Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: Answer to the question he is always asking, “Can He who is be begotten?”
p. XCIII §39. Answer to the question he is always asking, “Can He who is be begotten?”
Eunomius does not like the meaning of the Ungenerate to be conveyed by the term Father, because he wants to establish that there was a time when the Son was not. It is in fact a constant question amongst his pupils, “How can He who (always) is be begotten?” This comes, I take it, of not weaning oneself from the human application of words, when we have to think about God. But let us without bitterness at once expose the actual falseness of this arrière pensée of his 210 , stating first our conclusions upon the matter.
These names have a different meaning with us, Eunomius; when we come to the transcendent energies they yield another sense. Wide, indeed, is the interval in all else that divides the human from the divine; experience cannot point here below to anything at all resembling in amount what we may guess at and imagine there. So likewise, as regards the meaning of our terms, though there may be, so far as words go, some likeness between man and the Eternal, yet the gulf between these two worlds is the real measure of the separation of meanings. For instance, our Lord calls God a man that was a householder in the parable 211 ; but though this title is ever so familiar to us, will the person we think of and the person there meant be of the same description; and will our house be the same as that large house, in which, as the Apostle says, there are the vessels of gold, and those of silver 212 , and those of the other materials which are recounted? Or will not those rather be beyond our immediate apprehension and to be contemplated in a blessed immortality, while ours are earthern, and to dissolve to earth? So in almost all the other terms there is a similarity of names between things human and things divine, revealing nevertheless underneath this sameness a wide difference of meanings. We find alike in both worlds the mention of bodily limbs and senses; as with us, so with the life of God, which all allow to be above sense, there are set down in order fingers and arm and hand, eye and eyelids, hearing, heart, feet and sandals, horses, cavalry, and chariots; and other metaphors innumerable are taken from human life to illustrate symbolically divine things. As, then, each one of these names has a human sound, but not a human meaning, so also that of Father, while applying equally to life divine and human, hides a distinction between the uttered meanings exactly proportionate to the difference existing between the subjects of this title. We think of mans generation one way; we surmise of the divine generation in another. A man is born in a stated time; and a particular place must be the receptacle of his life; without it it is not in nature that he should have any concrete substance: whence also it is inevitable that sections of time are found enveloping his life; there is a Before, and With, and After him. It is true to say of any one whatever of those born into this world that there was a time when he was not, that he is now, and again there will be time when he will cease to exist; but into the Eternal world these ideas of time do not enter; to a sober thinker they have nothing akin to that world. He who considers what the divine life really is will get beyond the sometime, the before, and the after, and every mark whatever of this extension in time; he will have lofty views upon a subject so lofty; nor will he deem that the Absolute is bound by those laws which he observes to be in force in human generation.
Passion precedes the concrete existence of man; certain material foundations are laid for the formation of the living creature; beneath it all is Nature, by Gods will, with her wonder-working, putting everything under contribution for the proper proportion of nutrition for that which is to be born, taking from each terrestrial element the amount necessary for the particular case, receiving the co-operation of a measured time, and as much of the food of the parents as is necessary for the formation of the child: in a word Nature, advancing through all these processes by which a human life is built up, brings the non-existent to the birth; and accordingly we say that, non-existent once, it now is born; because, at one time not being, at another it begins to be. But when it comes to the Divine generation the mind rejects this ministration of Nature, and this fulness of time in contributing to the development, and everything else which our argument contemplated as taking place in human generation; and he who enters on divine topics with no carnal conceptions will not fall down again to the level of any of those debasing thoughts, but seeks for one in keeping with the majesty of the thing to be expressed; he will not think of passion in connexion with that which is passionless, or count the Creator of all Nature as in need of Natures help, or admit extension in time into the Eternal life; he will see that the Divine generation is to be cleared of all such ideas, and will allow to the title Father only the meaning that the Only-begotten is not Himself without a source, but derives from That the cause of His being; though, p. XCIV as for the actual beginning of His subsistence, he will not calculate that, because he will not be able to see any sign of the thing in question. Older and younger and all such notions are found to involve intervals of time; and so, when you mentally abstract time in general, all such indications are got rid of along with it.
