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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: 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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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.

58. Tell me, thou heretic,—for the surpassing clemency of the Emperor grants me this indulgence of addressing thee for a short space, not that I desire to confer with thee, or am greedy to hear thy arguments, but because I am willing to exhibit them,—tell me, I say, whether there was ever a time when God Almighty was not the Father, and yet was God. “I say nothing about time,” is thy answer. Well and subtly objected! For if thou bringest time into the dispute, thou wilt condemn thyself, seeing that thou must acknowledge that there was a time when the Son was not, whereas the Son is the ruler and creator of time. 1784 He cannot have begun to exist after His own work. Thou, therefore, must needs allow Him to be the ruler and maker of His work.

59. “I do not say,” answerest thou, p. 211 “that the Son existed not before time; but when I call Him “Son,” I declare that His Father existed before Him, for, as you say, father exists before son.” 1785 But what means this? Thou deniest that time was before the Son, and yet thou wilt have it that something preceded the existence of the Son—some creature of time,—and thou showest certain stages of generation intervening, whereby thou dost give us to understand that the generation from the Father was a process in time. For if He began to be a Father, then, in the first instance, He was God, and afterwards He became a Father. How, then, is God unchangeable? 1786 For if He was first God, and then the Father, surely He has undergone change by reason of the added and later act of generation.

60. But may God preserve us from this madness; for it was but to confute the impiety of the heretics that we brought in this question. The devout spirit affirms a generation that is not in time, and so declares Father and Son to be co-eternal, and does not maintain that God has ever suffered change.

61. Let Father and Son, therefore, be associated in worship, even as They are associated in Godhead; let not blasphemy put asunder those whom the close bond of generation hath joined together. Let us honour the Son, that we may honour the Father also, as it is written in the Gospel. 1787 The Son’s eternity is the adornment of the Father’s majesty. If the Son hath not been from everlasting, then the Father hath suffered change; but the Son is from all eternity, therefore hath the Father never changed, for He is always unchangeable. And thus we see that they who would deny the Son’s eternity would teach that the Father is mutable.


Footnotes

210:1784

Time. We should take this term in its fullest meaning, as signifying all that exists in time—the created universe, and all that therein has been, and is, and is to come.

211:1785

The Arians fell into the popular error of supposing that a father, as a father, existed before his son. They also required men to apply to Divine Persons, what only holds good of human beings—to impose on the Being of God those limits to which human existences (as objective facts) are subjected. The existence of the Divine Father and the Divine Son is without, beyond, above time—with the Godhead there is neither past nor future, but an everlasting present. But with man, time-categories are necessary forms of thought—everything is seen as past, present, or to come—and to the human consciousness all objects are presented in time, though the spiritual principle in man which perceives objects as related in succession, is itself supra-temporal, beholding succession, but not itself in succession.

Now it can hardly be denied with any show of reason that a man is not a father until his son begins to exist, is born, though the father, as a person distinct from his son, is in existence before the latter. Again, father and son must be of the same nature—they must both possess the elementary, essential attributes of humanity. Otherwise there is no fatherhood, no sonship, properly speaking.

God has revealed Himself as a Father—even in the pagan mythologies we see the idea of Fatherhood implicit in Godhead. If the gods of the heathen did not beget after their kind, they begat heroes and demigods. But created existences cannot claim to be the first and proper object of the Divine Father’s love. They are for a time only, and with them Eternal Love could not be satisfied. If God be a true Father, then, He must beget His Like—His Son must be equal to Him in nature, that is, what is true of the Father, what is essential in the Father, as God, must be true or essential in the Son also. Therefore the son must be divine, eternal. But the generation (γέννησις) of the Son is not an event in time. It is a fact, a truth, out of, beyond time, belonging to the divine and eternal and spiritual, not to the temporal and created, order. “To whom amongst the angels does He ever say, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee? and again, I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me? when, again, He brings His first-begotten into the world” (i.e., reveals Him to the created universe as its King), He says: “And let all God’s angels worship Him” (Heb. i. 5-6). Since the Divine Son, then, is eternal, even as the Divine Father, the one cannot be before or after the other; the two Persons are co-existent, co-eternal, co-equal. And the mysterious genesis, also, is not an event that happened once, taking place in a series of events, it is ever happening, it is always and for ever.

211:1786

i.e., how do you deal with such Scriptures as “Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”—“I am the Lord: I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”—“The Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

211:1787

S. John v. 23.


Next: Chapter X. Christ's eternity being proved from the Apostle's teaching, St. Ambrose admonishes us that the Divine Generation is not to be thought of after the fashion of human procreation, nor to be too curiously pried into. With the difficulties thence arising he refuses to deal, saying that whatsoever terms, taken from our knowledge of body, are used in speaking of this Divine Generation, must be understood with a spiritual meaning.

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