Thursday, January 5, 2012

Living Water - St Gregory of Nyssa

I have been reading Theology and Scriptural Imagination (ed. ‪Jones & Buckley), and particularly enjoyed Robert Louis Wilken’s essay, “In Defense of Allegory.” Not surprisingly, Dr Wilken looks at the Cappadocian Father, St Gregory of Nyssa (331-395 AD), and directs us to his Homilies on the Song of Songs. So, the two extracts` from St Gregory below are via Dr Wilken. In the first, from Homily 9, "living waters" are seen to represent the life of God which is, in turn, “lifegiving":

We are familiar with these descriptions of the divine essence as a source of life from the Holy Scriptures. Thus the prophet, speaking in the person of God, says, “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water” (Jeremiah 2:13). And again, the Lord says to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water" (John 4: 10). And again he says: “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.' Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive” (John 7:38-39). Here in all these places by “living water” is meant the divine nature. So too in our text the infallible Word declares that the bride is a well of living waters that have flowed down from Lebanon. Now here is a very strange paradox. All wells hold still water; only in the bride is there said to be running water. She has the depth of a well together with the constant flow of a river. Now how can we really do justice to the wonders revealed here in the symbol that is applied to the bride? It would seem that she has no further height to reach now that she has been absolutely compared to the very archetype of all beauty. Very closely does she imitate his source in her own, his life in hers, that living water by hers. God's Word has life, and so too does the soul that receives him. And this water flows from God, as he the source, explained when he said, “From God I proceeded and came” John 8:42). And the bride embraces and holds what flows into the well of her soul, and thus she becomes a storehouse of that living water that flows, or rather, rushes down from Lebanon, as the Word tells us.

In this passage from Homily 11, St Gregory refers to the "'spring" in Genesis 2:6 (LXX) that watered the face of the earth; he captures the dynamic sense of God’s revelation of himself to us, as well as the wonder that inspires our response to his love:

As you came near the spring you would marvel, seeing that the water was endless, as it constantly gushed up and poured forth. Yet you could never say that you had seen all the water. How could you see what was still hidden in the bosom of the earth? Hence no matter how long you might stay at the spring, you would always be beginning to see the water. For the water never stops flowing, and it is always beginning to bubble up again. It is the same with one who fixes his gaze on the infinite beauty of God. It is constantly being discovered anew, and it is always seen as something new and strange in comparison with what the mind has already understood. And as God continues to reveal himself, man continues to wonder; and he never exhausts his desire to see more, since what he is waiting for is always more magnificent, more divine, than all that he has already seen.


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