Texts on Epektasis


Canticum canticorum (homiliae 15) Gregorii Nysseni opera, vol. 6,ed H Langerbeck,. (Brill ,Leiden 1960) TLG 2017 032

Gregory of Nyssa The Life of Moses Cl.of West. Spi'ty tr.. Intr. A. J. Malherbe and E.Ferguson (Paulist Pr.NY, 1978); Cist. St. §.31



ETERNAL straining forward (Phil 3:13) towards God
forgetting what lies behind and straining forward (ἐπεκτεινόμενος), to what lies ahead,



HOMILY 12 on the SONG


     The soul looking towards God is raised to this sublime height as we have observed earlier.  It does not know as it ought, as Paul says [1Cor 8.2], nor does the soul estimate itself to have comprehended, but runs to what lies beyond, stretching forward (epekteinousa) to what is before [Phil 3.13].

Πρὸς τοσοῦτον δὲ μέγεθος ἐπαρθεῖσα διὰ τῶν θεωρηθέντων ἡμῖν ἡ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ὁρῶσα ψυχὴ  Οὔπω, καθώς φησιν ὁ  Παῦλος, οὕτως ἔγνω καθὼς δεῖ γνῶναι, οὐδὲ λογίζεται ἑαυτὴν κατειληφέναι, ἀλλ' ἔτι πρὸς τὸ ὑπερκείμενον τρέχει  Τοῖς ἔμπροσθεν ἑαυτὴν ἐπεκτείνουσα.

    The Song offers these words of the bride: “Upon the handles of the lock.  I opened to my beloved.”  And she adds, “My beloved was gone. My soul went forth at his word” [5.5-6].  The bride teaches us here that the only way for comprehending that power transcending all understanding is

 ἡ γὰρ ἀκολουθία τῶν ἐφεξῆς λόγων ταῦτα νοεῖν περὶ αὐτῆς ὑποτίθεται· Ἐπὶ χεῖρας τοῦ κλείθρου ἤνοιξα ἐγὼ τῷ ἀδελφιδῷ μου, καὶ ἐπήγαγεν ὅτι Ἀδελφιδός μου παρῆλθεν, ἡ ψυχή μου ἐξῆλθεν ἐν λόγῳ αὐτοῦ. διδάσκει γὰρ διὰ τούτων ἡμᾶς ὅτι ἐπὶ τῆς πάντα νοῦν ὑπερεχούσης δυνάμεως εἷς καταλήψεώς ἐστι τρόπος

 never to remain in any notion of him, but always striving to move forward and never stand still. . . [J.352.6-17] [...]

οὐ τὸ στῆναι περὶ τὸ κατειλημμένον ἀλλὰ τὸ ἀεὶ ζητοῦντα τὸ πλεῖον τοῦ καταληφθέντος μὴ ἵστασθαι.

Let us recapitulate the sense of the text. ̓ Αλλ' ἐπαναλάβωμεν πάλιν ἀνακεφαλαιωσάμενοι τὴν τῶν εἰρημένων διάνοιαν·

The soul which looks to God

ἡ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ὁρῶσα ψυχὴ

 and conceives that good longing for incorruptible beauty

καὶ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ἐκεῖνον πόθον τοῦ ἀφθάρτου κάλλους ἀναλαμβάνουσα

always has a new desire for the transcendent,

and it is never dulled by sated longing

 ἀεὶ νέαν τὴν πρὸς τὸ ὑπερκείμενον ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχει

οὐδέποτε κόρῳ τὸν πόθον ἀμβλύνουσα.

Such a soul constantly stretches forth (epekteinomene) to what lies before, διὰ τοῦτο πάντοτε τοῖς ἔμπροσθεν ἐπεκτεινομένη

never ceasing to go out from her present stage

οὐ παύεται καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἐξιοῦσα

to what lies ahead. 

καὶ πρὸς τὸ ἐνδότερον εἰσδυομένη

Anything great and marvelous always seems inferior in comparison to what succeeds it, since what the bride has found seems more beautiful than her earlier discoveries. 

