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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: Chapter VIII. The likeness of the Son to the Father being proved, it is not hard to prove the Son's eternity, though, indeed, this may be established on the authority of the Prophet Isaiah and St. John the Evangelist, by which authority the heretical leaders are shown to be refuted.

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Chapter VIII.

The likeness of the Son to the Father being proved, it is not hard to prove the Son’s eternity, though, indeed, this may be established on the authority of the Prophet Isaiah and St. John the Evangelist, by which authority the heretical leaders are shown to be refuted.

54. It is plain, therefore, that the Son is not unlike the Father, and so we may confess the more readily that He is also eternal, seeing that He Who is like the Eternal must needs be eternal. But if we say that the Father is eternal, and yet deny this of the Son, we say that the Son is unlike the Father, for the temporal differeth from the eternal. The Prophet proclaims Him eternal, and the Apostle proclaims Him eternal; the Testaments, Old and New alike, are full of witness to the Son’s eternity.

55. Let us take them, then, in their order. In the Old Testament—to cite one out of a multitude of testimonies—it is written: “Before Me hath there been no other God, and after Me shall there be none.” 1775 I will not comment on this place, but ask thee straight: “Who speaks these words,—the Father or the Son?” Whichever of the two thou sayest, thou wilt find thyself convinced, or, if a believer, instructed. Who, then, speaks these words, the Father or the Son? If it is the Son, He says, “Before Me hath there been no other God;” if the Father, He says, “After Me shall there be none.” The One hath none before Him, the Other none that comes after; as the Father is known in the Son, so also is the Son known in the Father, for whensoever you speak of the Father, you speak also by implication of His Son, seeing that none is his own father; and when you name the Son, you do also acknowledge His Father, inasmuch as none can be his own son. And so neither can the Son exist without the Father, nor the Father without the Son. 1776 The Father, therefore, is eternal, and the Son also eternal.

56. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” 1777 “Was,” mark you, “with God.” “Was”—see, we have “was” four times over. Where did the blasphemer find it written that He “was not.” Again, John, in another passage—in his Epistle—speaketh of “That which was in the beginning.” 1778 The extension of the “was” is infinite. Conceive any length of time you will, yet still the Son “was.” 1779

p. 210 57. Now in this short passage our fisherman hath barred the way of all heresy. For that which was “in the beginning” is not comprehended in time, is not preceded by any beginning. Let Arius, therefore, hold his peace. 1780 Moreover, that which was “with God” is not confounded and mingled with Him, but is distinguished by the perfection unblemished which it hath as the Word abiding with God; and so let Sabellius keep silence. 1781 And “the Word was God.” This Word, therefore, consisteth not in uttered speech, but in the designation of celestial excellence, so that Photinus’ teaching is refuted. Furthermore, by the fact that in the beginning He was with God is proven the indivisible unity of eternal Godhead in Father and Son, to the shame and confusion of Eunomius. 1782 Lastly, seeing that all things are said to have been made by Him, He is plainly shown to be author of the Old and of the New Testament alike; so that the Manichæan can find no ground for his assaults. 1783 Thus hath the good fisherman caught them all in one net, to make them powerless to deceive, albeit unprofitable fish to take.


Footnotes

209:1775

Is. xliii. 10.

209:1776

This holds good also of human fatherhood and sonship. The terms of a relation involve each the existence of the other—no father, no son, and equally, no son, no father.

209:1777

S. John i. 1 f. St. Ambrose notices especially the quadruple “was” as unmistakably signifying the Son’s eternity. We may also notice the climax “The Word was in the beginning.…was with God.…was God.

209:1778

1 John i. 1.

209:1779

Hurter cites similar passages from the Fathers of the Church, proving the Son’s pre-existence and eternity. “What is the force of those words ‘In the beginning’? Centuries are o’erleaped, ages are swallowed up. Take any beginning you will, yet you cannot include it in time, for that, whence time is reckoned, already was.”—Hilary.

“Although the word ‘was’ contains the notion of time past, frequently with a beginning, here it must be understood without the thought of a beginning, inasmuch as the text runs ‘was in the beginning.’”—Victorinus.

If we render the Greek ἐν ἀρχῇ and the Latin in principio by “at the beginning,” in place of the phrase used in the A.V. “in the beginning,” we shall perhaps better apprehend its full force and understand these Patristic interpretations.

Other passages cited by Hurter are:

“Thought cannot escape the dominion of the word ‘was,’ nor can the imagination pass beyond the ‘beginning,’ for however far back you press in thought, you find no point where the ‘was’ ceases to hold sway, and however diligently you set yourself to see what is beyond the Son, you will not any the more be able to get to aught above the beginning.”—Basil.

“For this which was, without any beginning of existence, was truly at the beginning, for if it had begun to be, it would not have been ‘at the beginning,’ whereas that in which absolute existence without beginning is essential, is truly spoken of as existing ‘at the beginning.’ And so the Evangelist in saying ‘In the beginning was the Word’ said much the same as if he had said ‘The Word was in eternity.’”—Fulgentius.

