Perhaps that passage in the Proverbs might be brought forward against us which the champions of heresy are wont to cite as a testimony that the Lord was created—the passage, “The Lord created me in the beginning of His ways, for His works 534 .” For because these words are spoken by Wisdom, and the Lord is called Wisdom by the great Paul 535 , they allege this passage as though the Only-begotten God Himself, under the name of Wisdom, acknowledges that He was created by the Maker of all things. I imagine, however, that the godly sense of this utterance is clear to moderately attentive and painstaking persons, so that, in the case of those who are instructed in the dark sayings of the Proverbs, no injury is done to the doctrine of the faith. Yet I think it well briefly to discuss what is to be said on this subject, that when the intention of this passage is more clearly explained, the heretical doctrine may have no room for boldness of speech on the ground that it has evidence in the writing of the inspired author. It is universally admitted that the name of “proverb,” in its scriptural use, is not applied with regard to the evident sense, but is used with a view to some hidden meaning, as the Gospel thus gives the name of “proverbs 536 ” to dark and obscure sayings; so that the “proverb,” if one were to set forth the interpretation of the name by a p. CXXXVIII definition, is a form of speech which, by means of one set of ideas immediately presented, points to something else which is hidden, or a form of speech which does not point out the aim of the thought directly, but gives its instruction by an indirect signification. Now to this book such a name is especially attached as a title, and the force of the appellation is at once interpreted in the preface by the wise Solomon. For he does not call the sayings in this book “maxims,” or “counsels,” or “clear instruction,” but “proverbs,” and proceeds to add an explanation. What is the force of the signification of this word? “To know,” he tells us, “wisdom and instruction 537 ”; not setting before us the course of instruction in wisdom according to the method common in other kinds of learning; he bids a man, on the other hand 538 , first to become wise by previous training, and then so to receive the instruction conveyed by proverb. For he tells us that there are “words of wisdom” which reveal their aim “by a turn 539 .” For that which is not directly understood needs some turn for the apprehension of the thing concealed; and as Paul, when about to exchange the literal sense of the history for figurative contemplation, says that he will “change his voice 540 ,” so here the manifestation of the hidden meaning is called by Solomon a “turn of the saying,” as if the beauty of the thoughts could not be perceived, unless one were to obtain a view of the revealed brightness of the thought by turning the apparent meaning of the saying round about, as happens with the plumage with which the peacock is decked behind. For in him, one who sees the back of his plumage quite despises it for its want of beauty and tint, as a mean sight; but if one were to turn it round and show him the other view of it, he then sees the varied painting of nature, the half-circle shining in the midst with its dye of purple, and the golden mist round the circle ringed round and glistening at its edge with its many rainbow hues. Since then there is no beauty in what is obvious in the saying (for “all the glory of the kings daughter is within 541 ,” shining with its hidden ornament in golden thoughts), Solomon of necessity suggests to the readers of this book “the turn of the saying,” that thereby they may “understand a parable and a dark saying, words of the wise and riddles 542 .” Now as this proverbial teaching embraces these elements, a reasonable man will not receive any passage cited from this book, be it never so clear and intelligible at first sight, without examination and inspection; for assuredly there is some mystical contemplation underlying even those passages which seem manifest. And if the obvious passages of the work necessarily demand a somewhat minute scrutiny, how much more do those passages require it where even immediate apprehension presents to us much that is obscure and difficult?
