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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:
Apologetic Works.: Chapter I

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter I.

But since our system of religion is wont to observe a distinction of persons in the unity of the Nature, to prevent our argument in our contention with Greeks sinking to the level of Judaism there is need again of a distinct technical statement in order to correct all error on this point.

For not even by those who are external to p. 475 our doctrine is the Deity held to be without Logos 1942 . Now this admission of theirs will quite enable our argument to be unfolded. For he who admits that God is not without Logos, will agree that a being who is not without Logos (or word) certainly possesses Logos. Now it is to be observed that the utterance of man is expressed by the same term. If, then, he should say that he understands what the Logos of God is according to the analogy of things with us, he will thus be led on to a loftier idea, it being an absolute necessity for him to believe that the utterance, just as everything else, corresponds with the nature. Though, that is, there is a certain sort of force, and life, and wisdom, observed in the human subject, yet no one from the similarity of the terms would suppose that the life, or power, or wisdom, were in the case of God of such a sort as that, but the significations of all such terms are lowered to accord with the standard of our nature. For since our nature is liable to corruption and weak, therefore is our life short, our strength unsubstantial, our word unstable 1943 . But in that transcendent nature, through the greatness of the subject contemplated, every thing that is said about it is elevated with it. Therefore though mention be made of God’s Word it will not be thought of as having its realization in the utterance of what is spoken, and as then vanishing away, like our speech, into the nonexistent. On the contrary, as our nature, liable as it is to come to an end, is endued with speech which likewise comes to an end, so that, imperishable and ever-existing nature has eternal, and substantial speech. If, then, logic requires him to admit this eternal subsistence of God’s Word, it is altogether necessary to admit also that the subsistence 1944 of that word consists in a living state; for it is an impiety to suppose that the Word has a soulless subsistence after the manner of stones. But if it subsists, being as it is something with intellect and without body, then certainly it lives, whereas if it be divorced from life, then as certainly it does not subsist; but this idea that the Word of God does not subsist, has been shown to be blasphemy. By consequence, therefore, it has also been shown that the Word is to be considered as in a living condition. And since the nature of the Logos is reasonably believed to be simple, and exhibits in itself no duplicity or combination, no one would contemplate the existence of the living Logos as dependent on a mere participation of life, for such a supposition, which is to say that one thing is within another, would not exclude the idea of compositeness; but, since the simplicity has been admitted, we are compelled to think that the Logos has an independent life, and not a mere participation of life. If, then, the Logos, as being life, lives 1945 , it certainly has the faculty p. 476 of will, for no one of living creatures is without such a faculty. Moreover that such a will has also capacity to act must be the conclusion of a devout mind. For if you admit not this potency, you prove the reverse to exist. But no; impotence is quite removed from our conception of Deity. Nothing of incongruity is to be observed in connection with the Divine nature, but it is absolutely necessary to admit that the power of that word is as great as the purpose, lest mixture, or concurrence, of contradictions be found in an existence that is incomposite, as would be the case if, in the same purpose, we were to detect both impotence and power, if, that is, there were power to do one thing, but no power to do something else. Also we must suppose that this will in its power to do all things will have no tendency to anything that is evil (for impulse towards evil is foreign to the Divine nature), but that whatever is good, this it also wishes, and, wishing, is able to perform, and, being able, will not fail to perform 1946 ; but that it will bring all its proposals for good to effectual accomplishment. Now the world is good, and all its contents are seen to be wisely and skilfully ordered. All of them, therefore, are the works of the Word, of one who, while He lives and subsists, in that He is God’s Word, has a will too, in that He lives; of one too who has power to effect what He wills, and who wills what is absolutely good and wise and all else that connotes superiority. Whereas, then, the world is admitted to be something good, and from what has been said the world has been shown to be the work of the Word, who both wills and is able to effect the good, this Word is other than He of whom He is the Word. For this, too, to a certain extent is a term of “relation,” inasmuch as the Father of the Word must needs be thought of with the Word, for it would not be word were it not a word of some one. If, then, the mind of the hearers, from the relative meaning of the term, makes a distinction between the Word and Him from whom He proceeds, we should find that the Gospel mystery, in its contention with the Greek conceptions, would not be in danger of coinciding with those who prefer the beliefs of the Jews. But it will equally escape the absurdity of either party, by acknowledging both that the living Word of God is an effective and creative being, which is what the Jew refuses to receive, and also that the Word itself, and He from whom He is, do not differ in their nature. As in our own case we say that the word is from the mind, and no more entirely the same as the mind, than altogether other than it (for, by its being from it, it is something else, and not it; still by its bringing the mind in evidence it can no longer be considered as something other than it; and so it is in its essence one with mind, while as a subject it is different), in like manner, too, the Word of God by its self-subsistence is distinct from Him from whom it has its subsistence; and yet by exhibiting in itself those qualities which are recognized in God it is the same in nature with Him who is recognizable by the same distinctive marks. For whether one adopts goodness 1947 , or power, or wisdom, or eternal existence, or the incapability of vice, death, and decay, or an entire perfection, or anything whatever of the kind, to mark one’s conception of the Father, by means of the same marks he will find the Word that subsists from Him.



