Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: It will not do to apply this conception, as drawn out above, of the Father and Son to the Creation, as they insist on doing: but we must contemplate the Son apart with the Father, and believe that the Creation had its origin from a definite point.
§26. It will not do to apply this conception, as drawn out above, of the Father and Son to the Creation, as they insist on doing: but we must contemplate the Son apart with the Father, and believe that the Creation had its origin from a definite point.
But perhaps some of the opponents of this will say, The Creation also has an acknowledged beginning; and yet the things in it are p. LXIX not connected in thought with the everlastingness of the Father, and it does not check, by having a beginning of its own, the infinitude of the divine life, which is the monstrous conclusion this discussion has pointed out in the case of the Father and the Son. One therefore of two things must follow. Either the Creation is everlasting; or, it must be boldly admitted, the Son is later in time (than the Father). The conception of an interval in time will lead to monstrous conclusions, even when measured from the Creation up to the Creator.
One who demurs so, perhaps from not attending closely to the meaning of our belief, fights against it with alien comparisons which have nothing to do with the matter in hand. If he could point to anything above Creation which has its origin marked by any interval of time, and it were acknowledged possible by all to think of any time-interval as existing before Creation, he might have occasion for endeavouring to destroy by such attacks that everlastingness of the Son which we have proved above. But seeing that by all the suffrages of the faithful it is agreed that, of all things that are, part is by creation, and part before creation, and that the divine nature is to be believed uncreate (although within it, as our faith teaches, there is a cause, and there is a subsistence produced, but without separation, from the cause), while the creation is to be viewed in an extension of distances,—all order and sequence of time in events can be perceived only in the ages (of this creation), but the nature pre-existent to those ages escapes all distinctions of before and after, because reason cannot see in that divine and blessed life the things which it observes, and that exclusively, in creation. The creation, as we have said, comes into existence according to a sequence of order, and is commensurate with the duration of the ages, so that if one ascends along the line of things created to their beginning, one will bound the search with the foundation of those ages. But the world above creation, being removed from all conception of distance, eludes all sequence of time: it has no commencement of that sort: it has no end in which to cease its advance, according to any discoverable method of order. Having traversed the ages and all that has been produced therein, our thought catches a glimpse of the divine nature, as of some immense ocean, but when the imagination stretches onward to grasp it, it gives no sign in its own case of any beginning; so that one who after inquiring with curiosity into the priority of the ages tries to mount to the source of all things will never be able to make a single calculation on which he may stand; that which he seeks will always be moving on before, and no basis will be offered him for the curiosity of thought.
It is clear, even with a moderate insight into the nature of things, that there is nothing by which we can measure the divine and blessed Life. It is not in time, but time flows from it; whereas the creation, starting from a manifest beginning, journeys onward to its proper end through spaces of time; so that it is possible, as Solomon somewhere 149 says, to detect in it a beginning, an end, and a middle; and mark the sequence of its history by divisions of time. But the supreme and blessed life has no time-extension accompanying its course, and therefore no span nor measure. Created things are confined within the fitting measures, as within a boundary, with due regard to the good adjustment of the whole by the pleasure of a wise Creator; and so, though human reason in its weakness cannot reach the whole way to the contents of creation, yet still we do not doubt that the creative power has assigned to all of them their limits and that they do not stretch beyond creation. But this creative power itself, while circumscribing by itself the growth of things, has itself no circumscribing bounds; it buries in itself every effort of thought to mount up to the source of Gods life, and it eludes the busy and ambitious strivings to get to the end of the Infinite. Every discursive effort of thought to go back beyond the ages will ascend only so far as to see that that which it seeks can never be passed through: time and its contents seem the measure and the limit of the movement and the working of human thought, but that which lies beyond remains outside its reach; it is a world where it may not tread, unsullied by any object that can be comprehended by man. No form, no place, no size, no reckoning of time, or anything else knowable, is there: and so it is inevitable that our apprehensive faculty, seeking as it does always some object to grasp, must fall back from any side of this incomprehensible existence, and seek in the ages and in the creation which they hold its kindred and congenial sphere.
All, I say, with any insight, however moderate, into the nature of things, know that the worlds Creator laid time and space as a background to receive what was to be; on this foundation He builds the universe. It is not possible that anything which has come or is now coming into being by way of creation can be independent of space or time. But the existence which is all-sufficient, everlasting, world-enveloping, is not in space, nor in time: it is before these, and p. LXX above these in an ineffable way; self-contained, knowable by faith alone; immeasurable by ages; without the accompaniment of time; seated and resting in itself, with no associations of past or future, there being nothing beside and beyond itself, whose passing can make something past and something future. Such accidents are confined to the creation, whose life is divided with times divisions into memory and hope. But within that transcendent and blessed Power all things are equally present as in an instant: past and future are within its all-encircling grasp and its comprehensive view.
This is the Being in which, to use the words of the Apostle, all things are formed; and we, with our individual share in existence, live and move, and have our being 150 . It is above beginning, and presents no marks of its inmost nature: it is to be known of only in the impossibility of perceiving it. That indeed is its most special characteristic, that its nature is too high for any distinctive attribute. A very different account to the Uncreate must be given of Creation: it is this very thing that takes it out of all comparison and connexion with its Maker; this difference, I mean, of essence, and this admitting a special account explanatory of its nature which has nothing in common with that of Him who made it. The Divine nature is a stranger to these special marks in the creation: It leaves beneath itself the sections of time, the before and the after, and the ideas of space: in fact higher cannot properly be said of it at all. Every conception about that uncreate Power is a sublime principle, and involves the idea of what is proper in the highest degree 151 .