Let us then begin our examination from the context of the passage in question, and see whether the reading of the neighbouring clauses gives any clear sense. The discourse describes Wisdom as uttering certain sayings in her own person. Every student knows what is said in the passage 543 where Wisdom makes counsel her dwelling-place, and calls to her knowledge and understanding, and says that she has as a possession strength and prudence (while she is herself called intelligence), and that she walks in the ways of righteousness and has her conversation in the ways of just judgment, and declares that by her kings reign, and princes write the decree of equity, and monarchs win possession of their own land. Now every one will see that the considerate reader will receive none of the phrases quoted without scrutiny according to the obvious sense. For if by her kings are advanced to their rule, and if from her monarchy derives its strength, it follows of necessity that Wisdom is displayed to us as a king-maker, and transfers to herself the blame of those who bear evil rule in their kingdoms. But we know of kings who in truth advance under the guidance of Wisdom to the rule that has no end—the poor in spirit, whose possession is the kingdom of heaven 544 , as the Lord promises, Who is the Wisdom of the Gospel: and such also we recognize as the princes who bear rule over their passions, who are not enslaved by the dominion of sin, who inscribe the decree of equity upon their own life, as it were upon a tablet. Thus, too, that laudable despotism which changes, by the alliance of Wisdom, the democracy of the passions into the monarchy of reason, brings into bondage what were running unrestrained into mischievous liberty, I mean all carnal and earthly thoughts: for “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit 545 ,” and rebels against the government of the soul. Of this land, then, such a monarch wins possession, whereof he was, according to the first creation, appointed as ruler by the Word.
Seeing then that all reasonable men admit that these expressions are to be read in such a sense as this, rather than in that which appears in the words at first sight, it is consequently probable that the phrase we are discussing, being written in close connection with them, is not received by prudent men absolutely and p. CXXXIX without examination. “If I declare to you,” she says, “the things that happen day by day, I will remember to recount the things from everlasting: the Lord created me 546 .” What, pray, has the slave of the literal text, who sits listening closely to the sound of the syllables, like the Jews, to say to this phrase? Does not the conjunction, “If I declare to you the things that happen day by day, the Lord created me,” ring strangely in the ears of those who listen attentively? as though, if she did not declare the things that happen day by day, she will by consequence deny absolutely that she was created. For he who says, “If I declare, I was created,” leaves you by his silence to understand, “I was not created, if I do not declare.” “The Lord created me,” she says, “in the beginning of His ways, for His works. He set me up from everlasting, in the beginning, before He made the earth, before He made the depths, before the springs of the waters came forth, before the mountains were settled, before all hills, He begetteth me 547 .” What new order of the formation of a creature is this? First it is created, and after that it is set up, and then it is begotten. “The Lord made,” she says, “lands, even uninhabited, and the inhabited extremes of the earth under heaven 548 .” Of what Lord does she speak as the maker of land both uninhabited and inhabited? Of Him surely, who made wisdom. For both the one saying and the other are uttered by the same person; both that which says, “the Lord created me,” and that which adds, “the Lord made land, even uninhabited.” Thus the Lord will be the maker equally of both, of Wisdom herself, and of the inhabited and uninhabited land. What then are we to make of the saying, “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made 549 ”? For if one and the same Lord creates both Wisdom (which they advise us to understand of the Son), and also the particular things which are included in the Creation, how does the sublime John speak truly, when he says that all things were made by Him? For this Scripture gives a contrary sound to that of the Gospel, in ascribing to the Creator of Wisdom the making of land uninhabited and inhabited. So, too, with all that follows 550 :—she speaks of a Throne of God set apart upon the winds, and says that the clouds above are made strong, and the fountains under the heaven sure; and the context contains many similar expressions, demanding in a marked degree that interpretation by a minute and clear-sighted intelligence, which is to be observed in the passages already quoted. What is the throne that is set apart upon the winds? What is the security of the fountains under the heaven? How are the clouds above made strong? If any one should interpret the passage with reference to visible objects 551 , he will find that the facts are at considerable variance with the words. For who knows not that the extreme parts of the earth under heaven, by excess in one direction or in the other, either by being too close to the suns heat, or by being too far removed from it, are uninhabitable; some being excessively dry and parched, other parts superabounding in moisture, and chilled by frost, and that only so much is inhabited as is equally removed from the extreme of each of the two opposite conditions? But if it is the midst of the earth that is occupied by man, how does the proverb say that the extremes of the earth under heaven are inhabited? Again, what strength could one perceive in the clouds, that that passage may have a true sense, according to its apparent intention, which says that the clouds above have been made strong? For the nature of cloud is a sort of rather slight vapour diffused through the air, which, being light, by reason of its great subtilty, is borne on the breath of the air, and, when forced together by compression, falls down through the air that held it up, in the form of a heavy drop of rain. What then is the strength in these, which offer no resistance to the touch? For in the cloud you may discern the slight and easily dissolved character of air. Again, how is the Divine throne set apart on the winds that are by nature unstable? And as for her saying at first that she is “created,” finally, that she is “begotten,” and between these two utterances that she is “set up,” what account of this could any one profess to give that would agree with the common and obvious sense? The point also on which a doubt was previously raised in our argument, the declaring, that is, of the things that happen day by day, and the remembering to recount the things from everlasting, is, as it were, a condition of Wisdoms assertion that she was created by God.
