Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: He then again admirably discusses the term πρωτότοκος as it is four times employed by the Apostle.
§3. He then again admirably discusses the term πρωτότοκος as it is four times employed by the Apostle.
But that the readers of our work may find no ambiguity left of such a kind as to afford any support to the heretical doctrines, it may be worth while to add to the passages examined by us this point also from Holy Scripture. They will perhaps raise a question from the very apostolic writings which we quoted: “How could He be called the first-born of creation 622 if He were not what creation is? for every first-born is the first-born not of another kind, but of its own: as Reuben, having precedence in respect of birth of those who are counted after him, was the first-born, a man the first-born of men; and many others are called the first-born of the brothers who are reckoned with them.” They say then, “We assert that He Who is the first-born of creation is of that same essence which we consider the essence of all creation. Now if the whole creation is of one essence with the Father of all, we will not deny that the first-born of creation is this also: but if the God of all differs in essence from the creation, we must of necessity say that neither has the first-born of creation community in essence with God.” The structure of this objection is not, I think, at all less imposing in the form in which it is alleged by us, than in the form in which it would probably be brought against us by our adversaries. But what we ought to know as regards this point shall now, so far as we are able, be plainly set forth in our discourse.
Four times the name of “first-born” or “first-begotten” is used by the Apostle in all his writings: but he has made mention of the name in different senses and not in the same manner. For now he speaks of “the first-born of all creation 623 ,” and again of “the first-born among many brethren 624 ,” then of “the first-born from the dead 625 ;” and in the Epistle to the Hebrews the name of “first-begotten” is absolute, being mentioned by itself: for he speaks thus, “When again He bringeth the first-begotten into the world, He saith, Let all the angels worship Him 626 .” As these passages are thus distinct, it may be well to interpret each of them separately by itself, how He is the “first-born of creation,” how “among many brethren,” how “from the dead,” and how, spoken of by Himself apart from each of these, when He is again brought into the world, He is worshipped by all His angels. Let us begin then, if you will, our survey of the passages before us with the last-mentioned.
“When again He bringeth in,” he says, “the first-begotten into the world.” The addition of “again” shows, by the force of this word, that this event happens not for the first time: for we use this word of the repetition of things which have once happened. He signifies, therefore, by the phrase, the dread appearing of the Judge at the end of the ages, when He is seen no more in the form of a servant, but seated in glory upon the throne of His kingdom, and worshipped by all the angels that are around Him. Therefore He Who once entered into the world, becoming the first-born “from the dead,” and “of His brethren,” and “of all creation,” does not, when He comes again into the world as He that judges the world in righteousness 627 , as the prophecy saith, cast off the name of the first-begotten, which He once received for our sakes; but as at the name of Jesus, which is above every name, every knee bows 628 , so also the company of all the angels worships Him Who comes in the name of the First-begotten, in their rejoicing over the restoration of men, wherewith, by becoming the first-born among us, He restored us again to the grace which we had at the beginning 629 . For since there is joy among the angels over those who are rescued p. CLVIII from sin, (because until now that creation groaneth and travaileth in pain at the vanity that affects us 630 , judging our perdition to be their own loss,) when that manifestation of the sons of God takes place which they look for and expect, and when the sheep is brought safe to the hundred above, (and we surely—humanity that is to say—are that sheep which the Good Shepherd saved by becoming the first-begotten 631 ,) then especially will they offer, in their intense thanksgiving on our behalf, their worship to God, Who by being first-begotten restored him that had wandered from his Fathers home.
