Hilary of Poitiers
On the Trinity
1. The Apostle in his letter to the Ephesians, reviewing in its manifold aspects the full and perfect mystery of the Gospel, mingles with other instructions in the knowledge of God the following: "As ye also were called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, and through all, and in us all" [Ephesians 4:4-5]. He does not leave us in the vague and misleading paths of an indefinite teaching, or abandon us to the shifting fancies of imagination, but limits the unimpeded license of intellect and desire by the appointment of restraining barriers. He gives us no opportunity to be wise beyond what he preached, but defines in exact and precise language the faith fixed for all time, that there may be no excuse for instability of belief.
He declares one faith, as he preaches one Lord, and pronounces one baptism, as he declares one faith of one Lord, that as there is one faith of one Lord, so there may be one baptism of one faith in one Lord. And since the whole mystery of the baptism and the faith is not only in one Lord, but also in one God, he completes the consummation of our hope by the confession of one God. The one baptism and the one faith are of one God, as they are of one Lord.
Lord and God are each one, not by union of person but by distinction of properties: for, on the one hand, it is the property of Each to be one, whether of the Father in His Fatherhood, or of the Son in His Sonship, and on the other hand, that property of individuality, which Each possesses, constitutes for Each the mystery of His union with the Other. Thus the one Lord Christ cannot take away from God the Father His Lordship, or the one God the Father deny to the one Lord Christ His Godhead. If, because God is one, Christ is not also by nature divine, then we cannot allow that the one God is Lord, because there is one Lord Christ: that is, on the supposition that by their 'oneness' is signified not the mystery, but an exclusive unity. So there is one baptism and one faith of one Lord, as of one God.
2. But how can it be any longer one faith, if it does not steadfastly and sincerely confess one Lord and one God the Father: and how can the faith which is not one faith confess one Lord and one God the Father? Further, how can the faith be one, when its preachers are so at variance? One comes teaching that the Lord Jesus Christ, being in the weakness of our nature, groaned with anguish when the nails pierced His hands, that He lost the virtue of His own power and nature, and shrank shuddering from the death which threatened Him. Another even denies the cardinal doctrine of the generation and pronounces Him a creature. Another will call Him, but not think Him, God on the ground that religion allows us to speak of more Gods than One, but He, Whom we recognize as God, must be conscious of sharing the divine nature. Again, how can Christ the Lord be one, when some say that as God He feels no pain, others make Him weak and fearful: to some He is God in name, to others God in nature: to some the Son by generation, to others the Son by appellation? And if this is so, how can God the Father be one in the faith, when to some He is Father by His authority, to others Father by generation, in the sense that God is Father of the universe?
And yet, who will deny that whatever is not the one faith, is not faith at all? For in the one faith there is one Lord Christ, and God the Father is one. But the one Lord Jesus Christ is not one in the truth of the confession, as well as in name, unless He is Son, unless He is God, unless He is unchangeable, unless His Sonship and His Godhead have been eternally present in Him. He who preaches Christ other than He is, that is, other than Son and God, preaches another Christ. Nor is he in the one faith of the one baptism, for in the teaching of the Apostle the one faith is the faith of that one baptism, in which the one Lord is Christ, the Son of God Who is also God.
3. Yet it cannot be denied that Christ was Christ. It cannot be that He was incognizable to mankind. The books of the prophets have set their seal upon Him: the fullness of the times, which waxes daily, witnesses of Him: by the working of wonders the tombs of Apostles and Martyrs proclaim Him: the power of His name reveals Him: the unclean spirits confess Him, and the devils howling in their torment call aloud His name. In all we see the dispensation of His power. But our faith must preach Him as He is, namely, one Lord not in name but in confession, in one faith of one baptism: for on our faith in one Lord Christ depends our confession of one God the Father.
4. But these teachers of a new Christ, who deny to Him all that is His, preach another Lord Christ as well as another God the Father. The One is not the Begetter but the Creator, the Other not begotten, but created. Christ is therefore not very God, because He is not God by birth, and faith cannot recognize a Father in God, because there is no generation to constitute Him Father. They glorify God the Father indeed, as is His right and due, when they predicate of Him a nature unapproachable, invisible, inviolable, ineffable, and infinite, endued with omniscience and omnipotence, instinct with love, moving in all and permeating all, immanent and transcendent, sentient in all sentient existence. But when they proceed to ascribe to Him the unique glory of being alone good, alone omnipotent, alone immortal, who does not feel that this pious praise aims to exclude the Lord Jesus Christ from the blessedness, which by the reservation 'alone' is restricted to the glory of God? Does it not leave Christ in sinfulness and weakness and death, while the Father reigns in solitary perfection? Does it not deny in Christ a natural origin from God the Father, in the fear lest He should be thought to inherit by a birth, which bestows upon the Begotten the same virtue of nature as the Begetter, a blessedness natural to God the Father alone?
5. Unlearned in the teaching of the Gospels and Apostles, they extol the glory of God the Father, not, however, with the sincerity of a devout believer, but with the cunning of impiety, to wrest from it an argument for their wicked heresy. Nothing, they say, can be compared with His nature: therefore the Only-begotten God is excluded from the comparison, because He possesses a lower and weaker nature. And this they say of God, the living image of the living God, the perfect form of His blessed nature, the only-begotten offspring of His unbegotten substance; Who is not truly the image of God unless He possesses the perfect glory of the Father's blessedness: and reproduces in its exactitude the likeness of His whole nature.
But if the Only-begotten God is the image of the Unbegotten God, the verity of that perfect and supreme nature resides in Him and makes Him the image of the very God. Is the Father omnipotent? The weak Son is not the image of omnipotence. Is He good? The Son, Whose divinity is of a lower stamp, does not reflect in His sinful nature the image of goodness. Is He incorporeal? The Son, Whose very spirit is confined to the limits of a body, is not in the form of the Incorporeal. Is He ineffable? The Son, Whom language can define, Whose nature the tongue can describe, is not the image of the Ineffable. Is He the true God? The Son possesses only a fictitious divinity, and the false cannot be the image of the True.
The Apostle, however, does not ascribe to Christ a portion of the image, or a part of the form, but pronounces Him unreservedly the image of the invisible God and the form of God. And how could He declare more expressly the divine nature of the Son of God, than by saying that Christ is the image of the invisible God even in respect of His invisibility: for if the substance of Christ were discernible how could He be the image of an invisible nature?
6. But, as we pointed out in the former books, they seize the dispensation of the assumed manhood as a pretext to dishonor His divinity, and distort the mystery of our salvation into an occasion of blasphemy. Had they held fast the faith of the Apostle, they would neither have forgotten that He, Who was in the form of God, took the form of a servant, nor made use of the servant's forth to dishonor the form of God (for the form of God includes the fullness of divinity), but they would have noted, reasonably and reverently, the distinction of occasions and mysteries, without dishonoring the divinity, or being misled by the Incarnation of Christ. But now, when we have, I am convinced, proved everything to the utmost, and pointed out the power of the divine nature underlying the birth of the assumed body, there is no longer room for doubt.
He Who was at once man and the Only-begotten God performed all things by the power of God, and in the power of God accomplished all things through a true human nature. As begotten of God He possessed the nature of divine omnipotence, as born of the Virgin He had a perfect and entire humanity. Though He had a real body, He subsisted in the nature of God, and though He subsisted in the nature of God, He abode in a real body.
7. In our reply we have followed Him to the moment of His glorious death, and taking one by one the statements of their unhallowed doctrine, we have refuted them from the teaching of the Gospels and the Apostle. But even after His glorious resurrection there are certain things which they have made bold to construe as proofs of the weakness of a lower nature, and to these we must now reply. Let us adopt once more our usual method of drawing out from the words themselves their true signification, that so we may discover the truth precisely where they think to overthrow it. For the Lord spoke in simple words for our instruction in the faith, and His words cannot need support or comment from foreign and irrelevant sayings.
8. Among their other sins the heretics often employ as an argument the words of the Lord, "I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and My God and your God" [John 20:17]. His Father is also their Father, His God their God; therefore He is not in the nature of God, for He pronounces God the Father of others as of Himself, and His unique Sonship ceases when He shares with others the nature and the origin which make Him Son and God.
But let them add further the words of the Apostle, "But when He saith All things are put in subjection, He is excepted Who did subject all things unto Him. And when all things have been subjected unto Him, then shall He Himself be subjected unto Him that did subject all things unto Himself, that God may be all in all" [1 Corinthians 15:27-28], whereby, since they regard that subjection as a proof of weakness, they may dispossess Him of the virtue of His Father's nature, because His natural infirmity subjected Him to the dominion of a stronger nature. And after that, let them adopt their very strongest position and their impregnable defense, before which the truth of the Divine birth is to he demolished; namely, that if He is subjected, He is not God; if His God and Father is ours also, He shares all in common with creatures, and therefore is Himself also a creature: created of God and not begotten, since the creature has its substance out of nothing, but the begotten possesses the nature of its author.
9. Falsehood is always infamous, for the liar throwing off the bridle of shame dares to gainsay the truth, or else at times he hides behind some veil of pretext, that he may appear to defend with modesty what is shameless in intention. But in this case, when they sacrilegiously use the Scriptures to degrade the dignity of our Lord, there is no room for the blush or the false excuse; for there are occasions when even pardon accorded to ignorance is refused, and willful misconstruction is exposed in its naked profanity. Let us postpone for a moment the exposition of this passage in the Gospel, and ask them first whether they have forgotten the preaching of the Apostle, who said, "Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness, which was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, received up in glory." [1 Timothy 3:16]. Who is so dull that he cannot comprehend that the mystery of godliness is simply the dispensation of the flesh assumed by the Lord?
At the outset then, he who does not agree in this confession is not in the faith of God. For the Apostle leaves no doubt that all must confess that the hidden secret of our salvation is not the dishonor of God, but the mystery of great godliness, and a mystery no longer kept from our eyes, but manifested in the flesh; no longer weak through the nature of flesh, but justified in the Spirit. And so by the justification of the Spirit is removed from our faith the idea of fleshly weakness; through the manifestation of the flesh is revealed that which was secret, and in the unknown cause of that which was secret is contained the only confession, the confession of the mystery of great godliness.
This is the whole system of the faith set forth by the Apostle in its proper order. From godliness proceeds the mystery, from the mystery the manifestation in the flesh, from the manifestation in the flesh the justification in the Spirit: for the mystery of godliness which was manifested in the flesh, to be truly a mystery, was manifested in the flesh through the justification of the Spirit. Again, we must not forget what manner of justification in the Spirit is this manifestation in the flesh: for the mystery which was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, and believed on in this world, this same mystery was received up in glory. Thus is it in every way a mystery of great godliness, when it is manifested in the flesh, when it is justified in the Spirit, when it is seen of angels, when it is preached among the nations, when it is believed on in the world, and when it is received up in glory.
The preaching follows the seeing, and the believing the preaching, and the consummation of all is the receiving up in glory: for the assumption into glory is the mystery of great godliness, and by faith in the dispensation we are prepared to be received up, and to be conformed to the glory of the Lord. The assumption of flesh is therefore also the mystery of great godliness, for through the assumption of flesh the mystery was manifested in the flesh. But we must believe that the manifestation in the flesh also is this same mystery of great godliness, for His manifestation in the flesh is His justification in the Spirit, and His assumption into glory. And now what room does our faith leave for any to think that the secret of the dispensation of godliness is the enfeebling of the divinity, when through the assumption of glory is to be confessed the mystery of great godliness? What was 'infirmity' is now the 'mystery:' what was 'necessity' becomes 'godliness.' And now let us turn to the meaning of the Evangelist's words, that the secret of our salvation and our glory may not be converted into an occasion of blasphemy.
10. You credit with the weight of irresistible authority, heretic, that saying of the Lord, "I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God." [John 20:17]. The same Father, you say, is His Father and ours, the same God His God and ours. He partakes, therefore, of our weakness, for in the possession of the same Father we are not inferior as sons, and in the service of the same God we are equal as servants. Since, then, we are of created origin and a servant's nature, but have a common Father and God with Him, He is in common with our nature a creature and a servant. So runs this infatuated and unhallowed teaching. It produces also the words of the Prophet, "Thy God hath anointed Thee, O God," [Psalm 45:7], to prove that Christ does not partake of that glorious nature which belongs to God, since the God Who anoints Him is preferred before Him as His God.
