection arises from trinitarian controversies, Hübner maintains that Gregory's treatise rests both upon the teachings of Marcellus of Ankyra and Saint Athanasios. Gregory's contact with Marcellus' followers arose out of concern for his brother, Basil (the Great), who was engaged in a dispute over the lawful bishop of Antioch 6. Gregory attended the Synod of Antioch in 379 which in turn sent him to the diocese of Pontos as a visitor. It was in the town of Sebaste that Gregory defended himself (380) against charges of Arianism or, resembled Marcellus of Ankyra's point of view. This compelled Gregory to compose a statement on the topic, and he thereby corrected Marcellus' excesses.
After giving an explanation of the term 'subjection' (hupotage) (1305-08) with regard to examples from the animal and human spheres, Gregory goes on to say that subjection properly understood is worthy of God himself (1309) and is present in both the "Son who is subjected and in the Father who receives the Son's subjection." Nevertheless, such a good is presently lacking; as Paul says, "The Son's subjection lies in the future." Here is where we find room for heretical doctrines pertaining to such a teaching - they attempt to reconcile the unchangeable nature of God with the present state of human existence which Christ assumed in his Incarnation. As Gregory asks rhetorically in 1309, "How does this (subjection of the Son to the Father at the fulfillment of time) relate to what is unchangeable?" He then answers, "That which will exist afterwards but not now refers to our mutable human nature." The thought of linking human nature with subjection naturally leads Gregory to consider the central fact of the Resurrection, "The goal for which all men hope (pros to peras ton elpizomenon) and for which they direct their prayers" (1312). With the important term peras (goal) Gregory describes the consummation of salvation history, namely apokatastasis, which is "the object of our treatise" (1313). It is in the section from 1313 to 1316 that Gregory presents his readers with his own interpretation of Paul's text (1 Cor 15.28).
It is especially in his eschatological views that Gregory proves himself a disciple of Origen. He does not share Origen's ideas regarding the preexistence of souls, and he especially is at pains to reject the doctrine that they have 'fallen' into material bodies as a punishment for sins committed in a preceding world 7. However, Gregory agrees with Origen in holding that the pains of hell are not eternal but temporary due to their medicinal nature. Detachment or apatheia in this life represents a foretaste of the blessed life to come. This is practically carried out by despoiling our "garments of skin" (cf. Gen 3.21) which compose our animal life or psuche. Gregory equates the 'man' first created by God in Gen 1.27 not with an historical figure, but with that of Christ to come -"There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3.28}. Gregory's conception of askesis which helps restore our eikon, or the original man spoken of above, is commanded by apatheia freedom from passion. Thus apatheia is a habitual state of grace.
The use of Gregory's Pauline exegesis is a vision of the Church as Christ's body. Creation's goal is none other than the return of all things to fellowship (koinonia) in the good subjection (1308) which they had at the beginning. Hence, it is easy to see how this doctrine ties in with the above-mentioned doctrine of man created in the image of God. "Nothing made by God is excluded from his kingdom.... Such things had their origin in God; what was made in the beginning (arche) did not receive evil" (1313). We find evidence of the essential goodness of all things in Gregory's other writings 8; evil comes in through man's misuse of his freedom -"Decrease of the good always results by straying from its principle, while the good is found closer to us insofar as it has in each one's dignity and power" (1313). Because man is God's image, he is naturally good by nature 9. This point cannot be stressed enough for a proper appreciation of Gregory's entire anthropology and theology.
Gregory's parable of the lost sheep, which is based upon Mt 18.12-14, pertains to the original unity of all things. W e find it expounded in his second and twelfth homilies on the 'Song of Songs.' Such a doctrine in turn rests upon Irenaios 10. Man participates in the angelic nature (eis phuseos ton aggelon). Gregory's treatise 'On the Making of Man' (PG 44.188), in line with his treatise on the Son's subjection, says that the grace of the Resurrection is none other than the restoration of fallen nature in its original unity. Therefore, in light of this we must view his Okonomielehre 11 or the grand mystery of Christ's incarnation-death- resurrection-ascension. As Daniélou points out 12, all souls are restored to the unity of the kosmos noetos in which the angels dwell. However, this unity is not a mere return to the primitive state of paradise, since the human drama has caused the appearance of a new reality, that of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
The immediate goal of Christ's Incarnation is the destruction of evil -"When we are removed from evil in imitation of the first fruits (aparche), our entire nature is mixed with this self-same fruits. One body has been formed with the good as predominant; our body's entire nature is united to the divine, pure nature. This is what we mean by the Son's subjection, when in his body Christ rightly has the subjection brought to him and effects in us the grace of subjection" (1316). In this way Gregory interprets the subjection of the Son to his Father as the removal of evil.