Thus, since it has been clearly shown by what has been said, that no part of this passage is such that its language should be received without examination and reflection, it may be well, perhaps, as with the rest, so not to interpret the text, “The Lord created me,” according to that sense which immediately presents itself to us from the phrase, but to seek with all attention and care what is to be piously understood from the utterance. Now, to apprehend perfectly the sense of the passage before us, would seem to belong only to those who search out the depths by the aid of the Holy Spirit, and know how to speak in the Spirit the divine p. CXL mysteries: our account, however, will only busy itself with the passage in question so far as not to leave its drift entirely unconsidered. What, then, is our account? It is not, I think, possible that that wisdom which arises in any man from divine illumination should come alone, apart from the other gifts of the Spirit, but there must needs enter in therewith also the grace of prophecy. For if the apprehension of the truth of the things that are is the peculiar power of wisdom, and prophecy includes the clear knowledge of the things that are about to be, one would not be possessed of the gift of wisdom in perfection, if he did not further include in his knowledge, by the aid of prophecy, the future likewise. Now, since it is not mere human wisdom that is claimed for himself by Solomon, who says, “God hath taught me wisdom 552 ,” and who, where he says “all my words are spoken from God 553 ,” refers to God all that is spoken by himself, it might be well in this part of the Proverbs to trace out the prophecy that is mingled with his wisdom. But we say that in the earlier part of the book, where he says that “Wisdom has builded herself a house 554 ,” he refers darkly in these words to the preparation of the flesh of the Lord: for the trite Wisdom did not dwell in anothers building, but built for Itself that dwelling-place from the body of the Virgin. Here, however, he adds to his discourse 555 that which of both is made one—of the house, I mean, and of the Wisdom which built the house, that is to say, of the Humanity and of the Divinity that was commingled with man 556 ; and to each of these he applies suitable and fitting terms, as you may see to be the case also in the Gospels, where the discourse, proceeding as befits its subject, employs the more lofty and divine phraseology to indicate the Godhead, and that which is humble and lowly to indicate the Manhood. So we may see in this passage also Solomon prophetically moved, and delivering to us in its fulness the mystery of the Incarnation 557 . For we speak first of the eternal power and energy of Wisdom; and here the evangelist, to a certain extent, agrees with him in his very words. For as the latter in his comprehensive 558 phrase proclaimed Him to be the cause and Maker of all things, so Solomon says that by Him were made those individual things which are included in the whole. For he tells us that God by Wisdom established the earth, and in understanding prepared the heavens, and all that follows these in order, keeping to the same sense: and that he might not seem to pass over without mention the gift of excellence in men, he again goes on to say, speaking in the person of Wisdom, the words we mentioned a little earlier; I mean, “I made counsel my dwelling-place, and knowledge, and understanding 559 ,” and all that relates to instruction in intellect and knowledge.
