Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: Gregory then makes an explanation at length touching the eternal Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
§2. Gregory then makes an explanation at length touching the eternal Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Since then this doctrine is put forth by the Truth itself, it follows that anything which the inventors of pestilent heresies devise besides to subvert this Divine utterance,—as, for example, calling the Father “Maker” and “Creator” of the Son instead of “Father,” and the Son a “result,” a “creature,” a “product,” instead of “Son,” and the Holy Spirit the “creature of a creature,” and the “product of a product,” instead of His proper title the “Spirit,” and whatever those who fight against God are pleased to say of Him,—all such fancies we term a denial and violation of the Godhead revealed to us in this doctrine. For once for all we have learned from the Lord, through Whom comes the transformation of our nature from mortality to immortality,—from Him, I say, we have learned to what we ought to look p. CII with the eyes of our understanding,—that is, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We say that it is a terrible and soul-destroying thing to misinterpret these Divine utterances and to devise in their stead assertions to subvert them,—assertions pretending to correct God the Word, Who appointed that we should maintain these statements as part of our faith. For each of these titles understood in its natural sense becomes for Christians a rule of truth and a law of piety. For while there are many other names by which Deity is indicated in the Historical Books, in the Prophets and in the Law, our Master Christ passes by all these and commits to us these titles as better able to bring us to the faith about the Self-Existent, declaring that it suffices us to cling to the title, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” in order to attain to the apprehension of Him Who is absolutely Existent, Who is one and yet not one. In regard to essence He is one, wherefore the Lord ordained that we should look to one Name: but in regard to the attributes indicative of the Persons, our belief in Him is distinguished into belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost 249 ; He is divided without separation, and united without confusion. For when we hear the title “Father” we apprehend the meaning to be this, that the name is not understood with reference to itself alone, but also by its special signification indicates the relation to the Son. For the term “Father” would have no meaning apart by itself, if “Son” were not connoted by the utterance of the word “Father.” When, then, we learnt the name “Father” we were taught at the same time, by the selfsame title, faith also in the Son. Now since Deity by its very nature is permanently and immutably the same in all that pertains to its essence, nor did it at any time fail to be anything that it now is, nor will it at any future time be anything that it now is not, and since He Who is the very Father was named Father by the Word, and since in the Father the Son is implied,—since these things are so, we of necessity believe that He Who admits no change or alteration in His nature was always entirely what He is now, or, if there is anything which He was not, that He assuredly is not now. Since then He is named Father by the very Word, He assuredly always was Father, and is and will be even as He was. For surely it is not lawful in speaking of the Divine and unimpaired Essence to deny that what is excellent always belonged to It. For if He was not always what He now is, He certainly changed either from the better to the worse or from the worse to the better, and of these assertions the impiety is equal either way, whichever statement is made concerning the Divine nature. But in fact the Deity is incapable of change and alteration. So, then, everything that is excellent and good is always contemplated in the fountain of excellency. But “the Only-begotten God, Who is in the bosom of the Father 250 ” is excellent, and beyond all excellency:—mark you, He says, “Who is in the bosom of the Father,” not “Who came to be” there.
Well then, it has been demonstrated by these proofs that the Son is from all eternity to be contemplated in the Father, in Whom He is, being Life and Light and Truth, and every noble name and conception—to say that the Father ever existed by Himself apart from these attributes is a piece of the utmost impiety and infatuation. For if the Son, as the Scripture saith, is the Power of God, and Wisdom, and Truth, and Light, and Sanctification, and Peace, and Life, and the like, then before the Son existed, according to the view of the heretics, these things also had no existence at all. And if these things had no existence they must certainly conceive the bosom of the Father to have been devoid of such excellences. To the end, then, that the Father might not be conceived as destitute of the excellences which are His own, and that the doctrine might not run wild into this extravagance, the right faith concerning the Son is necessarily included in our Lords utterance with the contemplation of the eternity of the Father. And for this reason He passes over all those names which are employed to indicate the surpassing excellence of the Divine nature 251 , and delivers to us as part of our profession of faith the title of “Father” as better suited to indicate the truth, being a title which, as has been said, by its relative sense connotes with itself the Son, while the Son, Who is in the Father, always is what He essentially is, as has been said already, because the Deity by Its very nature does not admit of augmentation. For It does not perceive any other good outside of Itself, by participation in which It could acquire any accession, but is always immutable, neither casting away what It has, nor acquiring what It has not: for none of Its properties are such as to be cast away. And if there is anything whatsoever blessed, unsullied, true and good, associated with Him and in Him, we see of necessity that the good and holy Spirit must belong to Him 252 , not p. CIII by way of accretion. That Spirit is indisputably a princely Spirit 253 , a quickening Spirit, the controlling and sanctifying force of all creation, the Spirit that “worketh all in all” as He wills 254 . Thus we conceive no gap between the anointed Christ and His anointing, between the King and His sovereignty, between Wisdom and the Spirit of Wisdom, between Truth and the Spirit of Truth, between Power and the Spirit of Power, but as there is contemplated from all eternity in the Father the Son, Who is Wisdom and Truth, and Counsel, and Might, and Knowledge, and Understanding, so there is also contemplated in Him the Holy Spirit, Who is the Spirit of Wisdom, and of Truth, and of Counsel, and of Understanding, and all else that the Son is and is called. For which reason we say that to the holy disciples the mystery of godliness was committed in a form expressing at once union and distinction,—that we should believe on the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. For the differentiation of the subsistences 255 makes the distinction of Persons 256 clear and free from confusion, while the one Name standing in the forefront of the declaration of the Faith clearly expounds to us the unity of essence of the Persons 257 Whom the Faith declares,—I mean, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. For by these appellations we are taught not a difference of nature, but only the special attributes that mark the subsistences 258 , so that we know that neither is the Father the Son, nor the Son the Father, nor the Holy Spirit either the Father or the Son, and recognize each by the distinctive mark of His Personal Subsistence 259 , in illimitable perfection, at once contemplated by Himself and not divided from that with Which He is connected.
Or, somewhat more literally, “He admits of distinction into belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, being divided,” &c.CII:250
S. John i. 18CII:251
That nature which transcends our conceptions (ὑπερκειμένη).CII:252
Or “be conjoined with such attribute:” αὐτῷ probably refers, like περὶ αὐτὸν καὶ ἐν αὐτῷ just above, to Θεός or τὸ Θεῖον, but it may conceivably refer to εἴ τι μακάριον, κ.τ.λ.CIII:253
ἡγεμονικόν. Cf. Ps. li. 12 in LXX. (Spiritus principalis in Vulg., “free spirit” in the “Authorised” Version, and in the Prayer-book Version).CIII:254
Cf. 1 Cor. xii. 6.CIII:255
Next: Gregory proceeds to discuss the relative force of the unnameable name of the Holy Trinity and the mutual relation of the Persons, and moreover the unknowable character of the essence, and the condescension on His part towards us, His generation of the Virgin, and His second coming, the resurrection from the dead and future retribution.
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