ἐν ᾧ οὔπω ἐγένετο καὶ τὸ πάντοτε θαυμαστὸν αὐτῇ καὶ μέγα φαινόμενον κατώτερον ποιουμένη τοῦ ἐφεξῆς διὰ τὸ περικαλλέστερον πάντως εἶναι τοῦ προκατειλημμένου τὸ ἀεὶ εὑρισκόμενον,

Thus Paul died each day (1Cor 15.13), because at all times he partook of a new life, being dead to the past and forgetful of previous things.  J.366.10-23

καθὼς καὶ ὁ  Παῦλος καθ' ἡμέραν ἀπέθνῃσκεν, ἐπειδὴ πάντοτε πρὸς καινήν τινα μετῄει ζωὴν νεκρὸς ἀεὶ τῷ παρῳχηκότι γινόμενος καὶ λήθην τῶν προδιηνυσμένων ποιούμενος.





BOOK I The Life of Moses or Concerning Perfection In Virtue




5. The perfection of everything which can be measured by the senses is marked off by certain definite boundaries. Quantity, for example, admits of both continuity and limitation, for every quantitative measure is circumscribed by certain limits proper to itself. The person who looks at a cubit or at the number ten knows that its perfection consists in the fact that it has both a beginning and an end. But in the case of virtue we have learned from the Apostle that its one limit of perfection is the fact that it has no limit.

1.5 Ἡ τελειότης ἐπὶ μὲν τῶν ἄλλων ἁπάντων ὅσα τῇ αἰσθήσει μετρεῖται πέρασί τισιν ὡρισμένοις διαλαμβάνεται͵ οἷον ἐπὶ τοῦ ποσοῦ͵ τοῦ τε συνεχοῦς καὶ τοῦ διωρισμένου. Πᾶν γὰρ τὸ ἐν ποσότητι μέτρον ἰδίοις τισὶν ὅροις ἐμπεριέχεται· καὶ ὁ πρὸς τὸν πῆχυν ἢ τὴν τοῦ ἀριθμοῦ δεκάδα βλέπων οἶδε τὸ ἀπό τινος ἀρξάμενον καὶ εἴς τι καταλῆξαν͵ ἐν ᾧ ἐστι τὸ τέλειον ἔχειν.

For that divine Apostle, great and lofty in understanding, ever running the course of virtue, never ceased straining toward those things that are still to come. Coming to a stop in the race was not safe for him. Why? Because no Good has a limit in its own nature but is limited by the presence of its opposite,  as life is limited by death and light by darkness. And every good thing generally ends with all those things which are perceived to be contrary to the good. Ἐπὶ δὲ τῆς ἀρετῆς ἕνα παρὰ τοῦ Ἀποστόλου τελειότητος ὅρον ἐμάθομεν͵ τὸ μὴ ἔχειν αὐτὴν ὅρον· ὁ γὰρ πολὺς ἐκεῖνος καὶ ὑψηλὸς τὴν διάνοιαν ὁ θεῖος Ἀπόστολος ἀεὶ διὰ τῆς ἀρετῆς τρέχων οὐδέποτε τοῖς ἔμπροσθεν ἐπεκτεινόμενος ἔληξεν· οὐδὲ γὰρ ἀσφαλὴς αὐτῷ ἦν ἡ τοῦ δρόμου στάσις· διὰ τί; ὅτι πᾶν ἀγαθὸν τῇ ἑαυτοῦ φύσει ὅρον οὐκ ἔχει͵ τῇ δὲ τοῦ ἐναντίου παραθέσει ὁρίζεται͵ ὡς ἡ ζωὴ τῷ θανάτῳ καὶ τὸ φῶς τῷ σκότῳ· καὶ πᾶν ὅλως ἀγαθὸν εἰς πάντα τὰ τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς ἐκ τοῦ ἐναντίου νοούμενα λήγει· ὥσπερ οὖν τὸ τῆς ζωῆς τέλος ἀρχὴ θανάτου ἐστίν͵ οὕτως καὶ τοῦ κατ΄ ἀρετὴν δρόμου ἡ στάσις ἀρχὴ τοῦ κατὰ κακίαν γίνεται δρόμου.