11. We do not know Christ the God unless we know God the Begotten. But to be born God is to belong to the nature of God, for the name Begotten signifies indeed the manner of His origin, but does not make Him different in kind from the Begetter. And if so, the Begotten owes indeed to His Author the source of His being, but is not dispossessed of the nature of that Author, for the birth of God can arise but from one origin, and have but one nature. If its origin is not from God, it is not a birth; if it is anything but a birth, Christ is not God. But He is God of God, and therefore God the Father stands to God the Son as God of His birth and Father of His nature, for the birth of God is from God, and in the specific nature of God.
12. See in all that He said, how carefully the Lord tempers the pious acknowledgment of His debt, so that neither the confession of the birth could be held to reflect upon His divinity, nor His reverent obedience to infringe upon His sovereign nature. He does not withhold the homage due from Him as the Begotten, Who owed to His Author His very existence, but He manifests by His confident bearing the consciousness of participation in that nature, which belongs to Him by virtue of the origin whereby He was born as God. Take, for instance, the words, "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father also" [John 14:9], and, "The words that I say, I speak not from Myself." [John 14:10]. He does not speak from Himself: therefore He receives from His Author that which He says. But if any have seen Him, they have seen the Father also: they are conscious, by this evidence, given to show that God is in Him, that a nature, one in kind with that of God, was born from God to subsist as God.
Take again the words, "That which the Father hath given unto Me, is greater than all" [John 10:29], and, "I and the Father are one" [John 10:30]. To say that the Father gave, is a confession that He received His origin: but the unity of Himself with the Father is a property of His nature derived from that origin. Take another instance, "He hath given all judgment unto the Son, that all may honor the Son even as they honor the Father." [John 5:23]. He acknowledges that the judgment is given to Him, and therefore He does not put His birth in the background: but He claims equal honor with the Father, and therefore He does not resign His nature. Yet another example, "I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me" [John 14:10], and, "The Father is greater than I." [John 14:28].
The One is in the Other: recognize, then, the divinity of God, the Begotten of God: the Father is greater than He: perceive, then, His acknowledgment of the Father's authority. In the same way He says, "The Son can do nothing of Himself but what He hath seen the Father doing: for what things soever He doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner." [John 5:19]. He doeth nothing of Himself: that is, in accordance with His birth the Father prompts His actions: yet what things soever the Father doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner; that is, He subsists as nothing less than God, and by the Father's omnipotent nature residing in Him, can do all that God the Father does. All is uttered in agreement with His unity of Spirit with the Father, and the properties of that nature, which He possesses by virtue of His birth. That birth, which brought Him into being, constituted Him divine, and His being reveals the consciousness of that divine nature. God the Son confesses God His Father, because He was born of Him; but also, because He was born, He inherits the whole nature of God.
13. So the dispensation of the great and godly mystery makes Him, Who was already Father of the divine Son, also His Lord in the created form which He assumed, for He, Who was in the form of God, was found also in the form of a servant. Yet He was not a servant, for according to the Spirit He was God the Son of God. Every one will agree also that there is no servant where there is no lord. God is indeed Father in the generation of the Only-begotten God, but only in the case that the Other is a servant can we call Him Lord as well as Father. The Son was not at the first a servant by nature, but afterwards began to be by nature something which He was not before. Thus the Father is Lord on the same grounds as the Son is servant. By the dispensation of His nature the Son had a Lord, when He made Himself a servant by the assumption of manhood.
14. Being, then, in the form of a servant, Jesus Christ, Who before was in the form of God, said as a man, I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God. He was speaking as a servant to servants: how can we then dissociate the words from Christ the servant, and transfer them to that nature, which had nothing of the servant in it? For He Who abode in the form of God took upon Him the form of a servant, this form being the indispensable condition of His fellowship as a servant with servants. It is in this sense that God is His Father and the Father of men, His God and the God of servants. Jesus Christ was speaking as a man in the form of a servant to men and servants; what difficulty is there then in the idea, that in His human aspect the Father is His Father as ours, in His servant's nature God is His God as all men's?
15. These, then, are the words with which He prefaces the message, Go unto My brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and My God and your God. I ask, Are they to be understood as His brethren with reference to the form of God or to the form of a servant? And has our flesh kinship with Him in regard to the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in Him, that we should be reckoned His brothers in respect of His divinity? No, for the Spirit of prophecy recognizes clearly in what respect we are the brethren of the Only-begotten God. It is as "a worm and no man" [Psalm 22:6], that He says, "I will declare Thy name unto My brethren" [Psalm 22:22]. As a worm, which is born without the ordinary process of conception, or else comes up into the world, already living, from the depths of the earth, He speaks here in manifestation of the fact that He had assumed flesh and also brought it up, living, from Hades.
Throughout the Psalm He is foretelling by the Spirit of prophecy the mysteries of His Passion: it is therefore in respect of the dispensation, in which He suffered, that He has brethren. The Apostle also recognizes the mystery of this brotherhood, for he calls Him not only the firstborn from the dead [Colossians 1:18], but also the firstborn among many brethren [Romans 8:29]. Christ is the Firstborn among many brethren in the same sense in which He is Firstborn from the dead: and as the mystery of death concerns His body, so the mystery of brotherhood also refers to His flesh. Thus God has brethren according to His flesh, for the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us: but the Only-begotten Son, unique as the Only-begotten, has no brethren.
16. By assuming flesh, however, He acquired our nature in our totality, and became all that we are, but did not lose that which He was before. Both before by His heavenly origin, and now by His earthly constitution, God is His Father. By His earthly constitution God is His Father, since all things are from God the Father, and God is Father to all things, since from Him and in Him are all things. But to the Only-begotten God, God is Father, not only because the Word became flesh; His Fatherhood extends also to Him Who was, as God the Word, with God in the beginning. Thus, when the Word became flesh, God was His Father both by the birth of God the Word, and by the constitution of His flesh: for God is the Father of all flesh, though not in the same way that He is Father to God the Word.
But God the Word, though He did not cease to be God, really did become flesh: and while He thus dwelt He was still truly the Word, just as when the Word became flesh He was still truly God as well as man. For to 'dwell' can only be said of one who abides in something: and to become flesh of one who is born. He dwelt among us; that is, He assumed our flesh. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; that is, He was God in the reality of our body. If Christ Jesus, the man according to the flesh, robbed God the Word of the divine nature, or was not according to the mystery of godliness also God the Word, then it reduces His nature to our level that God is His Father, and our Father, His God and our God. But if God the Word, when He became the man Christ Jesus, did not cease to be God the Word, then God is at the same time His Father and ours, His God and ours, only in respect of that nature, by which the Word is our brother, and the message to His brethren, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and My God and your God, is not that of the Only-begotten God the Word, but of the Word made flesh.
17. The Apostle here speaks in carefully guarded words, which by their definiteness can give no occasion to the ungodly. We have seen that the Evangelist makes the Lord use the word 'Brethren' in the preface to the message, thus signifying that the whole message, being addressed to His brethren, refers to His fellowship in that nature which makes Him their brother. Thus he makes manifest that the mystery of godliness, which is here proclaimed, is no degradation of His divinity. The community with Him, by which God is our Father and His, our God and His, exists in regard to the dispensation of the flesh: we are counted His brethren, because He was born into the body. No one disputes that God the Father is also the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, but this reverent confession offers no occasion for irreverence.
God is His God but not as possessing a different order of divinity from His. He was begotten God of the Father, and born a servant by the dispensation: and so God is His Father because He is God of God, and God is His God, because He is flesh of the Virgin. All this the Apostle confirms in one short and decisive sentence, "Making mention of you in my prayers that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation." [Ephesians 1:17]. When he speaks of Him as Jesus Christ, he mentions His God: when his theme is the glory of Christ, he calls God His Father. To Christ, as having glory, God is Father: to Christ, as being Jesus, God is God. For the angel, when speaking of Christ the Lord, Who should be born of Mary, calls Him by the name 'Jesus:' but to the prophets Christ the Lord is 'Spirit.'
The Apostle's words in this passage seem to many, on account of the Latin, somewhat obscure, for Latin has no articles, which the beautiful and logical usage of Greek employs. The Greek runs, ho theos tou Kuriou hemon Iesou Christou ho pater tes doxes, which we might translate into Latin, if the usage of the article were permitted, 'Ille Deus illius Domini nostri Jesu Christi, ille pater illius claritatis' (The God of the Lord [of us] Jesus Christ, the Father of the glory). In this form 'The God of the Jesus Christ,' and 'the Father of the glory,' the sentence expresses, so far as we can comprehend them, certain truths of His nature. Where the glory of Christ is concerned, God is His Father; where Christ is Jesus, there the Father is His God. In the dispensation by which He is a servant, He has as God Him Whom, in the glory by which He is God, He has as Father.
18. Time and the lapse of ages make no difference to a Spirit. Christ is one and the same Christ, whether in the body, or abiding by the Spirit in the prophets. Speaking through the mouth of the holy Patriarch David, He says, "Thy God, O God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows" [Psalm 45:7], which refers to no less a mystery than the dispensation of His assumption of flesh. He, Who now sends the message to His brethren that their Father is His Father, and their God His God, announced Himself then as anointed by His God above His fellows. No one is fellow to the Only-begotten Christ, God the Word: but we know that we are His fellows by the assumption which made Him flesh. That anointing did not exalt the blessed and incorruptible Begotten Who abides in the nature of God, but it established the mystery of His body, and sanctified the manhood which He assumed.
To this the Apostle Peter witnesses, "Of a truth in this city were they gathered together against Thy holy Son Jesus, Whom Thou didst anoint" [Acts 4:27]; and on another occasion, "Ye know that the saying was published through all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached: even Jesus of Nazareth, how that God anointed Him with the Holy Ghost and with power." [Acts 10:37-38]. Jesus was anointed, therefore, that the mystery of the regeneration of flesh might be accomplished. Nor are we left in doubt how He was thus anointed with the Spirit of God and with power, when we listen to the Father's voice, as it spoke when He came up out of the Jordan, "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee." [Mark 1:11]. Thus is testified the sanctification of His flesh, and in this testimony we must recognize His anointing with the power of the Spirit.
19. But the Word was God, and with God in the beginning, and therefore the anointing could neither be related nor explained, if it referred to that nature, of which we are told nothing, except that it was in the beginning. And in fact He Who was God had no need to anoint Himself with the Spirit and power of God, when He was Himself the Spirit and power of God. So He, being God, was anointed by His God above His fellows. And, although there were many Christs (i.e. anointed persons) according to the Law before the dispensation of the flesh, yet Christ, Who was anointed above His fellows, came after them, for He was preferred above His anointed fellows.
Accordingly, the words of the prophecy bring out the fact that the anointing took place in time, and comparatively late in time. "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity: therefore Thy God, O God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows." [Psalm 45:7]. Now, a fact which follows later upon other facts, cannot be dated before them. That a reward be deserved postulates as a prior condition the existence of one who can deserve it, for merit earned implies that there has been one capable of acquiring it. If, therefore, we attribute the birth of the Only-begotten God to this anointing, which is His reward for loving righteousness and hating iniquity, we shall be regarding Him not as born, but as promoted by unction, to be the Only-begotten God. But then we imply that He advanced with gradual progress and promotion to perfect divinity, and that He was not born God, but afterwards for His merit anointed God. Thus we shall make Christ as God Himself conditioned, whereas He is the final cause of all conditions; and what becomes then of the Apostle's words, "All things are through Him and in Him, and He is before all, and in Him all things consist" [Colossians 1:16-17]?
The Lord Jesus Christ was not deified because of anything, or by means of anything, but was born God: God by origin, not promoted to divinity for any cause after His birth, but as the Son; and one in kind with God because begotten of Him. His anointing then, though it is the result of a cause, did not enhance that in Him, which could not be made more perfect. It concerned that part of Him which was to be made perfect through the perfection of the Mystery: that is, our manhood was sanctified in Christ by unction. If then the prophet here also teaches us the dispensation of the servant, for which Christ is anointed by His God above His fellows, and that because He loved righteousness and hated iniquity, then surely the words of the prophet must refer to that nature in Christ, by which He has fellows through His assumption of flesh.
