p. CLII Book IV.
§1. The fourth book discusses the account of the nature of the “product of generation,” and of the passionless generation of the Only-Begotten, and the text, “In the beginning was the Word,” and the birth of the Virgin.
It is, perhaps, time to examine in our discourse that account of the nature of the “product of generation” which is the subject of his ridiculous philosophizing. He says, then (I will repeat word for word his beautifully composed argument against the truth):—“Who is so indifferent and inattentive to the nature of things as not to know, that of all bodies which are on earth, in their generating and being generated, in their activity and passivity, those which generate are found on examination to communicate their own essence, and those which are generated naturally receive the same, inasmuch as the material cause and the supply which flows in from without are common to both; and the things begotten are generated by passion, and those which beget, naturally have an action which is not pure, by reason of their nature being linked with passions of all kinds?” See in what fitting style he discusses in his speculation the pre-temporal generation of the Word of God that was in the beginning! he who closely examines the nature of things, bodies on the earth, and material causes, and passion of things generating and generated, and all the rest of it,—at which any man of understanding would blush, even were it said of ourselves, if it were our nature, subject as it is to passion, which is thus exposed to scorn by his words. Yet such is our authors brilliant enquiry into nature with regard to the Only-begotten God. Let us lay aside complaints, however, (for what will sighing do to help us to overthrow the malice of our enemy?) and make generally known, as best we may, the sense of what we have quoted—concerning what sort of “product” the speculation was proposed,—that which exists according to the flesh, or that which is to be contemplated in the Only-begotten God.
As the speculation is two-fold, concerning that life which is Divine, simple, and immaterial, and concerning that existence which is material and subject to passion, and as the word “generation” is used of both, we must needs make our distinction sharp and clear, lest the ambiguity of the term “generation” should in any way pervert the truth. Since, then, the entrance into being through the flesh is material, and is promoted by passion, while that which is bodiless, impalpable, without form, and free from any material commixture, is alien from every condition that admits of passion, it is proper to consider about what sort of generation we are enquiring—that which is pure and Divine, or that which is subject to passion and pollution. Now, no one, I suppose, would deny that with regard to the Only-begotten God, it is pre-temporal existence that is proposed for the consideration 605 of Eunomius discourse. Why, then, does he linger over this account of corporeal nature, defiling our nature by the loathsome presentment of his argument, and setting forth openly the passions that gather round human generation, while he deserts the subject set before him? for it was not about this animal generation, that is accomplished by means of the flesh, that we had any need to learn. Who is so foolish, when he looks on himself, and considers human nature in himself, as to seek another interpreter of his own nature, and to need to be told all the unavoidable passions which are included in the thought of bodily generation—that he who begets is affected in one way, that which is begotten in another—so that the man should learn from this instruction that he himself begets by means of passion, and that passion was the beginning of his own generation? For it is all the same whether these things are passed over or spoken, and whether one publishes these secrets at length, or keeps hidden in silence things that should be left unsaid, we are not ignorant of the fact that our nature progresses by way of passion. But what we are seeking is that a clear account should be given of the exalted and unspeakable existence of the Only-begotten, whereby He is believed to be of the Father.
Now, while this is the enquiry set before him, our new theologian enriches his discourse with p. CLIII “flowing,” and “passion,” and “material cause,” and some “action” which “is not pure” from pollution, and all other phrases of this kind 606 . I know not under what influence it is that he who says, in the superiority of his wisdom, that nothing incomprehensible is left beyond his own knowledge, and promises to explain the unspeakable generation of the Son, leaves the question before him, and plunges like an eel into the slimy mud of his arguments, after the fashion of that Nicodemus who came by night, who, when our Lord was teaching him of the birth from above, rushed in thought to the hollow of the womb, and raised a doubt how one could enter a second time into the womb, with the words, “How can these things be? 607 ” thinking that he would prove the spiritual birth impossible, by the fact that an old man could not again be born within his mothers bowels. But the Lord corrects his erroneous idea, saying that the properties of the flesh and the spirit are distinct. Let Eunomius also, if he will, correct himself by the like reflection. For he who ponders on the truth ought, I imagine, to contemplate his subject according to its own properties, not to slander the immaterial by a charge against things material. For if a man, or a bull, or any other of those things which are generated by the flesh, is not free from passion in generating or being generated, what has this to do with that Nature which is without passion and without corruption? The fact that we are mortal is no objection to the immortality of the Only-begotten, nor does mens propensity to vice render doubtful the immutability that is found in the Divine Nature, nor is any other of our proper attributes transferred to God; but the peculiar nature of the human and the Divine life is separated, and without common ground, and their distinguishing properties stand entirely apart, so that those of the latter are not apprehended in the former, nor, conversely, those of the former in the latter.
