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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Chapter XII

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XII.

1. On the other hand, the sacred doctrine teaches that he who is the supreme Source of good, and Cause of all things, is beyond all comprehension, and therefore inexpressible by word, or speech, or name; surpassing the power, not of language only, but of thought itself. Uncircumscribed by place, or body; neither in heaven, nor in ethereal space, nor in any other part of the universe; but entirely independent of all things else, he pervades the depths of unexplored and secret wisdom. The sacred oracles teach us to acknowledge him as the only true God, 3545 apart from all corporeal essence, distinct from all subordinate ministration. Hence it is said that all things are from him, but not through him. 3546

2. And he himself dwelling as Sovereign in secret and undiscovered regions of unapproachable light, ordains and disposes all things by the single power of his own will. At his will whatever is, exists; without that will, it cannot be. And his will is in every case for good, since he is essentially Goodness itself. But he through whom are all things, even God the Word, proceeding in an ineffable manner from the Father above, as from an everlasting and exhaustless fountain, flows onward like a river with a full and abundant stream of power for the preservation of the universal whole.

3. And now let us select an illustration from our own experience. The invisible and undiscovered mind within us, the essential nature of which no one has ever known, sits as a monarch in the seclusion of his secret chambers, and alone resolves on our course of action. From this proceeds the only-begotten word from its father’s bosom, begotten in a manner and by a power inexplicable to us; and is the first messenger of its father’s thoughts, declares his secret counsels, and, conveying itself to the ears of others, accomplishes his designs.

4. And thus the advantage of this faculty is enjoyed by all: yet no one has ever yet beheld that invisible and hidden mind, which is the parent of the word itself. 3547 In the same manner, or rather in a manner which far surpasses all likeness or comparison, the perfect Word of the Supreme God, as the only-begotten Son of the Father (not consisting in the power of utterance, nor comprehended in syllables and parts of speech, nor conveyed by a voice which vibrates on the air; but being himself the living and effectual Word of the most High, and subsisting personally as the Power and Wisdom of God), 3548 proceeds from his Father’s Deity and kingdom. 3549 Thus, being the perfect Offspring of a perfect Father, and the common Preserver of all things, he diffuses himself with living power throughout creation, and pours from his own fullness abundant supplies of reason, 3550 wisdom, light, and every other blessing, not only on objects nearest to himself, but on those most remote, whether in earth, or sea, or any other sphere of being.

5. To all these he appoints with perfect equity their limits, places, laws, and inheritance, allotting to each their suited portion according to his sovereign will. To some he assigns the super-terrestrial regions, to others heaven itself as their habitation: others he places in ethereal space, others in air, and others still on earth. He it is who transfers mankind from hence to another sphere, impartially reviews their conduct here, and bestows a recompense according to the life and habits of each. By him provision is made for the life and food, not of rational creatures only, but also of the brute creation, for the service of men;

6. and while to the latter he grants the enjoyment of a perishable and fleeting term of existence, the former he invites to a share in the possession of immortal life. Thus universal is the agency of the Word of God: everywhere present, and pervading all things by the power of his intelligence, he looks upward to his Father, and governs this lower creation, inferior to and consequent upon himself, in accordance with his will, as the common Preserver of all things.

7. Intermep. 599 diate, as it were, and attracting the created to the uncreated Essence, this Word of God exists as an unbroken bond between the two, uniting things most widely different by an inseparable tie. He is the Providence which rules the universe; the guardian and director of the whole: he is the Power and Wisdom of God the only-begotten God, the Word begotten of God himself. For “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him and without him was not anything made that hath been made”; as we learn from the words of the sacred writer. 3551 Through his vivifying power all nature grows and flourishes, refreshed by his continual showers, and invested with a vigor and beauty ever new.

8. Guiding the reigns of the universe, he holds its onward course in conformity to the Father’s will and moves, as it were, the helm of this mighty ship. This glorious Agent, the only-begotten Son of the Supreme God, begotten by the Father as his perfect Offspring, the Father has given to this world as the highest of all goods; infusing his word, as spirit into a lifeless body, into unconscious nature; imparting light and energy to that which in itself was a rude, inanimate, and formless mass, through the Divine power. Him therefore it is ours to acknowledge and regard as everywhere present, and giving life to matter and the elements of nature: 3552 in him we see Light, even the spiritual offspring of inexpressible Light: one indeed in essence, as being the Son of one Father; but possessing in himself many and varied powers.

