Gregory of Nyssa on Evil and Freedom

Doctoral Dissertation


In this project, I seek to reinterpret Gregory’s theory of evil, specifically in relation to negativity—that is, insofar as he handles it in terms of non-being and privation of the good. The common interpretations of Gregory identify evil with a one-sided negativity, according to which evil is merely a lack or reduction of what ought to be present. This common interpretation leaves Gregory’s strong sense of the presence and influence of evil unaccounted for.

Through attentiveness to Gregory’s own explanations of the function of privation language, his use of the concept of non-being, and his descriptions of the process of production of evil, I show that Gregory’s language of privation and non-being in reference to evil should be understood according to a logic of separation and opposition rather than that of mere subtraction. Corresponding to any absence or reduction of the good there comes about a new presence and addition of an opposite to the good: evil. For Gregory, privative words have a two-fold function, asserting the opposite of what they deny. His non-being language almost never marks out something truly non-existent, but usually serves to mark a sharp and extreme separation of one thing from another. He sees the production of evil as a function of the powers of the soul, not decreased or out of commission, but employed in new directions, contrary to the good, serving the actualization of something new.

Gregory’s response to the problem of theodicy is thus not to evacuate evil of positive ontological standing, as though to free God, the creator of positive beings, from responsibility for its existence. Gregory’s response, rather, is to show evil to be an opposition to the good that free agents introduce by their self-authoritative capacity of freedom, in a stance of resistance to the good.


Attribute NameValues
Author Kirsten H. Anderson
Contributor Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, Committee Member
Contributor Brian Daley, Committee Member
Contributor Gretchen Reydams-Schils, Committee Member
Contributor Khaled Anatolios, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Theology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Banner Code

Defense Date
  • 2021-06-21

Submission Date 2021-07-12
  • Privation

  • Evil

  • Non-Being

  • History of Philosophy

  • Freedom

  • Gregory of Nyssa

  • Platonism

  • Theodicy

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units
Catalog Record


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