Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: 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.
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.
97. Now that our opponents have failed to maintain their objection against the truth of p. 275 His Sons equality with the Father, on the ground of His Generation, let them see that their well known device of controversy, their stock misrepresentation, is frustrated. Their common use is to propound this riddle: “How can the Son be equal with the Father? If He is a Son, then before He was begotten He was not in existence. If He was in existence, why was He begotten?” And men who advance difficulties raised by Arius yet sturdily deny that they are Arians.
98. Accordingly, they demand our answer, intending, if we say, “The Son existed before He was begotten,” to meet us with a subtle retort, that “If so, then, before He was begotten, He was created, and there is no difference between Him and the rest of created beings, for He began to be a creature before He began to be the Son.” To which they add: “Why was He begotten, when He was already in existence? Because He was imperfect, and in order that He might afterwards be made more perfect?” Whilst if we reply that the Son did not exist before He was begotten, they will immediately reply: “Then by being begotten He was brought into existence, not having existed before He was begotten,” so as to lead on from this to the conclusion that “the Son existed, when He did not exist.” 2421
99. But let those who propound this difficulty and endeavour to enwrap the truth in a cloud tell us themselves whether the Father exerts His power of begetting within or without limits of time. If they say “within limits of time,” then they will attribute to the Father what they object against the Son, so as to make the Father seem to have begun to be what He was not before. If their answer is “without such limits,” then what is left them but to resolve for themselves the problem they have propounded, and acknowledge that the Son is not begotten under limits and conditions of time, since they deny that the Father so begets?
100. If the Son, then, is not begotten within limits of time, we are free to judge that nothing can have existed before the Son, Whose being is not confined by time. If, indeed, there was anything in being before the Son, then it instantly follows that in Him were not created all things in heaven or in earth, and the Apostle is shown to have erred in so setting it down in his Epistle, 2422 whereas, if before He was begotten there was nothing, I see not wherefore He, before Whom none was, should be said to have been after any.
101. With the consideration whereof we must join another most blasphemous objection of theirs, which covers a subtle purpose to confuse the sense and understanding of simple folk. They ask whether everything that comes to an end had also at any time a beginning. If they are told that what has an end also had a beginning, then they return to the charge with the question whether the Father has ceased to beget His Son. This by our consent being granted them, they conclude that the generation of the Son had a beginning. The which if you allow, it seems to follow that if the Generation had a beginning, it appears to have begun in Him Who was begotten; so that one, who had not existed before, may be called “begotten”—their intent being to close the inquiry by laying down as conclusive that there was a time when the Son existed not.
102. Besides this, there are other vain objections, such as persons of their glibness of tongue would readily urge. If, say they, the Son is the Word of the Father, then He is called “begotten,” inasmuch as He is the Word. But then since He is the Word, He is not a work. Now the Father has spoken “in divers manners,” 2423 whence it follows that He has begotten many Sons, if He has spoken His Word, not created it as a work of His hands. O fools, talking as though they knew not the difference between the word uttered and the Divine Word, abiding eternally, born of the Father—born, I say, not uttered only—in Whom is no combination of syllables, but the fulness of the eternal Godhead and life without end! 2424
103. Follows another blasphemy, whereby they enquire whether it was of His own free will, or on compulsion, that the Father begat [His Son], intending, if we say, “Of His own free will,” that we should appear as though we acknowledged that the Fathers Will preceded the [Divine] Generation, and to answer that there being something that preceded the existence of the Son, the Son is not co-eternal with the Father, or that He, like the rest of the world, is a being created, forasmuch as it is written, “He hath made all things, as many as He would,” 2425 though this is spoken, not of the Father and p. 276 the Son, but of those creatures which the Son made. Whereas if we answered that the Father begat [His Son] on compulsion, we should seem to have attributed infirmity to the Father.
104. But in the eternal Generation there is no foregoing condition, neither of will, nor of unwillingness, and therefore I can neither say that the Father begat of His free Will, nor yet that He begat on compulsion, for to beget depends not upon possibility as determined by will, but rather appears to stand in a certain right and property of the hidden being of the Father. For just as the Father is not good because He wills to be so, or is compelled to be so, but is above these conditions—is good, that is, by nature,—even so the putting forth of His generative power is neither of will nor of necessity.
