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Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:
The Confessions: Chapter XIX

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XIX.—He Does Not Yet Fully Understand the Saying of John, that “The Word Was Made Flesh.”

25. But I thought differently, thinking only of my Lord Christ as of a man of excellent wisdom, to whom no man could be equalled; especially for that, being wonderfully born of a virgin, He seemed, through the divine care for us, to have attained so great authority of leadership,—for an example of contemning temporal things for the obtaining of immortality. But what mystery there was in, “The Word was p. 113 made flesh,” 557 I could not even imagine. Only I had learnt out of what is delivered to us in writing of Him, that He did eat, drink, sleep, walk, rejoice in spirit, was sad, and discoursed; that flesh alone did not cleave unto Thy Word, but with the human soul and body. All know thus who know the unchangeableness of Thy Word, which I now knew as well as I could, nor did I at all have any doubt about it. For, now to move the limbs of the body at will, now not; now to be stirred by some affection, now not; now by signs to enunciate wise sayings, now to keep silence, are properties of a soul and mind subject to change. And should these things be falsely written of Him, all the rest would risk the imputation, nor would there remain in those books any saving faith for the human race. Since, then, they were written truthfully, I acknowledged a perfect man to be in Christ—not the body of a man only, nor with the body a sensitive soul without a rational, but a very man; whom, not only as being a form of truth, but for a certain great excellency of human nature and a more perfect participation of wisdom, I decided was to be preferred before others. But Alypius imagined the Catholics to believe that God was so clothed with flesh, that, besides God and flesh, there was no soul in Christ, and did not think that a human mind was ascribed to Him. And, because He was thoroughly persuaded that the actions which were recorded of Him could not be performed except by a vital and rational creature, he moved the more slowly towards the Christian faith. But, learning afterwards that this was the error of the Apollinarian heretics, 558 he rejoiced in the Catholic faith, and was conformed to it. But somewhat later it was, I confess, that I learned how in the sentence, “The Word was made flesh,” the Catholic truth can be distinguished from the falsehood of Photinus. 559 For the disapproval of heretics makes the tenets of Thy Church and sound doctrine to stand out boldly. 560 For there must be also heresies, that the approved may be made manifest among the weak. 561



We have already seen, in note 1, sec. 13, above, how this text (1) runs counter to Platonic beliefs as to the Logos. The following passage from Augustin’s De Civ. Dei, x. 29, is worth putting on record in this connection:—“Are ye ashamed to be corrected? This is the vice of the proud. It is forsooth, a degradation for learned men to pass from the school of Plato to the discipleship of Christ, who by His Spirit taught a fisherman to think and to say, ‘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. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not’ (John 1.1-5). The old saint Simplicianus, afterwards Bishop of Milan, used to tell me that a certain Platonist was in the habit of saying that this opening passage of the holy Gospel entitled, ‘According to John,’ should be written in letters of gold, and hung up in all churches in the most conspicuous place. But the proud scorn to take God for their Master, because ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1.14). So that with these miserable creatures it is not enough that they are sick, but they boast of their sickness, and are ashamed of the medicine which could heal them. And doing so, they secure not elevation, but a more disastrous fall.” This text, too, as Irenæus has remarked, (2) entirely opposes the false teaching of the Docetæ, who, as their name imports, believed, with the Manichæans, that Christ only appeared to have a body; as was the case, they said, with the angels entertained by Abraham (see Burton’s Bampton Lectures, lect. 6). It is curious to note here that Augustin maintained that the Angel of the Covenant was not an anticipation, as it were, of the incarnation of the Word, but only a created angel (De Civ. Dei, xvi. 29, and De Trin. iii. 11), thus unconsciously playing into the hands of the Arians. See Bull’s Def. Fid. Nic. i. 1, sec. 2, etc., and iv. 3, sec. 14.


