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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III:
Doctrinal Treatises of St. Augustin: Chapter 6

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 6.—The Creature is Not So Taken by the Holy Spirit as Flesh is by the Word.

11. It is, then, for this reason nowhere written, that the Father is greater than the Holy Spirit, or that the Holy Spirit is less than God the Father, because the creature in which the Holy Spirit was to appear was not taken in the same way as the Son of man was taken, as the form in which the person of the Word of God Himself should be set forth not that He might possess the word of God, as other holy and wise men have possessed it, but “above His fellows;” 245 not certainly that He possessed the word more than they, so as to be of more surpassing wisdom than the rest were, but that He was the very Word Himself. For the word in the flesh is one thing, and the Word made flesh is another; i.e. the word in man is one thing, the Word that is man is another. For flesh is put for man, where it is said, “The Word was made flesh;” 246 and again, “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” 247 For it does not mean flesh without soul and without mind; but “all flesh,” is the same as if it were said, every man. The creature, then, in which the Holy Spirit should appear, was not so taken, as that flesh and human form were taken, of the Virgin Mary. For the Spirit did not beatify the dove, or the wind, or the fire, and join them for ever to Himself and to His person in unity and “fashion.” 248 Nor, again, is the nature of the Holy Spirit mutable and changeable; so that these things were not made of the creature, but He himself was turned and changed first into one and then into another, as water is changed into ice. But these things appeared at the seasons at which they ought to have appeared, the creature serving the Creator, and being changed and converted at the command of Him who remains immutably in Himself, in order to signify and manifest Him in such way as it was fit He should be signified and manifested to mortal men. Accordingly, although that dove is called the Spirit; 249 and in speaking of that fire, “There appeared unto them,” he says, “cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance; 250 in order to show that the Spirit was manifested by that fire, as by the dove; yet we cannot call the Holy Spirit both God and a dove, or both God and fire, in the same way as we call the Son both God and man; nor as we call the Son the Lamb of God; which not only John the Baptist says, “Behold the Lamb of God,” 251 but also John the Evangelist sees the Lamb slain in the Apocalypse. 252 For that prophetic vision was not shown to bodily eyes through bodily forms, but in the spirit through spiritual images of bodily things. But whosoever saw that dove and that fire, saw them with their eyes. Although it may perhaps be disputed concerning the fire, whether it was seen by the eyes or in the spirit, on account of the form of the sentence. For the text does not say, They saw cloven tongues like fire, but, “There appeared to them.” But we are not wont to say with the same meaning, It appeared to me; as we say, I saw. And in those spiritual visions of corporeal images the usual expressions are, both, It appeared to me; and, I saw: but in those things which are shown to the eyes through express corporeal forms, the common expression is not, It appeared to me; but, I saw. There may, therefore, be a question raised respecting that fire, how it was seen; whether within in the spirit as it were outwardly, or really outwardly before the eyes of the flesh. But of that dove, which is said to have descended in a bodily form, no one ever doubted that it was seen by the eyes. Nor, again, as we call the Son a Rock (for it is written, “And that Rock was Christ” 253 ), can we so call the Spirit a dove or fire. For that rock was a thing already created, and after the mode of its action was p. 43 called by the name of Christ, whom it signified; like the stone placed under Jacob’s head, and also anointed, which he took in order to signify the Lord; 254 or as Isaac was Christ, when he carried the wood for the sacrifice of himself. 255 A particular significative action was added to those already existing things; they did not, as that dove and fire, suddenly come into being in order simply so to signify. The dove and the fire, indeed, seem to me more like that flame which appeared to Moses in the bush, 256 or that pillar which the people followed in the wilderness, 257 or the thunders and lightnings which came when the Law was given in the mount. 258 For the corporeal form of these things came into being for the very purpose, that it might signify something, and then pass away. 259



Heb. 1.9Heb. i. 9


John 1.14John i. 14


Luke 3.6Luke iii. 6


[The reference is to σχήμα, in Phil. 2.8Phil. ii. 8—the term chosen by St. Paul to describe the “likeness of men,” which the second trinitarian person assumed. The variety in the terms by which St. Paul describes the incarnation is very striking. The person incarnated subsists first in a “form of God;” he then takes along with this (still retaining this) a “form of a servant;” which form of a servant is a “likeness of men;” which likeness of men is a “scheme” (A.V. “fashion”) or external form of a man.—W.G.T.S.]


Matt. 3.16


Acts 2:3, 4Acts 2:3, 4


John 1.29John i. 29


Rev. 5.6Apoc. v. 6


1 Cor. 10.41 Cor. x. 4


Gen. 28.18Gen. xxviii. 18


Gen. 22.6Gen. xxii. 6


Ex. 3.2Ex. iii. 2


Exod. 13:21, 22Exod. 13:21, 22


Ex. 19.16Ex. xix. 16


[A theophany, though a harbinger of the incarnation, differs from it, by not effecting a hypostatical or personal union between God and the creature. When the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, he did not unite himself with it. The dove did not constitute an integral part of the divine person who employed it. Nor did the illuminated vapor in the theophany of the Shekinah. But when the Logos appeared in the form of a man, he united himself with it, so that it became a constituent part of his person. A theophany, as Augustin notices, is temporary and transient. The incarnation is perpetual.—W.G.T.S.]

Next: Chapter 7

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