6. Just as the end of life is the beginning of death, so also stopping in the race of virtue marks the beginning of the race of evil. Thus our statement that grasping perfection with reference to virtue is impossible was not false, for it has been pointed out that what is marked off by boundaries is not virtue. I said that it is also impossible for those who pursue the life of virtue to attain perfection. The meaning of this statement will be explained.

1.6 Οὐκοῦν οὐ διεψεύσθη ὁ λόγος ἡμῖν͵ ἀμήχανον ἐπὶ τῆς ἀρετῆς εἶναι τὴν τῆς τελειότητος περίληψιν λέγων· ἐδείχθη γὰρ ὅτι τὸ διαλαμβανόμενον πέρασιν ἀρετὴ οὐκ ἔστιν. Ἐπεὶ δὲ καὶ τοῖς μετιοῦσι τὸν κατ΄ ἀρετὴν βίον ἀδύνατον εἶπον εἶναι τὸ ἐπιβῆναι τῆς τελειότητος͵ οὕτως ὁ λόγος καὶ περὶ τούτου σαφηνισθήσεται.




Contemplation on the Life of Moses


225. If nothing comes from above to hinder its upward thrust (for the nature of the Good attracts to itself those who look to it), the soul rises ever higher and will always make its flight yet higher—by its desire of the heavenly things straining ahead for what is still to come, as the Apostle says.

2.225 Μηδενὸς δὲ ὄντος ἄνωθεν τοῦ τὴν ὁρμὴν ἐπικόπτοντος (ἑλκτικὴ γὰρ πρὸς ἑαυτὴν ἡ τοῦ καλοῦ φύσις ἐστὶ τῶν πρὸς ἐκείνην ἀναβλεπόντων)͵ ἀεὶ πάν τως ὑψηλοτέρα ἑαυτῆς γίνεται͵ τῇ τῶν οὐρανίων ἐπιθυμίᾳ συνεπεκτεινομένη τοῖς ἔμπροσθεν͵ καθώς φησιν ὁ Ἀπόστολος͵ καὶ πάντοτε πρὸς τὸ ὑψηλότερον τὴν πτῆσιν ποιήσεται.

226. Made to desire and not to abandon the transcendent height by the things already attained, it makes its way upward without ceasing, ever through its prior accomplishments renewing its intensity for the flight. Activity directed toward virtue causes its capacity to grow through exertion; this kind of activity alone does not slacken its intensity by the effort, but increases it.

2.226 Ποθοῦσα γὰρ διὰ τῶν ἤδη κατειλημμένων μὴ καταλιπεῖν τὸ ὕψος τὸ ὑπερκείμενον͵ ἄπαυστον ποιεῖται τὴν ἐπὶ τὰ ἄνω φοράν͵ ἀεὶ διὰ τῶν προηνυσμένων τὸν πρὸς τὴν πτῆσιν τόνον ἀνανεάζουσα. Μόνη γὰρ ἡ κατ΄ ἀρετὴν ἐνέργεια καμάτῳ τρέφει τὴν δύναμιν͵ οὐκ ἐνδιδοῦσα διὰ τοῦ ἔργου τὸν τόνον͵ ἀλλ΄ ἐπαύξουσα.


230. He shone with glory. And although lifted up through such lofty experiences, he is still unsatisfied in his desire for more. He still thirsts for that with which he constantly filled himself to capacity, and he asks to attain as if he had never partaken, beseeching God to appear to him, not according to his capacity to partake, but according to God’s true being.

2.230 Λάμπει τῇ δόξῃ. Καὶ διὰ τοσούτων ἐπαρθεὶς ὑψωμάτων͵ ἔτι σφριγᾷ τῇ ἐπιθυμίᾳ καὶ ἀκορέστως ἔχει τοῦ πλείονος καὶ οὗ διὰ παντὸς κατ΄ ἐξουσίαν ἐνεφορεῖτο ἔτι διψᾷ καὶ ὡς μήπω μετεσχηκὼς τυχεῖν δέεται͵ ἐμφανῆναι αὐτῷ τὸν Θεὸν ἱκετεύων͵ οὐχ ὡς μετέχειν δύναται͵ ἀλλ΄ ὡς ἐκεῖνός ἐστι.