The founder of this heresy was Apollinaris the younger, Bishop of Laodicea, whose erroneous doctrine was condemned at the Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381. Note 4, sec. 23, above, on the “trichotomy,” affords help in understanding it. Apollinaris seems to have desired to exalt the Saviour, not to detract from His honour, like Arius. Before his time men had written much on the divine and much on the human side of our Lord’s nature. He endeavoured to show (see Dorner’s Person of Christ, A. ii. 252, etc., Clark) in what the two natures united differed from human nature. He concluded that our Lord had no need of the human πνεῦμα, and that its place was supplied by the divine nature, so that God “the Word,” the body and the ψυχή, constituted the being of the Saviour. Dr. Pusey quotes the following passages hereon:—“The faithful who believes and confesses in the Mediator a real human, i.e. our nature, although God the Word, taking it in a singular manner, sublimated it into the only Son of God, so that He who took it, and what He took, was one person in the Trinity. For, after man was assumed, there became not a quaternity but remained the Trinity, that assumption making in an ineffable way the truth of one person in God and man. Since we do not say that Christ is only God, as do the Manichæan heretics, nor only man, as the Photinian heretics, nor in such wise man as not to have anything which certainly belongs to human nature, whether the soul, or in the soul itself the rational mind, or the flesh not taken of the woman, but made of the Word, converted and changed into flesh, which three false and vain statements made three several divisions of the Apollinarian heretics; but we say that Christ is true God, born of God the Father, without any beginning of time, and also true man, born of a human mother in the fulness of time; and that His humanity, whereby He is inferior to the Father, does not derogate from His divinity, whereby He is equal to the Father” (De Dono Persev. sec. ult.). “There was formerly a heresy—its remnants perhaps still exist—of some called Apollinarians. Some of them said that that man whom the Word took, when ‘the Word was made flesh,’ had not the human, i.e. rational (λογικόν) mind, but was only a soul without human intelligence, but that the very Word of God was in that man instead of a mind. They were cast out,—the Catholic faith rejected them, and they made a heresy. It was established in the Catholic faith that that man whom the wisdom of God took had nothing less than other men, with regard to the integrity of man’s nature, but as to the excellency of His person, had more than other men. For other men may be said to be partakers of the Word of God, having the Word of God, but none of them can be called the Word of God, which He was called when it is said, ‘The Word was made flesh’ ” (in Ps. xxix., Enarr. ii. sec. 2). “But when they reflected that, if their doctrine were true, they must confess that the only-begotten Son of God, the Wisdom and Word of the Father, by whom all things were made, is believed to have taken a sort of brute with the figure of a human body, they were dissastisfied with themselves; yet not so as to amend, and confess that the whole man was assumed by the wisdom of God, without any diminution of nature, but still more boldly denied to Him the soul itself, and everything of any worth in man, and said that He only took human flesh” (De 83, Div. Quæst. qu. 80). Reference on the questions touched on in this note may be made to Neander’s Church History, ii. 401, etc. (Clark); and Hagenbach, History of Doctrines, i. 270 (Clark).


See notes on p. 107.


Archbishop Trench’s words on this sentence in the Confessions (Hulsean Lectures, lect. v. 1845) have a special interest in the present attitude of the Roman Church:—“Doubtless there is a true idea of scriptural developments which has always been recognised, to which the great Fathers of the Church have set their seal; this, namely, that the Church, informed and quickened by the Spirit of God, more and more discovers what in Holy Scripture is given her; but not this, that she unfolds by an independent power anything further therefrom. She has always possessed what she now possesses of doctrine and truth, only not always with the same distinctness of consciousness. She has not added to her wealth, but she has become more and more aware of that wealth; her dowry has remained always the same, but that dowry was so rich and so rare, that only little by little she has counted over and taken stock and inventory of her jewels. She has consolidated her doctrine, compelled to this by the challenges and provocation of enemies, or induced to it by the growing sense of her own needs.” Perhaps no one, to turn from the Church to individual men, has been more indebted than was Augustin to controversies with heretics for the evolvement of truth.


1 Cor. 11.19.

Next: Chapter XX