Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: Chapter VIII. The heretical objection, that the Son cannot be equal to the Father, because He cannot beget a Son, is turned back upon the authors of it. From the case of human nature it is shown that whether a person begets offspring or not, has nothing to do with his power. Most of all must this be true since, otherwise, the Father Himself would have to be pronounced wanting in power. Whence it follows that we have no right to judge of divine things by human, and must take our stand upon the authority of Holy Writ, otherwise we must deny all power either to the Father or to the Son.
The heretical objection, that the Son cannot be equal to the Father, because He cannot beget a Son, is turned back upon the authors of it. From the case of human nature it is shown that whether a person begets offspring or not, has nothing to do with his power. Most of all must this be true since, otherwise, the Father Himself would have to be pronounced wanting in power. Whence it follows that we have no right to judge of divine things by human, and must take our stand upon the authority of Holy Writ, otherwise we must deny all power either to the Father or to the Son.
78. There is a fools demurrer, your Majesty, which certain persons are given to raising, in order to show the Father and the Son to be not equal together, saying that the Father is Almighty, because He hath begotten the Son, but that the Son is not Almighty, because He hath not been able to beget.
79. But see how wild is their blasphemy, how their philosophers logic confutes itself. For the raising of this question must lead either to their confessing with their own mouths that the Son is co-eternal with the Father, or, if they impose a beginning upon the Sons existence, to their assigning of necessity a beginning to the Fathers power. When, therefore, they deny that the Son is Almighty, they are on the road to assert—which is impious—that the Father began to be Almighty by help of the Son.
80. For if the Father is Almighty by reason of begetting the Son, then, certainly, either the Son is co-eternal with the Father, because if the Father is eternally Almighty, then the Son also is eternal, or, if there was a time when there was not an eternal Son, there was by consequence a time when there was not an Almighty Father. For when they would make out that there was a time when the Son began to be, they are sliding back into [the error of] saying that the Fathers Power also has not been from everlasting, but began to be in consequence of the generation of the Son. So, in their desire to do dishonour to the Son of God, they do so increase His honour as to seem to make Him, contrary to all right belief, the source of His Fathers Power, though the Son saith, “All things that the Father hath are Mine” 2400 —that is to say, not the things which He has bestowed upon the Father, but which He has received from the Father, by right as the Son Whom the Father has begotten.
81. And therefore we do declare the Son to be Eternal Power; 2401 if, then, His Power and Godhead be eternal, surely His Sovereignty is eternal also. He, then, who dishonours the Son dishonours the Father, and is an enemy and offender against duty and love. Let us honour the Son, in Whom the Father is well pleased, for it is the Fathers pleasure that praise be given to the Son, in Whom He Himself is well pleased.
82. Let us, however, make answer to the conclusion they strive to establish; but we seem to have sought, in pursuit of a personal appeal, to escape from the difficulty of treating the question before us. The Father, they say, has begotten a Son; the Son has not. What proof is this that they are not equal? To beget is the Fathers natural function, as a Father, and no necessary outcome of His Sovereign Power. 2402 Furthermore, dutiful regard places persons on an equality with each other, and does not sunder them. Again, our own experience of what holds good amongst us frail mortals teaches us that it may frequently happen that weak men have sons, whilst stronger men have not; that slaves have children, whilst their masters are childless; and that the poor beget offspring, whilst rich men are unblessed with any.
83. But if our adversaries say that this too may be the result of infirmity, inasmuch as men may desire to beget children, but be unable to do so; then, though things divine are not to be judged of and determined by things human, yet let them understand that with men also, as with God, whether one has children or no, is not dependent upon or derived of his authoritative power, but upon the personal attributes of a father, and that begetting lies not in the power of our will, but is contingent upon our qualities of body; for if it were a matter of sovereign authority, then the mightier king would have the greater number of sons. To have sons, then, or to be childless, therefore, is not in necessary connection or relation to sovereign authority. Is it, then, so with nature?
