Gregory of Nyssa sees the human condition as one of separation, alienation, and return in relationship with the Good. This ‘Good’ that Gregory speaks of is “far beyond the limits of knowledge” and as such we are inevitably stuck in a state of depression and despair at our alienation from this Ultimate Reality and our inability to “encompass it with our own minds.”
In the beginning, humanity was perfectly united with the Good. Humans shared in the Divine Life and were incorruptible, experienced perfect happiness, complete freedom, felt no pain or sadness, and could ‘see’ the Good “with a mind unclouded and pure of any interference.” (88) Gregory derives all of this from the Genesis narratives paying special attention to the idea that humanity was created in the image of God.
Seeing as humans once lived in a state of eternal bliss, called Paradise, Gregory wonders how anyone could not despair at our horrific loss of this union. In our disunity with the Good, we lost our freedom, our immortality, our joy, our freedom from toil and disease and in turn we became governed by our desires, enslaved to evil. Our human desires become a slave driver, pushing us further and further along a way of death and despair, further and further from our heavenly origins.
…anger, fear, cowardice, arrogance, pleasure, grief, hatred, spite, heartless cruelty, jealousy, flattery, bearing grudges and resentment, and all the other hostile drives within us–there is your array of the masters and tyrants that try to enslave the soul, their prisoner of war…(89)
Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes called the mournful blessed. To be blessed in light of mourning is to “fix [one’s] eye on its true good and not be immersed in the illusion of the present life.” (90)