9. The world is indeed divided into many parts; yet let us not therefore suppose that there are many independent Agents: nor, though creation’s works be manifold, let us thence assume the existence of many gods. How grievous the error of those childish and infatuated advocates of polytheistic worship, who deify the constituent parts of the universe, and divide into many that system which is only one!

10. Such conduct resembles theirs who should abstract the eyes of an individual man, and term them the man himself, and the ears, another man, and so the head: or again, by an effort of thought should separate the neck, the breast and shoulders, the feet and hands, or other members, nay, the very powers of sense, and thus pronounce an individual to be a multitude of men. Such folly must surely be rewarded with contempt by men of sense. Yet such is he who from the component parts of a single world can devise for himself a multitude of gods, or even deem that world which is the work of a Creator, and consists of many parts, to be itself a god: 3553 not knowing that the Divine Nature can in no sense be divisible into parts; since, if compounded, it must be so through the agency of another power; and that which is so compounded can never be Divine. How indeed could it be so, if composed of unequal and dissimilar, and hence of worse and better elements? Simple, indivisible, uncompounded, the Divine Nature exists at an infinite elevation above the visible constitution of this world.

11. And hence we are assured by the clear testimony of the sacred Herald, 3554 that the Word of God, who is before all things, must be the sole Preserver of all intelligent beings: while God, who is above all, and the Author of the generation of the Word, being himself the Cause of all things, is rightly called the Father of the Word, as of his only-begotten Son, himself acknowledging no superior Cause. God, therefore, himself is One, and from him proceeds the one only-begotten Word, the omnipresent Preserver of all things. And as the many-stringed lyre is composed of different chords, both sharp and flat, some slightly, others tensely strained, and others intermediate between the two extremes, yet all attuned according to the rules of harmonic art; even so this material world, compounded as it is of many elements, containing opposite and antagonist principles, as moisture and dryness, cold and heat, yet blended into one harmonious whole, may justly be termed a mighty instrument framed by the hand of God: an instrument on which the Divine Word, himself not composed of parts or opposing principles, but indivisible and uncompounded, performs with perfect skill, and produces a melody at once accordant with the will of his Father the Supreme Lord of all, and glorious to himself. Again, as there are manifold external and internal parts and members comprised in a single body, yet one invisible soul, one undivided and incorporeal mind pervades the whole; so is it in this creation, which, consisting of many parts, yet is but one: and so the One mighty, yea, Almighty Word of God, pervading all things, and diffusing himself with undeviating energy throughout this universe, is the Cause of all things that exist therein.

12. Survey the compass of this visible world. Seest thou not how the same heaven contains within itself the countless courses and companies of the stars? p. 600 Again, the sun is one, and yet eclipses many, nay all other luminaries, by the surpassing glory of his rays. Even so, as the Father himself is One, his Word is also One, the perfect Son of that perfect Father. Should any one object because they are not more, as well might he complain that there are not many suns, or moons, or worlds, and a thousand things beside; like the madman, who would fain subvert the fair and perfect course of Nature herself. As in the visible, so also in the spiritual world: in the one the same sun diffuses his light throughout this material earth; in the other the One Almighty Word of God illumines all things with invisible and secret power.

13. Again, there is in man one spirit, and one faculty of reason, which yet is the active cause of numberless effects. The same mind, instructed in many things, will essay to cultivate the earth, to build and guide a ship, and construct houses: nay, the one mind and reason of man is capable of acquiring knowledge in a thousand forms: the same mind shall understand geometry and astronomy, and discourse on the rules of grammar, and rhetoric, and the healing art. Nor will it excel in science only, but in practice too: and yet no one has ever supposed the existence of many minds in one human form, nor expressed his wonder at a plurality of being in man, because he is thus capable of varied knowledge.

14. Suppose one were to find a shapeless mass of clay, to mould it with his hands, and give it the form of a living creature; the head in one figure, the hands and feet in another, the eyes and cheeks in a third, and so to fashion the ears, the mouth and nose, the breast and shoulders, according to the rules of the plastic art. The result, indeed, is a variety of figure, of parts and members in the one body; yet must we not suppose it the work of many hands, but ascribe it entirely to the skill of a single artist, and yield the tribute of our praise to him who by the energy of a single mind has framed it all. The same is true of the universe itself, which is one, though consisting of many parts: yet surely we need not suppose many creative powers, nor invent a plurality of gods. Our duty is to adore the all-wise and all-perfect agency of him who is indeed the Power and the Wisdom of God, whose undivided force and energy pervades and penetrates the universe, creating and giving life to all things, and furnishing to all, collectively and severally, those manifold supplies of which he is himself the source.