How comes it, therefore, that Eunomius, when the Divine generation is the subject for discourse, leaves his subject, and discusses at length the things of earth, when on this matter we have no dispute with him? Surely our craftsmans aim is clear,—that by the slanderous insinuation of passion he may raise an objection to the generation of the Lord. And here I pass by the blasphemous nature of his view, and admire the man for his acuteness,—how mindful he is of his own zealous endeavour, who, having by his previous statements established the theory that the Son must be, and must be called, a “product of generation,” now contends for the view that we ought not to entertain regarding Him the conception of generation. For, if all generation, as this author imagines, has linked with it the condition of passion, we are hereby absolutely compelled to admit that what is foreign to passion is alien also from generation: for if these things, passion and generation, are considered as conjoined, He that has no share in the one would not have any participation in the other. How then does he call Him a “product” by reason of His generation, of Whom he tries to show by the arguments he now uses, that He was not generated? and for what cause does he fight against our master 608 , who counsels us in matters of Divine doctrine not to presume in name-making, but to confess that He is generated without transforming this conception into the formula of a name, so as to call Him Who is generated “a product of generation,” as this term is properly applied in Scripture to things inanimate, or to those which are mentioned “as a figure of wickedness 609 ”? When we speak of the propriety of avoiding the use of the term “product,” he prepares for action that invincible rhetoric of his, and takes also to support him his frigid grammatical phraseology, and by his skilful misuse of names, or equivocation, or whatever one may properly call his processes—by these means, I say, he brings his syllogisms to their conclusion, “not refusing to call Him Who is begotten by the name of product of generation.” Then, as soon as we admit the term, and proceed to examine the conception involved in the name, on the theory that thereby is vindicated the community of essence, he again retracts his own words, and contends for the view that the “product of generation” is not generated, raising an objection by his foul account of bodily generation, against the pure and Divine and passionless generation of the Son, on the ground that it is not possible that the two things, the true relationship to the Father, and exemption of His nature from passion, should be found to coincide in God, but that, if there were no passion, there would be no generation, and that, if one should acknowledge the true relationship, he would thereby, in admitting generation, certainly admit passion also.
Not thus speaks the sublime John, not thus that voice of thunder which proclaims the mystery of the Theology, who both names Him Son of God and purges his proclamation from every idea of passion. For behold how in the very beginning of his Gospel he prepares our ears, how great forethought is shown by the teacher p. CLIV that none of his hearers should fall into low ideas on the subject, slipping by ignorance into any incongruous conceptions. For in order to lead the untrained hearing as far away as possible from passion, he does not speak in his opening words of “Son,” or “Father,” or “generation,” that no one should either, on hearing first of all of a “Father,” be hurried on to the obvious signification of the word, or, on learning the proclamation of a “Son,” should understand that name in the ordinary sense, or stumble, as at a “stone of stumbling 610 ,” at the word “generation”; but instead of “the Father,” he speaks of “the Beginning”: instead of “was begotten,” he says “was”: and instead of “the Son,” he says “the Word”: and declares “In the Beginning was the Word 611 .” What passion, pray, is to be found in these words, “beginning,” and “was,” and “Word”? Is “the beginning” passion? does “was” imply passion? does “the Word” exist by means of passion? Or are we to say, that as passion is not to be found in the terms used, so neither is affinity expressed by the proclamation? Yet how could the Words community of essence, and real relationship, and coeternity with the Beginning, be more strongly shown by other words than by these? For he does not say, “Of the Beginning was begotten the Word,” that he may not separate the Word from the Beginning by any conception of extension in time, but he proclaims together with the Beginning Him also Who was in the Beginning, making the word “was” common to the Beginning and to the Word, that the Word may not linger after the Beginning, but may, by entering in together with the faith as to the Beginning, by its proclamation forestall our hearing, before this admits the Beginning itself in isolation. Then he declares, “And the Word was with God.” Once more the Evangelist fears for our untrained state, once more he dreads our childish and untaught condition: he does not yet entrust to our ears the appellation of “Father,” lest any of the more carnally minded, learning of “the Father,” may be led by his understanding to imagine also by consequence a mother. Neither does he yet name in his proclamation the Son; for he still suspects our customary tendency to the lower nature, and fears lest any, hearing of the Son, should humanize the Godhead by an idea of passion. For this reason, resuming his proclamation, he again calls him “the Word,” making this the account of His nature to thee in thine unbelief. For as thy word proceeds from thy mind, without requiring the intervention of passion, so here also, in hearing of the Word, thou shalt conceive that which is from something, and shalt not conceive passion. Hence, once more resuming his proclamation, he says, “And