This work, written with the intention of supplementing the Hexaemeron of Saint Basil, highlights the uniqueness of the human being, created in God's image and likeness (Gen 1:27) Saint Gregory's enquiry involves human life and existence; perhaps the greatest wonder and mystery of the world, as 'no other existing thing, save the human creation, has been made like to God.'
Saint Gregory of Nyssa begins by discussing God's creation, with His divine power and skill implanted in the growth of things,' upholding and guiding the rotating earth. The created world did not come into existence through mere chance, but according to the Lord's will. 'All things that are seen in the creation are the offspring of rest and motion, brought into being by the Divine Will.' Saint Gregory highlights the beauty of life on earth, as a consequence of God's great power and wisdom.
..'The varied produce of the trees, just risen from the ground, yet shot up at once into their perfect beauty; and all the beasts that had come into life at God's command were rejoicing and skipping about, running to and fro in the thickets in herds according to their kind..'
However, 'none was there to share it' Saint Gregory writes. Interestingly, this highlights the uniqueness of the being to be created last, and its personal relationship, and connection with the Creator; as the pinnacle, and culmination of the Lord's creative works. 'All the wealth of creation by land and sea was ready' and prepared for the Creator's children, who He created to freely choose eternal communion and life with Him in His Kingdom. God therefore 'manifests man in the world, to be the beholder of some of the wonders therein.. that by his enjoyment he might have knowledge of the Giver, and by the beauty and majesty of the things he saw might trace out that power of the Maker which is beyond speech and language.'
This beautiful sentence tells us of mans calling, to live life on earth admiring and caring for its beauty and wonder, in order to have knowledge of our God and Maker. 'For this reason man was brought into the world last after the creation, not being rejected to the last as worthless, but as one whom it behooved to be king over his subjects at his very birth.' For Saint Gregory, the fact that God prepared the beauty and natural needs for mans formation and growth, the human being is truly bound to God; and exists in order to share and rejoice in His life, which the Lord freely offers us.
God has created us for a divine and sovereign purpose; given the gift of the soul which in itself shows our exalted nature and character:
'For as in our own life artificers fashion a tool in the way suitable to its use, so the best Artificer made our nature as it were a formation fit for the exercise of royalty, preparing it at once by superior advantages of soul..'
Saint Gregory teaches that the power of the soul may be considered in divisions. All living beings, subjects of nourishment and growth, have vegetative souls. This is seen in plants and irrational animals for example, as they clearly hold this simple sense. However, 'perfect bodily life is seen in the rational nature, which both is nourished and endowed with sense, and also partakes of reason and is ordered by mind.' The rational man, blended of every form of soul, is nourished by the vegetative kind, but to a greater extent by the higher, holy and perfect kind. This is another reason why Saint Gregory believes the Creation was a form of ascension: 'an ascent as it were by steps - I mean the various properties of life - from the lower to the perfect form.'
There is of course the carnal aspect of human nature, however Saint Gregory emphasises the importance of rising up against this, to the spiritual state, pleasing to God as our Father and Creator. Saint Gregory defines 'carnal' as being the bodily, animalistic pleasures, then the 'natural' which introduces the human being to virtue, but the highest state of being is the 'spiritual.' This state means man is fully and perfectly dedicated to the divine life.
To conclude, human life, the highest form of life and the pinnacle of Creation (as a divine mystery, and royal gift) should be lived for its spiritual, virtuous purpose, of revering, glorifying, and having knowledge of, our Creator and Archetype, through reason, and through the beauty and wonder of our earth.
Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man, 1-14