Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: Explanation of 'Ungenerate,' and a 'study' of Eternity.
§42. Explanation of Ungenerate, and a study of Eternity.
The eternity of Gods life, to sketch it in mere outline, is on this wise. He is always to be apprehended as in existence; He admits not a time when He was not, and when He will not be. Those who draw a circular figure in plane geometry from a centre to the distance of the line of circumference tell us there is no definite beginning to their figure; and that the line is interrupted by no ascertained end any more than by any visible commencement: they say that, as it forms a single whole in itself with equal radii on all sides, it avoids giving any indication of beginning or ending. When, then, we compare the Infinite being to such a figure, circumscribed though it be, let none find fault with this account; for it is not on the circumference, but on the similarity which the figure bears to the Life which in every direction eludes the grasp, that we fix our attention when we affirm that such is our intuition of the Eternal. From the present instant, as from a centre and a “point,” we extend thought in all directions, to the immensity of that Life. We find that we are drawn round uninterruptedly and evenly, and that we are always following a circumference where there is nothing to grasp; we find the divine life returning upon itself in an unbroken continuity, where no end and no parts can be recognized. Of Gods eternity p. XCVIII we say that which we have heard from prophecy 227 ; viz.. that God is a king “of old,” and rules for ages, and for ever, and beyond. Therefore we define Him to be earlier than any beginning, and exceeding any end. Entertaining, then, this idea of the Almighty, as one that is adequate, we express it by two titles; i.e., Ungenerate and Endless represent this infinitude and continuity and ever-lastingness of the Deity. If we adopted only one of them for our idea, and if the remaining one was dropped, our meaning would be marred by this omission; for it is impossible with either one of them singly 228 to express the notion residing in each of the two; but when one speaks of the endless, only the absence as regards an end has been indicated, and it does not follow that any hint has been given about a beginning; while, when one speaks of the Unoriginate 229 , the fact of being beyond a beginning has been expressed, but the case as regards an end has been left quite doubtful.
Seeing, then, that these two titles equally help to express the eternity of the divine life, it is high time to inquire why our friends cut in two the complete meaning of this eternity, and declare that the one meaning, which is the negation of beginning, constitutes Gods being (instead of merely forming part of the definition of eternity 230 ), while they consider the other, which is the negation of end, as amongst the externals of that being. It is difficult to see the reason for thus assigning the negation of beginning to the realm of being, while they banish the negation of end outside that realm. The two are our conceptions of the same thing; and, therefore, either both should be admitted to the definition of being, or, if the one is to be judged inadmissible, the other should be rejected also. If, however, they are determined thus to divide the thought of eternity, and to make the one fall within the realm of that being, and to reckon the other with the non-realities of Deity (for the thoughts which they adopt on this subject are grovelling, and, like birds who have shed their feathers, they are unable to soar into the sublimities of theology), I would advise them to reverse their teaching, and to count the unending as being, overlooking the unoriginate rather, and assigning the palm to that which is future and excites hope, rather than to that which is past and stale. Seeing, I say (and I speak thus owing to their narrowness of spirit, and lower the discussion to the level of a childs conception), the past period of his life is nothing to him who has lived it, and all his interest is centred on the future and on that which can be looked forward to, that which has no end will have more value than that which has no beginning. So let our thoughts upon the divine nature be worthy and exalted ones; or else, if they are going to judge of it according to human tests, let the future be more valued by them than the past, and let them confine the being of the Deity to that, since times lapse sweeps away with it all existence in the past, whereas expected existence gains substance from our hope 231 .
