Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: He who asserts that the Father is 'prior' to the Son with any thought of an interval must perforce allow that even the Father is not without beginning.
§25. He who asserts that the Father is prior to the Son with any thought of an interval must perforce allow that even the Father is not without beginning.
But more than this: what exposes still further the untenableness of this view is, that, besides positing a beginning in time of the Sons existence, it does not, when followed out, spare the Father even, but proves that He also had his beginning in time. For any recognizing mark that is presupposed for the generation of the Son must certainly define as well the Fathers beginning.
To make this clear, it will be well to discuss it more carefully. When he pronounces that the life of the Father is prior to that of the Son, he places a certain interval between the two; now, he must mean, either that this interval is infinite, or that it is included within fixed limits. But the principle of an intervening mean will not allow him to call it infinite; he would annul thereby the very conception of Father and Son and the thought of anything connecting them, as long as this infinite were limited on neither side, with no idea of a Father cutting it short above, nor that of a Son checking it below. The very nature of the infinite is, to be extended in either direction, and to have no bounds of any kind.
Therefore if the conception of Father and Son is to remain firm and immoveable, he will find no ground for thinking this interval is infinite: his school must place a definite interval of time between the Only-begotten and the Father. What I say, then, is this: that this view of theirs will bring us to the conclusion that the Father is not from everlasting, but from a definite point in time. I will convey my meaning by familiar illustrations; the known shall make the unknown clear. When we say, on the authority of the text of Moses, that man was made the fifth day after the heavens, we tacitly imply that before those same days the heavens did not exist either; a subsequent event goes to define, by means of the interval which precedes it, the occurrence also of a previous event. If this example does not make our contention plain, we can give others. We say that the Law given by Moses was four hundred and thirty years later than the Promise to Abraham. If after traversing, step by step upwards 147 , the anterior time we reach p. LXVIII this end of that number of years, we firmly grasp as well the fact that, before that date, Gods Promise was not either. Many such instances could be given, but I decline to be minute and wearisome.
Guided, then, by these examples, let us examine the question before us. Our adversaries conceive of the existences of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as involving elder and younger, respectively. Well then; if, at the bidding of this heresy, we journey up beyond the generation of the Son, and approach that intervening duration which the mere fancy of these dogmatists supposes between the Father and the Son, and then reach that other and supreme point of time by which they close that duration, there we find the life of the Father fixed as it were upon an apex; and thence we must necessarily conclude that before it the Father is not to be believed to have existed always.
If you still feel difficulties about this, let us again take an illustration. It shall be that of two rulers, one shorter than the other. If we fit the bases of the two together we know from the tops the extra length of the one; from the end of the lesser lying alongside of it we measure this excess, supplementing the deficiency of the shorter ruler by a calculation, and so bringing it up to the end of the longer; a cubit for instance, or whatever be the distance of the one end from the other. So, if there is, as our adversaries say, an excess of some kind in the Fathers life as compared with the Sons, it must needs consist in some definite interval of duration: and they will allow that this interval of excess cannot be in the future, for that Both are imperishable, even the foes of the truth will grant. No; they conceive of this difference as in the past, and instead of equalizing the life of the Father and the Son there, they extend the conception of the Father by an interval of living. But every interval must be bounded by two ends: and so for this interval which they have devised we must grasp the two points by which the ends are denoted. The one portion takes its beginning, in their view, from the Sons generation; and the other portion must end in some other point, from which the interval starts, and by which it limits itself. What this is, is for them to tell us; unless, indeed, they are ashamed of the consequences of their own assumptions.
It admits not of a doubt, then, that they will not be able to find at all the other portion, corresponding to the first portion of their fancied interval, except they were to suppose some beginning of their Ungenerate, whence the middle, that connects with the generation of the Son, may be conceived of as starting. We affirm, then, that when he makes the Son later than the Father by a certain intervening extension of life, he must grant a fixed beginning to the Fathers existence also, regulated by this same interval of his devising; and thus their much-vaunted “Ungeneracy” of the Father will be found to be undermined by its own champions arguments; and they will have to confess that their Ungenerate God did once not exist, but began from a starting-point: indeed, that which has a beginning of being is not inoriginate. But if we must at all risks confess this absence of beginning in the Father, let not such exactitude be displayed in fixing for the life of the Son a point which, as the term of His existence, must cut Him off from the life on the other side of it; let it suffice on the ground of causation only to conceive of the Father as before the Son; and let not the Fathers life be thought of as a separate and peculiar one before the generation of the Son, lest we should have to admit the idea inevitably associated with this of an interval before the appearance of the Son which measures the life of Him Who begot Him, and then the necessary consequence of this, that a beginning of the Fathers life also must be supposed by virtue of which their fancied interval may be stayed in its upward advance so as to set a limit and a beginning to this previous life of the Father as well: let it suffice for us, when we confess the coming from Him, to admit also, bold as it may seem, the living along with Him; for we are led by the written oracles to such a belief. For we have been taught by Wisdom to contemplate the brightness 148 of the everlasting light in, and together with, the very everlastingness of that primal light, joining in one idea the brightness and its cause, and admitting no priority. Thus shall we save the theory of our Faith, the Sons life not failing in the upward view, and the Fathers everlastingness being not trenched upon by supposing any definite beginning for the Son.
step by step upwards. δι᾽ ἀναλύσεως. This does not seem to be used in the Platonic (dialectic) sense, but in the N.T. sense of “return” or “retrogression,” cf. Luke xii. 36. Gregory elsewhere De Hom. Opif. xxv.), uses ἀναλύειν in this sense: speaking of the three examples of Christs power of raising from the dead, he says, you see…all these equally at the command of one and the same voice returning (ἀναλύοντας) to life. ᾽Αναλύσις thus also came to mean “death,” as a return. Cf. Ecclesiastes xi. 7.LXVIII:148
brightness. Heb. i. 3, ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης.
Next: It will not do to apply this conception, as drawn out above, of the Father and Son to the Creation, as they insist on doing: but we must contemplate the Son apart with the Father, and believe that the Creation had its origin from a definite point.
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