Since, then, He who is with the Father, in some inconceivable category, before the ages admits not of a sometime, He exists by generation indeed, but nevertheless He never begins to exist. His life is neither in time, nor in place. But when we take away these and all suchlike ideas in contemplating the subsistence of the Son, there is only one thing that we can even think of as before Him—i.e. the Father. But the Only-begotten, as He Himself has told us, is in the Father, and so, from His nature, is not open to the supposition that He ever existed not. If indeed the Father ever was not, the eternity of the Son must be cancelled retrospectively in consequence of this nothingness of the Father: but if the Father is always, how can the Son ever be non-existent, when He cannot be thought of at all by Himself apart from the Father, but is always implied silently in the name Father. This name in fact conveys the two Persons equally; the idea of the Son is inevitably suggested by that word. When was it, then, that the Son was not? In what category shall we detect His non-existence? In place? There is none. In time? Our Lord was before all times; and if so, when was He not? And if He was in the Father, in what place was He not? Tell us that, ye who are so practised in seeing things out of sight. What kind of interval have your cogitations given a shape to? What vacancy in the Son, be it of substance or of conception, have you been able to think of, which shows the Fathers life, when drawn out in parallel, as surpassing that of the Only-begotten? Why, even of men we cannot say absolutely that any one was not, and then was born. Levi, many generations before his own birth in the flesh, was tithed by Melchisedech; so the Apostle says, “Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes (in Abraham),” 213 adding the proof, “for he was yet in the loins of his father, when” Abraham met the priest of the Most High. If, then, a man in a certain sense is not, and is then born, having existed beforehand by virtue of kinship of substance in his progenitor, according to an Apostles testimony, how as to the Divine life do they dare to utter the thought that He was not, and then was begotten? For He is in the Father, as our Lord has told us; “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me 214 ,” each of course being in the other in two different senses; the Son being in the Father as the beauty of the image is to be found in the form from which it has been outlined; and the Father in the Son, as that original beauty is to be found in the image of itself. Now in all hand-made images the interval of time is a point of separation between the model and that to which it lends its form; but there the one cannot be separated from the other, neither the “express image” from the “Person,” to use the Apostles words 215 , nor the “brightness” from the “glory” of God, nor the representation from the goodness; but when once thought has grasped one of these, it has admitted the associated Verity as well. “Being,” he says (not becoming), “the brightness of His glory 216 ;” so that clearly we may rid ourselves for ever of the blasphemy which lurks in either of those two conceptions; viz., that the Only-begotten can be thought of as Ungenerate (for he says “the brightness of His glory,” the brightness coming from the glory, and not, reversely, the glory from the brightness); or that He ever began to be. For the word “being” is a witness that interprets to us the Sons continuity and eternity and superiority to all marks of time.
What occasion, then, had our foes for proposing for the damage of our Faith that trifling question, which they think unanswerable and, so, a proving of their own doctrine, and which they are continually asking, namely, whether One who is can be generated. We may boldly answer them at once, that He who is in the Ungenerate was generated from Him, and does derive His source from Him. I live by the Father 217 : but it is impossible to name the when of His beginning. When there is no intermediate matter, or idea, or interval of time, to separate the being of the Son from the Father, no symbol can be thought of, either, by which the Only-begotten can be unlinked from the Fathers life, and shewn to proceed from some special source of His own. If, then, there is no other principle that guides the Sons life, if there is nothing that a devout mind can contemplate before (but not divided from) the subsistence of the Son, but the Father only; and if the Father is without beginning or generation, as even our adversaries admit, how can He who can be contemplated only within the Father, who is without beginning, admit Himself of a beginning?
p. XCV What harm, too, does our Faith suffer from our admitting those expressions of our opponents which they bring forward against us as absurd, when they ask whether He which is can be begotten? We do not assert that this can be so in the sense in which Nicodemus put his offensive question 218 , wherein he thought it impossible that one who was in existence could come to a second birth: but we assert that, having His existence attached to an Existence which is always and is without beginning, and accompanying every investigator into the antiquities of time, and forestalling the curiosity of thought as it advances into the world beyond, and intimately blended as He is with all our conceptions of the Father, He has no beginning of His existence any more than He is Ungenerate: but He was both begotten and was, evincing on the score of causation generation from the Father, but by virtue of His everlasting life repelling any moment of non-existence.