84. If you [my Arian adversaries] regard what you object as natural weakness, and rely upon examples taken from the nature of mankind, remember that the Fathers nature is the same as the Sons, and therefore you p. 273 do either confess the Son to be a true Son, and dishonour the Father in the Person of the Son, by reason of Their unity in one and the same Nature (for as the Father is by Nature God, so also is the Son; whereas the Apostle says that the “gods many” are not so by nature, but are only so called); or, if you deny Him to be a true Son, that is to say, possessing the same Nature, then He is not begotten, and if the Son is not begotten, the Father did not beget Him.
85. The conclusion we come at, therefore, on the line of your persuasion, is that God the Father is not Almighty, because He could not beget, if He did not beget the Son, but created Him. But forasmuch as the Father is Almighty, He being, as you hold, the Almighty in so far as He is the only Author of Being, then surely He has begotten His Son, and not created Him. Howbeit, we ought to believe His word before yours. He says: “I have begotten,” 2403 and that more than once, witnessing to Himself as begetting.
86. It is no sign, then, of infirmity, whether of nature or authority, in Christ, that He has not begotten, for to beget, as we have already said ofttimes, bears no relation to supremacy of authority, but to a personal property in a nature. 2404 For if the Omnipotence of the Father is thereby constituted, that He hath a Son, then He might have been more Almighty had He begotten more Sons.
87. Then is His power exhausted in the begetting of One? Nay, but I will show that Christ also hath sons, whom He begets every day, but with that generation, or rather regeneration, which is related to personal authority rather than nature, for adoption is the exercise and bestowal of authority, and generation the manifestation of a property, as Scripture itself hath taught us: for John saith that “He was in this world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came to His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power 2405 to become sons of God, to them which believe in His Name.” 2406
88. We say, therefore, that it is the function and exercise of His Authority that He has made us sons of God, whereas the oracles of God discover that His generation is in relation to personal attribute, for the Wisdom of God saith: “I came forth out of the mouth of the Most High,” 2407 that is to say not of compulsion, but free, not under bond of authority, but born in a hidden birth, according to personal powers of Supreme Sovereignty and rightfulness of authority. Again, concerning the same Wisdom, Which is the Lord Jesus, the Father saith in another place: “Out of the womb I begat Thee, before the morning star.” 2408
89. Now this He said, not to make us think of a bodily womb, 2409 but to show that true generation is His proper activity, 2410 for if we understand the words as speaking of generation from a body, then [we imply] the Father Almighty conceived and brought forth in travail. But far be it from us that we should make this weak bodily frame the measure of Gods greatness. The word “womb” represents the hidden mystery, the inner sanctuary of the Fathers being, into which neither angels nor archangels nor powers nor dominations, nor any created nature, hath been able to enter. For the Son is always with the Father, and in the Father—with the Father, by virtue of the distinction, without division, proper to the Eternal Trinity; 2411 in the Father, by reason of the essential unity of the Divine Nature.
90. What room here, then, for one to sit in judgment upon the Godhead, to call in question the Father and the Son,—the One for begetting, the Other for not begetting. No man condemns his servant or handmaid for begetting (or bearing) offspring; but those Arians condemn Christ for not begetting—they do condemn Him, for they privately pass sentence of condemnation upon Him, when they take from His glory and dignity. The question, why they have not begotten offspring, does not lead those who are joined in marriage into loss of their love, or denial of each others merits, but the Arians, because Christ hath not begotten a Son, make light of His sovereignty.
91. Why, ask they, is the Son not a Father? Because, on the other side, the Father is not a Son. Why has not Christ begotten? Even because the Father is not begotten. Yet the Son stands none the lower, because He is not a Father; nor the Father, because He is not a Son, for the Son said: “All things that the Father hath are Mine” 2412 —so truly is generation involved in the Fathers perp. 274 sonal attributes, and comes not by mere right of sovereignty.
92. The Substance of the Trinity is, so to say, a common Essence in that which is distinct, 2413 an incomprehensible, ineffable Substance. We hold the distinction, not the confusion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a distinction without separation; a distinction without plurality; 2414 and thus we believe in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as each existing from and to eternity in this divine and wonderful Mystery: not in two Fathers, nor in two Sons, nor in two Spirits. For “there is one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things, and we by Him.” 2415 There is One born of the Father, the Lord Jesus, and therefore He is the Only-begotten. “There is also One Holy Spirit,” 2416 as the same Apostle hath said. So we believe, so we read, so we hold. We know the fact of distinction, we know nothing of the hidden mysteries; we pry not into the causes, but keep the outward signs vouchsafed unto us.
