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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:
Dogmatic Treatises.: He falsely imagines that we can have an unalterable series of harmonious natures existing side by side.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

§28. He falsely imagines that we can have an unalterable series of harmonious natures existing side by side.

But this man of science still declares that varied works have energies as varied to produce them. Either he knows not yet the nature of the Divine energy, as taught by Scripture,—‘All things were made by the word of His command,’—or else he is blind to the differences of existing things. He utters for our benefit these inconsiderate statements, and lays down the law about divine doctrines, as if he had never yet heard that anything that is merely asserted,—where no entirely undeniable and plain statement is made about the matter in hand, and where the asserter says on his own responsibility that which a cautious listener cannot assent to,—is no better than a telling of dreams or of stories over wine. Little then as this dictum of his fits facts, nevertheless,—like one who is deluded by a dream into thinking that he sees one of the objects of his waking efforts, and who grasps eagerly at this phantom and p. LXXIII with eyes deceived by this visionary desire thinks that he holds it,—he with this dreamlike outline of doctrines before him imagines that his words possess force, and insists upon their truth, and essays by them to prove all the rest. It is worth while to give the passage. “These being so, and maintaining an unbroken connexion in their relation to each other, it seems fitting for those who make their investigation according to the order germane to the subject, and who do not insist on mixing and confusing all together, in case of a discussion being raised about Being, to prove what is in course of demonstration, and to settle the points in debate, by the primary energies and those attached to the Beings, and again to explain by the Being when the energies are in question.” I think the actual phrases of his impiety are enough to prove how absurd is this teaching. If any one had to give a description of the way some disease mars a human countenance, he would explain it better by actually unbandaging the patient, and there would be then no need of words when the eye had seen how he looked. So some mental eye might discern the hideous mutilation wrought by this heresy: its mere perusal might remove the veil. But since it is necessary, in order to make the latent mischief of this teaching clear to the many, to put the finger of demonstration upon it, I will again repeat each word. “This being so.” What does this dreamer mean? What is ‘this?’ How has it been stated? “The Father’s being is alone proper and in the highest degree supreme; consequently the next being is dependent, and the third more dependent still.” In such words he lays down the law. But why? Is it because an energy accompanies the first being, of which the effect and work, the Only-begotten, is circumscribed by the sphere of this producing cause? Or because these Beings are to be thought of as of greater or less extent, the smaller included within and surrounded by the larger, like casks put one inside the other, inasmuch as he detects degrees of size within Beings that are illimitable? Or because differences of products imply differences of producers, as if it were impossible that different effects should be produced by similar energies? Well, there is no one whose mental faculties are so steeped in sleep as to acquiesce directly after hearing such statements in the following assertion, “these being so, and maintaining an unbroken connexion in their relation to one another.” It is equal madness to say such things, and to hear them without any questioning. They are placed in a ‘series’ and ‘an unalterable relation to each other,’ and yet they are parted from each other by an essential unlikeness! Either, as our own doctrine insists, they are united in being, and then they really preserve an unalterable relation to each other; or else they stand apart in essential unlikeness, as he fancies. But what series, what relationship that is unalterable can exist with alien entities? And how can they present that ‘order germane to the matter’ which according to him is to rule the investigation? Now if he had an eye only on the doctrine of the truth, and if the order in which he counts the differences was only that of the attributes which Faith sees in the Holy Trinity,—an order so ‘natural’ and ‘germane’ that the Persons cannot be confounded, being divided as Persons, though united in their being—then he would not have been classed at all amongst our enemies, for he would mean the very same doctrine that we teach. But, as it is, he is looking in the very contrary direction, and he makes the order which he fancies there quite inconceivable. There is all the difference in the world between the accomplishment of an act of the will, and that of a mechanical law of nature. Heat is inherent in fire, splendour in the sunbeam, fluidity in water, downward tendency in a stone, and so on. But if a man builds a house, or seeks an office, or puts to sea with a cargo, or attempts anything else which requires forethought and preparation to succeed, we cannot say in such a case that there is properly a rank or order inherent in his operations: their order in each case will result as an after consequence of the motive which guided his choice, or the utility of that which he achieves. Well, then; since this heresy parts the Son from any essential relationship with the Father, and adopts the same view of the Spirit as estranged from any union with the Father or the Son, and since also it affirms throughout that the Son is the work of the Father, and the Spirit the work of the Son, and that these works are the results of a purpose, not of nature, what grounds has he for declaring that this work of a will is an ‘order inherent in the matter,’ and what is the drift of this teaching, which makes the Almighty the manufacturer of such a nature as this in the Son and the Holy Spirit, where transcendent beings are made such as to be inferior the one to the other? If such is really his meaning, why did he not clearly state the grounds he has for presuming in the case of the Deity, that smallness of result will be evidence of all the greater power? But who really could ever allow that a cause that is great and powerful is to be looked for in this smallness of results? As if God was unable to establish His own perfection in anything p. LXXIV that comes from Him 162 ! And how can he attribute to the Deity the highest prerogative of supremacy while he exhibits His power as thus falling short of His will? Eunomius certainly seems to mean that perfection was not even proposed as the aim of God’s work, for fear the honour and glory of One to Whom homage is due for His superiority might be thereby lessened. And yet is there any one so narrow-minded as to reckon the Blessed Deity Himself as not free from the passion of envy? What plausible reason, then, is left why the Supreme Deity should have constituted such an ‘order’ in the case of the Son and the Spirit? “But I did not mean that ‘order’ to come from Him,” he rejoins. But whence else, if the beings to which this ‘order’ is connatural are not essentially related to each other? But perhaps he calls the inferiority itself of the being of the Son and of the Spirit this ‘connatural order.’ But I would beg of him to tell me the reason of this very thing, viz., why the Son is inferior on the score of being, when both this being and energy are to be discovered in the same characteristics and attributes. If on the other hand there is not to be the same 163 definition of being and energy, and each is to signify something different, why does he introduce a demonstration of the thing in question by means of that which is quite different from it? It would be, in that case, just as if, when it was debated with regard to man’s own being whether he were a risible animal, or one capable of being taught to read, some one was to adduce the building of a house or ship on the part of a mason or a shipwright as a settling of the question, insisting on the skilful syllogism that we know beings by operations, and a house and a ship are operations of man. Do we then learn, most simple sir, by such premisses, that man is risible as well as broad-nailed? Some one might well retort; ‘whether man possesses motion and energy was not the question: it was, what is the energizing principle itself; and that I fail to learn from your way of deciding the question.’ Indeed, if we wanted to know something about the nature of the wind, you would not give a satisfactory answer by pointing to a heap of sand or chaff raised by the wind, or to dust which it scattered: for the account to be given of the wind is quite different: and these illustrations of yours would be foreign to the subject. What ground, then, has he for attempting to explain beings by their energies, and making the definition of an entity out of the resultants of that entity.