But this thinker in his exceeding subtlety contravenes this statement; he sunders the being of the Only-begotten from the Fathers nature, on the ground of one being Generated, the other Ungenerate; and although there are such a number of names which with reverence may be applied to the Deity, and all of them suitable to both Persons equally, he pays no attention to anyone of them, because these others indicate that in which Both participate; he fastens on the name Ungenerate, and that alone; and even of this he will not adopt the usual and approved meaning; he revolutionizes the conception of it, and cancels its common associations. Whatever can be the reason of this? For without some very strong one he would not wrest language away from its accepted meaning, and innovate 219 by changing the signification of words. He knows perfectly well that if their meaning was confined to the customary one he would have no power to subvert the sound doctrine; but that if such terms are perverted from their common and current acceptation, he will be able to spoil the doctrine along with the word. For instance (to come to the actual words which he misuses), if, according to the common thinking of our Faith he had allowed that God was to be called Ungenerate only because He was never generated, the whole fabric of his heresy would have collapsed, with the withdrawal of his quibbling about this Ungenerate. If, that is, he was to be persuaded, by following out the analogy of almost all the names of God in use for the Church, to think of the God over all as Ungenerate, just as He is invisible, and passionless, and immaterial; and if he was agreed that in every one of these terms there was signified only that which in no way belongs to God—body, for instance, and passion and colour, and derivation from a cause—then, if his view of the case had been like that, his partys tenet of the Unlikeness would lose its meaning; for in all else (except the Ungeneracy) that is conceived concerning the God of all even these adversaries allow the likeness existing between the Only-begotten and the Father. But to prevent this, he puts the term Ungenerate in front of all these names indicating Gods transcendent nature; and he makes this one a vantage-ground from which he may sweep down upon our Faith; he transfers the contrariety between the actual expressions Generated and Ungenerate to the Persons themselves to whom these words apply; and thereby, by this difference between the words he argues by a quibble for a difference between the Beings; not agreeing with us that Generated is to be used only because the Son was generated, and Ungenerate because the Father exists without having been generated; but affirming that he thinks the former has acquired existence by having been generated; though what sort of philosophy leads him to such a view I cannot understand. If one were to attend to the mere meanings of those words by themselves, abstracting in thought those Persons for whom the names are taken to stand, one would discover the groundlessness of these statements of theirs. Consider, then, not that, in consequence of the Father being a conception prior to the Son (as the Faith truly teaches), the order of the names themselves must be arranged so as to correspond with the value and order of that which underlies them; but regard them alone by themselves, to see which of them (the word, I repeat, not the Reality which it represents) is to be placed before the other as a conception of our mind; which of the two conveys the assertion of an idea, which the negation of the same; for instance (to be clear, I think similar pairs of words will give my meaning), Knowledge, Ignorance—Passion, Passionlessness—and suchlike contrasts, which of them possess priority of conception before the others? Those which posit the negation, or those which posit the assertion of the said quality? I take it the latter do so. Knowledge, anger, passion, are conceived of first; and then comes the negation of these ideas. And let no one, in his excess of devotion 220 , blame this argument, as if it would put the p. XCVI Son before the Father. We are not making out that the Son is to be placed in conception before the Father, seeing that the argument is discriminating only the meanings of Generated, and Ungenerate. So Generation signifies the assertion of some reality or some idea; while Ungeneracy signifies its negation; so that there is every reason that Generation must be thought of first. Why, then, do they insist herein on fixing on the Father the second, in order of conception, of these two names; why do they keep on thinking that a negation can define and can embrace the whole substance of the term in question, and are roused to exasperation against those who point out the groundlessness of their arguments?
αὐτὸ τὸ πεπλασμενον τῆς ὑπονοιας.XCIII:211
the parable, i.e. of the Tares. Matt. 13:27, 52Matthew xiii. 27: cf. v. 52.XCIII:212
2 Tim. ii. 20.XCIV:213
Heb. 7:9, 10; Genesis xiv. 18.XCIV:214
John x. 38.XCIV:215
Heb. i. 3. (ὢν, not γενόμενος).XCIV:217
John iv. 57.XCV:218
John iii. 4.XCV:219
ξενίζει, intrans. N.T. Polyb. Lucian.XCV:220
ἐθελοθρησκείας, “will worship.”
Next: His unsuccessful attempt to be consistent with his own statements after Basil has confuted him.
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