Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel...: Tractate XXXIX
Chapter VIII. 26, 27
1. The words of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He had addressed to the Jews, so regulating His discourse that the blind saw not, and believers eyes were opened, are these, which have been read to-day from the holy Gospel: “Then said the Jews, Who art thou?” Because the Lord had said before, “If ye believe not that I am, ye shall die in your sins.” 706 To this accordingly they rejoined, “Who art thou?” as if seeking to know on whom they ought to believe, so as not to die in their sin. He replied to those who asked Him: “Who art thou?” by saying, “The beginning, for [so] also I speak to you.” If the Lord has called Himself the beginning, it may be inquired whether the Father also is the beginning. For if the Son who has a Father is the beginning, how much more easily must God the Father be understood as the beginning, who has indeed the Son whose Father He is, but has no one from whom He Himself proceedeth? For the Son is the Son of the Father, and the Father certainly is the Father of the Son; but the Son is called God of God,—the Son is called Light of Light; the Father is called Light, but not, of Light,—the Father is called God, but not, of God. If, then, God of God, Light of Light, is the beginning, how much more easily may we understand as such that Light, from whom the Light [cometh], and God, of whom is God? It seems, therefore, absurd, dearly beloved, to call the Son the beginning, and not to call the Father the beginning also.
2. But what shall we do? Are there, then, two beginnings? Let us beware of saying so. What then, if both the Father is the beginning and the Son the beginning, how are there not two beginnings? In the same way that we call the Father God, and the Son God, and yet say not that there are two Gods; and yet He who is the Father is not the Son, He who is the Son is not the Father; and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, is neither the Father nor the Son. Although, then, as Catholic ears have been taught in the bosom of mother Church, neither He who is the Father is the Son, nor He who is the Son is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit, of the Father and of the Son, either the Son or the Father, yet we say not that there are three Gods; although, if we are asked of each apart, we must, of whichever we are questioned, confess that He is God.
3. But all this seems absurd to those who drag up familiar things to a level with things little known, visible things with invisible, and compare the creature to the Creator. For unbelievers sometimes question us and say: Whom you call the Father, do you call him God? We answer, God. Whom you call the Son, do you call him God? We answer, God. Whom you call the Holy Spirit, do you call him God? We answer, God. Then, say they, are the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit three Gods? We answer, No. They are confounded, because they are not enlightened; they have their heart shut up, because they want the key of faith. Let us then, brethren, by an antecedent faith that heals the eye of our heart, receive without obscurity what we understand,—and what we understand not, believe without hesitation; let us not quit the foundation of faith in order to reach the summit of perfection. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God: and yet He is not the Father who is the Son, nor He the Son who is the Father, and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, is neither the Father nor the Son. The Trinity is one God. The Trinity is one eternity, one power, one majesty;—three, [but not three] Gods. Let not the reviler answer me: “Three what, then? For,” he adds, “if there are three, you must say, three what?” I reply: The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “See,” he says, “you have named three; but express what the three are?” Nay, count them yourself; for I make out three when I say, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For the Father is God as respects Himself, but [He is] the Father as respects the Son; the Son is God as respects Himself, but He is the Son as regards the Father.
4. What I say you may gather from daily analogies. So it is with one man and another, if the one be a father, the other his son. He is man as regards himself, but a father as regards his son; and the son man as respects himself, but a son as respects his father. For father is a name given relatively, and so with son; but these are two men. And certainly God the Father is Father in a p. 223 relative sense, that is, in relation to the Son; and God the Son is Son relatively, that is, in relation to the Father; but not as the former are two men are these two Gods. Why is it not so here? Because that belongs to one sphere and this to another; for this is divine. There is here something ineffable which cannot be explained in words, that there should both be, and not be, number. For see if there appear not a kind of number, Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost—the Trinity. If three, three what? Here number fails. And so God neither keeps apart from number, nor is comprehended by number. Because there are three, there is a kind of number. If you ask three what, number ceases. Hence it is said, “Great is our Lord, and great His power; and of His understanding there is no number.” 707 When you have begun to reflect, you begin to number; when you have numbered, you cannot tell what you have numbered. The Father is Father, the Son is Son, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit. What are these three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Are They not three Gods? No. Are They not three Almighties? No. Not three Creators of the world? No. Is the Father then almighty? Manifestly almighty. And is the Son then not almighty? Clearly the Son is also almighty. And is the Holy Spirit then not almighty? He, too, is almighty. Are there then three Almighties? No; only one Almighty. Only in Their relation to each other do They suggest number, not in Their essential existence. For though God the Father is, as respects Himself, God along with the Son and the Holy Spirit, there are not three Gods; and, though as respects Himself He is omnipotent, as well as the Son and the Holy Spirit, there are not three omnipotents; for in truth He is the Father not in respect to Himself, but to the Son; nor is the Son so in respect to Himself, but to the Father; nor is the Spirit so as regards Himself, in as far as He is called the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. I have no name to give the three, save the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God, one Almighty. And so one beginning.