231. Such an experience seems to me to belong to the soul which loves what is beautiful. Hope always draws the soul from the beauty which is seen to what is beyond, always kindles the desire for the hidden through what is constantly perceived. Therefore, the ardent lover of beauty, although receiving what is always visible as an image of what he desires, yet longs to be filled with the very stamp of the archetype.

2.231 Δοκεῖ δέ μοι τὸ τοιοῦτο παθεῖν ἐρωτικῇ τινι διαθέσει πρὸς τὸ τῇ φύσει καλὸν τῆς ψυχῆς διατεθείσης͵ ἣν ἀεὶ ἡ ἐλπὶς ἀπὸ τοῦ ὀφθέντος καλοῦ πρὸς τὸ ὑπερκείμενον ἐπεσπά σατο͵ διὰ τοῦ πάντοτε καταλαμβανομένου πρὸς τὸ κεκρυμ μένον ἀεὶ τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἐκκαίουσα͵ ὅθεν ὁ σφοδρὸς ἐραστὴς τοῦ κάλλους͵ τὸ ἀεὶ φαινόμενον ὡς εἰκόνα τοῦ ποθουμένου δεχόμενος͵ αὐτοῦ τοῦ χαρακτῆρος τοῦ ἀρχετύπου ἐμφορηθῆναι ἐπιποθεῖ.

232. And the bold request which goes up the mountains of desire asks this: to enjoy the Beauty not in mirrors and reflections, but face to face. The divine voice granted what was requested in what was denied, showing in a few words an immeasurable depth of thought. The munificence of God assented to the fulfillment of his desire, but did not promise any cessation or satiety of the desire.

2.232 Καὶ τοῦτο βούλεται ἡ τολμηρά τε καὶ παριοῦσα τοὺς ὅρους τῆς ἐπιθυμίας αἴτησις τὸ μὴ διὰ κατόπτρων τινῶν καὶ ἐμφάσεων͵ ἀλλὰ κατὰ πρόσωπον ἀπολαῦσαι τοῦ κάλλους. Ἡ δὲ θεία φωνὴ δίδωσι τὸ αἰτηθὲν δι΄ ὧν ἀπαναί νεται͵ ἐν ὀλίγοις τοῖς ῥήμασιν ἀμέτρητόν τινα βυθὸν νοημάτων παραδεικνύουσα. Τὸ μὲν γὰρ πληρῶσαι τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν αὐτῷ ἡ τοῦ Θεοῦ μεγαλοδωρεὰ κατένευσε͵ στάσιν δέ τινα τοῦ πόθου καὶ κόρον οὐκ ἐπηγγείλατο.

233. He would not have shown himself to his servant if the sight were such as to bring the desire of the beholder to an end, since the true sight of God consists in this, that the one who looks up to God never ceases in that desire. For he says: You cannot see my face, for man cannot see me and live.

2.233 Οὐ γὰρ ἂν ἑαυτὸν ἔδειξε τῷ θεράποντι͵ εἴπερ τοιοῦτον ἦν τὸ ὁρώμενον ὥστε στῆσαι τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν τοῦ βλέποντος͵ ὡς ἐν τούτῳ ὄντος τοῦ ἀληθῶς ἰδεῖν τὸν Θεὸν ἐν τῷ μὴ λῆξαί ποτε τῆς ἐπιθυμίας τὸν πρὸς αὐτὸν ἀναβλέποντα. Φησὶ γάρ· οὐ δυνήσῃ τὸ πρόσωπόν μου ἰδεῖν· οὐ γὰρ μὴ ἴδῃ ἄνθρωπος τὸ πρόσωπόν μου καὶ ζήσεται.

234. Scripture does not indicate that this causes the death of those who look, for how would the face of life ever be the cause of death to those who approach it? On the contrary, the Divine is by its nature life-giving. Yet the characteristic of the divine nature is to transcend all characteristics. Therefore, he who thinks God is something to be known does not have life, because he has turned from true Being to what he considers by sense perception to have being.