Now I broach these ridiculously childish suggestions as to children sitting in the market-place and playing 232 ; for when one looks into the grovelling earthliness of their heretical teaching it is impossible to help falling into a sort of sportive childishness. It would be right, however, to add this to what we have said, viz., that, as the idea of eternity is completed only by means of both (as we have already argued), by the negation of a beginning and also by that of an end, if they confine Gods being to the one, their definition of this being will be manifestly imperfect and curtailed by half; it is thought of only by the absence of beginning, and does not contain the absence of end within itself as an essential element. But if they do combine both negations, and so complete their definition of the being of God, observe, again, the absurdity that is at once apparent in this view; it will be found, after all their efforts, to be at variance not only with the Only-begotten, but with itself. The case is clear and does not require much dwelling upon. The idea of a beginning and the idea of an end are opposed each to each; the meanings of each differ as widely as the other diametric oppositions 233 , where there is no half-way proposition below 234 . If any one is asked to define beginning, he will not give a definition the same as that of end; but will carry his definition of it to the opposite extremity. Therefore also the two p. XCIX contraries 235 of these will be separated from each other by the same distance of opposition; and that which is without beginning, being contrary to that which is to be seen by a beginning, will be a very different thing from that which is endless, or the negation of end. If, then, they import both these attributes into the being of God, I mean the negations of end and of beginning, they will exhibit this Deity of theirs as a combination of two contradictory and discordant things, because the contrary ideas to beginning and end reproduce on their side also the contradiction existing between beginning and end. Contraries of contradictories are themselves contradictory of each other. In fact, it is always a true axiom, that two things which are naturally opposed to two things mutually opposite are themselves opposed to each other; as we may see by example. Water is opposed to fire; therefore also the forces destructive of these are opposed to each other; if moistness is apt to extinguish fire, and dryness is apt to destroy water, the opposition of fire to water is continued in those qualities themselves which are contrary to them; so that dryness is plainly opposed to moistness. Thus, when beginning and end have to be placed (diametrically) opposite each other 236 , the terms contrary to these also contradict each other in their meaning, I mean, the negations of end and of beginning. Well, then, if they determine that one only of these negations is indicative of the being (to repeat my former assertion), they will bear evidence to half only of Gods existence, confining it to the absence of beginning, and refusing to extend it to the absence of end; whereas, if they import both into their definition of it, they will actually exhibit it so as a combination of contradictions in the way that has been said; for these two negations of beginning and of end, by virtue of the contradiction existing between beginning and end, will part it asunder. So their Deity will be found to be a sort of patchwork compound, a conglomerate of contradictions.
But there is not, neither shall there be, in the Church of God a teaching such as that, which can make One who is single and incomposite not only multiform and patchwork, but also the combination of opposites. The simplicity of the True Faith assumes God to be that which He is, viz., incapable of being grasped by any term, or any idea, or any other device of our apprehension, remaining beyond the reach not only of the human but of the angelic and of all supramundane intelligence, unthinkable, unutterable, above all expression in words, having but one name that can represent His proper nature, the single name of being Above every name 237 ; which is granted to the Only-begotten also, because “all that the Father hath is the Sons.” The orthodox theory allows these words, I mean “Ungenerate,” “Endless,” to be indicative of Gods eternity, but not of His being; so that “Ungenerate” means that no source or cause lies beyond Him, and “Endless” means that His kingdom will be brought to a standstill in no end. “Thou art the same,” the prophet says, “and Thy years shall not fail 238 ,” showing by “art” that He subsists out of no cause, and by the words following, that the blessedness of His life is ceaseless and unending.
But, perhaps, some one amongst even very religious people will pause over these investigations of ours upon Gods eternity, and say that it will be difficult from what we have said for the Faith in the Only-begotten to escape unhurt. Of two unacceptable doctrines, he will say, our account 239 must inevitably be brought into contact with one. Either we shall make out that the Son is Ungenerate, which is absurd; or else we shall deny Him Eternity altogether, a denial which that fraternity of blasphemers make their specialty. For if Eternity is characterized by having no beginning and end, it is inevitable either that we must be impious and deny the Son Eternity, or that we must be led in our secret thoughts about Him into the idea of Ungeneracy. What, then, shall we answer? That if, in conceiving of the Father before the Son on the single score of causation, we inserted any mark of time before the subsistence of the Only-begotten, the belief which we have in the Sons eternity might with reason be said to be endangered. But, as it is, the Eternal nature, equally in the case of the Fathers and the Sons life, and, as well, in what we believe about the Holy Ghost, admits not of the thought that it will ever cease to be; for where time is not, the “when” is annihilated with it. And if the Son, always app. C pearing with the thought of the Father, is always found in the category of existence, what danger is there in owning the Eternity of the Only-begotten, Who “hath neither beginning of days, nor end of life 240 .” For as He is Light from Light, Life from Life, Good from Good, and Wise, Just, Strong, and all else in the same way, so most certainly is He Eternal from Eternal.