After recounting these and the like matters, he proceeds to introduce also his teaching concerning the dispensation with regard to man, why the Word was made flesh. For seeing that it is clear to all that God Who is over all has in Himself nothing as a thing created or imported, not power nor wisdom, nor light, nor word, nor life, nor truth, nor any at all of those things which are contemplated in the fulness of the Divine bosom (all which things the Only-begotten God is, Who is in the bosom of the Father 560 , the name of “creation” could not properly be applied to any of those things which are contemplated in God, so that the Son Who is in the Father, or the Word Who is in the Beginning, or the Light Who is in the Light, or the Life Who is in the Life, or the Wisdom Who is in the Wisdom, should say, “the Lord created me.” For if the Wisdom of God is created (and Christ is the Power of God and the Wisdom of God 561 ), God, it would follow, has His Wisdom as a thing imported, receiving afterwards, as the result of making, something which He had not at first. But surely He Who is in the bosom of the Father does not permit us to conceive the bosom of the Father as ever void of Himself. He Who is in the beginning is surely not of the things which come to be in that bosom from without, but being the fulness of all good, He is conceived as being always in the Father, not waiting to arise in Him as the result of creation, so that the Father should not be conceived as at any time void of good, but He Who is conceived as being in the eternity of the Fathers Godhead is always in Him, being Power, and Life, and Truth, and Wisdom, and the like. Accordingly the words “created me” do not proceed from the Divine and immortal nature, but from that which was commingled with it in the Incarnation from our created nature. How comes it then that the same, called wisdom, and understanding, and intelligence, establishes the earth, and prepares the heavens, and breaks up the deeps, and yet is here “created for the bep. CXLI ginning of His works 562 ”? Such a dispensation, he tells us, is not set forward without great cause. But since men, after receiving the commandment of the things we should observe, cast away by disobedience the grace of memory, and became forgetful, for this cause, “that I may declare to you the things that happen day by day for your salvation, and may put you in mind by recounting the things from everlasting, which you have forgotten (for it is no new gospel that I now proclaim, but I labour at your restoration to your first estate),—for this cause I was created, Who ever am, and need no creation in order to be; so that I am the beginning of ways for the works of God, that is for men. For the first way being destroyed, there must needs again be consecrated for the wanderers a new and living way 563 , even I myself, Who am the way.” And this view, that the sense of “created me” has reference to the Humanity, the divine apostle more clearly sets before us by his own words when he charges us, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ 564 ,” and also where (using the same word) he says, “Put on the new man which after God is created. 565 ” For if the garment of salvation is one, and that is Christ, one cannot say that “the new man, which after God is created,” is any other than Christ, but it is clear that he who has “put on Christ” has “put on the new man which after God is created.” For actually He alone is properly named “the new man,” Who did not appear in the life of man by the known and ordinary ways of nature, but in His case alone creation, in a strange and special form, was instituted anew. For this reason he names the same Person, when regarding the wonderful manner of His birth 566 , “the new man, which after God is created,” and, when looking to the Divine nature, which was blended 567 in the creation of this “new man,” he calls Him “Christ”: so that the two names (I mean the name of “Christ” and the name of “the new man which after God is created”) are applied to one and the same Person.