105. Yet let us grant their proposal. Granted that the Generation depends on the Will of Him Who generates; when do they say that this act of will took place? If it was in the beginning, then, plainly, the Son was in the beginning. If the Will is eternal, then the Son also is eternal. If the Will began to exist, then God the Father, as He was, was so displeased with Himself, that He made a change in His condition, that is to say, without His Son He was displeasing to Himself; in His Son He began to be well pleased.
106. To follow out the consequences thereof. If the Father conceived, after the manner of human nature, a desire to beget, then did He also pass through all the experiences which befal men before the birth takes place—but we find that generation is not determined merely by will, but is an object of wish.
107. Thus do they betray their own ungodliness, who would have it that Christs generation had a beginning, in order that it may seem, not that true begetting of the Word abiding, but the utterance of words that pass and are forgotten, and that by intrusion of [the premiss of] a multitude of sons, they may [be warranted to] deny Christs personal possession of the divine attributes, to the end that He may be regarded as neither the only-begotten nor the first-begotten Son; and lastly, that given the belief that His existence had a beginning, it may also be deemed as appointed to have an end.
108. But neither had the Son of God any beginning, seeing that He already was at the beginning, nor shall He come to an end, Who is the Beginning and the End of the Universe; 2426 for being the Beginning, how could He take and receive that which He already had, 2427 or how shall He come to an end, being Himself the End of all things, so that in that End we have an abiding-place without end? The Divine Generation is not an event occurring in the course of time, and within its limits, and therefore before it time is not, and in it time has no place.
109. Again, their aimless and futile question finds no loophole for entry, even when directed upon the creation itself; 2428 nay, indeed, temporal existences appear, in certain cases, to admit of no division of time. For instance, light generates radiance, but we can neither conceive that the radiance begins to exist after the light, nor that the light is in existence before the radiance, for where there is a light, 2429 there is radiance, and where there is radiance there is also a light; and thus we can neither have a light without radiance, nor radiance without light, because both the light is in the radiance, and the radiance in the light. Thus the Apostle was taught to call the Son “the Radiance of the Fathers Glory,” 2430 for the Son is the Radiance of His Fathers light, co-eternal, because of eternity of Power; inseparable, by unity of brightness.
110. If then we can neither understand the mystery of, nor dissociate, these created objects in the sky above us, which we see, can we comprehend Him Whom we see not, Who is above every created existence, God, as He is in the very Holy of Holies of His own Generation? Can we make time a barrier between Him and the Son, when all time is the creation of the Son?
111. Let them cease therefore, and say no more that before He was begotten the Son was not. For the word “before” is a mark of time, whereas the Generation is before p. 277 all times, 2431 and therefore that which comes after aught comes not before it, and the work cannot be before the maker, seeing that necessarily objects made take their commencement from the craftsman who makes them. How can the customary action of any created object be regarded as existing prior to the maker of it, whilst all time is a creation, and every creation has taken its being from its creator?
112. I would, therefore, further examine our opponents, who esteem themselves so cunning, and have them make good the application of their theory to human existence, seeing that they use it to disparage the glory of Gods Existence, and keep far away from any confession of an inscrutable mystery in the Divine Generation. I would have them find ground for their objection in the facts of human generation. Of Gods Son they assert that before He was begotten He was not,—that is to say, they say this of the Wisdom, the Power, the Word of God, Whose Generation knows nothing prior to itself. But if, as they would have us believe, there was a time when the Son existed not (the which it is blasphemy to affirm), then there was a time when God lacked the fulness of Divine Perfection, if afterwards He passed through a process of begetting a Son.
113. To show them, however, the weakness and transparency of their objection, though it has no real relation to any truth, divine or human, I will prove to them that men have existed before they were born. Else, let them show that Jacob, who whilst yet hidden in the secret chamber of his mothers womb supplanted his brother, had not been appointed and ordained, ere ever he was born; 2432 let them show that Jeremiah had not likewise been so, before his birth,—Jeremiah, to whom the message comes: “Before I formed thee in thy mothers womb, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth from the belly, I sanctified thee, and appointed thee for a prophet amongst the nations.” 2433 What testimony can we have stronger than the case of this great prophet, who was sanctified before he was born, and known before he was shaped?