Can we doubt this when we note how carefully the Spirit of prophecy chooses His words? God is anointed by His God; that is, in His own nature He is God, but in the dispensation of the anointing God is His God. God is anointed: but tell me, is that Word anointed, Who was God in the beginning? Manifestly not, for the anointing comes after His divine birth. It was then not the begotten Word, God with God in the beginning, Who was anointed, but that nature in God which came to Him through the dispensation later than His divinity: and when His God anointed Him, He anointed in Him the whole nature of the servant, which He assumed in the mystery of His flesh.
20. Let no one then defile with his godless interpretations the mystery of great godliness which was manifested in the flesh, or reckon himself equal to the Only-begotten in respect of His divine substance. Let Him be our brother and our fellow, inasmuch as the Word made flesh dwelt among us, inasmuch as the man Jesus Christ is Mediator between God and man. Let Him, after the manner of servants, have a common Father and a common God with us, and as anointed above His fellows, let Him be of the same nature as His anointed fellows, though His be an unction of special privilege. In the mystery of the Mediatorship let Him be at once very man and very God, Himself God of God, but having a common Father and God with us in that community by which He is our brother.
21. But perhaps that subjection, that delivering of the kingdom, and lastly that end betoken the dissolution of His nature, or the loss of His power, or the enfeebling of His divinity. Many argue thus: Christ is included in the common subjection of all to God, and by the condition of subjection loses His divinity: He surrenders His Kingdom, therefore He is no longer King: the end which overtakes Him entails as its consequence the loss of His power.
22. It will not be out of place here if we review the full meaning of the Apostle's teaching upon this subject. Let us take, then, each single sentence and expound it, that we may grasp the entire Mystery by comprehending it in its fullness. The words of the Apostle are,
"For since by man came death by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ are all made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then they that are Christ's at His coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered the Kingdom to God, even the Father, when He shall have emptied all authority and all power. For He must reign until He put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be conquered is death. But when He saith, All things are put in subjection, He is excepted Who did subject all things unto Him. But when all things have been subjected to Him, then shall He also Himself be subjected to Him, that did subject all things unto Him, that God may be all in all." [1 Corithians 15:21-28].
23. The Apostle who was chosen not of men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, to be the teacher of the Gentiles, expounds in language as express as he can command the secrets of the heavenly dispensations. He who had been caught up into the third heaven and had heard unspeakable words, reveals to the perception of human understanding as much as human nature can receive. But he does not forget that there are things which cannot be understood in the moment of hearing. The infirmity of man needs time to review before the true and perfect tribunal of the mind, that which is poured indiscriminately into the ears. Comprehension follows the spoken words more slowly than hearing, for it is the ear which hears, but the reason which understands, though it is God Who reveals the inner meaning to those who seek it.
We learn this from the words written among many other exhortations to Timothy, the disciple instructed from a babe in the Holy Scriptures by the glorious faith of his grandmother and mother: "Understand what I say, for the Lord shall give thee understanding in all things." [2 Timothy 2:7]. The exhortation to understand is prompted by the difficulty of understanding. But God's gift of understanding is the reward of faith, for through faith the infirmity of sense is recompensed with the gift of revelation. Timothy, that 'man of God' as the Apostle witnesses of him, Paul's true child in the faith, is exhorted to understand because the Lord will give him understanding in all things: let us, therefore, knowing that the Lord will grant us understanding in all things, remember that the Apostle exhorts us also to understand.
24. And if, by an error incident to human nature, we be clinging to some preconception of our own, let us not reject the advance in knowledge through the gift of revelation. If we have hitherto used only our own judgment, let that not make us ashamed to change its decisions for the better. Guiding this advance wisely and carefully, the same blessed Apostle writes to the Philippians, "Let us therefore as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye are otherwise minded, this also shall God reveal unto you. Only, wherein we have hastened, in that same let us walk." [Philippians 3:15-16].
Reason cannot anticipate with preconceptions the revelation of God. For the Apostle has here shown us wherein consists the wisdom of those who have the perfect wisdom, and for those who are otherwise minded, he awaits the revelation of God, that they may obtain the perfect wisdom. If any, then, have otherwise conceived this profound dispensation of the hidden knowledge, and if that which we offer them is in any respect more right or better approved, let them not be ashamed to receive the perfect wisdom, as the Apostle advises, through the revelation of God, and if they hate to abide in untruth let them not love ignorance more. If to them, who had another wisdom, God has revealed this also, the Apostle exhorts them to hasten on the road in which they have started, to cast aside the notions of their former ignorance, and obtain the revelation of perfect understanding by the path into which they have eagerly entered.
Let us, therefore, keep on in the path along which we have hastened: or, if the error of our wandering steps has delayed our eager haste, let us, notwithstanding, start again through the revelation of God towards the goal of our desire, and not turn our feet from the path. We have hastened towards Christ Jesus the Lord of Glory, the King of the eternal ages, in Whom are restored all things in Heaven and in earth, by Whom all things consist, in Whom and with Whom we shall abide for ever. So long as we walk in this path we have the perfect wisdom: and if we have another wisdom, God will reveal to us what is the perfect wisdom. Let us, then, examine in the light of the Apostle's faith the mystery of the words before us: and let our treatment be, as it always has been, a refutation from the actual truth of the Apostle's confession of every interpretation, which they would profanely foist upon his words.
25. Three assertions are here disputed, which, in the order in which the Apostle makes them, are first the end, then the delivering, and lastly the subjection. The object is to prove that Christ ceases to exist at the end, that He loses His kingdom, when He delivers it up, that He strips Himself of the divine nature, when He is subjected to God.
26. At the outset take note that this is not the order of the Apostle's teaching, for in that order the surrender of the Kingdom is first, then the subjection, and lastly the end. But every cause is itself the result of its particular cause, so that, in every chain of causation, each cause, itself producing a result, has inevitably its underlying antecedent. Thus the end will come, but when He has delivered the Kingdom to God. He will deliver the Kingdom, but when He has abolished all authority and power. He will abolish all authority and power, because He must reign. He will reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. He will put all enemies under His feet, because God has subjected everything under His feet. God has so subjected them as to make death the last enemy to be conquered by Him. Then, when all things are subjected unto God, except Him Who subjected all things unto Him, He too will be subjected unto Him, Who subjects all to Himself. But the cause of the subjection is none other than that God may be all in all; and therefore the end is that God is all in all.
27. Before going any further we must now enquire whether the end is a dissolution, or the delivering a forfeiture, or the subjection an enfeebling of Christ. And if we find that these are contraries, which cannot be connected as causes and effects, we shall be able to understand the words in the true sense in which they were spoken.
28. "Christ is the end of the law" [Romans 10:4]; but, tell me, is He come to destroy it or to fulfill it? And if Christ, the end of the law, does not destroy it, but fulfills it (as He says, "I am come not to destroy the law but fulfill it" [Matthew 5:17]), is not the end of the law, so far from being its dissolution, the very opposite, namely its final perfection? All things are advancing towards an end, but that end is a condition of rest in the perfection, which is the goal of their advance, and not their abolition. Further, all things exist for the sake of the end, but the end itself is not the means to anything beyond: it is an ultimate, all-embracing whole, which rests in itself. And because it is self-contained, and works for no other time or object than itself, the goal is always that to which our hopes are directed.
Therefore the Lord exhorts us to wait with patient and reverent faith until the end comes: "Blessed is He that endureth to the end." [Matthew 24:13]. It is not a blessed dissolution, which awaits us, nor is non-existence the fruit, and annihilation the appointed reward of faith: but the end is the final attainment of the promised blessedness, and they are blessed who endure until the goal of perfect happiness is reached, when the expectation of faithful hope has no object beyond. Their end is to abide with unbroken rest in that condition, towards which they are pressing. Similarly, as a deterrent, the Apostle warns us of the end of the wicked, "Whose end is perdition, . . . but our expectation is in heaven." [Philippians 3:19-20].
Suppose then we interpret the end as a dissolution, we are forced to acknowledge that, since there is an end for the blessed and for the wicked, the issue levels the godly with the ungodly, for the appointed end of both is a common annihilation. What of our expectation in heaven, if for us as well as for the wicked the end is a cessation of being? But even if there remains for the saints an expectation, whereas for the wicked there waits the end they have deserved, we cannot conceive that end as a final dissolution. What punishment would it be for the wicked to be beyond the feeling of avenging torments, because the capability of suffering has been removed by dissolution? The end is, therefore, a culminating and irrevocable condition which awaits us, reserved for the blessed and prepared for the wicked.
29. We can therefore no longer doubt that by the end is meant an ultimate and final condition and not a dissolution. We shall have something more to say upon this subject, when we come to the explanation of this passage, but for the present this is enough to make our meaning clear. Let us, therefore, turn now to the delivering of the Kingdom, and see whether it means a surrender of rule, whether the Son by delivering ceases to possess that which He delivers to the Father. If this is what the wicked contend in their unreasoning infatuation, they must allow that the Father, by delivering, lost all, when He delivered all to the Son, if delivery implies the surrender of that which is delivered. For the Lord said, "All things have been delivered unto Me of My Father" [Matthew 11:27], and again, "All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and earth." [Matthew 28:18].
If, therefore, to deliver is to yield possession, the Father no longer possessed that which He delivered. But if the Father did not cease to possess that which He delivered, neither does the Son surrender that which He delivers. Therefore, if He did not lose by the delivering that which He delivered, we must recognize that only the dispensation explains how the Father still possesses what He delivered, and the Son does not forfeit what He gave.
30. As to the subjection, there are other facts which come to the help of our faith, and prevent us from putting an indignity on Christ upon this score, but above all this passage contains its own defense. First, however, I appeal to common reason: is the subjection still to be understood as the subordination of servitude to lordship, weakness to power, meanness to honor, qualities the opposite of one another? Is the Son in this manner subjected to the Father by the distinction of a different nature? If, indeed, we would think so, we shall find in the Apostle's words a preventive for such errors of the imagination. When all things are subjected to Him, says He, then must He be subjected to Him, Who subjects all things to Himself; and by this 'then' he means to denote the temporal dispensation.
For if we put any other construction on the subjection, Christ, though then to be subjected, is not subjected now, and thus we make Him an insolent and impious rebel, whom the necessity of time, breaking as it were and subduing His profane and overweening pride, will reduce to a tardy obedience. But what does He Himself say? "I am not come to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me" [John 6:38]; and again, "Therefore hath the Father loved Me because I do all things that are pleasing unto Him" [John 8:29; John 10:17]; and, "Father, Thy will be done" [Matthew 26:42]. Or hear the Apostle, "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death." [Philippians 2:8].
Although He humbled Himself, His nature knew no humiliation: though He was obedient, it was a voluntary obedience, for He became obedient by humbling Himself. The Only-begotten God humbled Himself, and obeyed His Father even to the death of the Cross: but as what, as man or as God, is He to be subjected to the Father, when all things have been subjected to Him? Of a truth this subjection is no sign of a fresh obedience, but the dispensation of the mystery, for the allegiance is eternal, the subjection an event within time. The subjection is then in its signification simply a demonstration of the mystery.
31. What that is must be understood in view of this same hope of our faith. We cannot be ignorant that the Lord Jesus Christ rose again from the dead, and sits at the right hand of God, for we have also the witness of the Apostle, "According to the working of the strength of His might, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world but also in that which is to came, and put all things in subjection under His feet." [Ephesians 1:19-21]. The language of the Apostle, as befits the power of God, speaks of the future as already past: for that which is to be wrought by the completion of time already exists in Christ, in Whom is all fullness, and 'future' refers only to the temporal order of the dispensation, not to a new development. Thus, God has put all things under His feet, though they are still to be subjected. By their subjection, conceived as already past, is expressed the immutable power of Christ: by their subjection, as future, is signified their consummation at the end of the ages as the result of the fullness of time.
32. The meaning of the abolishing of every power which is against Him is not obscure. The prince of the air, the power of spiritual wickedness, shall be delivered to eternal destruction, as Christ says, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which My Father hath prepared for the devil and his angels." [Matthew 25:41]. The abolishing is not the same as the subjecting. To abolish the power of the enemy is to sweep away for ever his prerogative of power, so that by the abolition of his power is brought to an end the rule of his kingdom. Of this the Lord testifies when He says, "My kingdom is not of this world" [John 18:36]: as He had once before testified that the ruler of that kingdom is the prince of the world, whose power shall be destroyed by the abolition of the rule of His kingdom. A subjection, on the other hand, which implies obedience and allegiance, is a proof of submission and mutability.