The individual members of Christ's body are 'physically' joined to his human nature. Thus, the body - the Church - grows as a whole unity. "Unity then means to be one body with him...for all who are joined to the one body of Christ by participation are one body with him. When the good pervades everything, then the entirety of Christ's body will be subjected to God's vivifying power. Thus, the subjection of this body will be said to be the subjection of the Son himself as united to his own body, the Church" (1317). Also, the rest of creation is meant to participate in this unity found in subjection as 1320 states. It is based upon Paul's statement in Phil 2.10, "When everything in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bends the knee to him.... Then when every creature has become one body and is joined in Christ through obedience to one another, he will bring into subjection his own body to the Father."
The phrase in 1317, "proper measure" (idion metron)13, calls for some comment; for it brings to mind the body of Christ as a collective unity in the process of growth through the earlier concept of 'first fruits.' This phrase, it should be remembered, refers to the material side of human nature. Christ, as this first fruits, is present in mankind as a whole, a fact Gregory stresses as opposed to Christ's presence in individual members. The 'proper measure' then implies that full realization of each person who has attained "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," a quote from Eph 2.13 which Gregory uses in 1317 . In order to understand this better, refer to his treatise 'On the Making of Man,' chapter sixteen, a key doctrine of the "double creation" of man 14. "All of nature, beginning from the first to the last man, is, so to speak, one image of him who is" (PG 44.185). This ought not to be identified with the apokatastasis as such which is purely spiritual, but this is mankind taken as an entire race.
Compare this statement from 'On the Making of Man' with the treatise on subjection (1320): "Christ's body consists of human nature in its entirety to which he has been united." The apokatastasis of mankind, which partakes of the angelic realm as stated above, refers, however, to the Church as the body of Christ through the Incarnation. Thus, apokatastasis refers to the restoration of mankind through the Incarnation. It is of this original unity of mankind in its entirety that chapter sixteen of 'On the Making of Man' speaks. It should be noted that in this chapter Gregory does not mention the term apokatastasis or restoration of man's image; one should read it before his treatise on the Son's subjection to appreciate it better. There is no ontological relationship of mankind with regard to God in the reality of apokatastasis - mankind is an "image of him who is." All of Gregory's mysticism, as developed in the 'Life of Moses' and the 'Commentary on the Song of Songs,' centers around the transcendence of God's being (ousia). Due to this inaccessible ousia, individual souls will be eternally increasing in the depths of God's inscrutable darkness. The darkness Gregory presents to us is absolute. No amount of human effort can comprehend God 15.
We find two conceptions of the subjection of Christ's body in the treatise which should be noted: "The subjection of this body (that is, those joined together in Christ) will be said to be the subjection of the Son himself as united to his own body, that is, the Church" (1317). And "subjection to God is complete alienation from evil" (1316). The first model depends upon Marcellus of Ankyra, as Hübner has shown (P. 53), which Gregory obtained from Peri tes Ensarkou Epiphaneias tou Theou Logou kata Hareianon attributed to Saint Athanasios. Marcellus of Ankyra takes 1 Cor 15.28 as the subjection of Christ's manhood 16. Compare this now with Gregory's subjection of the body of Christ, the Church, in 1320: "Christ's body consists of human nature in its entirety to which He has been united" (katamichte).
The second model comes from Origen's understanding of Christ's subjection to his Father as that of every rational creature. Compare both the use of Ps 61.2 in Gregory and Origen, "Shall not my soul be subjected to God?" For Gregory this verse (1305) develops the psalm quote by saying, "The mark of submission to God is salvation as we have learned" (1305), and later in 1308, "With regard to salvation's goal it is said that the Only- Begotten [Son] of God is subjected to the Father in the same way salvation from God is procured for mankind." The phrase "we have learned" most likely rests upon the great Alexandrian's comments in De Principiis, vi. 1 :
What then is the "subjection" by which "all things must be
made subject" to Christ? In my opinion it is the same subjec-
tion by which we too desire to be subjected to him, and by
which the apostles and all the saints who have followed Christ
were subject to him. For the word subjection, when used for
our subjection to Christ, implies the salvation proceeding
from Christ of those who are subjected.
