Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: Section 1
p. CCXI Book IX.
§1. The ninth book declares that Eunomius account of the Nature of God is, up to a certain point, well stated. Then in succession he mixes up with his own argument, on account of its affinity, the expression from Philos writings, “God is before all other things, which are generated,” adding also the expression, “He has dominion over His own power.” Detesting the excessive absurdity, Gregory strikingly confutes it 906
But he now turns to loftier language, and elevating himself and puffing himself up with empty conceit, he takes in hand to say something worthy of Gods majesty. “For God,” he says, “being the most highly exalted of all goods, and the mightiest of all, and free from all necessity—” Nobly does the gallant man bring his discourse, like some ship without ballast, driven unguided by the waves of deceit, into the harbour of truth! “God is the most highly exalted of all goods.” Splendid acknowledgment! I suppose he will not bring a charge of unconstitutional conduct against the great John, by whom, in his lofty proclamation, the Only-begotten is declared to be God, Who was with God and was God 907 . If he, then, the proclaimer of the Godhead of the Only-begotten, is worthy of credit, and if “God is the most highly exalted of all goods,” it follows that the Son is alleged by the enemies of His glory, to be “the most highly exalted of all goods.” And as this phrase is also applied to the Father, the superlative force of “most highly exalted” admits of no diminution or addition by way of comparison. But, now that we have obtained from the adversarys testimony these statements for the proof of the glory of the Only-begotten, we must add in support of sound doctrine his next statement too. He says, “God, the most highly exalted of all goods, being without hindrance from nature, or constraint from cause, or impulse from need, begets and creates according to the supremacy of His own authority, having His will as power sufficient for the constitution of the things produced. If, then, all good is according to His will, He not only determines that which is made as good, but also the time of its being good, if, that is to say, as one may assume, it is an indication of weakness to make what one does not will 908 .” We shall borrow so far as this, for the confirmation of the orthodox doctrines, from our adversaries statement, percolated as that statement is by vile and counterfeit clauses. Yes, He Who has, by the supremacy of His authority, power in His will that suffices for the constitution of the things that are made, He Who created all things without hindrance from nature or compulsion from cause, does determine not only that which is made as good, but also the time of its being good. But He Who made all things is, as the gospel proclaims, the Only-begotten God. He, at that time when He willed it, did make the creation; at that time, by means of the circumambient essence, He surrounded with the body of heaven all that universe that is shut off within its compass: at that time, when He thought it well that this should be, He displayed the dry land to view, He enclosed the waters in their hollow places; vegetation, fruits, the generation of animals, the formation of man, appeared at that time when each of these things seemed expedient to the wisdom of the Creator:—and He Who made all these things (I will once more repeat my statement) is the Only-begotten God Who made the ages. For if the interval of the ages has preceded existing things, it is proper to employ the temporal adverb, and to say “He then willed” and “He then made”: but since the age was not, since no conception of interval is present to our minds in regard to that Divine Nature which is not measured by quantity or by interval, the force of temporal expressions must surely be void. Thus to say that the creation has had given to it a beginning in time, according to the good pleasure of the wisdom of Him Who made all things, does not go beyond probability: but to regard the Divine Nature itself as being in a kind of extension measured by intervals, belongs only to those who have been trained in the new p. CCXII wisdom. What a point is this, embedded in his words, which I intentionally passed by in my eagerness to reach the subject! I will now resume it, and read it to show our authors cleverness.
“For He Who is most highly exalted in God Himself 909 before all other things that are generated,” he says, “has dominion over His own power.” The phrase has been transferred by our pamphleteer word for word from the Hebrew Philo to his own argument, and Eunomius theft will be proved by Philos works themselves to any one who cares about it. I note the fact, however, at present, not so much to reproach our speech-monger with the poverty of his own arguments and thoughts, as with the intention of showing to my readers the close relationship between the doctrine of Eunomius and the reasoning of the Jews. For this phrase of Philo would not have fitted word for word into his argument had there not been a sort of kindred between the intention of the one and the other. In the Hebrew author you may find the phrase in this form: “God, before all other things that are generated”; and what follows, “has dominion over His own power,” is an addition of the new Judaism. But what an absurdity this involves an examination of the saying will clearly show. “God,” he says, “has dominion over His own power.” Tell me, what is He? over what has He dominion? Is He something else than His own power, and Lord of a power that is something else than Himself? Then power is overcome by the absence of power. For that which is something else than power is surely not power, and thus He is found to have dominion over power just in so far as He is not power. Or again, God, being power, has another power in Himself, and has dominion over the one by the other. And what contest or schism is there, that God should divide the power that exists in Himself, and overthrow one section of His power by the other. I suppose He could not have dominion over His own power without the assistance to that end of some greater and more violent power! Such is Eunomius God: a being with double nature, or composite, dividing Himself against Himself, having one power out of harmony with another, so that by one He is urged to disorder, and by the other restrains this discordant motion. Again, with what intent does He dominate the power that urges on to generation? lest some evil should arise if generation be not hindered? or rather let him explain this in the first place,—what is that which is naturally under dominion? His language points to some movement of impulse and choice, considered separately and independently. For that which dominates must needs be one thing, that which is dominated another. Now God “has dominion over His power”—and this is—what? a self-determining nature? or something else than this, pressing on to disquiet, or remaining in a state of quiescence? Well, if he supposes it to be quiescent, that which is tranquil needs no one to have dominion over it: and if he says “He has dominion,” He “has dominion” clearly over something which impels and is in motion: and this, I presume he will say, is something naturally different from Him Who rules it. What then, let him tell us, does he understand in this idea? Is it something else besides God, considered as having an independent existence? How can another existence be in God? Or is it some condition in the Divine Nature considered as having an existence not its own? I hardly think he would say so: for that which has no existence of its own is not: and that which is not, is neither under dominion, nor set free from it. What then is that power which was under dominion, and was restrained in respect of its own activity, while the due time of the generation of Christ was still about to come, and to set this power free to proceed to its natural operation? What was the intervening cause of delay, for which God deferred the generation of the Only-begotten, not thinking it good as yet to become a Father? And what is this that is inserted as intervening between the life of the Father and that of the Son, that is not time nor space, nor any idea of extension, nor any like thing? To what purpose is it that this keen and clear-sighted eye marks and beholds the separation of the life of God in regard to the life of the Son? When he is driven in all directions he is himself forced to admit that the interval does not exist at all.
This section of the analysis is so confused that it cannot well be literally translated. In the version given above the general sense rather than the precise grammatical construction has been followed.CCXI:907
S. John i. 1CCXI:908
This quotation would appear from what follows not to be a consecutive extract, but one made “omissis omittendis.”CCXII:909
This seems to be the force of the phrase if we are to follow Oehlers mss. and read ὁ γὰρ ἐξοχώτατος αὐτοῦ θεοῦ. The αὐτὸς θεὸς of the earlier editions gives a simpler sense. The phrase as read by Oehler certainly savours more of Philo than of Eunomius: but it is worth noting that S. Gregory does not dwell upon this part of the clause as being borrowed from Philo (though he may intend to include it in the general statement), but upon what follows it: and from his citation from Philo it would seem that the latter spoke (not of ὁ ἐξοχώτατος θεοῦ but) of ὁ Θεὸς πρὸ τῶν ἄλλων ὅσα γεννητά.
Next: He then ingeniously shows that the generation of the Son is not according to the phrase of Eunomius, “The Father begat Him at that time when He chose, and not before:” but that the Son, being the fulness of all that is good and excellent, is always contemplated in the Father; using for this demonstration the support of Eunomius' own arguments.
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