33. So when their authority is abolished, His enemies shall be subjected: and so subjected, that He shall subject them to Himself. Moreover He shall so subject them to Himself, that God shall subject them to Him. Was the Apostle ignorant, think you, of the force of these words in the Gospel, "No one cometh to Me, except the Father draw Him to Me" [John 6:44], which stand side by side with those other words, "No one cometh unto the Father but by Me" [John 14:5]: just as in this Epistle Christ subjects His enemies to Himself, yet God subjects them to Him, and He witnesses throughout this, his work of subjection, that God is working in Him? Except through Him there is no approach to the Father, but there is also no approach to Him, unless the Father draw us.
Understanding Him to be the Son of God, we recognize in Him the true nature of the Father. Hence, when we learn to know the Son, God the Father calls us: when we believe the Son, God the Father receives us; for our recognition and knowledge of the Father is in the Son, Who shows us in Himself God the Father, Who draws us, if we be devout, by His fatherly love into a mutual bond with His Son. So then the Father draws us, when, as the first condition, He is acknowledged Father: but no one comes to the Father except through the Son, because we cannot know the Father, unless faith in the Son is active in us, since we cannot approach the Father in worship, unless we first adore the Son, while if we know the Son, the Father draws us to eternal life and receives us. But each result is the work of the Son, for by the preaching of the Father, Whom the Son preaches, the Father brings us to the Son, and the Son leads us to the Father.
The statement of this mystery was necessary for the more perfect understanding of the present passage, to show that through the Son the Father draws us and receives us; that we might understand the two aspects, the Son subjecting all to Himself, and the Father subjecting all to Him. Through the birth the nature of God is abiding in the Son, and does that which He Himself does. What He does God does, but what God does in Him, He Himself does: in the sense that where He acts Himself we must believe the Son of God acts; and where God acts, we must perceive the properties of the Father's nature existing in Him as the Son.
34. When authorities and powers are abolished, His enemies shall be subjected under His feet. The same Apostle tells who are these enemies, "As touching the Gospel they are enemies for your sakes, but as touching the election they are beloved for the fathers' sake." [Romans 11:28]. We remember that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; let us remember also that, because they are beloved for the fathers' sake, they are reserved for the subjection, as the Apostle says,
"I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, and so all Israel shall be saved, even as it is written, There shall come out of Sion a Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: and this is the covenant from Me to them, when I have taken away their sins." [Romans 11:25-27].
So His enemies shall be subjected under His feet.
35. But we must not forget what follows the subjection, namely, Last of all is death conquered by Him. This victory over death is nothing else than the resurrection from the dead: for when the corruption of death is stayed, the quickened and now heavenly nature is made eternal, as it is written, "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in strife. O death, where is thy sting? O death, where is thy strife?" [1 Corinthians 15:53-55]. In the subjection of His enemies death is conquered; and, death conquered, life immortal follows.
The Apostle tells us also of the special reward attained by this subjection which is made perfect by the subjection of belief: "Who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory, according to the works of His power, whereby He is able to subject all things to Himself." [Philippians 3:21]. There is then another subjection, which consists in a transition from one nature to another, for our nature ceases, so far as its present character is concerned, and is subjected to Him, into Whose form it passes. But by 'ceasing' is implied not an end of being, but a promotion into something higher. Thus our nature by being merged into the image of the other nature which it receives, becomes subjected through the imposition of a new form.
36. Hence the Apostle, to make his explanation of this mystery complete, after saying that death is the last enemy to be conquered, adds: But when He saith, all things are put in subjection except Him, Who did subject all things to Him, then must He be subjected to Him, that did subject all things to Him, that God may be all in all. The first step of the mystery is that all things are subjected to Him: then He is subjected to Him, Who subjects all things to Himself. As we are subjected to the glory of the rule of His body, so He also, reigning in the glory of His body, is by the same mystery in turn subjected to Him, Who subjects all things to Himself. And we are subjected to the glory of His body, that we may share that splendor with which He reigns in the body, since we shall be conformed to His body.
37. Nor are the Gospels silent concerning the glory of His present reigning body. It is written that the Lord said,
"Verily, I say unto you, there be same of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom. And it came to pass, after six days Jesus taketh with Him Peter and James and John His brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart. And Jesus was transfigured before them, and His face did shine as the sun, and His garments became as snow." [Matthew 16:28-17:2].
Thus was shown to the Apostles the glory of the body of Christ coming into His Kingdom: for in the fashion of His glorious transfiguration, the Lord stood revealed in the splendor of His reigning body.
38. He promised also to the Apostles the participation in this His glory. "So shall it be in the end of the world. The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather together out of His Kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and He shall send them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." [Matthew 13:41-43]. Were their natural and bodily ears closed to the hearing of the words, that the Lord should need to admonish them to hear? Yet the Lord, hinting at the knowledge of the mystery, commands them to listen to the doctrine of the faith.
In the end of the world all things that cause stumbling shall be removed from His Kingdom. We see the Lord then reigning in the splendor of His body, until the things that cause stumbling are removed. And we see ourselves, in consequence, conformed to the glory of His body in the Kingdom of the Father, shining as with the splendor of the sun, the splendor in which He showed the fashion of His Kingdom to the Apostles, when He was transfigured on the mountain.
39. He shall deliver the Kingdom to God the Father, not in the sense that He resigns His power by the delivering, but that we, being conformed to the glory of His body, shall form the Kingdom of God. It is not said, He shall deliver up His Kingdom, but, He shall deliver up the Kingdom, that is, deliver up to God us who have been made the Kingdom by the glorifying of His body. He shall deliver us into the Kingdom, as it is said in the Gospel, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." [Matthew 25:34]. The just shall shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father, and the Son shall deliver to the Father, as His Kingdom, those whom He has called into His Kingdom, to whom also He has promised the blessedness of this Mystery, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" [Matthew 5:8].
While He reigns, He shall remove all things that cause stumbling, and then the just shall shine as the sun in the Kingdom of the Father. Afterwards He shall deliver the Kingdom to the Father, and those whom He has handed to the Father, as the Kingdom, shall see God. He Himself witnesses to the Apostles what manner of Kingdom this is: "The Kingdom of God is within you." [Luke 17:21]. Thus it is as King that He shall deliver up the Kingdom, and if any ask Who it is that delivers up the Kingdom, let him hear, "Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep; since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." [1 Corinthians 15:20-21]. All that is said on the point before us concerns the mystery of the body, since Christ is the firstfruits of the dead. Let us gather also from the words of the Apostle by what mystery Christ rose from the dead: "Remember that Christ hath risen from the dead, of the seed of David." [2 Timothy 2:8]. Here he teaches that the death and resurrection are due only to the dispensation by which Christ was flesh.
40. In His body, the same body though now made glorious, He reigns until the authorities are abolished, death conquered, and His enemies subdued. This distinction is carefully preserved by the Apostle: the authorities and powers are abolished, the enemies are subjected. Then, when they are subjected, He, that is the Lord, shall be subjected to Him that subjecteth all things to Himself, that God may be all in all, the nature of the Father's divinity imposing itself upon the nature of our body which was assumed. It is thus that God shall be all in all: according to the dispensation He becomes by His Godhead and His manhood the Mediator between men and God, and so by the dispensation He acquires the nature of flesh, and by the subjection shall obtain the nature of God in all things, so as to be God not in part, but wholly and entirely.
The end of the subjection is then simply that God may be all in all, that no trace of the nature of His earthly body may remain in Him. Although before this time the two were combined within Him, He must now become God only; not, however, by casting off the body, but by translating it through subjection; not by losing it through dissolution, but by transfiguring it in glory: adding humanity to His divinity, not divesting Himself of divinity by His humanity. And He is subjected, not that He may cease to be, but that God may be all in all, having, in the mystery of the subjection, to continue to be that which He no longer is, not having by dissolution to be robbed of Himself, that is, to be deprived of His being.
41. We have a sufficient and sacred guarantee for this belief in the authority of the Apostle. Through the dispensation, and within time, the Lord Jesus Christ, the firstfruits of them that sleep, is to be subjected, that God may be all in all, and this subjection is not the debasement of His divinity, but the promotion of His assumed nature, for He Who is God and Man is now altogether God. But some may think that, when we say He was both glorified in the body whilst reigning in the body, and is hereafter to be subjected that God may be all in all, our belief finds no support for itself in the Gospels nor yet in the Epistles. We will, therefore, produce testimony of our faith, not only from the words of the Apostle, but also from our Lord's mouth. We will show that Christ said first with His own lips what He afterwards said by the mouth of Paul.
42. Does He not reveal to His Apostles the Dispensation of this glory by the express signification of the words, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God hath been glorified in Him, God hath glorified Him in Himself, and straightway hath He glorified Him." [John 13:31-32]. In the words, Now is the Son of Man honored, and God is honored in Him, we have first the glory of the Son of Man, then the glory of God in the Son of Man. So there is first signified the glory of the body, which it borrows from its association with the divine nature: and then follows the promotion to a fuller glory derived from an addition to the glory of the body. If God hath been honored in Him, God hath honored Him in Himself, and straightway hath God honored Him. God has glorified Him in Himself, because He has already been glorified in Him.
God was glorified in Him: this refers to the glory of the body, for by this glory is expressed in a human body the glory of God, in the glory of the Son of Man is seen the divine glory. God was glorified in Him, and therefore hath God glorified Him in Himself: that is, by His promotion to the Godhead, whose glory was increased in Him, God has glorified Him in Himself. Already before this He was reigning in the glory which springs from the divine glory: from henceforth, however, He is Himself to pass into the divine glory. God hath glorified Him in Himself: that is, in that nature by which God is what He is. That God may be all in all: that His whole being, leaving behind the Dispensation by which He is man, may be eternally transformed into divinity. Nor is the time of this hidden from us: And God hath glorified Him in Himself, and straightway hath He glorified Him. At the moment when Judas arose to betray Him, He signified as present the glory which He would obtain after His passion through the resurrection, but assigned to the future the glory with which God would glorify Him with Himself. The glory of God is seen in Him in the power of the resurrection, but He Himself, out of the dispensation of subjection, will be taken eternally into the glory of God, that is, into God, the all in all.
43. But what absurd folly is it of the heretics to regard as unattainable for God that goal to which man hopes to attain, to imply that He is powerless to effect in Himself that which He is mighty to effect in us. It is not the language of reason or common sense to say that God is bound by some necessity of His nature to consult our happiness, but cannot bestow the like blessings upon Himself. God does not, indeed, need any further blessedness, for His nature and power stand fast in their eternal perfection. But although in the dispensation, that mystery of great godliness, He Who is God became man, He is not powerless to make Himself again entirely God, for without doubt He will transform us also into that which as yet we are not.
The final sequel of man's life and death is the resurrection: the assured reward of our warfare is immortality and incorruption, not the ceaseless persistence of everlasting punishment, but the unbroken enjoyment and happiness of eternal glory. These bodies of earthly origin shall be exalted to the fashion of a higher nature, and conformed to the glory of the Lord's body. But what then of God found in the form of a servant? Though already, while still in the form of a servant, glorified in the body, shall He not be also conformed to God? Shall He bestow upon us the form of His glorified body, and yet be able to do for His own body nothing more than He does for Himself in common with us? For the most part the heretics interpret the words, Then shall He be subjected to Him that did subject all things to Himself, that God may be all in all, as if they meant that the Son is to be subjected to God the Father, in order that by the subjection of the Son, God the Father may be all in all. But is there still lacking in God some perfection which He is to obtain by the subjection of the Son? Can they believe that God does not already possess that final accession of blessed divinity, because it is said that by the coming of the fullness of time He shall be made all in all?
44. To me, who hold that God cannot be known except by devotion, even to answer such objections seems no less unholy than to support them. What presumption to suppose that words can adequately describe His nature, when thought is often too deep for words, and His nature transcends even the conceptions of thought! What blasphemy even to discuss whether anything is lacking in God, whether He is Himself full, or it remains for Him to be fuller than His fullness! If God, Who is Himself the source of His own eternal divinity, were capable of progress, that He should be greater today than yesterday, He could never reach the time when nothing would be wanting to Him, for the nature to which advance is still possible must always in its progress leave some ground ahead still untrodden: if it be subject to the law of progress, though always progressing it must always be susceptible of further progress. But to Him, Who abides in perfect fullness, Who for ever is, there is no fullness left by which He can be made more full, for perfect fullness cannot receive an accession of further fullness. And this is the attitude of thought in which reverence contemplates God, namely, that nothing is wanting to Him, that He is full.