Now that we have arrived at the understanding of these words, no one could any longer hesitate as to the other passages, for what reason He is the first-born, either “of the dead,” or “of the creation,” or “among many brethren.” For all these passages refer to the same point, although each of them sets forth some special conception. He is the first-born from the dead, Who first by Himself loosed the pains of death 632 , that He might also make that birth of the resurrection a way for all men 633 . Again, He becomes “the first-born among many brethren,” Who is born before us by the new birth of regeneration in water, for the travail whereof the hovering of the Dove was the midwife, whereby He makes those who share with Him in the like birth to be His own brethren, and becomes the first-born of those who after Him are born of water and of the Spirit 634 : and to speak briefly, as there are in us three births, whereby human nature is quickened, one of the body, another in the sacrament of regeneration, another by that resurrection of the dead for which we look, He is first-born in all three:—of the twofold regeneration which is wrought by two (by baptism and by the resurrection), by being Himself the leader in each of them; while in the flesh He is first-born, as having first and alone devised in His own case that birth unknown to nature, which no one in the many generations of men had originated. If these passages, then, have been rightly understood, neither will the signification of the “creation,” of which He is first-born, be unknown to us. For we recognize a twofold creation of our nature, the first that whereby we were made, the second that whereby we were made anew. But there would have been no need of the second creation had we not made the first unavailing by our disobedience. Accordingly, when the first creation had waxed old and vanished away, it was needful that there should be a new creation in Christ, (as the Apostle says, who asserts that we should no longer see in the second creation any trace of that which has waxed old, saying, “Having put off the old man with his deeds and his lusts, put on the new man which is created according to God 635 ,” and “If any man be in Christ,” he says, “he is a new creature: the old things are passed away, behold all things are become new 636 :”) —for the maker of human nature at the first and afterwards is one and the same. Then He took dust from the earth and formed man: again, He took dust from the Virgin, and did not merely form man, but formed man about Himself: then, He created; afterwards, He was created: then, the Word made flesh; afterwards, the Word became flesh, that He might change our flesh to spirit, by being made partaker with us in flesh and blood. Of this new creation therefore in Christ, which He Himself began, He was called the first-born, being the first-fruits of all, both of those begotten into life, and of those quickened by resurrection of the dead, “that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living 637 ,” and might sanctify the whole lump 638 by means of its first-fruits in Himself. Now that the character of “first-born” does not apply to the Son in respect of His pre-temporal existence the appellation of “Only-begotten” testifies. For he who is truly only-begotten has no brethren, for how could any one be only-begotten if numbered among brethren? but as He is called God and man, Son of God and Son of man,—for He has the form of God and the form of a servant 639 , being some things according to His supreme nature, becoming other things in His dispensation of love to man,—so too, being the Only-begotten God, He becomes the first-born of all creation,—the Only-begotten, He that is in the bosom of the Father, yet, among those who are saved by the new creation, both becoming and being called the first born of the creation. But if, as heresy will have it, He is called first-born because He was made before the rest of the creation, the name does not agree with what they maintain concerning the Only-begotten God. For they do not say this,—that the Son and the universe were from the Father in like manner,—but they say, that the Only-begotten God was made by the Father, and that all else was made by the Only-begotten. Therefore on the same ground on which, while they hold that the Son was created, they call God the Father of the created Being, on the same p. CLIX ground, while they say that all things were made by the Only-begotten God, they give Him the name not of the “first-born” of the things that were made by Him, but more properly of their “Father,” as the same relation existing in both cases towards the things created, logically gives rise to the same appellation. For if God, Who is over all, is not properly called the “First-born,” but the Father of the Being He Himself created, the Only-begotten God will surely also be called, by the same reasoning, the “father,” and not properly the “first-born” of His own creatures, so that the appellation of “first-born” will be altogether improper and superfluous, having no place in the heretical conception.
Cf. Col. i. 15 Πρωτότοκος may be, as it is in the Authorized Version, translated either by “first born,” or by “first-begotten.” Compare with this passage Book II. §8, where the use of the word in Holy Scripture is discussed.CLVII:623
Cf. Col. i. 15CLVII:624
Rom. viii. 29.CLVII:625
Col. i. 18.CLVII:626
Cf. Heb. i. 6CLVII:627
Ps. xcviii. 10.CLVII:628
Cf. Phil. ii. 10CLVII:629
Oehlers punctuation, which is probably due to a printers error, is here a good deal altered.CLVIII:630
Cf. Rom. viii. 19-23.CLVIII:631
This interpretation is of course common to many of the Fathers, though S. Augustine, for instance, explains the “ninety and nine” otherwise, and his explanation has been often followed by modern writers and preachers. The present interpretation is assumed in a prayer, no doubt of great antiquity, which is found in the Liturgy of S. James, both in the Greek and the Syriac version, and also in the Greek form of the Coptic Liturgy of S. Basil, where it is said to be “from the Liturgy of S. James.”CLVIII:632
Acts ii. 24.CLVIII:633
See Book II. §§4 and 8, and note on the former passage.CLVIII:634
With this passage may be compared the parallel passage in Bk. II. §8. The interpretation of the “many brethren” of those baptized suggests that Gregory understood the “predestination” spoken of in Rom. viii. 29 to be predestination to baptism.CLVIII:635
Cf. Col. 3:9, Eph. 4:24Col. iii. 9, and Eph. iv. 24.CLVIII:636
Cf. 2 Cor. v. 17CLVIII:637
Rom. xiv. 9.CLVIII:638
Cf. Rom. xi. 16CLVIII:639
Cf. Phil. ii. 6
Next: He proceeds again to discuss the impassibility of the Lord's generation; and the folly of Eunomius, who says that the generated essence involves the appellation of Son, and again, forgetting this, denies the relation of the Son to the Father: and herein he speaks of Circe and of the mandrake poison.
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