Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part II: The Natural Invisibility of the Father, and the Visibility of the Son Witnessed in Many Passages of the Old Testament. Arguments of Their Distinctness, Thus Supplied.
Chapter XIV.—The Natural Invisibility of the Father, and the Visibility of the Son Witnessed in Many Passages of the Old Testament. Arguments of Their Distinctness, Thus Supplied.
Moreover, there comes to our aid, when we insist upon the Father and the Son as being Two, that regulating principle which has determined God to be invisible. When Moses in Egypt desired to see the face of the Lord, saying, “If therefore I have found grace in Thy sight, manifest Thyself unto me, that I may see Thee and know Thee,” 7920 God said, “Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live:” 7921 in other words, he who sees me shall die. Now we find that God has been seen by many persons, and yet that no one who saw Him died (at the sight). The truth is, they saw God according to the faculties of men, but not in accordance with the full glory of the Godhead. For the patriarchs are said to have seen God (as Abraham and Jacob), and the prophets (as, for instance Isaiah and Ezekiel), and yet they did not die. Either, then, they ought to have died, since they had seen Him—for (the sentence runs), “No man shall see God, and live;” or else if they saw God, and yet did not die, the Scripture is false in stating that God said, “If a man see my face, he shall not live.” Either way, the Scripture misleads us, when it makes God invisible, and when it produces Him to our sight. Now, then, He must be a different Being who was seen, because of one who was seen it could not be predicated that He is invisible. It will therefore follow, that by Him who is invisible we must understand the Father in the fulness of His majesty, while we recognise the Son as visible by reason of the dispensation of His derived existence; 7922 even as it is not permitted us to contemplate the sun, in the full amount of his substance which is in the heavens, but we can only endure with our eyes a ray, by reason of the tempered condition of this portion which is projected from him to the earth. Here some one on the other side may be disposed to contend that the Son is also invisible as being the Word, and as being also the Spirit; 7923 and, while claiming one nature for the Father and the Son, to affirm that the Father is rather One and the Same Person with the Son. But the Scripture, as we have said, maintains their difference by the distinction it makes between the Visible and the Invisible. They then go on to argue to this effect, that if it was the Son who then spake to Moses, He must mean it of Himself that His face was visible to no one, because He was Himself indeed the invisible Father in the name of the Son. And by this means they will have it that the Visible and the Invisible are one and the same, just as the Father and the Son are the same; (and this they maintain) because in a preceding passage, before He had refused (the sight of) His face to Moses, the Scripture informs us that “the Lord spake face to face with Moses, even as a man speaketh unto his friend;” 7924 just as Jacob also says, “I have seen God face to face.” 7925 Therefore the Visible and the Invisible are one and the same; and both being thus the same, it follows that He is invisible as the Father, and visible as the Son. As if the Scripture, according to our exposition of it, were inapplicable to the Son, when the Father is set aside in His own invisibility. We declare, however, that the Son also, considered in Himself (as the Son), is invisible, in that He is God, and the Word and Spirit of God; but that He was visible before the days of His flesh, in the way that He says to Aaron and Miriam, “And if there shall be a prophet amongst you, I will make myself known to him in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream; not as with Moses, with whom I shall speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, that is to say, in truth, and not enigmatically,” that is to say, in image; 7926 as the apostle also expresses it, “Now we see through a glass, darkly (or enigmatically), but then face to face.” 7927 Since, therefore, He reserves to some future time His presence and speech face to face with Moses—a promise which was afterwards fulfilled in the retirement of the mount (of transfiguration), when as we read in the Gospel, “Moses appeared talking with Jesus” 7928 —it is evident that in early times it was always in a glass, (as it were,) and an enigma, in vision and dream, that God, I mean the Son of God, appeared—to the prophets and the patriarchs, as also to Moses indeed himself. And even if the Lord did possibly 7929 speak with him face to face, yet it was not as man that he could behold His face, unless indeed it was in a glass, (as it were,) and by enigma. Besides, if the Lord so spake with Moses, that Moses actually discerned His face, eye to eye, 7930 how p. 610 comes it to pass that immediately afterwards, on the same occasion, he desires to see His face, 7931 which he ought not to have desired, because he had already seen it? And how, in like manner, does the Lord also say that His face cannot be seen, because He had shown it, if indeed He really had, (as our opponents suppose). Or what is that face of God, the sight of which is refused, if there was one which was visible to man? “I have seen God,” says Jacob, “face to face, and my life is preserved.” 7932 There ought to be some other face which kills if it be only seen. Well, then, was the Son visible? (Certainly not, 7933 ) although He was the face of God, except only in vision and dream, and in a glass and enigma, because the Word and Spirit (of God) cannot be seen except in an imaginary form. But, (they say,) He calls the invisible Father His face. For who is the Father? Must He not be the face of the Son, by reason of that authority which He obtains as the begotten of the Father? For is there not a natural propriety in saying of some personage greater (than yourself), That man is my face; he gives me his countenance? “My Father,” says Christ, “is greater than I.” 7934 Therefore the Father must be the face of the Son. For what does the Scripture say? “The Spirit of His person is Christ the Lord.” 7935 As therefore Christ is the Spirit of the Fathers person, there is good reason why, in virtue indeed of the unity, the Spirit of Him to whose person He belonged—that is to say, the Father—pronounced Him to be His “face.” Now this, to be sure, is an astonishing thing, that the Father can be taken to be the face of the Son, when He is His head; for “the head of Christ is God.” 7936
Ex. xxxiii. 13.609:7921
Pro modulo derivationis.609:7923
Spiritus here is the divine nature of Christ.609:7924
Ex. xxxiii. 11.609:7925
Gen. xxxii. 30.609:7926
Num. xii. 6-8.609:7927
1 Cor. xiii. 12.609:7928
Mark 9:4, Matt. 17:3.609:7929
Comp. Exod. 33:13, 11.610:7932
Gen. xxii. 30.610:7933
Involved in the nunquid.610:7934
John xiv. 28.610:7935
Lam. iv. 20. Tertullian reads, “Spiritus personæ ejus Christus Dominus.” This varies only in the pronoun from the Septuagint, which runs, Πνεῦμα προσώπου ἡμῶν Χριστὸς Κύριος. According to our A.V., “the breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord” (or, “our anointed Lord”), allusion is made, in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, to the capture of the king—the last of Davids line, “as an anointed prince.” Comp. Jer. lii. 9.610:7936
1 Cor. xi. 3.
Next: New Testament Passages Quoted. They Attest the Same Truth of the Son's Visibility Contrasted with the Father's Invisibility.
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