Here salvation equals subjection, a theme we see in Gregory's treatise; both authors see it as a lordship of the good. Gregory fills out Origen by saying, "Our subjection, however, consists of a kingdom, incorruptibility, and blessedness living in us; this is Paul's meaning of being subjected to God" (1325).
Christ's body for both Gregory and Origen encompasses not only all mankind, but every rational creature with free will. Parallel 1320, which uses Phil 2.10, with Origen's De Principiis, i.6, 2:
Subjection to God is our chief good when all creation resounds
as one voice; when everything in heaven, on earth, and under the
that Jesus Christ is Lord. Then when every creature has become
one body and is joined in Christ through obedience to one anoth-
er, he will bring into subjection his own body to the Father.
For the end is always like the beginning; as therefore there is one
end of all things, so we must understand that there is one begin-
ning of all things, and as there is one end of many things, so from
one beginning arise many differences and varieties, which in
their turn are restored through God's goodness, through their
subjection to Christ and their unity with the Holy Spirit, to
one end, which is like the beginning. I refer to all those who, by
'bending the knee in the name of Jesus,' have through this very
fact displayed the sign of their subjection. These are they who
dwell 'in heaven and on earth and under the earth,' the three
terms indicating the entire universe, that is, all those beings who
started from one beginning but were drawn in various directions.
In order to show the concrete materiality of human nature, Gregory employs the term "first fruits of the common dough" (oion aparche tis tou koinou phuramatos) into which the divine Logos was incarnated. Origen says in a similar vein, "So every soul in God's hands is one nature and all rational beings come, if I may say so, from one lump" (De principiis, iii.l, 22). We gather from this that the principle of unity of the spiritual body of Christ is not mankind, but the Godhead of the Logos; and Gregory simply took this concept over. Originally all creatures were subjected to God in one nature, and the end equals the beginning with no distinctions (cf. De Principiis, i.6, 2 above).
Although Gregory, like Origen, sees 1 Corinthians 15.28 as a statement for evil's destruction and return of all spiritual natures to God's lordship, Gregory, as Hübner points out (p. 60), brings in Marcellus of 4 Ankyra's model or equation of mankind and Christ's body: "Christ's body...consists of human nature in its entirety to which he has been united" (1320). Marcellus' goal is to see apokatastasis as the upbuilding of Christ's body of the Incarnation ("Christ assumed from death both the beginning of evil's destruction and the dissolution of death; then...a certain order was consequently added"-1313). In this reference no hint of the body's preexistence is present, a reason why Athanasios stood by Marcellus - he did not advocate the Origenistic concept of the preexistence of spiritual bodies. It is in line with Gregory's anthropology and soteriology which lacks Origen's concept of the body. Gregory thus has a wholly positive sense of Christ's Incarnation.
For Gregory of Nyssa the goal of the Christian life is similarity to God as the Ninth Homily on the Song says: "The end of a virtuous life is likeness to God and purity of soul." The principle of such a likeness or unity with God lies in his goodness. Compare 1317 of the subjection treatise with the Fifteenth Homily: "When the good pervades everything, then the entirety of Christ's body will be subjected to God's vivifying power." And "the disciples...should all be one and grow together into one good through the unity of the Holy Spirit"17. Unity of likeness is a sum, not an organism as in the Pauline concept of Christ's body - an organic community and solidarity of Christ's body is here without significance for salvation. Christ's Incarnation as "first fruits of the common dough" has rather the view of final penetration of the divine goodness, i.e., salvation safeguards the body's composition of its free members; for the principle of apokatastasis is God's goodness, not mankind's unity.
The contents of Christ's body , as based upon the tradition of lrenaios, Athanasios, Marcellus of Ankyra and Origen, are based upon the Stoic arche-akolouthia-peras (beginning-consequence-goal). It gives to the grand view of Christ's body, the Church, a certain wholeness and consistency. With Gregory, the importance of akolouthia designates not only the necessary body between two propositions, but the consequence by which a proposition is connected to its first principles (archai). It is only when this sequence is established and lacks no connection that one possesses certitude. This use of the term akolouthia can be seen in the Fifteenth Homily of the Song:
We hold that the bride's praises are as teachings which philoso-
phize about more refined matters. These teachings say that
beings are created and renewed not in accord with the same order
or system (akolouthia). Because the nature of creation subsists
from its very beginning by the divine power, the end of each cre-
ated being is simultaneously linked with its beginning.
