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

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter X.

But the nature of man,” it is said, “is narrow and circumscribed, whereas the Deity is infinite. How could the infinite be included in the atom 1971 ?” But who is it that says the infinitude of the Deity is comprehended in the envelopment of the flesh as if it were in a vessel? Not even in the case of our own life is the intellectual nature shut up within the boundary of the flesh. On the contrary, while the body’s bulk is limited to the proportions peculiar to it, the soul by the movements of its thinking faculty can coincide 1972 at will with the whole of creation. It ascends to the heavens, and sets foot within the deep. It traverses the breadth of the world, and in the restlessness of its curiosity makes its way into the regions that are beneath the earth; and often it is occupied in the scrutiny of the wonders of heaven, and feels no weight from the appendage 1973 of the body. If, then, the soul of man, although by the necessity of its nature it is transfused through the body, yet presents itself everywhere at will, what necessity is there for saying that the Deity is hampered by an environment of fleshly nature, and why may we not, by examples which we are capable of understanding, gain some reasonable idea of God’s plan of salvation? There is an analogy, for instance, in the flame of a lamp, which is seen to embrace the material with which it is supplied 1974 . Reason makes a distinction between the flame upon the material, and the material that kindles the flame, though in fact it is not possible to cut off the one from the other so as to exhibit the flame separate from the material, but they both united form one single thing. But let no one, I beg, associate also with this illustration the idea of the perishableness of the flame; let him accept only what is apposite in the p. 486 image; what is irrelevant and incongruous let him reject. What is there, then, to prevent our thinking (just as we see flame fastening on the material 1975 , and yet not inclosed in it) of a kind of union or approximation of the Divine nature with humanity, and yet in this very approximation guarding the proper notion of Deity, believing as we do that, though the Godhead be in man, it is beyond all circumscription?



τῷ ἀτόμῳ: here, the individual body of man: “individuo corpusculo,” Zinus translates. Theodoret in his second (“Unconfused”) Dialogue quotes this very passage about the “infiniteness of the Deity,” and a “vessel,” to prove the two natures of Christ.




φολκί& 251·.


There is a touch of Eutychianism in this illustration of the union of the Two Natures; as also in Gregory’s answer (c. Eunom. iii. 265; v. 589) to Eunomius’ charge of Two Persons against the Nicene party, viz. that “the flesh with all its peculiar marks and properties is taken up and transformed into the Divine nature” whence arose that ντιμεθίστασις τῶν ὀνομάτων, i.e. reciprocal interchange of the properties human and Divine, which afterwards occasioned the Monophysite controversy. But Origen had used language still more incautious; “with regard to his mortal body and his human soul, we believe that owing to something more than communion with Him, to actual union and intermingling, it has acquired the highest qualities, and partakes of His Divinity, and so has changed into God” (c. Cels. iii. 41).


fastening on the material. The word (πτεσθαι) could mean either “fastening on,” or “depending on,” or “kindled from” (it has been used in this last sense just above). Krabinger selects the second, “quæ a subjecto dependet.”

Next: Chapter XI

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