93. O monstrous wickedness, that they who have no power over their own procreation should claim and usurp power to enquire into the Divine Generation! Let them deny, them, that the Son is equal to the Father, forasmuch as He hath not begotten; let them deny that the Son is equal to the Father, because He hath a Father! But if they talked after this fashion about men, who sometimes desire to beget sons, yet cannot, we should call it an insult, just as we should so call it, if of two men, one having sons and the other childless, the latter were said to be inferior to the former on that ground. So monstrous also, I say, does it seem, in regard simply to men, that one should therefore be esteemed the more lightly because he hath a father. Peradventure, indeed, the Arians suppose that Christ is in the position of one in a family, and frets because He is not set free and independent of His Fathers authority, and is not empowered to administer the estate. But Christ is not under tutelage; nay, rather has He abolished all tutelage. 2417
94. How then, let them tell us, would they have these things to be?—a true generation, the true Son begotten of God the Father, that is, of the Substance of the Father, or of another substance? If they say “begotten of the Father, that is, of the Substance of God,” well and good, for then they acknowledge the Son as begotten of the Substance of the Father. If, then, they are of one Substance, surely they are also of one sovereign Power. Whereas, if the Son is begotten of another substance, how can the Father be Almighty, and the Son not Almighty? For what advantage hath God, if He have made His Son of another substance, when confessedly the Son, on His part, hath of another substance made us sons of God? The Son, therefore, is either of one Substance with the Father, or of one sovereign Power.
95. Our adversaries question, then, falls flat, because they cannot judge Christ—or rather, because He is clear, when He is judged. 2418 They are worthy, however, to be condemned upon their own sentence, who raise this question against us, for if the Son be therefore not equal to the Father, because He hath not begotten a Son, then by all means let them who sow discussions of this kind 2419 confess, if they have not children, that their very servants are to be preferred before themselves, inasmuch as they cannot be the equals of those who have children—whereas, if they have children, let them regard the merit thereof as due not to themselves, but of right to their sons.
96. The objection, then, holds not together, that the Son cannot be equal to the Father, by reason of the Father having begotten the Son, whilst the Son has begotten no Son of Himself, for the spring begets the stream, though the stream begets no spring out of itself, and light begets radiance, and not radiance light, yet the nature of radiance and light is one. 2420
S. John xvi. 15.272:2401
Cf. Rom. i. 20.272:2402
i.e.,the Father begets quâ Father, not quâ Almighty (ὁ Παντοκράτωρ).273:2403
Ps. cx. 3.273:2404
See § 82.273:2405
S. John i. 10 ff.273:2407
Ps. cx. 3.273:2409
The word “womb” is used metaphorically in the original, from which St. Ambrose (though inaccurately) quotes. See Ps. cx. in the R.V.273:2410
Or “to show the distinctive character of true” or “perfect generation”—as an absolute act, unconditioned of time or space.273:2411
Ath. Creed 4.273:2412
S. John xvi. 15.274:2413
i.e.without plurality of substance or essential nature. There is one Godhead of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost—not three Godheads.274:2415
1 Cor. viii. 6.274:2416
1 Cor. xii. 11.274:2417
Cf. Gal. iii. 23 ff.274:2418
Ps. li. 4.274:2419
Or “engage in discussions of this kind.” Lat.—serunt hujusmodi quæstiones.274:2420
Cf. Heb. i. 3, where Christ is called the Radiance of the Fathers Glory (ἀπαύγασμταῆς δόξης).
Next: Chapter IX. Various quibbling arguments, advanced by the Arians to show that the Son had a beginning of existence, are considered and refuted, on the ground that whilst the Arians plainly prove nothing, or if they prove anything, prove it against themselves, (inasmuch as He Who is the beginning of all cannot Himself have a beginning), their reasonings do not even hold true with regard to facts of human existence. Time could not be before He was, Who is the Author of time--if indeed at some time He was not in existence, then the Father was without His Power and Wisdom. Again, our own human experience shows that a person is said to exist before he is born.
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