Conflict between Gregory's concept of apokatastasis or subjection and "first fruits of the common dough" is brought together in a combination of Origen's and Athanasios' ideas pertaining to soteriology. W e must keep in mind this tension when reading Gregory of Nyssa, for the importance of Gregory's body of theology hinges upon his theology of the image of God in man; for Christ's body is finally perfected in an original likeness to God. The Fifteenth Homily on the Song contains Gregory's eschatological form of the body of the redeemed, his high point on this subject. It is here that perfection is symbolized by a dove, that is, the Holy Spirit who is seen as the principle of unity. This is in contrast to the treatise on subjection whose principle is Christ. Regarding glory, the Fifteenth Homily says:
I think it is better to state the divine words of the Gospel: "That
they may be all one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,
that they also may be in us" (Jn 17.21). Glory is the bond of this
unity; the Holy Spirit is said to be this glory which cannot be
denied by anyone prudently examining our Lord's words. He
says, "The glory which you have given me, I have given to
them." Indeed Christ gave this glory to his disciples when he said,
"Receive the Holy Spirit." He received this glory which he already
had before the world's beginning when he clothed himself with
human nature which was glorified by the Spirit. Such a relation-
ship in the glory of the Spirit is distributed to everyone united
with Christ, beginning with the disciples.
Now read 1320 of the treatise on the Son's subjection where the process of Christ becoming present in his body, the Church, is identified with the Holy Spirit. It is here that the separation between the human and divine beings is bridged and can become a unity without mixture in the Holy Spirit:
1 think that Christ's own glory is meant to be the Holy Spirit which
he has given to his disciples by breathing upon them, for what is
scattered cannot otherwise be united unless joined together by
the Holy Spirit's unity.... The Spirit is glory, as Christ says of the
Father: "Glorify me with the glory which I had with you before
the world was made" (Jn 17.5). The Word is God who has the
Father's glory, and became flesh during these last days. It is
necessary for the flesh to become what the Word is (that is,
divine) by uniting itself to him; this is effected when the flesh
receives that which the Word had before the world was made.
This is none other than the Holy Spirit.
Notes to the Introduction l. The text may be found in Migne, PG44.1304-26. J.K. Downing has a critical text, The Treatise of Gregory of Nyssa. In Illud: Tunc et Ipse Filius. A Critical Text with Prolegomena (Cambridge, Ma., 1947). Part of Migne's text (1313-24) may be found in the German translation by Reinhard M. Hübner, Die Einheit des Leibes Christi bei Gregor von Nyssa (Leiden, 1974) pp. 35-40. Hübner gives a highly detailed study of Gregory's text in his first chapter, "Die Einheit und Gemeinshaft des Leibes Christi Innerhald der Theologie Gregors," pp. 27-66. To the best of my knowledge, Gregory's treatise on the Son's subjection is not fully translated into a modern language.
2. The 'Commentary on the Song of Songs' consists of fifteen homilies on Song 1.1-6.8. have recently translated this text [PG 44.756-1120 and the critical edition, Gregorii Nysseni in Canticum Canticorum, edited by H. Langerbeck under the direction of Werner Jaeger (Leiden, 1960)] with an introduction. It will be published later this year (1983) by the Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Ma. My interest in these homilies, with their influence by Origen, has lead me to consider Gregory's treatment on the Son's subjection which more or less takes up the same theme begun in the fifteenth (and last) homily and stresses Gregory's eschatological reflections. Any quotes from the Song Commentary are from my own translation.
3. This doctrine attributed to a God who was less than God, and thus really unable to effect man's salvation. Such a difference is perhaps understandable, for it rested on an attempt among both Church Fathers and heretics alike to build a theology on the literal texts of Scripture, 1 Cor. 15.28 being a prime example. In fact, Scripture attempts to convey a highly complex question regarding the relationship between Father and Son. Prestige remarks on this point. "So long as the ultimate deity was regarded as a unitary being, this deficiency led to no serious consequences, because every object to which an origin could be ascribed was also a creature. It was only when the deity came to be regarded as a triad, and a second and third person came to be distinguished within the divine being itself, that any problem of derivation, as distinct from creation, could possibly arise. This problem, therefore, is specifically a problem of Christian theology." G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London, 1964) p. 135.
4. Cf. col. 1304, "Evil frauds...lay hands on the divine silver to make it base by mixing them with heretical and adulterated conceptions which obscure the Word's brightness.... Such persons say that the glory of the Only-Begotten (Son) of God must be degraded." And col. 1325, "The Apostle's purpose was not so much to expose heretical teachings which is what you would gather from the text (1 Cor. 15.28) being treated."