We have shewn, then, by what we have said that the Only-begotten and the Holy Spirit are not to be looked for in the creation but are to be believed above it; and that while the creation may perhaps by the persevering efforts of ambitious seekers be seized in its own beginning, whatever that may be, the supernatural will not the more for that come within the realm of knowledge, for no mark before the ages indicative of its nature can be found. Well, then, if in this uncreate existence those wondrous realities, with their wondrous names of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are to be in our thoughts, how can we imagine, of that pre-temporal world, that which our busy, restless minds perceive in things here below by comparing one of them with another and giving it precedence by an interval of time? For there, with the Father, unoriginate, ungenerate, always Father, the idea of the Son as coming from Him yet side by side with Him is inseparably joined; and through the Son and yet with Him, before any vague and unsubstantial conception comes in between, the Holy Spirit is found at once in closest union; not subsequent in existence to the Son, as if the Son could be thought of as ever having been without the Spirit; but Himself also owning the same cause of His being, i.e. the God over all, as the Only-begotten Light, and having shone forth in that very Light, being divisible neither by duration nor by an alien nature from the Father or from the Only-begotten. There are no intervals in that pre-temporal world: and difference on the score of being there is none. It is not even possible, comparing the uncreate with the uncreated, to see differences; and the Holy Ghost is uncreate, as we have before shewn.
This being the view held by all who accept in its simplicity the undiluted Gospel, what occasion was there for endeavouring to dissolve this fast union of the Son with the Father by means of the creation, as if it were necessary to suppose either that the Son was from everlasting along with the creation, or that He too, equally with it, was later? For the generation of the Son does not fall within time 152 , any more than the creation was before time: so that it can in no kind of way be right to partition the indivisible, and to insert, by declaring that there was a time when the Author of all existence was not, this false idea of time into the creative Source of the Universe.
Our previous contention, therefore, is true, that the everlastingness of the Son is included, p. LXXI along with the idea of His birth, in the Fathers ungeneracy; and that, if any interval were to be imagined dividing the two, that same interval would fix a beginning for the life of the Almighty;—a monstrous supposition. But there is nothing to prevent the creation, being, as it is, in its own nature something other than its Creator and in no point trenching on that pure pre-temporal world, from having, in our belief, a beginning of its own, as we have said. To say that the heavens and the earth and other contents of creation were out of things which are not, or, as the Apostle says, out of “things not seen, 153 ” inflicts no dishonour upon the Maker of this universe; for we know from Scripture that all these things are not from everlasting nor will remain for ever. If on the other hand it could be believed that there is something in the Holy Trinity which does not coexist with the Father, if following out this heresy any thought could be entertained of stripping the Almighty of the glory of the Son and Holy Ghost, it would end in nothing else than in a God manifestly removed from every deed and thought that was good and godlike. But if the Father, existing before the ages, is always in glory, and the pre-temporal Son is His glory, and if in like manner the Spirit of Christ is the Sons glory, always to be contemplated along with the Father and the Son, what training could have led this man of learning to declare that there is a before in what is timeless, and a more honourable in what is all essentially honourable, and preferring, by comparisons, the one to the other, to dishonour the latter by this partiality? The term in opposition 154 to the more honourable makes it clearer still whither he is tending.
Compare Eccl. 3:1, Eccl. 8:5, “and a wise mans heart discerneth both time and judgment.”LXX:150
Acts xvii. 28; Col. i. 17.LXX:151
καὶ τὸν τοῦ κυριωτάτου λόγον ἐπέχει·LXX:152
The generation of the Son does not fall within time. On this “eternal generation” Denys (De la Philosophie dOrigéne, p. 452) has the following remarks, illustrating the probable way that Athanasians would have dealt with Eunomius: “If we do not see how Gods indivisibility remains in the co-existence of the three Persons, we can throw the blame of this difficulty upon the feebleness of our reason: while it is a manifest contradiction to admit at one and the same time the simplicity of the Uncreated, and some change or inequality within His Being. I know that the defenders of the orthodox belief might be troubled with their adversaries argument. (Eunom. Apol. 22.) If we admit that the Son, the energy creative of the world, is equal to the Father, it amounts to admitting that He is the actual energy of the Father in Creation, and that this energy is equal to His essence. But that is to return to the mistake of the Greeks who identified His essence and His energy, and consequently made the world coexist with God. A serious difficulty, certainly, and one that has never yet been solved, nor will be; as all the questions likewise which refer to the Uncreated and Created, to eternity and time. It is true we cannot explain how Gods eternally active energy does prolong itself eternally. But what is this difficulty compared with those which, with the hypothesis of Eunomius, must be swallowed? We must suppose, so, that the ᾽Αγέννητος, since His energy is not eternal, became in a given place and moment, and that He was at that point the Γεννητός. We must suppose that this activity communicated to a creature that privilege of the Uncreated which is most incommunicable, viz. the power of creating other creatures. We must suppose that these creatures, unconnected as they are with the ᾽Αγέννητος (since He has not made them), nevertheless conceive of and see beyond their own creator a Being, who cannot be anything to them. [This direct intuition on our part of the Deity was a special tenet of Eunomius.] Finally we must suppose that these creatures, seeing that Eunomius agrees with orthodox believers that the end of this world will be but a commencement, will enter into new relations with this ᾽Αγέννητος, when the Son shall have submitted all things to the Father.”LXXI:153
Heb. xi. 1; 2 Cor. iv. 18.LXXI:154
Next: He falsely imagines that the same energies produce the same works, and that variation in the works indicates variation in the energies.
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