Blessed are the Pure in Heart – Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory of Nyssa, commenting on the beatitude “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God,” (Mat. 5:8) compares God to an inaccessible rock, a mountain peak impossible to climb except to those lifted up, as Peter was, by the strong hand of Jesus.

The feelings that come to a man who stands on a high mountain peak and looks down onto some immense sea are the same feelings that come to me when I look out from the high mountain peak of the Lord’s words into the incomprehensible depths of his thoughts.

When you look at mountains that stand next to the sea, you will often find that they seem to have been cut in half, so that on the side nearest the sea there is a sheer drop and something dropped from the summit will fall straight into the depths. Someone who looks down from such a peak will become dizzy, and so too I become dizzy when I look down from the high peak of these words of the Lord: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.


These words offer the sight of God to those whose hearts have been purified and purged. But look: St John says No-one has seen God. The Apostle Paul’s sublime mind goes further still: What no man has seen and no man can see. This is the slippery and crumbling rock that seems to give the mind no support in the heights. Even the teaching of Moses declared God to be a rock that was so inaccessible that our minds could not even approach it: No-one can see the Lord and live.

To see God is to have eternal life – and yet the pillars of our faith, John and Paul and Moses, say that God cannot be seen. Can you understand the dizziness of a soul that contemplates their words? If God is life, whoever does not see God does not see life. If the prophets and the Apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, attest that God cannot be seen, does this not wreck all the hopes of man?

It is the Lord who sustains our floundering hope, just as he sustained Peter when he was floundering in the water, and made the waters firm beneath his feet. If the hand of the Word stretches out to us as well, and sets us firm in a new understanding when these speculations have made us lose our balance, we shall be safe from fear, held safe in the guiding hand of the Word. Blessed, he says, are those who possess a pure heart, for they shall see God.

This selection, taken from St. Gregory of Nyssa’s homilies on the Beatitudes (Orat. 6 De beatitudinibus: PG 44, 1263-1266) focuses on the phrase “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) and compares God to an inaccessible rock towering over the sea.  It is used in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for Thursday of the twelfth (12th) week in ordinary time with the accompanying biblical reading taken from I Samuel 21:2-10; 22:1-5). 

Gregory of Nyssa, St.

Gregory of Nyssa was the younger brother of St. Basil the Great and St. Macrina.  Born around 330 AD, Gregory married and spent several years of his life in secular employment before he entered the monastery founded by his elder brother.  He was consecrated Bishop of Nyssa in 371 and fought tirelessly for the Trinitarian faith of Nicaea that was reaffirmed by the great Creed of the Council of Constantinople, which he attended.  In the last few years of his life, he traveled a great deal since he was in great demand as a preacher, teacher, and spiritual writer. 

St. Gregory of Nyssa was a theologian of great depth and originality.  He wrote famous treatises against trinitiarian herietics Eunomius and Apollinarius and instructed new Christians about the Trinity, Incarnation, Redemption and Sacraments in his Catechetical Orations.  But his theological reflections far surpassed controversy and cathechesis–indeed, St. Gregory provides us with the first systematic presentation of Christian doctrine since Origen over 150 years earlier.  

Gregory wrote many reflections and commentaries on Scripture, most notably his Life of Moses and homilies on the Lord’s Prayer, the Song of Songs, and the Beatitudes.  His most important contribution was in the area of spirituality.  While his brother gave eastern monasticism its structure and organization, Gregory provided its heart and mystical vision. For this reason he came to be known as Father of Mysticism.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa died around the year 395 AD and is revered as one of the greatest of the Eastern Church Fathers.  He, his brother Basil and their friend St. Gregory of Nazianzen, are known as the Cappadocian Fathers, from the region in modern Turkey from which they came.  His feast day is March 9th..