45. But the Apostle does not neglect to say with what manner of confession we should bear witness of God.
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him? For of Him, and through Him, and in Him are all things. To Him be the glory for ever and ever." [Romans 11:33-36].
No earthly mind can define God, no understanding can penetrate with its perception to sound the depth of His wisdom. His judgments defy the searching scrutiny of His creatures: the trackless paths of His knowledge baffle the zeal of all pursuers. His ways are plunged in the depths of incomprehensibility: nothing can be fathomed or traced to the end in the things of God. No one has ever been taught to know His mind, no one besides Himself ever permitted to share His counsel. But all this applies to us men only, and not to Him, through Whom are all things, the "Angel of mighty Counsel" [Isaiah 9:6 LXX], Who said, "No one knoweth the Son save the Father: neither doth anyone know the Father save the Son, and him to whom the Son hath willed to reveal Him." [Matthew 11:27]. It is to curb our own feeble intellect, when it strains itself to fathom the depth of the divine nature with its descriptions and definitions, that we must re-echo the language of the Apostle's exclamation, lest we should attempt by rash conjecture to snatch from God more than He has been pleased to reveal to us.
46. It is a recognized axiom of natural philosophy, that nothing falls within the scope of the senses unless it is subjected to their observation, as for instance an object placed before the eyes, or an event posterior to the birth of human sense and intelligence. The former we can see and handle, and therefore the mind is qualified to pass a verdict upon it, since it can be examined by the senses of touch and sight. The latter, which is an event in time, produced or constituted since the origin of man, falls within the limits in which the discerning sense may claim to pass judgment, since it is not prior in time to our perception and reason. For our sight cannot perceive the invisible, since it only distinguishes the seen; our reason cannot project itself into the time when it was not, because it can only judge of that, to which it is prior in time. And even within these limits, the infirmity which is bound up with its nature robs it of absolutely certain knowledge of the sequence of cause and effect. How much less then can it go back behind the time when it had its origin, and comprehend with its perception things which existed before it in the realms of eternity?
47. The Apostle then recognized that nothing can fall within our knowledge, except it be posterior in time to the faculty of sense. Accordingly when he had asserted the depth of the wisdom of God, the infinity of His inscrutable judgments, the secret of His unsearchable ways, the mystery of His unfathomable mind, the incomprehensibility of His uncommunicated counsel, he continued, For who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and in Him are all things. The eternal God is neither subject to limitation, nor did human reason and intelligence exercise their functions before He had His being.
His whole being is therefore a depth, which we can neither examine nor penetrate. We say His whole being, not to define it as limited, but to understand it in its unlimited boundlessness: because of no one has He received His being, no antecedent giver can claim service from Him in return for a gift bestowed: for of Him and through Him and in Him are all things. He does not lack things that are of Him and through Him and in Him. The Source and Maker of all, Who contains all, Who is beyond all, does not need that which is within Him, the Creator His creatures, the Possessor His possessions. Nothing is prior to Him, nothing derived from any other than Him, nothing beyond Him.
What element of fullness is still lacking in God, which time will supply to make Him all in all? Whence can He receive it, if outside Him is nothing, and while nothing is outside Him, He is eternally Himself? And if He is eternally Himself, and there is nothing outside Him, with what increase shall He be made full, by what addition shall He be made other than He is? Did He not say, "I am and I change not" [Malachi 3:6]? What possibility is there of change in Him? What scope for progress? What is prior to eternity? What more divine than God? The subjection of the Son will not therefore make God to be all in all, nor will any cause perfect Him, from Whom and through Whom and in Whom are all causes. He remains God as He ever was, and He needs nothing further, for what He is, He is eternally of Himself and for Himself.
48. But neither is it necessary for the Only-begotten God that He should change. He is God, and that is the name of full and perfect divinity. For, as we said before, the meaning of the repeated glorifying, and the cause of the subjection is that God may be all in all: but it is a mystery, not a necessity, that God is to be all in all. Christ abode in the form of God when He assumed the form of a servant, not being subjected to change, but emptying Himself; hiding within Himself, and remaining master of Himself though He was emptied. He constrained Himself even to the form and fashion of a man, lest the weakness of the assumed humility should not be able to endure the immeasurable power of His nature. His unbounded might contracted itself, until it could fulfill the duty of obedience even to the endurance of the body to which it was yoked. But since He was self-contained even when He emptied Himself, His authority suffered no diminution, for in the humiliation of the emptying He exercised within Himself the power of that authority which was emptied.
49. It is therefore for the promotion of us, the assumed humanity, that God shall be all in all. He Who was found in the form of a servant, though He was in the form of God, is now again to be confessed in the glory of God the Father: that is, without doubt He dwells in the form of God, in Whose glory He is to be confessed. All is therefore a dispensation only, and not a change of His nature; for He abides still in Him, in Whom He ever was. But there intervenes a new nature, which began in Him with His human birth, and so all that He obtains is on behalf of that nature which before was not God, since after the mystery of the dispensation God is all in all. It is, therefore, we who are the gainers, we who are promoted, for we shall be conformed to the glory of the body of God.
Further the Only-begotten God, despite His human birth, is nothing less than God, Who is all in all. That subjection of the body, by which all that is fleshly in Him, is swallowed up into the spiritual nature, will make Him to be God and all in all, since He is Man also as well as God; and His humanity which advances towards this goal is ours also. We shall be promoted to a glory conformable to that of Him Who became Man for us, being renewed unto the knowledge of God, and created again in the image of the Creator, as the Apostle says, "Having put off the old man with his doings, and put on the new man, which is being renewed unto the knowledge of God, after the image of Him that created him." [Colossians 3:9-10].
Thus is man made the perfect image of God. For, being conformed to the glory of the body of God, he is exalted to the image of the Creator, after the pattern assigned to the first man. Leaving sin and the old man behind, he is made a new man unto the knowledge of God, and arrives at the perfection of his constitution, since through the knowledge of his God he becomes the perfect image of God. Through godliness he is promoted to immortality, through immortality he shall live for ever as the image of his Creator.
1. At length, with the Holy Ghost speeding our way, we are approaching the safe, calm harbor of a firm faith. We are in the position of men, long tossed about by sea and wind, to whom it very often happens, that while great heaped-up waves delay them for a time around the coasts near the ports, at last that very surge of the vast and dreadful billows drives them on into a trusty, well-known anchorage. And this, I hope, will befall us, as we struggle in this twelfth book against the storm of heresy; so that while we venture our trusty bark therein upon the wave of this grievous impiety, this very wave may bring us to the haven of rest for which we long.
For while all are driven about by the uncertain wind of doctrine, there is panic here and danger there, and then again there often is even shipwreck, because it is maintained on prophetic authority that God Only-begotten is a creature -- so that to Him there belongs not birth but creation, because it has been said in the character of Wisdom, "The Lord created Me as the beginning of His ways" [Proverbs 8:22]. This is the greatest billow in the storm they raise, this is the big wave of the whirling tempest: yet when we have faced it, and it has broken without damage to our ship, it will speed us forward even to the all-safe harbor of the shore for which we long.
2. Yet we do not rest, like sailors, on uncertain or on idle hopes: whom, as they shape their course to their wish, and not by assured knowledge, at times the shifting, fickle winds forsake or drive from their course. But we have by our side the unfailing Spirit of faith, abiding with us by the gift of the Only-begotten God, and leading us to smooth waters in an unwavering course. For we recognize the Lord Christ as no creature, for indeed He is none such; nor as something that has been made, since He is Himself the Lord of all things that are made; but we know Him to be God, God the true generation of God the Father.
All we indeed, as His goodness has thought fit, have been named and adopted as sons of God: but He is to God the Father the one, true Son, and the true and perfect birth, which abides only in the knowledge of the Father and the Son. But this only, and this alone, is our religion, to confess Him as the Son not adopted but born, not chosen but begotten. For we do not speak of Him either as made, or as not born; since we neither compare the Creator to His creatures, nor falsely speak of birth without begetting. He does not exist of Himself, Who exists through birth; nor is He not born, Who is the Son; nor can He, Who is the Son, come to exist otherwise than by being born, because He is the Son.
3. Moreover no one doubts that the assertions of impiety always contradict and resist the assertions of religious faith; and that that cannot be piously held now which is already condemned as impiously conceived; as, for instance, the discrepancy and variance which these new correctors of the apostolic faith maintain between the Spirit of the Evangelists and that of Prophets; or their assertion that the Prophets prophesied one thing and the Evangelists preached another, since Solomon calls upon us to adore a creature, while Paul convicts those who serve a creature. And certainly these two texts do not seem to agree together, according to the blasphemous theory, whereby the Apostle, who was trained by the law, and separated by divine appointment, and spoke through Christ speaking in him, either was ignorant of the prophecy, or was not ignorant but contradicted it; and thus did not know Christ to be a creature when he named Him the Creator; and forbade the worship of a creature, warning us that the Creator alone is to be served, and saying, "Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and served the creature, passing by the Creator Who is blessed for ever and ever." [Romans 1:25].
4. Does Christ, Who is God, speaking in Paul, fail to refute this impiety of falsehood? Does He fail to condemn this lying perversion of truth? For through the Lord Christ all things were created; and therefore it is His proper name that He should be the Creator. Does not both the reality and the title of His creative power belong to Him? Melchisedec is our witness, thus declaring God to be Creator of heaven and earth: "Blessed be Abraham of God most high, Who created heaven and earth." [Genesis 14:19].
The prophet Hosea also is witness, saying, I am the Lord thy God, that establish the heavens and create the earth, Whose hands have created all the host of heaven. Peter too is witness, writing thus, "Committing your souls as to a faithful Creator." [1 Peter 4:19]. Why do we apply the name of the work to the Maker of that work? Why do we give the same name to God and to our fellowmen? He is our Creator, He is the Creator of all the heavenly host.
5. Since by the faith of the Apostles and Evangelists these statements are referred in their meaning to the Son, through Whom all things were made, how shall He be made equal to the very works of His hands and be in the same category of nature as all other things? In the first place our human intelligence repudiates this statement that the Creator is a creature; since creation comes to exist by means of the Creator. But if He is a creature, He is both subject to corruption and exposed to the suspense of waiting, and is subjected to bondage. For the same blessed Apostle Paul says:
"For the long expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was subject to vanity, not of its own will, but on account of Him Who has made it subject in hope. Because also the creature itself shall be freed from the slavery of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God." [Romans 8:19-21].
If, therefore, Christ is a creature, it must needs be that He is in uncertainty, hoping always with a tedious expectation, and that His long expectation, rather than ours, is waiting, and that while He waits He is subjected to vanity, and is subjected through a subjection due to necessity, not of His own will. But since He is subjected not of His own will, He must needs be also a bondservant; moreover since He is a bondservant He must needs also be dwelling in a corruptible nature. For the Apostle teaches that all these things belong to the creature, and that, when it shall be freed from these through a long expectation, it will shine with a glory proper to man. But what a thoughtless and impious assertion about God is this, to imagine Him exposed, through the insults which the creature bears, to such mockeries as that He should hope and serve, and be under compulsion and receive recognition, and be freed hereafter into a condition which is ours, not His; while really it is of His gift that we make our little progress.
6. But our impiety, by the licence of this forbidden language, waxes apace with yet deeper faithlessness; asserting that since the Son is a creature it is bound to maintain that the Father also does not differ from a creature. For Christ, remaining in the form of God, took the form of a servant; and if He is a creature Who is in the form of God, God can never be separate from the creature, because there is a creature in the form of God. But to be in the form of God can only be understood to mean, remaining in the nature of God;-- whence also God is a creature, because there is a creature with His nature.
But He Who was in the form of God, did not grasp at being equal with God, because from equality with God, that is, from the form of God, He descended into the form of a servant. But He could not descend from God into man, except by emptying Himself, as God, of the form of God. But when He emptied Himself, He was not effaced, so as not to be; since then He would have become other in kind than He had been. For neither did He, Who emptied Himself within Himself, cease to be Himself; since the power of His might remains even in the power of emptying Himself; and the transition into the form of a servant does not mean the loss of the nature of God, since to have put off the form of God is nothing less than a mighty act of divine power.