114. What, again, shall I say of John, of whom his holy mother testifies that, whilst he yet lay in her womb, he perceived in spirit 2434 the presence of his Lord, and leaped for joy, as we remember it to be written, his mother saying: “For lo, as soon as the voice of the salutation entered mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” 2435 Was he, then, who prophesied, in existence or not? Nay, surely he was—surely he was in being who worshipped his Maker; he was in being who spake in his mothers womb. And so Elisabeth was filled with the spirit of her son, and Mary sanctified by the Spirit of hers, for thus you may find it recorded, that “the babe leaped in her womb, and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.” 2436
115. Consider the proper force of each word. Elisabeth was indeed the first to hear the voice of Mary, but John was first to feel His Lords gracious Presence. Sweet is the harmony of prophecy with prophecy, of woman with woman, of babe with babe. The women speak words of grace, the babes move hiddenly, and as their mothers approach one another, so do they engage in mysterious converse of love; and in a twofold miracle, though in diverse degrees of honour, the mothers prophesy in the spirit of their little ones. Who, I ask, was it that performed this miracle? Was it not the Son of God, Who made the unborn to be?
116. Thus your objection fails of reconcilement with the truths of human existence—can it attain thereto with divine mysteries? What mean you by your principle that “before He was begotten He was not”? Was the Father engaged for some time in conception, so that certain epochs passed away before the Son was begotten? Was He, like women, in travail of birth, so that just this travail? What would you? Why seek we to pry into divine mysteries? The Scriptures tell me the necessary effects of the Divine Generation, 2437 not how it is done.
St. Ambrose exhibits the argument as a reductio ad absurdum.275:2422
Col. i. 16.275:2423
Heb. i. 1.275:2424
Col. 1:19, Col. 2:9, Col. 3:4, John 1:4, John 5:26, John 11:25, John 14:6, Rev. 1:18.275:2425
Ps. cxv. 3, which, however, in the English, runs: “He hath done whatsoever pleased Him.”—Prayer-book.276:2426
Rev. 1:8, 17, Rev. 2:8, Rev. 3:14, Rev. 22:13, Isa. 41:4, Isa. 44:6, Isa. 48:12.276:2427
“And,” we may add; “already was.”—St. Ambrose refers to St. John viii. 25, but the reference is only justifiable by means of a defective rendering of the Greek; unless we suppose our Saviour to be alluding to what the prophets had said of Himself as well as to His own statements. Cf. Bk. III. vii. 49.276:2428
On the analogy of which, indeed, Arianism endeavoured to conceive of the Nature and Activities of God.276:2429
Or “a shining body”—lumen, not lux, as in other places of this passage. St. Ambrose probably was unaware that “radiance” or “effulgence” from an incandescent or otherwise shining body is clue to the presence of the atmosphere, so that his analogy requires modification when bodies shining in vacuo come into the account. But with regard to these it may be urged that the shining of the body may be taken as the sole object of consideration, whilst it is fully admitted that the brightness and the body, though separated for purposes of mental treatment and thought, are not so in fact and actual reality. In the Book of Wisdom, vii. 26, the Divine Wisdom is called “the brightness of everlasting Light” (ἀταύγασμα φωτὸς αϊδίου)—These texts would naturally suggest the Light of Light (φῶς ἐκ φωτός,) of the Nicene Creed. The analogy of light and radiance is employed by many of the Fathers in maintaining the doctrine of the Church, see Alfords note on Heb. i. 3.276:2430
Heb. i. 3.277:2431
Or “before all worlds.” Cf. Heb. i. 2, in the Greek, Latin, and English.277:2432
Gen. xxv. 23.277:2433
Jer. i. 5.277:2434
Or “by the Spirit,” i.e. by the help, power of the Spirit, working indeed with his spirit.277:2435
S. Luke i. 44.277:2436
S. Luke i. 41.277:2437
i.e. that “such as the Father is, such is the Son.”
Next: Chapter X. The objection that Christ, on the showing of St. John, lives because of the Father, and therefore is not to be regarded as equal with the Father, is met by the reply that for the Life of the Son, in respect of His Godhead, there has never been a time when it began; and that it is dependent upon none, whilst the passage in question must be understood as referring to His human life, as is shown by His speaking there of His body and blood. Two expositions of the passage are given, the one of which is shown to refer to Christ's Manhood, whilst the second teaches His equality with the Father, as also His likeness with men. Rebuke is administered to the Arians for the insult which they are seeking to inflict upon the Son, and the sense in which the Son can be said to live “because of” the Father is explained, as also the union of life with the divine Life. A further objection, based upon the Son's prayer that He may be glorified by the Father, is briefly refuted.
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