Since, then, Christ is Wisdom, let the intelligent reader consider our opponents account of the matter, and our own, and judge which is the more pious, which better preserves in the text those conceptions which are befitting the Divine nature; whether that which declares the Creator and Lord of all to have been made, and places Him on a level with the creation that is in bondage, or that rather which looks to the Incarnation, and preserves the due proportion with regard to our conception alike of the Divinity and of the Humanity, bearing in mind that the great Paul testifies in favour of our view, who sees in the “new man” creation, and in the true Wisdom the power of creation. And, further, the order of the passage agrees with this view of the doctrine it conveys. For if the “beginning of the ways” had not been created among us, the foundation of those ages for which we look would not have been laid; nor would the Lord have become for us “the Father of the age to come 568 ,” had not a Child been born to us, according to Isaiah, and His name been called, both all the other titles which the prophet gives Him, and withal “The Father of the age to come.” Thus first there came to pass the mystery wrought in virginity, and the dispensation of the Passion, and then the wise master-builders of the Faith laid the foundation of the Faith: and this is Christ, the Father of the age to come, on Whom is built the life of the ages that have no end. And when this has come to pass, to the end that in each individual believer may be wrought the divine decrees of the Gospel law, and the varied gifts of the Holy Spirits—(all which the divine Scripture figuratively names, with a suitable significance, “mountains” and “hills,” calling righteousness the “mountains” of God, and speaking of His judgments as “deeps 569 ,” and giving the name of “earth” to that which is sown by the Word and brings forth abundant fruit; or in that sense in which we are taught by David to understand peace by the “mountains,” and righteousness by the “hills 570 ”),—Wisdom is begotten in the faithful, and the saying is found true. For He Who is in those who have received Him, is not yet begotten in the unbelieving. Thus, that these things may be wrought in us, their Maker must be begotten in us. For if Wisdom is begotten in us, then in each of us is prepared by God both land, and land uninhabited,—the land, that which receives the sowing and the ploughing of the Word, the uninhabited land, the heart cleared of evil inhabitants,—and thus our dwelling will be upon the extreme parts of the earth. For since in the earth some is depth, and some is surface, when a man is not buried in the earth, or, as it were, dwelling in a cave by reason of thinking of things beneath (as is the life of those who live in sin, who “stick fast in the deep mire where no ground is 571 ,” whose life is truly a pit, as the Psalm says, “let not the pit shut her mouth upon me 572 ”)—if, I say, a man, when Wisdom is begotten in him, thinks of the things that are above, and touches the earth only so much as he needs must, such a man inhabits “the extreme parts of the earth under heavens,” not plunging deep in earthly thought; with p. CXLII him Wisdom is present, as he prepares in himself heaven instead of earth: and when, by carrying out the precepts into act, he makes strong for himself the instruction of the clouds above, and, enclosing the great and widespread sea of wickedness, as it were with a beach, by his exact conversation, hinders the troubled water from proceeding forth from his mouth; and if by the grace of instruction he be made to dwell among the fountains, pouring forth the stream of his discourse with sure caution, that he may not give to any man for drink the turbid fluid of destruction in place of pure water, and if he be lifted up above all earthly paths and become aerial in his life, advancing towards that spiritual life which he speaks of as “the winds,” so that he is set apart to be a throne of Him Who is seated in him (as was Paul separated for the Gospel to be a chosen vessel to bear the name of God, who, as it is elsewhere expressed, was made a throne, bearing Him that sat upon him)—when, I say, he is established in these and like ways, so that he who has already fully made up in himself the land inhabited by God, now rejoices in gladness that he is made the father, not of wild and senseless beasts, but of men (and these would be godlike thoughts, which are fashioned according to the Divine image, by faith in Him Who has been created and begotten, and set up in us;—and faith, according to the words of Paul, is conceived as the foundation whereby wisdom is begotten in the faithful, and all the things that I have spoken of are wrought)—then, I say, the life of the man who has been thus established is truly blessed, for Wisdom is at all times in agreement with him, and rejoices with him who daily finds gladness in her alone. For the Lord rejoices in His saints, and there is joy in heaven over those who are being saved, and Christ, as the father, makes a feast for his rescued son. Though we have spoken hurriedly of these matters, let the careful man read the original text of the Holy Scripture, and fit its dark sayings to our reflections, testing whether it is not far better to consider that the meaning of these dark sayings has this reference, and not that which is attributed to it at first sight. For it is not possible that the theology of John should be esteemed true, which recites that all created things are the work of the Word, if in this passage He Who created Wisdom be believed to have made together with her all other things also. For in that case all things will not be by her, but she will herself be counted with the things that were made.