7. But to be in this way in the form of God is nothing else than to be equal with God: so that equality of honor is owed to the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is in the form of God, as He Himself says, "That all men may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father Who sent Him." [John 5:23]. There is never a difference between things which does not also imply a different degree of honor. The same objects deserve the same reverence; for otherwise the highest honor will be unworthily bestowed on those which are inferior, or with insult to the superior the inferior will be made equal to them in honor. But if the Son, regarded as a creation rather than a birth, be treated with a reverence equal to that paid the Father, then we grant no special meed of honor to the Father, since we charge ourselves with only such reverence towards Him as is shown to a creature. But since He is equal to God the Father, inasmuch as He is born as God from Him, He is also equal to Him in honor, for He is a Son and not a creature.
8. This again is a notable utterance of the Father concerning Him: "From the womb, before the morning star I begat Thee." [Psalm 110:3 LXX]. Here, as we have often said already, nothing derogatory to God is implied in the concession to our weakness of understanding; as though, because He said that He begot Him from the womb, He were therefore composed of inner and outer parts, which unite to form His members, and owed His being to the same causes within time to which earthly bodies owe theirs; when in fact He Whose existence is due to no natural necessities, free and perfect, and eternal Lord of all nature, in explanation of the true character of the birth of His Only-begotten, points to power of His own unchangeable nature. For though Spirit be born of Spirit (consistently, be it remembered, with the true character of Spirit, through which itself is also Spirit), nevertheless its only cause for being born lies within those perfect and unchangeable causes. And though it is from a perfect and unchangeable cause that it is born, it must needs be born from that cause, in accordance with the true character of that cause.
Now the necessary process of human birth is conditioned by the causes which operate upon the womb. But as God is not made up of parts, but is unchangeable as being Spirit, for God is Spirit, He is subject to no natural necessity working within Him. But since He was telling us of the birth of Spirit from Spirit, He instructed our understanding by an example from causes which work among us: not to give an example of the manner of birth, but to declare the fact of generation; not that the example might prove Him subject to necessity, but that it might enlighten our mind. If, therefore, God Only-begotten is a created being, what meaning is there in a revelation which uses the common facts of human birth to indicate that He was divinely generated?
9. For often by means of these members of our bodies, God illustrates for us the method of His own operations, enlightening our intelligence by using terms commonly understood: as when He says, Whose hands created all the host of heaven; or again, "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous" [Psalm 34:15]; or again, "I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart." [Acts 13:22, 1 Samuel 13:14]. Now by the heart is denoted the desire, to which David was well-pleasing through the uprightness of his character; and knowledge of the whole universe, whereby nothing is beyond God's ken, is expressed under the term 'eyes;' and His creative activity, whereby nothing exists which is not of God, is understood by the name of 'hands.' Therefore as God wills and foresees and does everything, and even in the use of terms denoting bodily action must be understood to have no need of the assistance of a body; surely, now, in the statement that He begat from the womb, the idea is brought forward not of a human origin produced by a bodily act, but of a birth which must be understood as spiritual, since in the other cases where members are spoken of, this is done to represent to us other active powers in God.
10. Therefore since heart is put for desire, and eyes for sight, and hands for work achieved,-- and yet, without in any way being made up of parts, God desires and foresees and acts, these same operations being expressed by the words heart, and eyes, and hand,-- is not the meaning of the phrase that He begat from the womb an assertion of the reality of the birth? Not that He begat the Son from His womb, just as neither does He act by means of a hand, nor see by means of eyes, nor desire by means of a heart. But since by the employment of these terms it is made clear that He really acts and sees and wills everything, so from the word 'womb' it is clear that He really begot from Himself Him Whom He begat; not that he made use of a womb, but that He purposed to express reality. Just in the same way He does not feel or see or act through bodily faculties, but uses the names of these members in order that through the services performed by corporeal forces we may understand the power of forces which are not corporeal.
11. Now the constitution of human society does not allow, nor indeed do the words of our Lord's teaching permit, that the disciple should be above his master, or the slave rule over his lord; because, in these contrasted positions, subordination to knowledge is the fitting state of ignorance, and unconditional submission the appointed lot of servitude. And since it is the common judgment of all that this is so, whose rashness now shall induce us to say or think that God is a creature, or that the Son has been made? For nowhere do we find that our Master and Lord spoke thus of Himself to His servants and disciples, or that He taught that His birth was a creation or a making. Moreover, the Father never bore witness to Him as being aught else but a Son, nor did the Son profess that God was aught else than His own true Father, assuredly affirming that He was born, not made nor created, as He says, Every one that loveth the Father, loveth also the Son Who is born of Him.
12. On the other hand His works in creation are acts of making and not a birth through generation. For the heaven is not a son, neither is the earth a son, nor is the world a birth; for of these it is said, "All things were made through Him" [John 1:3]; and by the prophet, "The heavens are the works of Thy hands" [Psalm 102:25]; and by the same prophet, Neglect not the works of Thy hands. Is the picture a son of the painter, or the sword a son of the smith or the house a son of the architect? These are the works of their making: but He alone is the Son of the Father Who is born of the Father.
13. And we indeed are sons of God, but sons because the Son has made us such. For we were once sons of wrath, but have been made sons of God through the Spirit of adoption, and have earned that title by favor, not by right of birth. And since everything that is made, before it was made, was not, so we, although we were not sons, have been made what we are. For formerly we were not sons: but after we have earned the name we are such. Moreover, we have not been born, but made; not begotten, but purchased. For God purchased a people for Himself, and by this act begot them. But we never learn that God begot sons in the strict sense of the term. For He does not say, "I have begotten and brought up My sons," but only, "I have begotten and brought up sons." [Isaiah 1:2].
14. Yet perchance inasmuch as He says, "My firstborn Son Israel" [Exodus 4:22], some one will interpret the fact that He said, My firstborn, so as to deprive the Son of the characteristic property of birth; as though, because God also applied to Israel the epithet Mine, the adoption of those who have been made sons was misrepresented as though it were an actual birth, and therefore the phrase used of Him, This is My beloved Son, is not solely applicable to the birth of God, since the epithet My is (so it is asserted) shared with those who clearly were not born sons. But that they were not really born, although they are said to have been born, is shown even from that passage where it is said, A people which shall be born, whom the Lord hath made.
15. Therefore the people of Israel is born, in such wise that it is made; nor do we take the assertion that it is born as contradictory to the fact that it is made. For it is a son by adoption, not by generation; nor is this its true character, but its title. For although the words. My firstborn are written of it; there is yet a great and wide difference between My beloved Son, and My firstborn son. For where there is birth, there we see, My beloved Son; but where there is a choice from among the nations, and adoption through an act of will, there is My firstborn son. Here the people is God's, in regard to its character as firstborn; in the former case the fact that He is God's, relates to His character as a Son.
Again, in a case of birth the father's ownership comes first, and then his love; in a case of adoption the primary fact is that the son is made a firstborn, and then comes the ownership. Thus to Israel, adopted for a son out of all the peoples of the earth, properly belonged the character of a firstborn; but to Him alone, Who is born God, properly belongs the character of a Son. Accordingly there is no true and complete birth where sonship is imputed rather than real: since it is not doubtful that that people, which is born into a state of sonship, is also made. But since it would not have been what it is now become, and inasmuch as its birth is but a name for its being made, it has no true birth, since it was something else before it was born. And for this reason it was not before it was born, that is, before it was made, because that which is a son from among the nations was a nation before it was a son: and accordingly it is not truly a son, because it was not always a son. But God Only-begotten was neither at any time not a Son, nor was He anything before He was a Son, nor is He Himself anything except a Son. And so He Who is always a Son, has rendered it impossible for us to think of Him that there was a time when He was not.
16. For indeed human births involve a previous non-existence, because, as a first reason, all are born from those, all of whom formerly were not. For although each one who is born has his origin from one who has been, nevertheless that very parent, from whom he is born, was not before he was born. Again, as a second reason, he who is born, is born after that he was not, for time existed before he was born. For if he is born today, in the time which was yesterday, he was not; and he has come into a state of being from a state of not being; and our reason enforces that that which is born today did not exist yesterday. And so it remains that his birth, by virtue of which he is, took place after a state of non-existence; since necessarily today implies the previous existence of yesterday, so that it is true of it that there was a time when it was not.
And these facts hold good of the origin of everything relating to man: all receive a beginning, previously to which they had not been: firstly, as we have explained, in respect of time, and then in respect of cause. And in respect of time indeed there is no doubt that things which now begin to be, formerly were not; and this is true also in respect of cause, since it is certain that their existence is not derived from a cause within themselves. For think over all the causes of beginnings, and direct your understanding to their antecedents: you will find that nothing began by self-causation, since nothing is born by the free act of the parent, but all things are created what they are through the power of God. Whence also it is a natural property of each class of things by virtue of actual heredity, that it once was not and then began to be, beginning after time began, and existing within time. And while all existing things have an origin later than that of time, their causes also, in their turn, were once non-existent, being born from things which once were not. Even Adam, the first parent of the human race, was formed from the earth, which was made out of nothing, and after time, that is to say, after the heaven and earth, and the day and the sun, moon and stars, and he had no first beginning in being born, and began to be when he once had not been.
17. But for God Only-begotten, Who is preceded by no antecedent time, the possibility is excluded that at some time He was not, since that "some time" thus becomes prior to Him; and again, the assertion that He was not involves the portion of time: whence time will not begin to be after Him, but He Himself will begin to be after time, and, inasmuch as He was not before He was born, the very period when He was not will take precedence of Him. Further, He Who is born from Him Who really is, cannot be understood to have been born from that which was not: since He Who really is, is the cause of His existing, and His birth cannot have its origin in that which is not. And therefore since in His case it is not true either in regard of time that He ever was not, or in regard of the Father, that is, the Author of His being, that He has come into existence out of nothing, He has left no possibility with regard to Himself either of His having been born out of nothing, or of His not having existed before He was born.
18. Now I am not ignorant that most of those, whose mind being dulled by impiety does not accept the mystery of God, or who through the strong influence of a hostile spirit are ready to manifest, under the cover of reverence, a mad passion for disparaging God, are wont to make strange assertions in the ears of simple-minded men. They assert that since we say that the Son always has been, and that He never has been anything which He has not always been, we are therefore declaring that He is without birth, inasmuch as He always has been; since, according to the workings of human reason, that which always has existed cannot possibly have been born: since (so they urge) the cause of a thing being born, is that something, which was not, may come into existence, while the coming into existence of something which was not, means nothing else, according to the judgment of common sense, than its being born. They may add those arguments, subtle enough and pleasant to hear;-- "If He was born, He began to be; at the time when He began to be, He was not: and when He was not, it cannot be that He was." By such proofs let them maintain that it is the language of reasonable piety to say, "He was not before He was born: because in order that He might come to be, One Who was not, not One Who was, was born. Nor did He Who was, require a birth, although He Who was not was born, to the end that He might come to be."
19. Now, first of all, men professing a devout knowledge of divine things, in matters where the truth preached by Evangelists and Apostles showed the way, ought to have laid aside the intricate questions of a crafty philosophy, and rather to have followed after the faith which rests in God: because the sophistry of a syllogistical question easily disarms a weak understanding of the protection of its faith, since treacherous assertion lures on the guileless defender, who tries to support his case by enquiry into facts, till at last it robs him, by means of his own enquiry, of his certainty; so that the answerer no longer retains in his consciousness a truth which by his admission he has surrendered.
For what answer accommodates itself so well to the questioner's purpose, as the admission on our part, when we are asked, "Does anything exist before it is born?" that that which is born, did not previously exist? For it is contrary both to nature and to necessary reason that a thing which already exists should be born: since a thing must needs be born in order that it may come to be, and not because it already existed. But when we have made this concession, because it is rightly made, we lose the certainty of our faith, and being ensnared we fall in with their impious and unchristian designs.
20. But the blessed Apostle Paul, taking precaution against this, as we have often shown, warned us to be on our guard, saying: "Take heed lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ, in Whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." [Colossians 2:8-9]. Therefore we must be on our guard against philosophy, and methods which rest upon traditions of men we must not so much avoid as refute. Any concession that we make must imply not that we are out-argued but that we are confused, for it is right that we, who declare that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, should not flee from the doctrines of men, but rather overthrow them; and we must restrain and instruct the simple-minded lest they be spoiled by these teachers.