the Deity…without Logos. In another treatise (De Fide, p. 40) Gregory bases the argument for the eternity of the Λόγος on John i. 1, where it is not said, “after the beginning,” but “in the beginning.” The beginning, therefore, never was without the Λόγος.


unstable: παγὴς (the reading ρπαγις is manifestly wrong). So afterwards human speech is called πίκηρος. Cf. Athanasius (Contr. Arian. 3): “Since man came from the non-existent, therefore his ‘word’ also has a pause, and does not last. From man we get, day after day, many different words, because the first abide not, but are forgotten.”


πόστασιν. About this oft repeated word the question arises whether we are indebted to Christians or to Platonists for the first skilful use of it in expressing that which is neither substance nor quality. Abraham Tucker (Light of Nature, ii. p. 191) hazards the following remark with regard to the Platonic Triad, i.e. Goodness, Intelligence, Activity, viz. that quality would not do as a general name for these principles, because the ideas and abstract essences existed in the Intelligence, &c., and qualities cannot exist in one another, e.g. yellowness cannot be soft: nor could substance be the term, for then they must have been component parts of the Existent, which would have destroyed the unity of the Godhead: “therefore, he (Plato) styled them Hypostases or Subsistencies, which is something between substance and quality, inexisting in the one, and serving as a receptacle for the other’s inexistency within it.” But he adds, “I do not recommend this explanation to anybody” nor does he state the authority for this Platonic use, so lucidly explained, of the word. Indeed, if the word had ever been applied to the principles of the Platonic triad, to express in the case of each of them “the distinct subsistence in a common οὐσία,” it would have falsified the very conception of the first, i.e. Goodness, which was never relative. So that this very word seems to emphasize, so far, the antagonism between Christianity and Platonism. Socrates (E. H. iii. 7) bears witness to the absence of the word from the ancient Greek philosophy: “it appears to us that the Greek philosophers have given us various definitions of οὐσία, but have not taken the slightest notice of πόστασις.…it is not found in any of the ancients except occasionally in a sense quite different from that which is attached to it at the present day (i.e. fifth century). Thus Sophocles in his tragedy entitled Phœnix uses it to signify ‘treachery’ in Menander it implies ‘sauces’ (i e. sediment). But although the ancient philosophical writers scarcely noticed the word, the more modern ones have frequently used it instead of οὐσία.” But it was, as far as can be traced, the unerring genius of Origen that first threw around the Λόγος that atmosphere of a new term, i.e. πόστασις, as well as μοούσιος, αὐτόθεος, which afterward made it possible to present the Second Person to the Greek-speaking world as the member of an equal and indivisible Trinity. It was he who first selected such words and saw what they were capable of; though he did not insist on that fuller meaning which was put upon them when all danger within the Church of Sabellianism had disappeared, and error passed in the guise of Arianism to the opposite extreme.