But a lover of controversial wrangling catches up the argument, on the ground that such a sequence would make Him Ungenerate from Ungenerate. Let him, however, cool his combative heart, and insist upon the proper expressions, for in confessing His coming from the Father he has banished all ideas of Ungeneracy as regards the Only-begotten; and there will be then no danger in pronouncing Him Eternal and yet not Ungenerate. On the one hand, because the existence of the Son is not marked by any intervals of time, and the infinitude of His life flows back before the ages and onward beyond them in an all-pervading tide, He is properly addressed with the title of Eternal; again, on the other hand, because the thought of Him as Son in fact and title gives us the thought of the Father as inalienably joined to it, He thereby stands clear of an ungenerate existence being imputed to Him, while He is always with a Father Who always is, as those inspired words of our Master expressed it, “bound by way of generation to His Fathers Ungeneracy.” Our account of the Holy Ghost will be the same also; the difference is only in the place assigned in order. For as the Son is bound to the Father, and, while deriving existence from Him, is not substantially after Him, so again the Holy Spirit is in touch with the Only-begotten, Who is conceived of as before the Spirits subsistence only in the theoretical light of a cause 241 . Extensions in time find no admittance in the Eternal Life; so that, when we have removed the thought of cause, the Holy Trinity in no single way exhibits discord with itself; and to It is glory due.
from prophecy. Psalm x. 16. Βασιλεύσει Κύριος εἰς τὸν αἰ& 242·να, καὶ εἰς τὸν αἰ& 242·να τοῦ αἰ& 242·νος· Psalm xxix. 10. καθιεῖται Κύριος βασιλεὺς εἰς τὸν αἰ& 242·να· Psalm lxxiv. 12. ῾Ο δὲ θεὸς βασιλεὺς ἡμῶν πρὸ αἰ& 242·νος.XCVIII:228
ἑνός τινος τούτων.XCVIII:229
οὐ περὶ τὸ αΐδιον θεωρεῖσθαιXCVIII:231
Cf. Heb. xi. 1, of faith, ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις πραγμάτωνXCVIII:232
Luke vii. 32.XCVIII:233
κατὰ διάμετρον ἀλλήλοις ἀντικειμένων, i.e. Contradictories in Logic.XCVIII:234
As in A or E, both of which have the Particular below them (I or O) as a half-way to the contrary Universal. Thus—
A I E All men are mortal. Some men are mortal. No men are mortal. E O A
No men are mortal. Some men are not mortal. All men are mortal.
But between A and O, E and I, there is no half-way.XCIX:235
Beginning (Contraries) Beginningless.
Endless (Contraries) Ending.XCIX:236
ὑπεναντίως διακειμένων. The same term has been used to express the opposition between Ungenerate and Generated: so that it means both Oppositions, i.e. Contraries and Contradictories.XCIX:237
Philip. ii. 9. ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα.XCIX:238
Psalm cii. 27.XCIX:239
Adopting ὁ λόγος from the Venice Cod. (ἑνὶ πάντως ὁ λόγος συνενεχθήσεται). The verb cannot be impersonal: and τις above, the only available nominative, does not suit the sense very well.
Gregory constructs this scheme of Opposition after the analogy of Logical Opposition. Beginning is not so opposed to Beginning-less, as it is to Ending, because with the latter there is no half-way, i.e. no word of definition in common.C:240
Heb. vii. 3.C:241
τὸν τῆς αἰτίας λόγον. This is much more probably the meaning, because of before above, than “on the score of the different kind of causation” (Non omne quod procedat nascitur, quamvis omne procedat quod nascitur. S. August.). It is a direct testimony to the Filioque belief. “The Spirit comes forth with the Word, not begotten with Him, but being with and accompanying and proceeding from Him.” Theodoret. Serm. II.
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