Canons Of Gregory Of Nyssa


Two series of canons under the name GREGORY OF NYSSA, although we have no arguments for or against this attribution. The first series appears in the chronological collection of MACARIUS, in an anonymous chronological collection (now in Berlin), and in the systematic collection of al-SAFI IBN AL-‘ASSAL, of which IBN KABAR gives a summary, citing Gregory of Nyssa in his Misbah al-Zulmah (1971, p. 203).

The second series is cited by Michael, bishop of Damietta in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, in his NOMOCANON, Book 1, chapters 4 (on the subject of the construction of the church and its consecration), 7 (on the sacred bases of the altar), and 33 (dealing with the impossibility of celebrating twice on the same day on the same altar). These two series differ: in the first are given four quotations, drawn, the text says, from the works of Gregory of Nyssa; in the second, one may count only three quotations.

We may add that a manuscript that cannot be classified (Vatican Arabicus 123, fol. 20) cites, in dealing with penitence, a fifth canon also attributed to Gregory of Nyssa. The Greek collections contain five extracts purportedly from a letter by Gregory to a bishop Letoios of Melitene. These extracts, which do not appear in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa, are, however, generally regarded as authentic (Geerard, 1974-1987, no. 3148).

So far as concerns the two series preserved in the Coptic canonical collections, there is no edition of any kind, save for what is given in the collection of Ibn al-‘Assal (1928, p. 10), and only a German translation by Riedel (1900, pp. 283-84), not very adequate but at least allowing one to form some idea of the content of these canons. (They are all moral precepts.)

By reason of the lack of a true critical edition of the text, one cannot know its origin and age, for without such an edition one cannot make the necessary comparison with Gregory’s authentic works.

In the collection of Macarius the canons are followed by a list of the patriarchal sees classed according to their order of precedence; the list is purportedly drawn from the works of Gregory of Nyssa, but in reality it appears to be extracted from the eighty-four canons placed under the name of the Council of NICAEA. According to the list, there are four ancient sees, Rome, Alexandria, Ephesus (which has been transferred to Constantinople, the texts says), and Antioch, and then three more recent ones, established at Chalcedon in 451, Jerusalem, Seleucia-Ctesiphon, and the land of the Ethiopians. (In fact, these last three are rather metropolitan sees.)

An appendix gives the autocephalous church of Cyprus, which in fact has preeminence over all the other Greek metropolitan sees. The date of this text seems to be only a little later than Chalcedon, and the list is likely to have been borrowed from the Melchites, for the Monophysites, having rejected en bloc the decisions of Chalcedon, never established a patriarchate at either Constantinople or Jerusalem.


  • Abu al-Barakat ibn Kabar. Misbah al-Zulmah. Cairo, 1971.
  • Geerard, M., ed. Clavis Patrum Graecorum, 5 vols. Turnhout, 1974- 1987.
  • Joannou, P. P. Les Canons des pères grecs (Fonti serie 9). Grottaferrata, 1963.
  • Riedel, W. Kirchenrechtsquellen des Patriarchats Alexandrien. Leipzig, 1900; repr. Aalen, 1968.
  • Safi ibn al-‘Assal, al-. Kitab al-Qawanin (Nomocanon), ed. Murqus Jirjis. Cairo, 1928.


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