Let us observe, too, what sort of work of the Father it is by which the Father’s being, according to him, is to be comprehended. The Son most certainly, he will say, if he says as usual. But this Son of yours, most learned sir, is commensurate in your scheme only with the energy which produced Him, and indicates that alone, while the Object of our search still keeps in the dark, if, as you yourself confess, this energy is only one amongst the things which ‘follow 164 ’ the first being. This energy, as you say, extends itself into the work which it produces, but it does not reveal therein even its own nature, but only so much of it as we can get a glimpse of in that work. All the resources of a smith are not set in motion to make a gimlet; the skill of that artisan only operates so far as is adequate to form that tool, though it could fashion a large variety of other tools. Thus the limit of the energy is to be found in the work which it produces. But the question now is not about the amount of the energy, but about the being of that which has put forth the energy. In the same way, if he asserts that he can perceive the nature of the Only-begotten in the Spirit (Whom he styles the work of an energy which ‘follows’ the Son), his assertion has no foundation; for here again the energy, while it extends itself into its work, does not reveal therein the nature either of itself or of the agent who exerts it.

But let us yield in this; grant him that beings are known in their energies. The First being is known through His work; and this Second being is revealed in the work proceeding from Him. But what, my learned friend, is to show this Third being? No such work of this Third is to be found. If you insist that these beings are perceived by their energies, you must confess that the Spirit’s nature is imperceptible; you cannot infer His nature from any energy put forth by Him to carry on the continuity. Show some substantiated work of the Spirit, through which you think you have detected the being of the Spirit, or all your cobweb will collapse at the touch of Reason. If the being is known by the subsequent energy, and substantiated energy of the Spirit there is none, such as ye say the Father shows in the Son, and the Son in the Spirit, then the nature of the Spirit must be confessed unknowable and not be apprehended through these; there is no energy conceived of in connexion with a substance to show even a side glimpse of it. But if the Spirit eludes apprehension, how p. LXXV by means of that which is itself imperceptible can the more exalted being be perceived? If the Son’s work, that is, the Spirit according to them, is unknowable, the Son Himself can never be known; He will be involved in the obscurity of that which gives evidence of Him: and if the being of the Son in this way is hidden, how can the being who is most properly such and most supreme be brought to light by means of the being which is itself hidden; this obscurity of the Spirit is transmitted by retrogression 165 through the Son to the Father; so that in this view, even by our adversaries’ confession, the unknowableness of the Fathers being is clearly demonstrated. How, then, can this man, be his eye ever so ‘keen to see unsubstantial entities,’ discern the nature of the unseen and incomprehensible by means of itself; and how can he command us to grasp the beings by means of their works, and their works again from them?



ν παντὶ τῷ ἐξ αὐτοῦ.


Reading αὑτὸς; instead of Oehler’s αὐτὸς.


only one thing amongst the things which follow, &c. The Latin translation is manifestly wrong here, “si recte a te assertum est, iis etiam quæ ad primam substantiam sequuntur aliquam operationem inesse.” The Greek is εἴπερ ἡ ἐνέργεια τῶν παρεπομένων τις εἶναι τῇ πρώτη οὐσία μεμαρτύρηται


κατὰ ἀνάλυοιν. So Plutarch, ii. 76 E. and see above (cap. 25, note 6.).

Next: He vainly thinks that the doubt about the energies is to be solved by the beings, and reversely.

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