“If the Word was, the Word was not made: if the Word was made, He was not” [absolutely existent]. “But since He ‘was’ He was not made: for whatsoever already is and subsists and so is ‘in the beginning’ cannot be said to become or to have been made.”—Cyril.

“Nothing before a beginning, so the beginning be one really and truly, for of a beginning there can in no way be any beginning, and if anything else before it is supposed or arises, it ceases to be a true beginning.…

“If the Word was ‘in the beginning,’ what mind, I would ask, can prevail against the power of that verb ‘was’? When, indeed, will that verb find its limit, and there, as it were, come to a halt, seeing that it even eludes the pursuit of thought and outstrips the fleetness of the mind.”—Cyril.

210:1780

The Arian teaching concerning the Son was—ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦ “There was a time when He was not.” This, St. Ambrose says, is irreconcilable with St. John’s ἐν ἀρχῆ ἦν ὁ λόγος. “The Word was ‘in’ or ‘at the beginning.’”

210:1781

Sabellianism reduced the distinction of three Persons in the Godhead to a distinction of several aspects of the same Person. They did not “divide the substance,” but they “confounded the Persons.”

210:1782

Non in prolatione sermonis hoc Verbum est. That is to say, the Divine Word or Logos was not such in the sense of λόγος προφορικόςi.e. uttered spoken word, and so a creature, but rather in the sense of λόγος ἐνδιάθετος—the inherent eternal object of the Divine Consciousness.

Cf. Eunomius (v. s. § 44), was a leading Arian teacher. The argument levelled against him here would also have been fitly directed against Arius himself.

210:1783

The heresy of Manes or Mani made its first appearance in Persia, in the reign of Shapur I. (240–272 a.d.). According to the Persian historian Mirkhond, Mani was a member of an ancient priestly house which had preserved the holy fire and the religion of Zoroaster during the dark age of Parthian domination. He attracted the notice of Shapur by pretensions to visions and prophetic powers, and sought to establish himself as another Daniel at the Persian Court. When the king, however, discovered Mani’s hostility to the established Zoroastrianism and the Magian hierarchy, the prophet was obliged to flee. Northern India appears to have been Mani’s refuge for a season, and thence, after some years of retirement, he reappeared, with an illustrated edition of his doctrines, composed and executed, as he said, by divine hands. Shapur was now dead and his successor Hormuz (272–274) was favourably disposed to Mani. But Hormuz only reigned two years, and was succeeded by a king who was a sworn foe to the new doctrine. Mani was challenged to a public disputation by the Magi. The king presided, so that Mani doubtless knew from the first what the issue would be. He was flayed alive, but he left numerous converts, and his death, which cast a certain halo of martyrdom around him, and their sufferings in persecution, really proved—as in the case of Christianity—conducive to the spread of Manichæan doctrine. The fundamental principle of Mani’s system was Dualism—the opposition of mind and matter, and the hypothesis of two co-eternal co-existent powers of good and of evil. In opposition to the Divine Essence, the Good Principle, was placed uncreated Evil, and thus the problem of sin and evil was solved. The purposes of creation and redemption were, in the Manichæan view, entirely self-seeking on the part of the Deity. The world was created by God, not out of free love, but out of the wish to protect Himself against evil, embodied in matter, which in its essence is chaotic. Redemption was the rescue of particles of the ethereal Light, buried amidst the gross darkness of matter, and yet leavening and informing it. Christ was identified with the Divine Principle and the sufferings of His members, the particles of divine Light buried in matter, were the Crucifixion, thus represented as an age-long agony. Jesus Christ was “crucified in the whole world.” Mani adopted the story of Eden, but he represented the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge not as the cause of Man’s fall, but as the first step in redemption, for Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, was not the true God, but the evil Demon, from whose tyranny man had to be rescued. In order to attain salvation, the body, material and therefore essentially evil, must be mortified and starved. Man really fell when Eve tempted him to indulge fleshly lust, not when he ate the forbidden fruit. The stricter sort of the Manichæans practised a severe asceticism, abstaining from flesh meat and marriage. They would not even grind corn or make bread, for in grain there was life—i.e. an emanation of the Divine Light—though they would eat bread, quieting their conscience, however, by saying before they took it, “It was not I who reaped or ground the corn to make this bread.” At the end of time they held the world was to be destroyed by fire, but matter being, on the Manichæan hypothesis, eternal, the proper inference appears to be that the conflict of Light and Chaotic Darkness would recommence, and proceed usque ad infinitum. The Manichæan system was a strange eclectic farrago, embodying, in chimerical monstrosity, features of Zoroastrianism, Judaism (in so far as the story of Eden was taken over), Gnosticism (appearing in the theory that Jehovah was the Demon and that the eating of forbidden fruit did not cause the Fall), Christianity, and Pantheism (the last, doubtless, an importation from Hindostan). The disciples of the school made their way into the Roman Empire, and we find them, 150 years after the death of Mani, opposed by Augustine of Hippo, who indeed had at one time actually numbered himself amongst them.


Next: Chapter IX. St. Ambrose questions the heretics and exhibits their answer, which is, that the Son existed, indeed, before all time, yet was not co-eternal with the Father, whereat the Saint shows that they represent the Godhead as changeable, and further, that each Person must be believed to be eternal.

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