5. Take an illustration from the Holy Scriptures, whereby you may in some measure comprehend what I am saying. After our Lord Jesus Christ rose again, and was pleased to ascend into heaven, at the end of ten days He sent from thence the Holy Spirit, by whom those who were present in that one chamber were filled, and began to speak in the languages of all nations. The Lords murderers, terrified by the miracle, were pricked to the heart and sorrowed; sorrowing, were changed; and being changed, believed. There were added to the Lords body, that is, to the number of believers, three thousand people. And so also by the working of another miracle there were added other five thousand. A considerable community was created, in which all, receiving the Holy Spirit, by whom spiritual love was kindled, were by their very love and fervor of spirit welded into one, and began in the very unity of fellowship to sell all that they had, and to lay the price at the apostles feet, that distribution might be made to every one as each had need. And the Scripture says this of them, that “they were of one soul and one heart toward God.” 708 Give heed then, brethren, and from this acknowledge the mystery of the Trinity, how it is we say, There is both the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and yet there is one God. See! there were so many thousands of these, and yet there was one heart; there were so many thousands, and one soul. But where? In God. How much more so God Himself? Do I err at all in word when I call two men two souls, or three men three souls, or many men many souls? Surely I speak correctly. Let them approach God, and one soul belongs to all. If by approaching God many souls by love become one soul, and many hearts one heart, what of the very fountain of love in the Father and Son? Is it not still more so here that the Trinity is one God? For thence, of that Holy Spirit, does love come to us, as the apostle says: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.” 709 If then the love of God, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us, makes many souls one soul, and many hearts one heart, how much rather are the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, one God, one light, and one beginning?
6. Let us hear, then, the Beginning who speaks to us: “I have,” said He, “many things to say of you and to judge.” You remember that He said, “I do not judge any one.” 710 See, now He says, “I have many things to say of you and to judge.” But, “I do not judge” is one thing: “I have to judge” is another; for He had come to save the world, not to judge the world. 711 In saying, “I have many things to say of you and to judge,” He speaks of the future judgment. For therefore did He ascend, that He may come to judge the living and the dead. No one will judge more justly than He who was p. 224 unjustly judged. “Many things,” said He, “have I to say of you and to judge; but He that sent me is true.” See how the Son, His equal, gives glory to the Father. For He sets us an example, and says as it were in our hearts: O believer, if thou hearest my gospel, the Lord thy God saith to thee, when I, in the beginning God the Word with God, equal with the Father, coeternal with Him that begat, give glory to Him whose Son I am, how canst thou be proud before Him, whose servant thou art?
7. “I have many things,” He said, “to say of you and to judge: but He that sent me is true;” as if He had said, Therefore I judge the truth, because, as the Son of the True One, I am the truth. The Father true, the Son the truth,—which do we account the greater? Let us reflect, if we can, which is the greater, the True One or the Truth. 712 Take some other instances. Is a pious man, or piety, the more comprehensive? Surely piety itself; for the pious is derived from piety, not piety from the pious. For piety may still exist, though he who was pious became impious. He has lost his piety, but has taken nothing from piety itself. What also of comely and comeliness? Comeliness is more than comely; for comeliness gives existence to the comely, not the comely to comeliness. And so of chaste and chastity. Chastity is clearly something more than chaste. For if chastity had no existence, one would have no ground to be chaste; but though one may refuse to be chaste, chastity remains entire. If then the term piety implies more than the term pious, comeliness more than comely, chastity than chaste, shall we say that the Truth is more than the True One? If we say so, we shall begin to say that the Son is greater than the Father. For the Lord Himself says most distinctly, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” 713 Therefore, if the Son is the truth, what is the Father but what the Truth Himself says, “He that sent me is true”? The Son is the truth, the Father true. I inquire which is the greater, but find equality. For the true Father is true not because He contained a part of that truth, but because He begat it entire.
8. I see I must speak more plainly. And, not to detain you long, let me treat only of this point to-day. When I have finished what, with Gods help, I wish to say, my discourse shall close. I have said this, then, to enlist your attention. Every soul, as being a thing, is mutable; and although a great creature, yet a creature; though superior to the body, yet made. Every soul, then, since it is changeable—that is, sometimes believes, sometimes disbelieves; at one time wishes, at another time refuses; at one time is adulterous, at another chaste; now good, and again wicked,—is changeable. But God is that which is, and so has retained as His own peculiar name, “I am who am.” 714 Such also is the Son, when He says, “If ye believe not that I am;” and thereto pertains also, “Who art thou? The Beginning” (John 8.25). God therefore is unchangeable, the soul changeable. When the soul receives from God the elements of its goodness it becomes good by participation, just as by participation thine eye seeth. For it sees not when the light is withdrawn, while so long as it shares in the light it sees. Since then by participation the soul is made good, if it changes and becomes bad, the goodness remains that made it good. For there is a goodness of which it partook when good; and when it has turned to evil, that goodness continues entire. If the soul fall away and become evil, there is no lessening of goodness; if it return and become good, that goodness is not enlarged. Thine eye participates in this light, and thou seest. Is it shut? Then thou hast not diminished the light. Is it open? Thou hast not increased the light. By this illustration, brethren, understand that if the soul is pious, there is piety with God, of which the soul is partaker; if the soul is chaste, there is chastity with God, of which it partakes; if it is good, there is goodness with God, of which it partakes; if it is true, there is truth with God, of which the soul is partaker. Whereof if the soul is no partaker, every man is false; 715 and if every man may be false, no man is true of himself. 716 But the true Father is true of Himself, 717 for He begat the Truth. It is one thing to say, That man is true, for he has taken in the truth: it is another, God is true, for He begat the Truth. See then how God is true,—not by participating in, but by generating the Truth. I see you have understood me, and am glad. Let this suffice you to-day. The rest, according as He gives it, we shall expound when the Lord pleases.
John 8:25, 24.223:707
Ps. cxlvii. 5 (marg.).223:708
Acts 2:0, Acts 4:32, etc.223:709
Rom. v. 5.223:710
Verax an veritas.224:713
John xiv. 6.224:714
Ex. iii. 14.224:715
Ps. cxvi. 11.224:716
Next: Tractate XL
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