For since God can do all things, and in His wisdom can do all things wisely, for neither is His purpose unarmed with power nor His power unguided by purpose, it behoves those who proclaim Christ to the world, to face the irreverent and faulty doctrines of the world with the knowledge imparted by that wise Omnipotence, according to the saying of the blessed Apostle: "For our weapons are not carnal but powerful for God, for the casting down of strongholds, casting down reasonings and every high thing which is exalted against the knowledge of God." [2 Corinthians 10:4-5].
The Apostle did not leave us a faith which was bare and devoid of reason; for although a bare faith may be most mighty to salvation, nevertheless, unless it is trained by teaching, while it will have indeed a secure retreat to withdraw to in the midst of foes, it will yet be unable to maintain a safe and strong position for resistance. Its position will be like that which a camp affords to a weak force after a flight; not like the undismayed courage of men who have a camp to hold. Therefore we must beat down the insolent arguments which are raised against God, and destroy the fastnesses of fallacious reasoning, and crush cunning intellects which lift themselves up to impiety, with weapons not carnal but spiritual, not with earthly, learning but with heavenly wisdom; so that in proportion as divine things differ from human, so may the philosophy of heaven surpass the rivalry of earth.
21. Accordingly let misbelief abandon its efforts; let it not think, because it does not understand, that we deny a truth which, in fact, we alone rightly understand and believe. For while we declare in so many words that He was born, nevertheless we do not assert that He was ever not born. For it is not the same thing to be not born and to be born: since the latter term expresses origin derived from some other, the former origin derived from none. And it is one thing to exist always, as the Eternal, without any source of being, and another to be co-eternal with a Father, having Him for the Source of being. For where a father is the source of being, there also is birth; and further, where the Source of being is eternal, the birth also is eternal: for since birth comes from the source of being, birth which comes from an eternal Source of being must be eternal.
Now everything which always exists, is also eternal. But nevertheless, not everything which is eternal is also not born; since that which is born from eternity has eternally the character of having been born; but that which is not born is ingenerate as well as eternal. But if that which has been born from the Eternal is not born eternal, it will follow that the Father also is not an eternal Source of being. Therefore if any measure of eternity is wanting to Him Who has been born of the eternal Father, clearly the very same measure is wanting to the Author of His being; since what belongs in an infinite degree to Him Who begets, belongs in an infinite degree to Him also Who is born. For neither reason nor intelligence allows of any interval between the birth of God the Son and the generation by God the Father; since the generation consists in the birth, and the birth in the generation. Thus each of these events coincides exactly with the other; neither took place unless both took place. Therefore that which owes its existence to both these events cannot be eternal unless they both are eternal; since neither of the two correlatives, apart from the other, has any reality, because it is impossible for one to exist without the other.
22. But some one, who cannot receive this divine mystery, will say, "Everything which has been born, once was not; since it was born in order that it might come into existence."
23. But does any one doubt that all human beings that have been born, at one time were not? It is, however, one thing to be born of some one who once was not, and another to be born of One Who always is. For every state of infancy, since previously it had no existence, began from some point of time. And this again, growing up into childhood, still later urges on youth to fatherhood. Yet the man was not always a father, for he advanced to youth through boyhood, and to boyhood through original infancy. Therefore he who was not always a father, also did not always beget: but where the Father is eternal, the Son also is eternal.
And so if you hold, whether by argument or by instinct, that God, in the mystery of our knowledge of Whom one property is that He is Father, was not always the Father of the begotten Son, you hold also, as a matter of understanding and of knowledge, that the Son, Who was begotten, did not always exist. But if the property of fatherhood be co-eternal with the Father, then necessarily also the property of sonship must be co-eternal with the Son. And how will it square with our language or our understanding to maintain that He was not before He was born, Whose property it is that He always was what He has been born.
24. And so God Only-begotten, containing in Himself the form and image of the invisible God, in all things which are properties of God the Father is equal to Him by virtue of the fullness of true Godhead in Himself. For, as we have shown in the former books, in respect of power and veneration He is as mighty and as worthy of honor as the Father: so also, inasmuch as the Father is always Father, He too, inasmuch as He is the Son, possesses the like property of being always the Son. For according to the words spoken to Moses, "He Who is, hath sent Me unto you" [Exodus 3:14], we obtain the unambiguous conception that absolute being belongs to God; since that which is, cannot be thought of or spoken of as not being.
For being and not being are contraries, nor can these mutually exclusive descriptions be simultaneously true of one and the same object: for while the one is present, the other must be absent. Therefore, where anything is, neither conception nor language will admit of its not being. When our thoughts are turned backwards, and are continually carried back further and further to understand the nature of Him Who is, this sole fact about Him, that He is, remains ever prior to our thoughts; since that quality, which is infinitely present in God, always withdraws itself from the backward gaze of our thoughts, though they reach back to an infinite distance. The result is that the backward straining of our thoughts can never grasp anything prior to God's property of absolute existence; since nothing presents itself, to enable us to understand the nature of God, even though we go on seeking to eternity, save always the fact that God always is. That then which has both been declared about God by Moses, that of which our human intelligence can give no further explanation; that very quality the Gospels testify to be a property of God Only-begotten; since in the beginning was the Word, and since the Word was with God, and since He was the true Light, and since God Only-begotten is in the bosom of the Father [John 1:18], and since Jesus Christ is God over all [Romans 9:5].
25. Therefore He was, and He is, since He is from Him Who always is what He is. But to be from Him, that is to say, to be from the Father, is birth. Moreover, to be always from Him, Who always is, is eternity; but this eternity is derived not from Himself, but from the Eternal. And from the Eternal nothing can spring but what is eternal: for if the Offspring is not eternal, then neither is the Father, Who is the source of generation, eternal. Now since it is the special characteristic of His being that His Father always exists, and that He is always His Son, and since eternity is expressed in the name He that is, therefore, since He possesses absolute being, He possesses also eternal being. Moreover, no one doubts that generation implies birth, and that birth points to one existing from that time forth, and not to one who does not continue.
Furthermore, there can be no doubt that no one who already was in existence could be born. For no cause of birth can accrue to Him, Who of Himself continues eternal. But God Only-begotten, Who is the Wisdom of God, and the Power and the Word of God, since He was born, bears witness to the Father as the source of His being. Since He was born of One, Who eternally exists, He was not born of nothing. Since He was born before times eternal, His birth must necessarily be prior to all thought. There is no room for the verbal quibble, "He was not, before He was born." For if He is within the range of our thought, in the sense that He was not before He was born, then both our thought and time are prior to His birth; since everything which once was not, is within the compass of thought and time, by the very meaning of the assertion that it once was not, which separates off, within time, a period when it did not exist. But He is from the Eternal, and yet has always been; He is not ingenerate, yet never was non-existent; since to have always been transcends time, and to have been born is birth.
26. And so we confess that God Only-begotten was born, but born before times eternal: since we must make our confession within such limits as the express preaching of Apostles and Prophets assigns to us; though at the same time human thought cannot grasp any intelligible idea of birth out of time, since it is inconsistent with the nature of earthly beings that any of them should be born before all times. But when we make this assertion, how can we reconcile with it, as part of the same doctrine, the contradictory statement that before His birth He was not, when according to the Apostle He is God Only-begotten before times eternal? If, therefore, the belief that He was born before times eternal is not only the reasonable conclusion of human intelligence, but the confession of thoughtful faith, then, since birth implies some author of being, and what surpasses all time is eternal, and whatever is born before times eternal transcends earthly perception, we are certainly exalting by impious self-will a notion of human reason, if we maintain in a carnal sense that before He was born He was not, since He is born eternal, beyond human perception or carnal intelligence. And again, whatever transcends time is eternal.
27. For we can embrace all time in imagination or knowledge, since we know that what is now today, did not exist yesterday, because what was yesterday is not now; and on the other hand what is now, is only now and was not also yesterday. And by imagination we can so span the past that we have no doubt that before some city was founded, there existed a time in which that city had not been founded. Since, therefore, all time is the sphere of knowledge or imagination, we judge of it by the perceptions of human reason; hence we are considered to have reasonably asserted about anything, "It was not, before it was born," since antecedent time is prior to the origin of every single thing.
But on the other hand, since in things of God, that is to say, in regard to the birth of God, there is nothing that is not before time eternal: it is illogical to use of Him the phrase "before He was born," or to suppose that He Who possesses before times eternal the eternal promise, is merely (in the language of the blessed Apostle) in hope of eternal life, which God Who cannot lie has promised before times eternal, or to say that once He was not. For reason rejects the notion that He began to exist after anything, Who, so we must confess, existed before times eternal.
28. We may grant that for anything to be born before times eternal is not the way of human nature, nor a matter which we can understand; and yet in this we believe God's declarations about Himself. How then does the infidelity of our own day assert, according to the conceptions of human intelligence, that that had no existence before it was born, which the Apostolic faith tells us was, in some manner inconceivable to the human understanding, always born, or in other words existed before times eternal? For what is born before time is always born; since that which exists before time eternal, always exists. But what has always been born, cannot at any time have had no existence; since non-existence at a given time is directly contrary to eternity of existence.
Moreover, existing always excludes the idea of not having existed always. And the idea of not having existed always being excluded by the postulate that He has always been born, we cannot conceive the supposition that He did not exist before He was born. For it is obvious that He Who was born before times eternal, has always been born, although we can form no positive conception of anything having been born before all time. For if we must confess (as is clearly necessary) that He has been born before every creature, whether invisible or corporeal, and before all ages and times eternal, and before all perception, Who always exists through the very fact that He has been so born;-- then by no manner of thought can it be conceived that before He was born, He did not exist; since He Who has been born before times eternal, is prior to all thought, and we can never think that once He did not exist, when we have to confess that He always exists.
29. But our opponent cunningly anticipates us with this carping objection. "If," be urges, "it is inconceivable that He did not exist before He was born, it must be conceivable that One Who already existed was born."
30. I will ask this objector in reply, whether he remembers my calling Him anything else than born, and whether I did not say that existence before times eternal and birth have the same meaning in the case of Him that was. For the birth of One already existing is not really birth, but a self-wrought change through birth, and the eternal existence of One Who is born means that in His birth He is prior to any conception of time, and that there is no truth for the mind to suppose that at any time He was unborn. And so an eternal birth before times eternal is not the same as existence before being born. But to have been born always before times eternal excludes the possibility of having had no existence before birth.
31. Again, this same fact excludes the possibility of saying that He existed before He was born; because He Who transcends perception transcends it in every respect. For if the notion of being born, though always existing, transcends thought, it is equally impossible that the notion that He did not exist before He was born should be a subject of thought. And so, since we must confess that to have been always born means for us nothing beyond the fact of birth, the question whether He did or did not exist before He was born cannot be determined under our conditions of thought; since this one fact that He was born before times eternal ever eludes the grasp of our thought.
So He was born and yet has always existed; He Who does not allow anything else to be understood or said about Him than that He was born. For since He is prior to time itself within which thought exists (since time eternal is previous to thought), He debars thought from determining concerning Him, whether He was or was not before He was born; since existence before birth is incompatible with the idea of birth, and previous non-existence involves the idea of time. Therefore, while the infinity of times eternal is fatal to any explanation involving the idea of time -- that is to say, to the notion that He did not exist; His birth equally forbids any that is inconsistent with it,-- that is to say, the notion that He existed before He was born. For if the question of His existence or His non-existence can be determined under our conditions of thought, then the birth itself must be after time; for He Who does not always exist must, of necessity, have begun to be after some given point of time.
32. Therefore the conclusion reached by faith and argument and thought is that the Lord Jesus both was born and always existed: since if the mind survey the past in search of knowledge concerning the Son, this one fact and nothing else, will be constantly present to the enquirer's perception, that He was born and always existed. As therefore it is a property of God the Father to exist without birth, so also it must belong to the Son to exist always through birth. But birth can declare nothing except that there is a Father and the title Father nothing else except that there is a birth.
For neither those names nor the nature of the case, will allow of any intermediate position. For either He was not always a Father, unless there was always also a Son; or if He was always a Father, there was always also a Son; since whatever period of time is denied to the Son, to make His sonship non-eternal, just so much the Father lacks of having been always a Father: so that although He was always God, nevertheless He cannot have been also a Father for the same infinity during which He is God.
33. Now the declarations of impiety even go so far as not only to ascribe to the Son birth in time, but also generation in time to the Father; because the process of generation and the birth take place within one period.
