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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Chapter XI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 568 Chapter XI.—On the Coming of our Lord in the Flesh; its Nature and Cause. 3415

Whoever, then, has pursued a course unworthy of a life of virtue, and is conscious of having lived an irregular and disorderly life, let him repent, and turn with enlightened spiritual vision to God; and let him abandon his past career of wickedness, content if he attain to wisdom even in his declining years. We, however, have received no aid from human instruction; nay, whatever graces of character are esteemed of good report by those who have understanding, are entirely the gift of God. And I am able to oppose no feeble buckler against the deadly weapons of Satan’s armory; I mean the knowledge I possess of those things which are pleasing to him: and of these I will select such as are appropriate to my present design, while I proceed to sing the praises of the Father of all. But do thou, O Christ, Saviour of mankind, be present to aid me in my hallowed task! Direct the words which celebrate thy virtues, 3416 and instruct me worthily to sound thy praises. And now, let no one expect to listen to the graces of elegant language: for well I know that the nerveless eloquence of those who speak to charm the ear, and whose aim is rather applause than sound argument, is distasteful to hearers of sound judgment. It is asserted, then, by some profane and senseless persons, that Christ, whom we worship, was justly condemned to death, and that he who is the author of life to all, was himself deprived of life. That such an assertion should be made by those who have once dared to enter the paths of impiety, who have cast aside all fear, and all thought of concealing their own depravity, is not surprising. But it is beyond the bounds of folly itself that they should be able, as it seems, really to persuade themselves that the incorruptible God yielded to the violence of men, and not rather to that love alone which he bore to the human race: that they should fail to perceive that divine magnanimity and forbearance is changed by no insult, is moved from its intrinsic steadfastness by no revilings; but is ever the same, breaking down and repelling, by the spirit of wisdom and greatness of soul, the savage fierceness of those who assail it. The gracious kindness of God had determined to abolish iniquity, and to exalt order and justice. Accordingly, he gathered a company of the wisest among men, 3417 and ordained that most noble and useful doctrine, which is calculated to lead the good and blessed of mankind to an imitation of his own providential care. And what higher blessing can we speak of than this, that God should prescribe the way of righteousness, and make those who are counted worthy of his instruction like himself; that goodness might be communicated to all classes of mankind, and eternal felicity be the result? This is the glorious victory: this the true power: this the mighty work, worthy of its author, the restoration of all people to soundness of mind: and the glory of this triumph we joyfully ascribe to thee, thou Saviour of all! But thou, vile and wretched blasphemy, whose glory is in lies and rumors and calumny; thy power is to deceive and prevail with the inexperience of youth, and with men who still retain the folly of youth. These thou seducest from the service of the true God, and settest up false idols as the objects of their worship and their prayers; and thus the reward of their folly awaits thy deluded victims: for they calumniate Christ, the author of every blessing, who is God, and the Son of God. Is not the worship of the best and wisest of the nations of this world worthily directed to that God, who, while possessing boundless power, remains immovably true to his own purpose, and retains undiminished his characteristic kindness and love to man? Away, then, ye impious, for still ye may while vengeance on your transgressions is yet withheld; begone to your sacrifices, your feasts, your scenes of revelry and drunkenness, wherein, under the semblance of religion, your hearts are devoted to profligate enjoyment, and pretending to perform sacrifices, yourselves are the willing slaves of your own pleasures. No knowledge have ye of any good, nor even of the first commandment of the mighty God, who both declares his will to man, and gives commission to his Son to direct the course of human life, that they who have passed a career of virtue and self-control may obtain, according to the judgment of that Son, a second, yea, a blessed and happy existence. 3418 I have now declared the decree of God respecting the life which he prescribes to man, neither ignorantly, as many have done, nor p. 569 resting on the ground of opinion or conjecture. But it may be that some will ask, Whence this title of Son? Whence this generation of which we speak, if God be indeed only One, and incapable of union with another? We are, however, to consider generation as of two kinds; one in the way of natural birth, which is known to all; the other, that which is the effect of an eternal cause, the mode of which is seen by the prescience of God, and by those among men whom he loves. For he who is wise will recognize the cause which regulates the harmony of creation. Since, then, nothing exists without a cause, of necessity the cause of existing substances preceded their existence. But since the world and all