2.234 Τοῦτο δὲ οὐχ ὡς αἴτιον τοῦ θανάτου τοῖς ὁρῶσι γινόμενον ὁ λόγος ἐνδείκνυται. Πῶς γὰρ τὸ τῆς ζωῆς πρόσωπον αἴτιον θανάτου τοῖς ἐμπελάσασι γένοιτ΄ ἄν ποτε; Ἀλλ΄ ἐπειδὴ ζωοποιὸν μὲν τῇ φύσει τὸ Θεῖον͵ ἴδιον δὲ γνώρισμα τῆς θείας φύσεώς ἐστι τὸ παντὸς ὑπερκεῖσθαι γνωρίσματος͵ ὁ τοίνυν τῶν γινωσκομένων τι τὸν Θεὸν εἶναι οἰόμενος͵ ὡς παρατραπεὶς ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄντως ὄντος πρὸς τὸ τῇ καταληπτικῇ φαντασίᾳ νομισθὲν εἶναι͵ ζωὴν οὐκ ἔχει.

235. True Being is true life. This Being is inaccessible to knowledge. If then the life-giving nature transcends knowledge, that which is perceived certainly is not life. It is not in the nature of what is not life to be the cause of life. Thus, what Moses yearned for is satisfied by the very things which leave his desire unsatisfied.

2.235 Τὸ γὰρ ὄντως ὂν ἡ ἀληθής ἐστι ζωή. Τοῦτο δὲ εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν ἀνέφικτον. Εἰ οὖν ὑπερβαίνει τὴν γνῶσιν ἡ ζωοποιὸς φύσις͵ τὸ καταλαμβανόμενον πάντως ζωὴ οὐκ ἔστιν. Ὃ δὲ μή ἐστι ζωὴ παρεκτικὸν γενέσθαι ζωῆς φύσιν οὐκ ἔχει. Οὕτως οὖν πληροῦται τῷ Μωϋσεῖ τὸ ποθούμενον͵ δι΄ ὧν ἀπλήρωτος ἡ ἐπιθυμία μένει.

236. He learns from what was said that the Divine is by its very nature infinite, enclosed by no boundary. If the Divine is perceived as though bounded by something, one must by all means consider along with that boundary what is beyond it. For certainly that which is bounded leaves off at some point, as air provides the boundary for all that flies and water for all that live in it. Therefore, fish are surrounded on every side by water, and birds by air. The limits of the boundaries which circumscribe the birds or the fish are obvious: The water is the limit to what swims and the air to what flies. In the same way, God, if he is conceived as bounded, would necessarily be surrounded by something different in nature. It is only logical that what encompasses is much larger than what is contained.

2.236 Παιδεύεται γὰρ διὰ τῶν εἰρημένων ὅτι τὸ Θεῖον κατὰ τὴν ἑαυτοῦ φύσιν ἀόριστον͵ οὐδενὶ περιειργόμενον πέρατι. Εἰ γὰρ ἔν τινι πέρατι νοηθείη τὸ Θεῖον͵ ἀνάγκη πᾶσα καὶ τὸ μετ΄ ἐκεῖνο συνθεωρηθῆναι τῷ πέρατι. Πάντως γὰρ εἴς τι καταλήγει τὸ περατούμενον͵ ὥσπερ πτηνῶν πέρας ὁ ἀήρ ἐστι καὶ ἐνύδρων τὸ ὕδωρ. Ὡς οὖν πᾶσι τοῖς μορίοις ἑαυτοῦ ὁ μὲν ἰχθὺς ἐμπεριέχεται τῷ ὕδατι͵ τὸ δὲ πτηνὸν τῷ ἀέρι͵ καὶ μέσον τοῦ ὕδατος πρὸς τὸ νηκτὸν ἢ πρὸς τὸ πτηνὸν τοῦ ἀέρος ἡ ἄκρα τοῦ πέρατός ἐστιν ἐπιφάνεια͵ ἡ τὸ πτηνὸν ἢ τὸν ἰχθὺν περιέχουσα͵ ἣν τὸ ὕδωρ ἢ ὁ ἀὴρ διαδέχεται͵ οὕτως ἀνάγκη͵ εἴπερ ἐν πέρατι νοοῖτο τὸ Θεῖον͵ τῷ ἑτερογενεῖ κατὰ τὴν φύσιν ἐμπεριέχεσθαι. Τὸ δὲ ἐμπεριέχον τοῦ ἐναπειλημμένου πολλαπλάσιον εἶναι τῇ ἀκολουθίᾳ τοῦ λόγου μαρτυρεῖται.