And that this is the reference of the enigmatical sayings is clearly revealed by the passage that follows, which says, “Now therefore hearken unto me, my son: and blessed is he that keepeth my ways 573 ,” meaning of course by “ways” the approaches to virtue, the beginning of which is the possession of Wisdom. Who, then, who looks to the divine Scripture, will not agree that the enemies of the truth are at once impious and slanderous?—impious, because, so far as in them lies, they degrade the unspeakable glory of the Only-begotten God, and unite it with the creation, striving to show that the Lord Whose power over all things is only-begotten, is one of the things that were made by Him: slanderous, because, though Scripture itself gives them no ground for such opinions, they arm themselves against piety as though they drew their evidence from that source. Now since they can by no means show any passage of the Holy Scriptures which leads us to look upon the pre-temporal glory of the Only-begotten God in conjunction with the subject creation, it is well, these points being proved, that the tokens of victory over falsehood should be adduced as testimony to the doctrine of godliness, and that sweeping aside these verbal systems of theirs by which they make the creature answer to the creator, and the thing made to the maker, we should confess, as the Gospel from heaven teaches us, the well-beloved Son—not a bastard, not a counterfeit; but that, accepting with the name of Son all that naturally belongs to that name, we should say that He Who is of Very God is Very God, and that we should believe of Him all that we behold in the Father, because They are One, and in the one is conceived the other, not overpassing Him, not inferior to Him, not altered or subject to change in any Divine or excellent property.
Prov. viii. 22 (LXX.). On this passage see also Book II. §10.CXXXVII:535 CXXXVII:536
E. g.S. John xvii. 25.CXXXVIII:537 CXXXVIII:538 CXXXVIII:539
Cf. Prov. i. 3 (LXX.).CXXXVIII:540 CXXXVIII:541
Ps. xlv. 13 (LXX.).CXXXVIII:542
Prov. i. 6 (LXX.).CXXXVIII:543
Compare with what follows Prov. viii. 12, sqq. (LXX.).CXXXVIII:544
S. Matt. v. 3CXXXVIII:545 CXXXIX:546
Prov. viii. 21-22 (LXX.).CXXXIX:547
Prov. viii. 22 sqq. (LXX.).CXXXIX:548
Prov. viii. 26 (LXX.).CXXXIX:549
S. John i. 3CXXXIX:550
Cf. Prov. viii. 27-8 (LXX.).CXXXIX:551 CXL:552
Prov. xxx. 3 (LXX. ch. xxiv.).CXL:553
Prov. xxxi. 1 (LXX. ch. xxiv.). The ordinary reading in the LXX. seems to be ὑπὸ θεοῦ, while Oehler retains in his text of Greg. Nyss. the ἀπὸ θεοῦ of the Paris editions.CXL:554
Prov. ix. 1, which seems to be spoken of as “earlier” in contrast, not with the main passage under examination, but with those just cited.CXL:555
If προστίθησι be the right reading, it would almost seem that Gregory had forgotten the order of the passages, and supposed Prov. viii. 22 to have been written after Prov. ix. 1. To read προτίθησι, (“presents to us”) would get rid of this difficulty, but it may be that Gregory only intends to point out that the idea of the union of the two natures, from which the “communicatio idiomatum” results, is distinct from that of the preparation for the Nativity, not to insist upon the order in which, as he conceives, they are set forth in the book of Proverbs.CXL:556 CXL:557 CXL:558 CXL:559
Cf. Prov. viii. 12 (LXX.).CXL:560
S. John i. 18CXL:561 CXLI:562
The quotation is an inexact reproduction of Prov. viii. 22 (LXX.).CXLI:563
Cf. Heb. x. 20CXLI:564 CXLI:565 CXLI:566 CXLI:567 CXLI:568
Is. ix. 6 (LXX.). “The Everlasting Father” of the English Version.CXLI:569
Cf. Ps. xxxvi. 6CXLI:570 CXLI:571 CXLI:572 CXLII:573
Prov. viii. 32 (not verbally agreeing with the LXX.).
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