15. Even so one and the same impression of the solar rays illumines the air at once, gives light to the eyes, warmth to the touch, fertility to the earth, and growth to plants. The same luminary constitutes the course of time, governs the motions of the stars, performs the circuit of the heavens, imparts beauty to the earth, and displays the power of God to all: and all this he performs by the sole and unaided force of his own nature. In like manner fire has the property of refining gold, and fusing lead, of dissolving wax, of parching clay, and consuming wood; producing these varied effects by one and the same burning power.

16. So also the Supreme Word of God, pervading all things, everywhere existent, everywhere present in heaven and earth, governs and directs the visible and invisible creation, the sun, the heaven, and the universe itself, with an energy inexplicable in its nature, irresistible in its effects. From him, as from an everlasting fountain, the sun, the moon, and stars receive their light: and he forever rules that heaven which he has framed as the fitting emblem of his own greatness. The angelic and spiritual powers, the incorporeal and intelligent beings which exist beyond the sphere of heaven and earth, are filled by him with light and life, with wisdom and virtue, with all that is great and good, from his own peculiar treasures. Once more, with one and the same creative skill, he ceases not to furnish the elements with substance, to regulate the union and combinations, the forms and figures, and the innumerable qualities of organized bodies; preserving the varied distinctions of animal and vegetable life, of the rational and the brute creation; and supplying all things to all with equal power: thus proving himself the Author, not indeed of the seven-stringed lyre, 3555 but of that system of perfect harmony which is the workmanship of the One world-creating Word. 3556


Footnotes

598:3545

[Referring, apparently, to John xvii. 3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent:” a passage which has been called a stronghold of the impugners of the Deity of Christ; but which, simply considered with its context, cannot fairly be understood to indicate any inferiority of the Son to the Father; but rather appears to speak of the mission of the former as the manifestation of the grace of him who is called “the only true God” in contradistinction to the polytheism of the heathen world. In other words, the knowledge of “the only true God,” in connection with that of “Jesus Christ whom he has sent,” constitutes “eternal life”; the one being ineffectual, and indeed impossible, without the other.—Bag.] Compare 1 John v. 20-21: “That we know him that is true and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life,” which seems to show that John had no idea of any subordination in essence in this matter.

598:3546

[But see, for a refutation of this statement, Rom. 11:36, Heb. 2:10Rom. xi. 36, and Heb. ii. 10.—Bag.] Yet the second of these references clearly refers to the Son. Eusebius, speaking of God the Father, has in mind the truth that all things were made by the Son, “and without him was not anything made that hath been made.” John i. 3.

598:3547

The author is now speaking especially of the spoken or “expressed” word.

598:3548

Compare 1 Cor. i. 24.

598:3549

This conception that the Divine Word stands in something the same relation with the Father that the human word (internal and external) does to the human spirit has, at least, an interesting suggestion towards the unraveling of this curious mystery, which, for lack of a better word, it is the fashion just now to call a human personality, and which certainly is made in the image and likeness of God. Unless there lurks in the idea some subtle heresy, one may venture to accept as an interesting analogy this relation of invisible self, self expressed to self (internal word), self revealed (external word), and an expression carried to the point of embodiment (incarnation).

598:3550

“Logos” again,—here the internal word.

599:3551

John i. 1-3.

599:3552

One on the scent for heresy might prick up his ears, and sound the alarm of “Gnosticism.”

599:3553

A curious work just issued (anonymous), under the authority of the Bureau of Education, very complacently evolves the truth of existence out of the author’s pure, untrammeled consciousness,—for he has never read any works either on science or on theology,—and arrives at the condescending conclusion that there is a God; or rather, in the words of Eusebius, the author comes to “deem that world…to be itself God.”

599:3554

[Referring (says Valesius) to St. John, whose words Eusebius had lately cited, “In the beginning was the Word,” &c., and now explains paraphrastically. The reader will decide for himself on the merits of the paraphrase.—Bag.]

600:3555

[In reference, singularly enough, to the illustration of the lyre in the preceding chapter.—Bag.]

600:3556

It is idle to treat as philosophically or theologically unworthy of consideration a system of thought so definitely unified, and with such Scriptural basis as the above. It may not be profound or original, but is definite and clear.


Next: Chapter XIII

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