lives. This doctrine is far removed from that of Philo, i.e. from the Alexandrine philosophy. The very first statement of S. John represents the Λόγος as having a backward movement towards the Deity, as well as a forward movement from Him; as held there, and yet sent thence by a force which he calls Love, so that the primal movement towards the world does not come from the Λόγος, but from the Father Himself. The Λόγος here is the Word, and not the Reason; He is the living effect of a living cause, not a theory or hypothesis standing at the gateway of an insoluble mystery. The Λόγος speaks because the Father speaks, not because the Supreme cannot and will not speak; and their relations are often the reverse of those they hold in Philo; for the Father becomes at times the meditator between the Λόγος and the world drawing men towards Him and subduing portions of the Creation before His path. Psychology seems to pour a light straight into the Council-chamber of the Eternal; while Metaphysics had turned away from it, with her finger on her lips. Philo may have used, as Tholuck thinks, those very texts of the Old Testament which support the Christian doctrine of the Word, and in the translation of which the LXX. supplied him with the Greek word. But, however derived, his theology eventually ranged itself with those pantheistic views of the universe which subdued all thinking minds not Christianized, for more than three centuries after him. The majority of recent critics certainly favour the supposition that the Λόγος of Philo is a being numerically distinct from the Supreme; but when the relation of the Supreme is attentively traced in each, the actual antagonism of the Christian system and his begins to be apparent. The Supreme of Philo is not and can never be related to the world. The Λόγος is a logical necessity as a mediator between the two; a spiritual being certainly, but only the head of a long series of such beings, who succeed at last in filling the passage between the finite and the infinite. In this system there is no mission of love and of free will; such beings are but as the milestones to mark the distance between man and the Great Unknown. It is significant that Vacherot, the leading historian of the Alexandrine school of philosophy, doubts whether John the Evangelist ever even heard of the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria. It is pretty much the same with the members of the Neoplatonic Triad as with the Λόγος of Philo. The God of Plotinus and Proclus is not a God in three hypostases: he is simply one, Intelligence and Soul being his necessary emanations; they are in God, but they are not God: Soul is but a hypostasis of a hypostasis. The One is not a hypostasis, but above it. This “Trinity” depends on the distinction and succession of the necessary movements of the Deity; it consists of three distinct and separate principles of things. The Trinity is really peculiar to Christianity. Three inseparable Hypostases make equally a part of the Divine nature, so that to take away one would be to destroy the whole. The Word and Spirit are Divine, not intermediaries disposed in a hierarchy on the route of the world to God. As Plotinus reproached the Gnostics, the Christian mysticism despises the world, and suppressing the intermediaries who in other doctrines serve to elevate the soul gradually to God, it transports it by one impulse as it were into the Divine nature. The Christian goes straight to God by Faith. The Imagination, Reason, and Contemplation of the Neoplatonists, i.e. the three movements of the soul which correspond to their lower “trinity” of Nature, Soul, Intelligence, are no longer necessary. There is an antipathy profound between the two systems; How then could the one be said to influence the other? Neoplatonism may have tinged Christianity, while it was still seeking for language in which to express its inner self: but it never influenced the intrinsically moral character of the Christian Creeds. The Alexandrine philosophy is all metaphysics, and its rock was pantheism; all, even matter, proceeds from God necessarily and eternally. The Church never hesitated: she saw the abyss that opens upon that path; and by severe decrees she has closed the way to pantheism.


will not fail to perform; μὴ ἀνενεργητον εἶναι. This is a favourite word with Gregory, and the Platonist Synesius.


goodness. “God is love;” but how is this love above or equal to the Power? “Infinite Goodness, according to our apprehension, requires that it should exhaust omnipotence: that it should give capacities of enjoyment and confer blessings until there were no more to be conferred: but our idea of omnipotence requires that it should be inexhaustible; that nothing should limit its operation, so that it should do no more than it has done. Therefore, it is much easier to conceive an imperfect creature completely good, than a perfect Being who is so.…Since, then, we find our understanding incapable of comprehending infinite goodness joined with infinite power, we need not be surprised at finding our thoughts perplexed concerning them…we may presume that the obscurity rises from something wrong in our ideas, not from any inconsistencies in the subjects themselves.” Abraham Tucker, L. of N., i. 355.

Next: Chapter II

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