the Word was with God.” O, how does he make the Word commensurate with God! rather, how does he extend the infinite in comparison with the infinite! “The Word was with God”—the whole being of the Word, assuredly, with the whole being of God. Therefore, as great as God is, so great, clearly, is the Word also that is with Him; so that if God is limited, then will the Word also, surely, be subject to limitation. But if the infinity of God exceeds limit, neither is the Word that is contemplated with Him comprehended by limits and measures. For no one would deny that the Word is contemplated together with the entire Godhead of the Father, so that he should make one part of the Godhead appear to be in the Word, and another destitute of the Word. Once more the spiritual voice of John speaks, once more the Evangelist in his proclamation takes tender care for the hearing of those who are in childhood: not yet have we so much grown by the hearing of his first words as to hear of “the Son,” and yet remain firm without being moved from our footing by the influence of the wonted sense. Therefore our herald, crying once more aloud, still proclaims in his third utterance “the Word,” and not “the Son,” saying, “And the Word was God.” First he declared wherein He was, then with whom He was, and now he says what He is, completing, by his third repetition, the object of his proclamation. For he says, “It is no Word of those that are readily understood, that I declare to you, but God under the designation of the Word.” For this Word, that was in the Beginning, and was with God, was not anything else besides God, but was also Himself God. And forthwith the herald, reaching the full height of his lofty speech, declares that this God Whom his proclamation sets forth is He by Whom all things were made, and is life, and the light of men, and the true light that shineth in darkness, yet is not obscured by the darkness, sojourning with His own, yet not received by His own: and being made flesh, and tabernacling, by means of the flesh, in mans nature. And when he has first gone through this number and variety of statements, he then names the Father and the Only-begotten, when there can be no danger that what has been purified by so many precautions should be allowed, in consequence of the sense of the word “Father,” to sink down to any meaning tainted with pollution, for, “we beheld His glory,” he says, “the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father.”
Repeat, then, Eunomius, repeat this clever objection of yours to the Evangelist: “How dost thou give the name of Father in thy p. CLV discourse, how that of Only-begotten, seeing that all bodily generation is operated by passion?” Surely truth answers you on his behalf, that the mystery of theology is one thing, and the physiology of unstable bodies is another. Wide is the interval by which they are fenced off one from the other. Why do you join together in your argument what cannot blend? how do you defile the purity of the Divine generation by your foul discourse? how do you make systems for the incorporeal by the passions that affect the body? Cease to draw your account of the nature of things above from those that are below. I proclaim the Lord as the Son of God, because the gospel from heaven, given through the bright cloud, thus proclaimed Him; for “This,” He saith, “is My beloved Son 612 .” Yet, though I was taught that He is the Son, I was not dragged down by the name to the earthly significance of “Son,” but I both know that He is from the Father and do not know that He is from passion. And this, moreover, I will add to what has been said, that I know even a bodily generation which is pure from passion, so that even on this point Eunomius physiology of bodily generation is proved false, if, that is to say, a bodily birth can be found which does not admit passion. Tell me, was the Word made flesh, or not? You would not, I presume, say that It was not. It was so made, then, and there is none who denies it. How then was it that “God was manifested in the flesh 613 ”? “By birth,” of course you will say. But what sort of birth do you speak of? Surely it is clear that you speak of that from the virginity, and that “that which was conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost 614 ,” and that “the days were accomplished that she should be delivered, and she brought forth 615 ,” and none the less was her purity preserved in her child-bearing. You believe, then, that that birth which took place from a woman was pure from passion, if you do believe, but you refuse to admit the Divine and incorruptible generation from the Father, that you may avoid the idea of passion in generation. But I know well that it is not passion he seeks to avoid in his doctrine, for that he does not discern at all in the Divine and incorruptible nature; but to the end that the Maker of all creation may be accounted a part of creation, he builds up these arguments in order to a denial of the Only-begotten God, and uses his pretended caution about passion to help him in his task.
Reading, with the older editions, τῇ θεωρί& 139·. Oehler substitutes τὴν θεωρίαν (a variation which seems to give no good sense, unless θεωρία be translated as “subject of contemplation”), but alleges no ms. authority for the change.CLIII:606 CLIII:607
S. John iii. 10CLIII:608 CLIII:609
The reference is to S. Basils treatise against Eunomius (ii. 7–8; p. 242–4 in the Benedictine ed.). Oehlers punctuation is apparently wrong, for Gregory paraphrases not only the rule, but the reason given for it, from S. Basil, from whom the last words of the sentence are a direct quotation.CLIV:610 CLIV:611
S. John i. 1CLV:612
S. Matt. xvii. 5.CLV:613
1 Tim. iii. 16. Here, as elsewhere in Gregorys writings, it appears that he read θεὸς in this passage.CLV:614
S. Matt. i. 20CLV:615
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