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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. VIII:
The Letters.: To the same, in answer to another question.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Letter CCXXXV. 2960

To the same, in answer to another question.

1.  Which is first in order, knowledge or faith?  I reply that generally, in the case of disciples, faith precedes knowledge.  But, in our teaching, if any one asserts knowledge to come before faith, I make no objecp. 275 tion; understanding knowledge so far as is within the bounds of human comprehension.  In our lessons we must first believe that the letter a is said to us; then we learn the characters and their pronunciation, and last of all we get the distinct idea of the force of the letter.  But in our belief about God, first comes the idea that God is.  This we gather from His works.  For, as we perceive His wisdom, His goodness, and all His invisible things from the creation of the world, 2961 so we know Him.  So, too, we accept Him as our Lord.  For since God is the Creator of the whole world, and we are a part of the world, God is our Creator.  This knowledge is followed by faith, and this faith by worship.

2.  But the word knowledge has many meanings, and so those who make sport of simpler minds, and like to make themselves remarkable by astounding statements (just like jugglers who get the balls out of sight before men’s very eyes), hastily included everything in their general enquiry.  Knowledge, I say, has a very wide application, and knowledge may be got of what a thing is, by number, by bulk, by force, by its mode of existence, by the period of its generation, by its essence.  When then our opponents include the whole in their question, if they catch us in the confession that we know, they straightway demand from us knowledge of the essence; if, on the contrary, they see us cautious as to making any assertion on the subject, they affix on us the stigma of impiety.  I, however, confess that I know what is knowable of God, and that I know what it is which is beyond my comprehension. 2962   So if you ask me if I know what sand is, and I reply that I do, you will obviously be slandering me, if you straightway ask me the number of the sand; inasmuch as your first enquiry bore only on the form of sand, while your second unfair objection bore upon its number.  The quibble is just as though any one were to say, Do you know Timothy?  Oh, if you know Timothy you know his nature.  Since you have acknowledged that you know Timothy, give me an account of Timothy’s nature.  Yes; but I at the same time both know and do not know Timothy, though not in the same way and in the same degree.  It is not that I do not know in the same way in which I do know; but I know in one way and am ignorant in one way.  I know him according to his form and other properties; but I am ignorant of his essence.  Indeed, in this way too, I both know, and am ignorant of, myself.  I know indeed who I am, but, so far as I am ignorant of my essence I do not know myself.

3.  Let them tell me in what sense Paul says, “Now we know in part” 2963 do we know His essence in part, as knowing parts of His essence?  No.  This is absurd; for God is without parts.  But do we know the whole essence?  How then “When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” 2964   Why are idolaters found fault with?  Is it not because they knew God and did not honour Him as God?  Why are the “foolish Galatians” 2965 reproached by Paul in the words, “After that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements?” 2966   How was God known in Jewry?  Was it because in Jewry it was known what His essence is?  “The ox,” it is said, “knoweth his owner.” 2967   According to your argument the ox knows his lord’s essence.  “And the ass his master’s crib.” 2968   So the ass knows the essence of the crib, but “Israel doth not know me.”  So, according to you, Israel is found fault with for not knowing what the essence of God is.  “Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee,” 2969 that is, who have not comprehended thy essence.  But, I repeat, knowledge is manifold—it involves perception of our Creator, recognition of His wonderful works, observance of His commandments and intimate communion with Him.  All this they thrust on one side and force knowledge into one single meaning, the contemplation of God’s essence.  Thou shalt put them, it is said, before the testimony and I shall be known of thee thence. 2970   Is the term, “I shall be known of thee,” instead of, “I will reveal my essence”?  “The Lord knoweth them that are his.” 2971   Does He know the essence of them that are His, but is ignorant of the essence of those who disobey Him?  “Adam knew his wife.” 2972   Did he know her essence?  It is said of Rebekah “She was a virgin, neither had any man known her,” 2973 and “How shall this be seeing I know not a man?” 2974   Did no man know Rebekah’s essence?  Does Mary mean “I do not know the essence of any man”?  Is it not the custom of Scripture to use the word “know” of nuptial embraces?  The statement that God shall be p. 276 known from the mercy seat means that He will be known to His worshippers.  And the Lord knoweth them that are His, means that on account of their good works He receives them into intimate communion with Him.



Placed in 376.


cf. Rom. i. 20.


A various reading gives the sense “but do not know what is beyond my comprehension.”


1 Cor. xiii. 9.


1 Cor. xiii. 10.


Gal. iii. 1.


Gal. iv. 9.


Is. i. 3.


Is. i. 3.


Ps. lxxix. 6.


Referred by the Ben. Ed. Exod. 25:21, 22.  The first clause is apparently introduced from Ex. xvi. 34.


2 Tim. ii. 19.


Gen. iv. 1.


Gen. xxiv. 16.


Luke i. 34.

Next: To the same Amphilochius.

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