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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. VIII:
De Spiritu Sancto.: The origin of the heretics' close observation of syllables.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter II.

The origin of the heretics’ close observation of syllables.

4.  The petty exactitude of these men about syllables and words is not, as might be supposed, simple and straightforward; nor is the mischief to which it tends a small one.  There is involved a deep and covert design against true religion.  Their pertinacious contention is to show that the mention of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is unlike, as though they will thence find it easy to demonstrate that there is a variation in nature.  They have an old sophism, invented by Aetius, the champion of this heresy, in one of whose Letters there is a passage to the effect that things naturally unlike are expressed in unlike terms, and, conversely, that things expressed in unlike terms are naturally unlike.  In proof of this statement he drags in the words of the Apostle, “One God and Father of whom are all things,…and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things.” 713   “Whatever, then,” he goes on, “is the relation of these terms to one another, such will be the relation of the natures indicated by them; and as the term ‘of whom’ is unlike the term ‘by whom,’ so is the Father unlike the Son.” 714   On this heresy depends the idle subtilty of these men about the phrases in question.  They accordingly assign to God the Father, as though it were His distinctive portion and lot, the phrase “of Whom;” to God the Son they confine the phrase “by Whom;” to the Holy Spirit that of “in Whom,” and say that this use of the syllables is never inp. 4 terchanged, in order that, as I have already said, the variation of language may indicate the variation of nature. 715   Verily it is sufficiently obvious that in their quibbling about the words they are endeavouring to maintain the force of their impious argument.

By the term “of whom” they wish to indicate the Creator; by the term “through whom,” the subordinate agent 716 or instrument; 717 by the term “in whom,” or “in which,” they mean to shew the time or place.  The object of all this is that the Creator of the universe 718 may be regarded as of no higher dignity than an instrument, and that the Holy Spirit may appear to be adding to existing things nothing more than the contribution derived from place or time.



1 Cor. viii. 6.


The story as told by Theodoret (Ecc. Hist. ii. 23) is as follows:  “Constantius, on his return from the west, passed some time at Constantinople” (i.e. in 360, when the synod at Constantinople was held, shortly after that of the Isaurian Seleucia, “substance” and “hypostasis” being declared inadmissible terms, and the Son pronounced like the Father according to the Scriptures).  The Emperor was urged that “Eudoxius should be convicted of blasphemy and lawlessness.  Constantius however…replied that a decision must first be come to on matters concerning the faith, and that afterwards the case of Eudoxius should be enquired into.  Basilius (of Ancyra), relying on his former intimacy, ventured boldly to object to the Emperor that he was attacking the apostolic decrees; but Constantius took this ill, and told Basilius to hold his tongue, for to you, said he, the disturbance of the churches is due.  When Basilius was silenced, Eustathius (of Sebasteia) intervened and said, Since, sir, you wish a decision to be come to on what concerns the faith, consider the blasphemies uttered against the Only Begotten by Eudoxius; and, as he spoke, he produced the exposition of faith, wherein, besides many other impieties, were found the following expressions:  Things that are spoken of in unlike terms are unlike in substance; there is one God the Father of Whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ by Whom are all things.  Now the term ‘of Whom’ is unlike the term ‘by Whom;’ so the Son is unlike God the Father.  Constantius ordered this exposition of the faith to be read, and was displeased with the blasphemy which it involved.  He therefore asked Eudoxius if he had drawn it up.  Eudoxius instantly repudiated the authorship, and said that it was written by Aetius.  Now Aetius…at the present time was associated with Eunomius and Eudoxius, and, as he found Eudoxius to be, like himself, a sybarite in luxury as well as a heretic in faith, he chose Antioch as the most congenial place of abode, and both he and Eunomius were fast fixtures at the couches of Eudoxius.…The Emperor had been told all this, and now ordered Aetius to be brought before him.  On his appearance, Constantius shewed him the document in question, and proceeded to enquire if he was the author of its language.  Aetius, totally ignorant of what had taken place, and unaware of the drift of the enquiry, expected that he should win praise by confession, and owned that he was the author of the phrases in question.  Then the Emperor perceived the greatness of his iniquity, and forthwith condemned him to exile and to be deported to a place in Phrygia.”  St. Basil accompanied Eustathius and his namesake to Constantinople on this occasion, being then only in deacon’s orders.  (Philost. iv. 12.)  Basil of Ancyra and Eustathius in their turn suffered banishment.  Basil, the deacon, returned to the Cappadocian Cæsarea.


cf. the form of the Arian Creed as given by Eunomius in his Απολογία (Migne, xxx. 840.  “We believe in one God, Father Almighty, of whom are all things; and in one only begotten Son of God, God the word, our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things; and in one Holy Ghost, the Comforter, in whom distribution of all grace in proportion as may be most expedient is made to each of the Saints.”


cf. Eunomius, Liber. Apol. § 27, where of the Son he says πουργός.


On the word ργανον, a tool, as used of the Word of God, cf. Nestorius in Marius Merc. Migne, p. 761 & Cyr. Alex. Ep. 1.  Migne, x. 37.  “The creature did not give birth to the uncreated, but gave birth to man, organ of Godhead.”  cf. Thomasius, Christ. Dog. i. 336.

Mr. Johnston quotes Philo (de Cher. § 35; i. 162. n.) as speaking of ργανον δὲ λόγον Θεοῦ δι᾽ οὗ κατεσκευάσθη (sc. κόσμος).


Here of course the Son is meant.

Next: The systematic discussion of syllables is derived from heathen philosophy.

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