Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: Thereafter he discusses the divergence of names and of things, speaking, of that which is ungenerate as without a cause, and of that which is non-existent, as the Scindapsus, Minotaur, Blityri, Cyclops, Scylla, which never were generated at all, and shows that things which are essentially different, are mutually destructive, as fire of water, and the rest in their several relations. But in the case of the Father and the Son, as the essence is common, and the properties reciprocally interchangeable, no injury results to the Nature.
§3. Thereafter he discusses the divergence of names and of things, speaking, of that which is ungenerate as without a cause, and of that which is non-existent, as the Scindapsus, Minotaur, Blityri, Cyclops, Scylla, which never were generated at all, and shows that things which are essentially different, are mutually destructive, as fire of water, and the rest in their several relations. But in the case of the Father and the Son, as the essence is common, and the properties reciprocally interchangeable, no injury results to the Nature.
Since, however, after the passage cited above, he professes that he will allege something stronger still, let us examine this also, as well as the passage cited, lest we should seem to be withdrawing our opposition in face of an overwhelming force. “If, however,” he says, “I am to abandon all these positions, and fall back upon my stronger argument, I would say this, that even if all the terms that he advances by way of refutation were established, our statement will none the less be manifestly shown to be true. If, as will be admitted, the divergence of the names which are significant of properties marks the divergence of the things, it is surely necessary to allow that with the divergence of the names significant of essence is also marked the divergence of the essences. And this would be found to hold good in all cases, I mean in the case of essences, energies, colours, figures, and other qualities. For we denote by divergent appellations the different essences, fire and water, air and earth, cold and heat, white and black, triangle and circle. Why need we mention the intelligible essences, in enumerating which the Apostle marks, by difference of names, the divergence of essence?”
Who would not be dismayed at this irresistible power of attack? The argument transcends the promise, the experience is more terrible than the threat. “I will come,” he says, “to my stronger argument.” What is it? That as the differences of properties are recognized by those names which signify the special attributes, we must of course, he says, allow that differences of essence are also expressed by divergence of names. What then are these appellations of essences by which we learn the divergence of Nature between the Father and the son? He talks of fire and water, air and earth, cold and heat, white and black, triangle and circle. His illustrations have won him the day: his argument carries all before it: I cannot contradict the statement that those names which are entirely incommunicable indicate difference of natures. But our man of keen and quick-sighted intellect has just missed seeing these points:—that in this case the Father is God and the Son is God; that “just,” and “incorruptible,” and all those names which belong to the Divine Nature, are used equally of the Father and of the Son; and thus, if the divergent character of appellations indicates difference of natures, the community of names will surely show the common character of the essence. And if we must agree that the Divine essence is to be expressed by names 835 , it would behove us to apply to that Nature these lofty and Divine names rather than the terminology of “generate” and “ungenerate,” because “good” and “incorruptible,” “just” and “wise,” and all such terms as these are strictly applicable only to that Nature which passes all understanding, whereas “generated” exhibits community of name with even the inferior forms of the lower creation. For we call a dog, and a frog, and all things that come into the world by way of generation, “generated.” And moreover, the term “ungenerate” is not only employed of that which exists without a cause, but has also a proper application to that which is nonexistent. The Scindapsus 836 is called ungenerate, the Blityri 837 is ungenerate, the Minotaur is ungenerate, the Cyclops, Scylla, the Chimæra are ungenerate, not in the sense of existing without generation, but in the sense of never having come into being at all. If, then, the names more peculiarly Divine are common to the Son with the Father, and if it is the others, those which are equivocally employed either of the non-existent or of the lower animals—if it is these, I say, which are divergent, let his “generate and ungenerate” be so: Eunomius powerful argument against us itself upholds the cause of truth in testifying that there is no divergence in respect of nature, because no divergence can be perceived in the names 838 . But if he asserts the difference of essence to exist between the “generate” and the “ungenerate,” as it does between fire and water, and is of opinion that the names, like those which he has mentioned in his examples, are in the same mutual relation as “fire” and “water,” the horrid character of his blasphemy will here again be brought to light, even if we hold our peace. For fire and p. CXCVII water have a nature mutually destructive, and each is destroyed, if it comes to be in the other, by the prevalence of the more powerful element. If, then, he lays down the doctrine that the Nature of the Ungenerate differs thus from that of the Only-begotten, it is surely clear that he logically makes this destructive opposition to be involved in the divergence of their essences, so that their nature will be, by this reasoning, incompatible and incommunicable, and the one would be consumed by the other, if both should be found to be mutually inclusive or co-existent.
How then is the Son “in the Father” without being destroyed, and how does the Father, coming to be “in the Son,” remain continually unconsumed, if, as Eunomius says, the special attribute of fire, as compared with water, is maintained in the relation of the Generate to the Ungenerate? Nor does their definition regard communion as existing between earth and air, for the former is stable, solid, resistent, of downward tendency and heavy, while air has a nature made up of the contrary attributes. So white and black are found in opposition among colours, and men are agreed that the circle is not the same with the triangle, for each, according to the definition of its figure, is precisely that which the other is not. But I am unable to discover where he sees the opposition in the case of God the Father and God the Only-begotten Son. One goodness, wisdom, justice, providence, power, incorruptibility,—all other attributes of exalted significance are similarly predicated of each, and the one has in a certain sense His strength in the other; for on the one hand the Father makes all things through the Son, and on the other hand the Only-begotten works all in Himself, being the Power of the Father. Of what avail, then, are fire and water to show essential diversity in the Father and the Son? He calls us, moreover, “rash” for instancing the unity of nature and difference of persons of Peter and Paul, and says we are guilty of gross recklessness, if we apply our argument to the contemplation of the objects of pure reason by the aid of material examples. Fitly, fitly indeed, does the corrector of our errors reprove us for rashness in interpreting the Divine Nature by material illustrations! Why then, deliberate and circumspect sir, do you talk about the elements? Is earth immaterial, fire an object of pure reason, water incorporeal, air beyond the perception of the senses? Is your mind so well directed to its aim, are you so keen-sighted in all directions in your promulgation of this argument, that your adversaries cannot lay hold of, that you do not see in yourself the faults you blame in those you are accusing? Or are we to make concessions to you when you are establishing the diversity of essence by material aid, and to be ourselves rejected when we point out the kindred character of the Nature by means of examples within our compass?
On this point, besides what follows here, see the treatise against Tritheism addressed to Ablabius.CXCVI:836
These are names applied to denote existences purely imaginary; the other names belong to classical mythology.CXCVI:837
These are names applied to denote existences purely imaginary; the other names belong to classical mythology.CXCVI:838
That is, in the names more peculiarly appropriate to the Divine Nature.
Next: He says that all things that are in creation have been named by man, if, as is the case, they are called differently by every nation, as also the appellation of “Ungenerate” is conferred by us: but that the proper appellation of the Divine essence itself which expresses the Divine Nature, either does not exist at all, or is unknown to us.
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