5. Marcellus of Ankyra, was at the beginning of the fourth century, a staunch upholder of Nikaia. He wrote "De Subjectione Domini," a rejection of strict subordinationism. The Arians accused him of leaning towards Sabellian modalism and adoptionism. Marcellus held that the Logos was God from all eternity, but not Son from all eternity; the Logos became Son only at the Incarnation. Marcellus was deposed by the Arian Council of Constantinople (336) and was defended by Pope Julius 1 to whom he gave an orthodox profession of faith. Saint Athanasios stood by him until Marcellus was discredited by the errors of his disciple Photinos. Marcellus published a work against Asterios the Sophist (c. 330) in which he attacked Eusebios of Nikomedia and Eusebios of Caesarea, laying himself open to the accusation of Sabellianism, thus becoming a target of the anti-Nikaian party. Marcellus' tract against Asterios is no longer extant, but numerous citations in Eusebios prove his doctrine unorthodox and related to Monarchism. At the consummation of the world, Son and Spirit will reenter the Godhead and will become an absolute monad again.
6. In Basil's concern for church unity in the Arian controversy, he enlisted Athanasios' help in his attempt to establish better relations between Rome and the East. One such obstacle in the path to such church unity was the trouble over Paulinos and Melitos. Basil's appeal to Athanasios and to Rome for the healing of this schism was rejected, mainly because Rome was opposed to Melitos whom Basil favored.
7 A basic theme of Peri Psuches kai Anastaseos ho Logos ho Legomenos ta Makrineia, PG 46.113. Origen held that spirits, once having fallen into material bodies, must despoil themselves of such bodies in order to return to God. Gregory develops the relationship of soul to body in 'On the Creation of Man,' 'On the Holy Pascha,' and 'Dialogue on the Soul and the Resurrection.'
8. Peri Psuches kai Anastaseos, PG 46.81; 'Commentary on the Song of Songs, Twelfth Homily.'
9. Because the nature of creation subsists from its very beginning by the divine power, the end of each created being is simultaneously linked with its beginning - each thing as created from nothing passes into existence, with its perfection following as simultaneous with its beginning. Human nature is also created but does not, like other created beings, advance towards its perfection; right from the very beginning it is created in perfection. 'Let us make man according to our image and likeness' (Gen 1.26). Here is shown the very summit and perfection of goodness.... Thus in the first creation of man its end is simultaneous with its beginning, and human nature originated in perfection," Saint Gregory of Nyssa, 'Commentary on the Song of Songs, Fifteenth Homily.'
10. In opposition to gnostic dualism, Irenaios teaches that there is only one God, creator of the world and Father of Jesus Christ. He develops the Pauline doctrine of anakephalaiosis, or recapitulation of all things in Christ - Christ as the new Adam renews all creation and leads it back to its author through the incarnation and redemption.
11. Reinhard Hübner, Die Einheit des Leibes Christi bei Gregor von Nyssa (Leiden, 1974) p.44, n. 51.
12. Jean Daniélou, Platonisme et Théologie Mystique (Paris, 1944) p. 181.
13. Metron-we may take it as identical to pleroma, meaning the sum of all mankind.
14. 'In saying that 'God created man,' the text indicates, by the indefinite character of the term, all mankind; for was not Adam here named together with the creation, as the history tells us in what follows? Yet the name given to the man created is not the particular, but the general name. Thus, we are led by the employment of the general name of our nature to some such view as this - that in the divine foreknowledge and power ail humanity is included in the first creation." PG 44.185.
15,. God's manifestation to the great Moses began with light; afterwards God spoke to him through a cloud. Then having risen higher and having become more perfection, Moses saw God in darkness," 'Commentary on the Song of Songs, Eleventh Homily.'
16. Peri tes Anthropotetos Autou, Esti Pasa he Ekklesia, PG 26.1021.
17. Hübner sums up this unity of Christ's body by saying: "Die Tragweite der Leib-Christi- Theologie Gregors hängt ab von der Tragweite der Theologie der Gottebenenhildlichkeit des Menschen, denn der Leib Christi der Endzeit ist die Vollzahl der in ihrer ursprünglichen Gottähnlichkeit Widerhergestellten, das Endstadium der Rückführung aller aus der Entfremdung in ihre natürliche erkenntnismähige und willentliche Verhaftung im allein Seienden und Guten, das ihr Seinsgrund ist, die Zentrierung des Blickes aller auf das eine Ziel," Die Einheit des Leibes Christi bei Gregor von Nyssa, p. 231.