“The text [Ecclesiastes] says that appearances are not simply vain; rather, they are characterized by a special kind of vanity as if someone were claimed to be more dead than the dead and more lifeless than the lifeless. Any exaggeration is out of place here, yet it serves to clarify a point. Just as we employ the phrase “service of works” and “holy of holies” to represent something outstanding, so does “vanity of vanities” demonstrate the incomparable excess of vanity.” (Commentary on Ecclesiastes, J.283)
“The earth, says Ecclesiastes, abides forever and ministers to every generation: first one, then another which succeeds it. However, even though men are scarcely their own masters, they are brought into life without knowing it by their Maker’s will. Before they wish it, they are withdrawn from life; nevertheless, in their excessive vanity, they think that they are her lords and that they who are now born, now dying, rule that which remains continually.” (On Virginity, J.270)
When a person begins to grow spiritually, he or she realizes that former ways of life and the world view resulting from them no longer suffice for a new manner of living which has come to birth. That is, what we once held dear is no longer considered to be so precious. The book of Ecclesiastes clearly provides expression for such a realization, and Gregory of Nyssa did not fail to consider the role Ecclesiastes would play in his scheme for the spiritual life. He saw it divided into three stages, an outline inherited from his illustrious predecessor, Origen of Alexandria: praktike theoria, or “practical, applied” contemplation, physike theoria, or “physical” contemplation and theologia or “theology” which pertains to God proper.