Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: After much discourse concerning the actually existent, and ungenerate and good, and upon the consubstantiality of the heavenly powers, showing the uncharted character of their essence, yet the difference of their ranks, he ends the book.
§5. After much discourse concerning the actually existent, and ungenerate and good, and upon the consubstantiality of the heavenly powers, showing the uncharted character of their essence, yet the difference of their ranks, he ends the book.
Now in saying these things we do not intend to deny that the Father exists without generation, and we have no intention of refusing to agree to the statement that the Only-begotten God is generated;—on the contrary the latter has been generated, the former has not been generated. But what He is, in His own Nature, Who exists apart from generation, and what He is, Who is believed to have been generated, we do not learn from the signification of “having been generated,” and “not having been generated.” For when we say “this person was generated” (or “was not generated”), we are impressed with a two-fold thought, having our eyes turned to the subject by the demonstrative part of the phrase, and learning that which is contemplated in the subject by the words “was generated” or “was not generated,”—as it is one thing to think of that which is, and another to think of what we contemplate in that which is. But, moreover, the word “is” is surely understood with every name that is used concerning the Divine Nature,—as “just,” “incorruptible,” “immortal,” and “ungenerate,” and whatever else is said of Him; even if this word does not happen to occur in the phrase, yet the thought both of the speaker and the hearer surely makes the name attach to “is,” so that if this word were not added, the appellation would be uttered in vain. For instance (for it is better to present an argument by way of illustration), when David says, “God, a righteous judge, strong and patient 843 ,” if “is” were not understood with each of the epithets included in the phrase, the enumerations of the appellations will seem purposeless and unreal, not having any subject to rest upon; but when “is” is understood with each of the names, what is said will clearly be of force, being contemplated in reference to that which is. As, then, when we say “He is a judge,” we conceive concerning Him some operation of judgment, and by the “is” carry our minds to the subject, and are hereby clearly taught not to suppose that the account of His being is the same with the action, so also as a result of saying, “He is generated (or ungenerate),” we divide our thought into a double conception, by “is” understanding the subject, and by “generated,” or “ungenerate,” apprehending that which belongs to the subject. As, then, when we are taught by David that God is “a judge,” or “patient,” we do not learn the Divine essence, but one of the attributes which are contemplated in it, so in this case too when we hear of His being not generated, we do not by this negative predication understand the subject, but are guided as to what we must not think concerning the subject, while what He essentially is remains as much as ever unexplained. So too, when Holy Scripture predicates the other Divine names of Him Who is, and delivers to Moses the Being without a name, it is for him who discloses the Nature of that Being, not to rehearse the attributes of the Being, but by his words to make manifest to us its actual Nature. For every name which you may use is an attribute of the Being, but is not the Being,—“good,” “ungenerate,” “incorruptible,”—but to each of these “is” does not fail to be supplied. Any one, then, who undertakes to give the account of this good Being, of this ungenerate Being, as He is, would speak in vain, if he rehearsed the attributes contemplated in Him, and were silent as to that essence which he undertakes by his p. CXCIX words to explain. To be without generation is one of the attributes contemplated in the Being, but the definition of “Being” is one thing, and that of “being in some particular way” is another; and this 844 has so far remained untold and unexplained by the passages cited. Let him then first disclose to us the names of the essence, and then divide the Nature by the divergence of the appellations;—so long as what we require remains unexplained, it is in vain that he employs his scientific skill upon names, seeing that the names 845 have no separate existence.
Such then is Eunomius stronger handle against the truth, while we pass by in silence many views which are to be found in this part of his composition; for it seems to me right that those who run in this armed race 846 against the enemies of the truth should arm themselves against those who are fairly fenced about with the plausibility of falsehood, and not defile their argument with such conceptions as are already dead and of offensive odour. His supposition that whatever things are united in the idea of their essence 847 must needs exist corporeally and be joined to corruption (for this he says in this part of his work), I shall willingly pass by like some cadaverous odour, since I think every reasonable man will perceive how dead and corrupt such an argument is. For who knows not that the multitude of human souls is countless, yet one essence underlies them all, and the consubstantial substratum in them is alien from bodily corruption? so that even children can plainly see the argument that bodies are corrupted and dissolved, not because they have the same essence one with another, but because of their possessing a compound nature. The idea of the compound nature is one, that of the common nature of their essence is another, so that it is true to say, “corruptible bodies are of one essence,” but the converse statement is not true at all, if it be anything like, “this consubstantial nature is also surely corruptible,” as is shown in the case of the souls which have one essence, while yet corruption does not attach to them in virtue of the community of essence. And the account given of the souls might properly be applied to every intellectual existence which we contemplate in creation. For the words brought together by Paul do not signify, as Eunomius will have them do, some mutually divergent natures of the supra-mundane powers; on the contrary, the sense of the names clearly indicates that he is mentioning in his argument, not diversities of natures, but the varied peculiarities of the operations of the heavenly host: for there are, he says, “principalities,” and “thrones,” and “powers,” and “mights,” and “dominions 848 .” Now these names are such as to make it at once clear to every one that their significance is arranged in regard to some operation. For to rule, and to exercise power and dominion, and to be the throne of some one,—all these conceptions would not be held by any one versed in argument to apply to diversities of essence, since it is clearly operation that is signified by every one of the names: so that any one who says that diversities of nature are signified by the names rehearsed by Paul deceives himself, “understanding,” as the Apostle says, “neither what he says, nor whereof he affirms 849 ,” since the sense of the names clearly shows that the Apostle recognizes in the intelligible powers distinctions of certain ranks, but does not by these names indicate varieties of essences.
Cf. Ps. vii. 8CXCIX:844
What “this” means is not clear: it may be “the Being,” but most probably is the distinction which S. Gregory is pointing out between the Being and Its attributes, which he considers has not been sufficiently recognized.CXCIX:845
Reading τῶν ὀνομάτων οὐκ ὄντων with the Paris editions. Oehler reads νοημάτων, but does not give any authority for the change.CXCIX:846
The metaphor seems slightly confused, being partly taken from a tournament, or gladiatorial contest, partly from a race in armour.CXCIX:847
The word οὐσία seems to have had in Eunomius mind something of the same idea of corporeal existence attaching to it which has been made to attach to the Latin “substantia,” and to the English “substance.”CXCIX:848
Cf. Col. 1:16, Eph. 1:21Col. i. 16, and Eph. i. 21.CXCIX:849
1 Tim. i. 7.
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