things that it contains exist, and are preserved, 3419 their preserver must have had a prior existence; so that Christ is the cause of preservation, and the preservation of things is an effect: 3420 even as the Father is the cause of the Son, and the Son the effect of that cause. Enough, then, has been said to prove his priority of existence. But how do we explain his descent to this earth, and to men? His motive in this, 3421 as the prophets had foretold, originated in his watchful care for the interests of all: for it needs must be that the Creator should care for his own works. But when the time came for him to assume a terrestrial body, and to sojourn on this earth, the need requiring, he devised for himself a new mode 3422 of birth. Conception was there, yet apart from marriage: childbirth, yet pure virginity: and a maiden became the mother of God! An eternal nature received a beginning of temporal existence: a sensible form of a spiritual essence, a material manifestation of incorporeal brightness, 3423 appeared. Alike wondrous were the circumstances which attended this great event. A radiant dove, like that which flew from the ark of Noah, 3424 alighted on the Virgin’s bosom: and accordant with this impalpable union, purer than chastity, more guileless than innocence itself, were the results which followed. From infancy possessing the wisdom of God, received with reverential awe by the Jordan, in whose waters he was baptized, gifted with that royal unction, the spirit of universal intelligence; with knowledge and power to perform miracles, and to heal diseases beyond the reach of human art; he yielded a swift and unhindered assent to the prayers of men, to whose welfare, indeed, his whole life was devoted without reserve. His doctrines instilled, not prudence only, 3425 but real wisdom: his hearers were instructed, not in the mere social virtues, 3426 but in the ways which conduct to the spiritual world; and devoted themselves to the contemplation of immutable and eternal things, and the knowledge of the Supreme Father. The benefits which he bestowed were no common blessings: for blindness, the gift of sight; for helpless weakness, the vigor of health; in the place of death, restoration to life again. I dwell not on that abundant provision in the wilderness, whereby a scanty measure of food became a complete and enduring supply 3427 for the wants of a mighty multitude. 3428 Thus do we render thanks to thee, our God and Saviour, according to our feeble power; unto thee, O Christ, supreme Providence of the mighty Father, who both savest us from evil, and impartest to us thy most blessed doctrine: for I say these things, not to praise, but to give thanks. For what mortal is he who shall worthily declare thy praise, of whom we learn that thou didst from nothing call creation into being, and illumine it with thy light; that thou didst regulate the confusion of the elements by the laws of harmony and order? But chiefly we mark thy loving-kindness, 3429 in that thou hast caused those p. 570 whose hearts inclined to thee to desire earnestly a divine and blessed life, and hast provided that, like merchants of true blessings, they might impart to many others the wisdom and good fortune they had received; themselves, meanwhile, reaping the everlasting fruit of virtue. Freed from the trammels of vice, and imbued with the love of their fellow-men, they keep mercy ever before their eyes, and hoping for the promises of faith; 3430 devoted to modesty, and all those virtues which the past career of human life had thrown aside [but which were now restored by him whose providence is over all]. 3431 No other power could be found to devise a remedy for such evils, and for that spirit of injustice which had heretofore asserted its dominion over the race of men. Providence, however, could reach the circumstances even here, and with ease restored whatever had been disordered by violence and the licentiousness of human passion. And this restoring power he exercised without concealment. For he knew that, though there were some whose thoughts were able to recognize and understand his power, others there were whose brutish and senseless nature led them to rely exclusively on the testimony of their own senses. In open day, therefore, that no one, whether good or evil, might find room for doubt, he manifested his blessed and wondrous healing power; restoring the dead to life again, and renewing with a word the powers of those who had been bereft of bodily sense. 3432 Can we, in short, suppose, that to render the sea firm as the solid ground, to still the raging of the storm, and finally to ascend to heaven, after turning the unbelief of men to steadfast faith by the performance of these wondrous acts, demanded less than almighty power, was less than the work of God? Nor was the time of his passion unaccompanied by like wonders: when the sun was darkened, and the shades of night obscured the light of day. Then terror everywhere laid hold upon the people, and the thought that the end of all things was already come, and that chaos, such as had been ere the order of creation began, would once more prevail. Then, too, the cause was sought of so terrible an evil, and in what respect the trespasses of men had provoked the wrath of Heaven; until God himself, who surveyed with calm dignity the arrogance of the ungodly, renewed the face of heaven, and adorned it with the host of stars. Thus the beclouded face of Nature was again restored to her pristine beauty.



