Gregory of Nyassa (335-394 AD) - Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:28
Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:28, 32-44
32. My plan is as follows. First of all I shall expound the sense of the passage in my own words. Then I shall add the actual words of the apostle which are in accord with the sense which I shall by then have expounded.
33. So I begin by asking what is the truth that the divine apostle intends to convey in this passage? It is this. In due course evil will pass over into non-existence; it will disappear utterly from the realm of existence. Divine and uncompounded goodness will encompass within itself every rational nature; no single being created by God will fail to achieve the kingdom of God. The evil that is now present in everything will be consumed like a base metal melted by the purifying flame. Then everything which derives from God will be as it was in the beginning before it had ever received an admixture of evil.
34. The way in which this will happen is as follows. In our mortal and perishable nature, says Paul, there has appeared the pure and uncompounded divinity of the only-begotten. Human nature as a whole has thus received an admixture of the divine. The manhood of Christ is a kind of first-fruits of this common man, and by it humanity as a whole has been grafted on to divinity..
35. Evil was totally abolished in him who “knew no sin,” as the prophet says, “neither was any guile found in his mouth” [Is. 53:9]. Along with sin was abolished in him also the death which follows from it (for death has no other origin than sin). So the abolition of evil and the dissolution of death began with him. From this there followed a kind of sequentially ordered pattern.
36. In a pattern of this kind some members are further away from the prime member, in accordance with their declension from the good; others are found to be closer to it—each in accordance with its own deserts and powers. So in this case: we begin with the human element in Christ. As the recipient of divinity within himself, this man became the first-fruits of our nature. He also became the first-fruits of those who slept and first-begotten from the dead, loosing the pangs of death.
37. This Man, who was wholly separated from sin, who has destroyed the power of death in himself and overthrown its rule, authority and might, comes first. After him comes a man like Paul who imitated Christ to the full in his separation from evil; a person of that kind will follow behind the first-fruits at the advent.
[NOTE: Gregory here differs from our point of view in that he interprets 1 Cor. 15:23 to mean that Christ is the Firstfruits, followed by “Paul” as an example of those who are Christ’s “at the advent.” Gregory, being a Greek, was apparently somewhat familiar with Israel’s feast days and how they apply to these resurrections.]
38. Then (just to take an example) might come perhaps Timothy, who imitated his teacher to the best of his ability, or anyone else like him. So the sequence continues, the gradual declension from the good putting each man respectively behind those in front of him, until it reaches those in whom there is so much evil that it constitutes a greater proportion in them than the good.
39. In accordance with this same pattern the sequence, which leads from those least involved in evil to those who are most involved in it, produces an ordered structure of persons who are returning to the good. Then when the advance of the good has reached the furthest extremity of evil, evil will be thereby abolished.
40. And this is the ultimate goal of our hope, that nothing should be left in opposition to the good, but that the divine life should permeate everything and abolish death from every being, the sin, from which as we have already said, death secured its hold over men, having already been destroyed.
41. Now when every evil authority and rule has been abolished from among us and no passion dominates our nature any longer, it follows inevitably that with no other master over us everything will be subjected to the power which is over all. Subjection to God is total separation from evil.
42. When we all are free of evil in imitation of the first-fruits, then the whole mass of our nature will be commingled with the first-fruits and we shall become completely one body which accepts the lordship of the good and of that alone. So that the whole body of our human nature will be commingled with the divine and uncompounded nature; and therein will be achieved in us what is called the subjection of the Son—for the subjection which is established in his body is being rightly ascribed to him who makes this grace of subjection effective in us.
43. That, we believe, is the sense of Paul’s teaching. Now we must quote the actual words of the apostle: [Here he quotes 1 Corinthians 15:22-28, which we will skip.]
44. That last phrase, which speaks of God coming to be in all by becoming all to each, clearly portrays the non-existence of evil. Obviously God will be “in all” only when no trace of evil is to be found in anything. For God cannot be in what is evil. So either He will not be “in all” and some evil will be left in things, or, if we are to believe that He is “in all,” then that belief declares that there will be no evil. For God cannot be in what is evil.
[NOTE: Germanus, Archbishop of Constantinople from 713-730 A.D. published a book against the idea of Universal Reconciliation. He undertook the improbable task of “proving” that Gregory of Nyassa was NOT a Universalist. He chose to blind himself to Gregory’s true position. This allowed the Church to retain Gregory as one of the four great Doctors of the Greek Church, and in 787 to give him the title of “Father of Fathers,” while covering up his true beliefs as clearly seen in his sermon above.]