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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:
Dogmatic Treatises.: Defence of S. Basil's statement, attacked by Eunomius, that the terms 'Father' and 'The Ungenerate' can have the same meaning.

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§37. Defence of S. Basil’s statement, attacked by Eunomius, that the terms ‘Father’ and ‘The Ungenerate’ can have the same meaning.

The stream of his abuse is very strong; insolence is at the bottom of every principle he lays down; and vilification is put by him in the place of any demonstration of doubtful points so let us briefly discuss the many misrepresentations about the word Ungenerate with which he insults our Teacher himself and his treatise. He has quoted the following words of our Teacher: “For my part I should be inclined to say that this title of the Ungenerate, however fitting it may seem to express our ideas, yet, as nowhere found in Scripture and as forming the alphabet of Eunomius’ blasphemy, may very well be suppressed, when we have the word Father meaning the same thing; for One who essentially and alone is Father comes from none else; and that which comes from none else is equivalent to the Ungenerate.” Now let us hear what proof he brings of the ‘folly’ of these words: “Overhastiness and shameless dishonesty prompt him to put this dose of words 191 anomalously used into his attempts; he turns completely round, because his judgment is wavering and his powers of reasoning are feeble.” Notice how well-directed that blow is; how skilfully, with all his mastery of logic, he takes Basil’s words to pieces and puts a conception more consistent with piety in their place! “Anomalous in phrase,” “hasty and dishonest in judgment,” “wavering and turning round from feebleness of reasoning.” Why this? what has exasperated this man, whose own judgment is so firm and reasoning so sound? What is it that he most condemns in Basil’s words? Is it, that he accepts the idea of the Ungenerate, but says that the actual word, as misused by those who pervert it, should be suppressed? Well; is the Faith in jeopardy only as regards words and outward expressions, and need we take no account of the correctness of the thought beneath? Or does not the Word of Truth rather exhort us first to have a heart pure from evil thoughts, and then, for the manifestation of the soul’s emotions, to use any words that can express these secrets of the mind, without any minute care about this or that particular sound? For the speaking in this way or in that is not the cause of the thought within us; but the hidden conception of the heart supplies the motive for such and such words; “for from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” We make the words interpret the thought; we do not by a reverse process gather 192 the thought from the words. Should both be at hand, a man may certainly be ready in both, in clever thinking and clever expression; but if the one should be wanting, the loss to the illiterate is slight, if the knowledge in his soul is perfect in the direction of moral goodness. “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me 193 .” What is the meaning of that? That the right attitude of the soul towards the truth is more precious than the propriety of phrases in the sight of God, who hears the “groanings that cannot be uttered.” Phrases can be used in opposite senses; the tongue readily serving, at his will, the intention of the speaker; but the disposition of the soul, as it is, so is it seen by Him Who sees all secrets. Why, then, does he deserve to be called “anomalous,” and “hasty,” and “dishonest,” for bidding us suppress all in the term Ungenerate which can aid in their blasphemy those who transgress the Faith, while minding and welcoming all the meaning in the word which can be reverently held. If indeed he had said that we ought not to think of the Deity as Ungenerate, there might have been some occasion for these and even worse terms of abuse to be used against him. But if he falls in with the general belief of the faithful and admits this, and then pronounces an opinion well worthy of the Master’s mind 194 , viz., “Refrain from the use of the word, for into it, and from it, the subverting heresy is fetched,” and bids us cherish the idea of an ungenerate Deity by means of other names,—therein he does not p. LXXXVI deserve their abuse. Are we not taught by the Truth Himself to act so, and not to cling even to things exceeding precious, if any of them tend to mischief? When He thus bids us to cut away the right eye or foot or hand, if so be that one of them offends, what else does He imply by this figure, than that He would have anything, however fair-seeming, if it leads a man by an inconsiderate use to evil, remain inoperative and out of use, assuring us that it is better for us to be saved by amputation of the parts which led to sin, than to perish by retaining them?

What, too, does Paul, the follower of Christ, say? He, too, in his deep wisdom teaches the same. He, who declares that “everything is good, and nothing to be rejected, if it be received with thanks 195 ,” on some occasions, because of the ‘conscience of the weak brother,’ puts some things back from the number which he has accepted, and commands us to decline them. “If,” he says, “meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth 196 .” Now this is just what our follower of Paul did. He saw that the deceiving power of those who try to teach the inequality of the Persons was increased by this word Ungenerate, taken in their mischievous, heretical sense, and so he advised that, while we cherish in our souls a devout consciousness of this ungenerate Deity, we should not show any particular love for the actual word, which was the occasion of sin to the reprobate; for that the title of Father, if we follow out all that it implies, will suggest to us this meaning of not having been generated. For when we hear the word Father, we think at once of the Author of all beings; for if He had some further cause transcending Himself, He would not have been called thus of proper right Father; for that title would have had to be transferred higher, to this pre-supposed Cause. But if He Himself is that Cause from which all comes, as the Apostle says, it is plain that nothing can be thought of beyond His existence. But this is to believe in that existence not having been generated. But this man, who claims that even the Truth shall not be considered more persuasive than himself, will not acquiesce in this; he loudly dogmatizes against it; he jeers at the argument.



i.e. πατήρ, ἀγέννητος


Putting a full stop at συναγείρομεν. Oehler otherwise.


Isaiah xxix. 13; Matthew xv. 8.


the Master’s mind. “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matth. xviii. 6; Mark ix. 42.


1 Tim. iv. 4 (R.V.)


1 Cor. viii. 13.

Next: Several ways of controverting his quibbling syllogisms.

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