One ms. adds, “and concerning those who did not know this mystery.” In another the chapter is divided, and this is the heading of the second part.


Or “this discourse concerning virtue.”


[Alluding to the apostles, who are called in the beginning of ch. 15, “the best men of their age.” Were it our province to criticise, we might notice the contrariety of such expressions as these to the account which Scripture gives us of those “unlearned and ignorant men,” the feeble, and, in themselves, fallible instruments, whom God selected to further his wondrous designs of mercy to a ruined world.—Bag.] Were it in our province to criticise the critic, we might notice that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and refer to the whole Book of Proverbs. Any just conception of wisdom or true learning says the same thing. The man who knows that God and not φύσις or τύχη manages the universe, is more learned than the wisest of those learned in things which are not so.


Christophorson extends ch. 10 to this point, and here introduces ch. 11, with the heading “On the coming of Our Lord in the flesh; its nature and cause.”


Preserved, preserver, and preservation = saved, saviour, and salvation. This represents the N.T. idea better than the popular conception which confuses Christ our Saviour with Christ our Redeemer. Redemption was a necessary part of his effort for our salvation, but the salvation itself was a saving, in literal English preserving. We have been redeemed; we are being saved.


Bag.follows here Valesius’ translation and note where he makes the word “preservation” a conjectural emendation of Scaliger, inconsistent with the meaning of the passage, and omits translating “the cause of all things that exist.” But Hein. does not even hint such reading, and his text (followed also by Molz.), so far from tending to disturb the whole meaning, gives much the more intelligent conception. Christ is the preserver (saviour) of things. Preservation of things is the effect of that cause, just as the Father is the cause of the Son, and the Son the effect of that cause. Therefore the preserver precedes created things as a cause precedes its effect.


Valesius expresses a preference for the reading καθόδου (advent) here instead of καθόλου (universal), but the latter is the reading of Heinichen, and undoubtedly correct. Bag. has followed Valesius.


“New mode” is a paraphrase supported by only one ms. The real meaning of νόθην is well expressed by Chr., “alienam quandam a communi hominum natura nascendi rationem sibi excogitavit.” Its usual meaning is “illegitimate.”


This is supposed to refer to Heb. i. 3, although a different Greek word is used.


Various suggestions have been made regarding the dove which according to the literal rendering “flew from the ark of Noah.” Christophorson (according to Valesius) supposes it to be that dove which Noah formerly sent out of the ark, this dove being a figure of the Holy Spirit which was afterward to come in the Virgin. Jerome, Ep. ad Oc., also regards the Noachic dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Vales., followed by 1711 and Bag., prefer to translate as if it were “like that,” &c. This form of the story, according to which the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, is according to Valesius from the Apocrypha; perhaps, he suggests, from the “Gospel to the Hebrews.” In later art the dove is the constant symbol of the Holy Spirit, and is often found in pictures of the annunciation, e.g. in pictures by Simeone Memmi, Dürer, Andrea del Sarto, and many others. It is found in six of the pictures of the annunciation given by Mrs. Jameson (Legends of the Madonna, p. 165 sq.).


The author seems to have here a reference to the Aristotelian distinction between prudence and wisdom (cf. Ethics, 6. 3; 7. 8, &c.). It reminds of that passage (vi. 7, ed. Grant ad. ii. 165–166), where the two are distinguished and defined, wisdom being “concerned with the immutable, and prudence with the variable” and a little farther along wisdom is distinguished from “statesmanship,” i.e. the “social” of Bag., which is a form of “prudence” (tr. Williams, p. 160), and indeed (vi. 8. 1) generically identical with prudence. So again (1, 2) “political art” is identified with ethics.


Social virtues or “political” virtues. Cf. the “political art” or “statesmanship” of Aristotle.


[Πολλοῦ χρόνου, “for a considerable time.” This seems to be a rhetorical addition to the circumstances of the miracle, scarcely to be justified by the terms of the inspired narrative.—Bag.]


At this point Christophorson begins his chapter xii., “of those who did not know the mystery,” &c.


The translator takes most extraordinary liberties with the word “philanthropy” now it is “loving-kindness,” now “love of their fellow-men,” and so on in picturesque variety, and yet as appropriate as it is lacking in uniformity.


Cf. Rom. 8:25, Gal. 5:5.


[The text, in the last clause of this passage, is undoubtedly corrupt. The above is an attempt to supply a probable sense.—Bag.] This is omitted by Hein. from his text.


i.e. healing the paralytics. This paraphrased passage reads more literally, “bidding those bereft of sense [i.e. sensation, feeling] to feel again.” Still it may be that Molz. is right in thinking it refers to the senses—seeing, hearing, &c.—as well as feeling, though his translation will hardly stand; “and to such as lacked any of the senses he granted the full use of all their senses again.”

Next: Chapter XII

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