Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: He further very appositely expounds the meaning of the term “Only-Begotten,“ and of the term “First born,“ four times used by the Apostle.
§8. He further very appositely expounds the meaning of the term “Only-Begotten,” and of the term “First born,” four times used by the Apostle.
The mighty Paul, knowing that the Only-begotten God, Who has the pre-eminence in all things 327 , is the author and cause of all good, bears witness to Him that not only was the creation of all existent things wrought by Him, but that when the original creation of man had decayed and vanished away 328 , to use his own language, and another new creation was wrought in Christ, in this too no other than He took the lead, but He is Himself the first-born of all that new creation of men which is effected by the Gospel. And that our view about this may be made clearer let us thus divide our argument. The inspired apostle on four occasions employs this term, once as here, calling Him, “first-born of all creation 329 ,” another time, “the first-born among many brethren 330 ,” again, “first-born from the dead 331 ,” and on another occasion he employs the term absolutely, without combining it with other words, saying, “But when again He bringeth the first-born into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him 332 .” Accordingly whatever view we entertain concerning this title in the other combinations, the same we shall in consistency apply to the phrase “first-born of all creation.” For since the title is one and the same it must needs be that the meaning conveyed is also one. In what sense then does He become “the first-born among many brethren?” in what sense does He become “the first-born from the dead?” Assuredly this is plain, that because we are by birth flesh and blood, as the Scripture saith, “He Who for our sakes was born among us and was partaker of flesh and blood 333 ,” purposing to change us from corruption to incorruption by the birth from above, the birth by water and the Spirit, Himself led the way in this birth, drawing down upon the water, by His own baptism, the Holy Spirit; so that in all things He became the first-born of those who are spiritually born again, and gave the name of brethren to those who partook in a birth like to His own by water and the Spirit. But since it was also meet that He should p. CXIII implant in our nature the power of rising again from the dead, He becomes the “first-fruits of them that slept 334 ” and the “first-born from the dead 335 ,” in that He first by His own act loosed the pains of death 336 , so that His new birth from the dead was made a way for us also, since the pains of death, wherein we were held, were loosed by the resurrection of the Lord. Thus, just as by having shared in the washing of regeneration 337 He became “the first-born among many brethren,” and again by having made Himself the first-fruits of the resurrection, He obtains the name of the “first-born from the dead,” so having in all things the pre-eminence, after that “all old things,” as the apostle says, “have passed away 338 ,” He becomes the first-born of the new creation of men in Christ by the two-fold regeneration, alike that by Holy Baptism and that which is the consequence of the resurrection from the dead, becoming for us in both alike the Prince of Life 339 , the first-fruits, the first-born. This first-born, then, hath also brethren, concerning whom He speaks to Mary, saying, “Go and tell My brethren, I go to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God 340 .” In these words He sums up the whole aim of His dispensation as Man. For men revolted from God, and “served them which by nature were no gods 341 ,” and though being the children of God became attached to an evil father falsely so called. For this cause the mediator between God and man 342 having assumed the first-fruits of all human nature 343 , sends to His brethren the announcement of Himself not in His divine character, but in that which He shares with us, saying, “I am departing in order to make by My own self that true Father, from whom you were separated, to be your Father, and by My own self to make that true God from whom you had revolted to be your God, for by that first-fruits which I have assumed, I am in Myself presenting all humanity to its God and Father.”
Since, then, the first-fruits made the true God to be its God, and the good Father to be its Father, the blessing is secured for human nature as a whole, and by means of the first-fruits the true God and Father becomes Father and God of all men. Now “if the first-fruits be holy, the lump also is holy 344 .” But where the first-fruits, Christ, is (and the first-fruits is none other than Christ), there also are they that are Christs, as the apostle says. In those passages therefore where he makes mention of the “first-born” in connexion with other words, he suggests that we should understand the phrase in the way which I have indicated: but where, without any such addition, he says, “When again He bringeth the first-born into the world 345 ,” the addition of “again” asserts that manifestation of the Lord of all which shall take place at the last day. For as “at the name of Jesus every knee doth bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth 346 ,” although the human name does not belong to the Son in that He is above every name, even so He says that the First-born, Who was so named for our sakes, is worshipped by all the supramundane creation, on His coming again into the world, when He “shall judge the world with righteousness and the people with equity 347 .” Thus the several meanings of the titles “First-born” and “Only begotten” are kept distinct by the word of godliness, its respective significance being secured for each name. But how can he who refers the name of “first-born” to the pre-temporal existence of the Son preserve the proper sense of the term “Only-begotten”? Let the discerning reader consider whether these things agree with one another, when the term “first-born” necessarily implies brethren, and the term “Only-begotten” as necessarily excludes the notion of brethren. For when the Scripture says, “In the beginning was the Word 348 ,” we understand the Only-begotten to be meant, and when it adds “the Word was made flesh 349 ” we thereby receive in our minds the idea of the first-born, and so the word of godliness remains without confusion, preserving to each name its natural significance, so that in “Only-begotten” we regard the pre-temporal, and by “the first-born of creation” the manifestation of the pre-temporal in the flesh.
Cf. Col. i. 18CXII:328
Cf. Heb. viii. 13, whence the phrase is apparently adapted.CXII:329
Col. i. 15.CXII:330
Rom. viii. 29.CXII:331
Col. 1:18, Rev. 1:5Col. i. 18 (cf. Rev. i. 5).CXII:332
Heb. i. 6.CXII:333
Cf. Heb. i. 14CXIII:334
1 Cor. xv. 20.CXIII:335
Col. i. 18.CXIII:336
Cf. Acts ii. 24. See note 2, p. 104, supra.CXIII:337
The phrase is not verbally the same as in Tit. iii. 5.CXIII:338
Cf. 2 Cor. v. 17CXIII:339
Cf. Acts iii. 15CXIII:340
Cf. S. John xx. 17: the quotation is not verbal.CXIII:341
Cf. Gal. iv. 8CXIII:342
Cf. 1 Tim. ii. 5CXIII:343
The Humanity of Christ being regarded as this “first-fruits:” unless this phrase is to be understood of the Resurrection, rather than of the Incarnation, in which case the first-fruits will be His Body, and ἀναλαβὼν should be rendered by “having resumed.”CXIII:344
Rom. ix. 16. The reference next following may be to S. John 12:26, John 14:3, Col. 3:3.CXIII:345
Heb. i. 6.CXIII:346
Phil. 2:10, 11.CXIII:347
Cf. Ps. xcviii. 10.CXIII:348
S. John i. 1CXIII:349
S. John i. 14
Next: Gregory again discusses the generation of the Only-Begotten, and other different modes of generation, material and immaterial, and nobly demonstrates that the Son is the brightness of the Divine glory, and not a creature.
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