237. Now it is agreed that the Divine is good in nature. But what is different in nature from the Good is surely something other than the Good. What is outside the Good is perceived to be evil in nature. But it was shown that what encompasses is much larger than what is encompassed. It most certainly follows, then, that those who think God is bounded conclude that he is enclosed by evil.

2.237 Ἀλλὰ μὴν καλὸν εἶναι τὸ Θεῖον ὁμολογεῖται τῇ φύσει. Τὸ δὲ πρὸς τὸ καλὸν ἑτεροφυῶς ἔχον ἄλλο τι παρὰ τὸ καλὸν πάντως ἐστί. Τὸ δὲ ἔξω τοῦ καλοῦ ἐν τῇ τοῦ κακοῦ φύσει καταλαμβάνεται. Ἐδείχθη δὲ πολλα πλάσιον εἶναι τοῦ περιεχομένου τὸ περιέχον. Ἀνάγκη οὖν πᾶσα τοὺς ἐν πέρατι τὸ Θεῖον οἰομένους εἶναι καὶ ἐμπεριει λῆφθαι τοῦτο τῇ κακίᾳ συντίθεσθαι.

238. Since what is encompassed is certainly less than what encompasses, it would follow that the stronger prevails. Therefore, he who encloses the Divine by any boundary makes out that the Good is ruled over by its opposite. But that is out of the question. Therefore, no consideration will be given to anything enclosing infinite nature. It is not in the nature of what is unenclosed to be grasped. But every desire for the Good which is attracted to that ascent constantly expands as one progresses in pressing on to the Good.

2.238 Ἐλαττουμένου δὲ πάντως τοῦ περιεχομένου τῆς τοῦ περιέχοντος φύσεως͵ ἀκόλουθον ἂν εἴη τὴν ἐπικράτησιν τοῦ πλεονάζοντος γίνεσθαι. Οὐκοῦν δυναστεύεσθαι τὸ καλὸν ὑπὸ τοῦ ἐναντίου κατασ κευάζει ὁ πέρατί τινι περιείργων τὸ Θεῖον. Ἀλλὰ μὴν τοῦτο ἄτοπον. Οὐκ ἄρα περίληψίς τις τῆς ἀορίστου φύσεως νομισθήσεται. Τὸ δὲ ἀπερίληπτον καταληφθῆναι φύσιν οὐκ ἔχει. Ἀλλὰ πᾶσα πρὸς τὸ καλὸν ἡ ἐπιθυμία ἡ πρὸς τὴν ἄνοδον ἐκείνην ἐφελκομένη ἀεὶ τῷ δρόμῳ τοῦ πρὸς τὸ καλὸν ἱεμένου συνεπεκτείνεται.

239. This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see him. But one must always, by looking at what he can see, rekindle his desire to see more.

2.239 Καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν ὄντως τὸ ἰδεῖν τὸν Θεὸν τὸ μηδέποτε τῆς ἐπιθυμίας κόρον εὑρεῖν. Ἀλλὰ χρὴ πάντοτε βλέποντα δι΄ ὧν ἐστι δυνατὸν ὁρᾶν πρὸς τὴν τοῦ πλέον ἰδεῖν ἐπιθυμίαν ἐκκαίεσθαι.

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. Καὶ οὕτως οὐδεὶς ὅρος ἂν ἐπικόπτοι τῆς πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν ἀνόδου τὴν αὔξησιν͵ διὰ τὸ μήτε τοῦ καλοῦ τι πέρας εὑρίσκεσθαι͵ μήτε τινὶ κόρῳ τὴν πρόοδον τῆς πρὸς τὸ καλὸν ἐπιθυμίας ἐκκόπτεσθαι.


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