Perfection is Not a Plateau, It’s the Striving

In the imagery of the spiritual life as climbing the ladder of divine ascent, there is a limited number of rungs to climb and one can fall back or off the ladder.  St Gregory of Nyssa on the other hand envisioned the spiritual life as endless growth.  There was no plateau to reach, one simply keeps progressing, and it is the continued growth itself which is perfection.  It is a very dynamic view of the spiritual life because the spiritual life is growth in one’s relationship to God and God is without end so one’s relationship with God never ceases growing.

 

“Gregory [of Nyssa] went on to make progress itself perfection…  ‘the one limit of perfection is the fact that it has no limit,’ there is no stopping place in the racecourse of virtue (I, 5-6; cf. II, 242). Perfection is unlimited, and so unattainable; hence, perfection is redefined: ‘The perfection of human nature consists perhaps in its very growth in goodness’ (I, 10)… ‘Thus, no limit would interrupt growth in the ascent to God, since no limit to the good can be found nor is the increasing of desire for the good brought to an end because it is satisfied’ (II, 239). Moses ‘always found a step higher than the one he had attained’ (II, 227). Participation in virtue dilates the capacity for more virtue. The flesh can know satiety, but the spirit cannot (II, 59ff., 230).

…Gregory once more reiterates that the only perfection available to men in this life is to be found in progress toward perfection (II, 305-314): ‘The continual development of life to what is better is the soul’s way to perfection.’

Although Gregory makes much of the sequence of events in Scripture, this fact should not be pressed in an absolute sense. Moses’ life is not made to fit a schematized progression of spiritual experience. Some things do logically precede others in one’s spiritual development, but the experiences of life may not be reduced to a formula. The stages of Moses’ life are a pattern not so much in their order as in their constant going on to new things.”

(from the introduction, Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses, pp. 12-13)

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