Examination of Conscience

The life of the Christian has three distinguishing aspects: deeds, words and thought. Thought comes first, then words, since our words express openly the interior conclusions of the mind. Finally, after thoughts and words, comes action, for our deeds carry out what the mind has conceived. So when one of these results in our acting or speaking or thinking, we must make sure that all our thoughts, words and deeds are controlled by the divine ideal, the revelation of Christ. For then our thoughts, words and deeds will not fall short of the nobility of their implications.

What then must we do, we who have been found worthy of the name of Christ? Each of us must examine his thoughts, words and deeds, to see whether they are directed toward Christ or are turned away from him. This examination is carried out in various ways. Our deeds or our thoughts or our words are not in harmony with Christ if they issue from passion. They then bear the mark of the enemy who smears the pearl of the heart with the slime of passion, dimming and even destroying the lustre of the precious stone.

On the other hand, if they are free from and untainted by every passionate inclination, they are directed toward Christ, the author and source of peace. He is like a pure, untainted stream. If you draw from him the thoughts in your mind and the inclinations of your heart, you will show a likeness to Christ, your source and origin, as the gleaming water in a jar resembles the flowing water from which it was obtained.

For the purity of Christ and the purity that is manifest in our hearts are identical. Christ’s purity, however, is the fountainhead; ours has its source in him and flows out of him. Our life is stamped with the beauty of his thought. The inner and the outer man are harmonized in a kind of music. The mind of Christ is the controlling influence that inspires us to moderation and goodness in our behavior. As I see it, Christian perfection consists in this: sharing the titles which express the meaning of Christ’s name, we bring out this meaning in our minds, our prayers and our way of life.

This is an excerpt from a treatise on Christian Perfection (PG 46, 283-286) written by St. Gregory, bishop of Nyssa (d. 395AD) and is used in the Roman Office of Readings for Tuesday of the 12th week in ordinary time.

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 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.