34. But, heretic, do you consider it pious and devout to confess that God indeed always existed, yet was not always Father? For if it is pious for you to think so, you must then condemn Paul of impiety, when he says that the Son existed before times eternal; you must also accuse Wisdom itself, when it bears witness concerning itself that it was founded before the ages: for it was present with the Father when He was preparing the heaven. But in order that you may assign to God a beginning of His being a Father, first determine the starting-point at which the times must have begun. For if they had a beginning, the Apostle is a liar for declaring them to be eternal.
For you all are accustomed to reckon the times from the creation of the sun and the moon, since it is written of them, "And let them be for Signs and for Times and for Years." [Genesis 1:14]. But He Who is before the heaven, which in your view is even before time, is also before the ages. Nor is He merely before the ages, but also before the generations of generations which precede the ages. Why do you limit things divine and infinite by what is perishable and earthly and narrow? With regard to Christ, Paul knows of nothing except an eternity of times. Wisdom does not say that it is after anything, but before everything.
In your judgment the times were established by the sun and the moon; but David shows that Christ remains before the sun, saying, "His name is before the sun." [Psalm 72:17 LXX]. And lest you should think that the things of God began with the formation of this universe, he says again, "And for generations of generations before the moon." [Psalm 72:5]. These great men counted worthy of prophetic inspiration look down upon time: every opening is barred whereby human perception might penetrate behind the birth, which transcends times eternal. Yet let the faith of a devout imagination accept this as limit of its speculations, remembering that the Lord Jesus Christ, God Only-begotten, is born in a manner to be acknowledged as a perfect birth, and in the reverence paid to His divinity, not forgetting that He is eternal.
35. But we are accused of lying, and together with us the doctrine preached by the Apostle is attacked, because while it confesses the birth, it asserts the eternity of that birth: the result being that, while the birth bears witness to an Author of being, the assertion of eternity in the mystery of the divine birth transgresses the limits of human thought. For there is brought forward against us the declaration of Wisdom concerning itself, when it taught that it was created in these words "The Lord created Me for the beginning of His ways." [Proverbs 8:22].
36. And, O wretched heretic! you turn the weapons granted to the Church against the Synagogue, against belief in the Church's preaching, and distort against the common salvation of all the sure meaning of a saving doctrine. For you maintain by these words that Christ is a creature, instead of silencing the Jew, who denies that Christ was God before eternal ages, and that His power is active in all the working and teaching of God, by these words of the living Wisdom! For Wisdom has in this passage asserted that it had been created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works from the commencement of the ages, lest perchance it might be supposed that it did not subsist before Mary; yet has not employed this word 'created' in order to signify that its birth was a creation, since it was created for the beginning of God's ways and for His works.
Nay rather lest any one should suppose that this beginning of the ways, which is indeed the starting-point for the human knowledge of things divine, was meant to subordinate an infinite birth to conditions of time, Wisdom declared itself established before the ages. For, since it is one thing to be created for the beginning of the ways and for the works of God, and another to be established before the ages, the establishing was intended to be understood as prior to the creation; and the very fact of its being established for God's works before the ages was intended to point to the mystery of the creation; since the establishing is before the ages, but the creation for the beginning of the ways and for the works of God is after the commencement of the ages.
37. But now, test the terms 'creation' and 'establishing' should be an obstacle to belief in the divine birth, these words follow, "Before He made the earth, before He made firm the mountains, before all the hills He begat Me." [Proverbs 8:25-26]. Thus He is begotten before the earth, Who is established before the ages; and not only before the earth, but also before the mountains and hills. And indeed in these expressions, since Wisdom speaks of itself, more is meant than is said. For all objects which are used to convey the idea of infinity must be of such a kind as to be subsequent in point of time to no single thing and to no class of things.
But things existing in time cannot possibly be fitted to indicate eternity; because, from the very fact that they are posterior to other things, they are incapable of suggesting the thought of infinity as a beginning, themselves having their own beginning in time. For what wonder is it, that God should have begotten the Lord Christ before the earth, when the origin of the angels is found to be prior to the creation of the earth? Or why should He, Who was said to be begotten before the earth, be also declared to be born before the mountains, and not only before the mountains but also before the hills; the hills being mentioned, as an afterthought, after the mountains, and reason requiring that there should be a world before mountains could exist? For such reasons it cannot be supposed that these words were used merely in order that He might be understood to exist prior to hills and mountains and earth, Who surpasses by the eternity of His own infinity things which are themselves prior to earth and mountains and hills.
38. But this divine discourse has not left our understandings unenlightened, since it explains the reason of the phrase in what follows:--
"God made the regions, both the uninhabitable parts and the heights which are inhabited under the heaven. When He was preparing the heaven, I was with Him; and when He was setting apart His own seat. When above the winds He made the clouds huge in the upper air, and when He placed securely the springs under the heaven, and when He made firm the foundations of the earth, I was by Him, joining all things together. [Proverbs 8:27-30].
What period in time is here? Or how far are the conceptions of human intelligence allowed to reach beyond the infinite birth of God Only-begotten? By means of things whose creation we can conceive in our mind, it is not possible to understand the generation of Him, Who is prior to all these things; and hence we cannot maintain that He came, indeed, first in time, yet was not infinite, inasmuch as the only privilege bestowed upon Him was a birth prior to things temporal. For in that case, since they, by their constitution, are subject to the conditions of time, He, though prior to them all, would be equally subject to conditions of time, because their creation within time would define the time of His birth, namely that He was born before then; for that which is antecedent to temporal things stands in the same relation to time as they.
39. But the voice of God, our instruction in true wisdom, speaks what is perfect, and expresses the absolute truth, when it teaches that itself is prior not merely to things of time, but even to things infinite. For when the heaven was being prepared, it was present with God. Is the preparation of the heaven an act of God within time; so that an impulse of thought suddenly surprised His mind, as though it had been previously dull and inert, and after the fashion of men He sought for materials and instruments for fashioning the heaven? Nay, the prophet's conception of the working of God is far different, when He says, "By the word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all their power by the breath of His mouth." [Psalm 33:6]. Yet the heavens needed the command of God, that they might be established; for their arrangement and excellence in this firm unshaken constitution, which they display, did not arise from the blending and commingling of some kind of matter, but from the breath of the mouth of God.
What then does it mean, that Wisdom begotten of God was present with Him, when He was preparing the heaven? For neither does the creation of heaven consist in a preparation of material, nor does it consist with the nature of God to linger over preliminary thoughts concerning His work. For everything, which there is in created things, was always with God: for although these things in respect of their creation have a beginning, nevertheless they have no beginning in respect of the knowledge and power of God. And here the prophet is our witness, saying, O God, Who hast made all things which shall be. For although things future, in so far as they are to be created, are still to be made, yet to God, with Whom there is nothing new or sudden in creation they have already been made; since there is a dispensation of times for their creation, and in the prescient working of the divine power they have already been made.
Here, therefore, Wisdom, in teaching that it was born before the ages, teaches that it is not merely prior to things which have been created, but is even co-eternal with what is eternal, to wit, with the preparation of the heaven, and the setting apart of the abode of God. For this abode was not set apart at the time when it was actually made, for setting apart and fashioning an abode are different things. Nor again was the heaven formed at the time when it was (ideally) prepared, for Wisdom was with God both when He prepared and when He set apart the heaven. And afterwards it was fashioning the heaven by the side of God Who formed it: it proves its eternity by its presence with Him as He prepares; it reveals its functions, when it fashions by the side of God Who forms. Therefore, in the passage before us it said that it was begotten even before the earth and mountains and hills, because it meant to teach that it was present at the preparation of the heaven; in order that it might show that, even when the heaven was being prepared, this work was already finished in the counsel of God, for to Him there is nothing new.
40. For the preparation for creation is perpetual and eternal: nor was the frame of this universe actually made by isolated acts of thought, in the sense that first the heaven was thought of, and afterwards there came into God's mind a thought and plan concerning the earth; that He thought of each part singly, so that first the earth was spread out as a plain, and then through better counsels was made to rise up in mountains, and yet again was diversified with hills, and in the fourth place was also made habitable even in the heights; that so the heaven was prepared and the abode of God set apart, and huge clouds in the upper air held the exhalations caught up by the winds; then afterwards sure springs began to run under the heaven, and, last of all, the earth was made firm with strong foundations. For Wisdom declares that it is prior to all these things.
But since all things under the heaven were made through God, and Christ was present at the fashioning of the heaven, and preceded even the eternity of the heaven which was prepared, this fact does not allow us to think in respect to God of disconnected thoughts on details, since the whole preparation of these things is co-eternal with God. For although, as Moses teaches, each act of creation had its proper order;-- the making the firmament solid, the laying bare of the dry land, the gathering together of the sea, the ordering of the stars, the generation by the waters and the earth when they brought forth living creatures out of themselves; yet the creation of the heaven and earth and other elements is not separated by the slightest interval in God's working, since their preparation had been completed in like infinity of eternity in the counsel of God.
41. Thus, though Christ was present in God with these infinite and eternal decrees, He has granted to us nothing more than a knowledge of the fact of His birth; in order that, just as an apprehension of the birth is the means which leads to faith in God, so also the knowledge of the eternity of His birth might avail to sustain piety; since neither reason nor experience allow us to speak of any but an eternal Son as proceeding from a Father Who is eternal.
42. But perhaps the word 'creation,' and its employment of Him, disturbs us. Certainly the word 'creation' would disturb us, if birth before the ages and creation for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works were not affirmed of Him. For birth cannot be understood to denote creation, since the birth precedes causation, but the creation takes place through causation. For before the preparation of the heaven and before the commencement of the ages was He established, Who was created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works. Is it possible that to be created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works, means the same as to be born before all things? No: one of these ideas relates to time employed in action, but the other bears a sense which has no relation to time.
43. Or perhaps you wish the assertion that He was created for the works to be understood in the sense that He was created on account of the works; in other words that Christ was created for the sake of performing the works. In that case He exists as a servant and a builder of the universe, and was not born the Lord of Glory; He was created for the service of forming the ages, and was not always the beloved Son and the King of the ages. But, although the general understanding of Christians contradicts this impious thought of yours, recognizing that it is one thing to be created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works, and another to be born before the ages, yet this very same passage thwarts your purpose of falsely asserting that the Lord Christ was created, on account of the formation of the universe, since it shows that God the Father is the Maker and Former of the universe, and shows it convincingly, since Christ Himself was present fashioning by the side of Him Who was forming all things.
But, while all Scripture was designed to speak of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Creator of the universe, Wisdom, to destroy all occasion for impiety, has here declared that though God the Father was the Constructor of the universe, yet itself was not absent from Him while constructing it, since it was present with Him even when He was preparing it beforehand, and that when the Father formed the universe, Wisdom also was fashioning it by the side of Him Who formed it, and was present with Him even when He prepared it. Whence Wisdom would have us understand that it was not created on account of God's works, by the very fact that it had been present at the eternal preparation of works yet to be, and proves Scripture not to be false, by the fact that it fashioned the universe by the side of God when He formed it.
44. Learn at last, heretic, from the revelation of Catholic teaching, what is the meaning of the saying that Christ was created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works; and be taught by the words of Wisdom itself the folly of your impious dullness. For thus it begins: If I shall declare unto you the things which are done every day, I will remember to recount those things which are from of old. For Wisdom had said before, "You, O men, I entreat, and I utter my voice to the sons of men. O ye simple, understand subtilty, moreover ye unlearned, apply your heart" [Proverbs 8:4-5]; and again, "Through Me kings reign, and mighty men decree justice. Through Me princes are magnified, and through Me despots possess the earth" [Proverbs 8:15-16]; and again, "I walk in the ways of equity, and move in the midst of the paths of justice; that I may divide substance to those that love Me, and fill their treasures with good things" [Proverbs 20-21].
Wisdom is not silent about its daily work. And firstly entreating all men, it advises the simple to understand subtilty, and the unlearned to apply their heart, in order that a zealous and diligent reader may ponder the different and separate meanings of the words. And so it teaches that by its methods and ordinances all success, all attainment of knowledge or fame or wealth, is achieved: it shows that within itself are contained the reigns of kings and the prudence of the mighty, and the famous works of princes, and the justice of despots who possess the earth; that it moreover does not mingle with wicked deeds and has no part in acts of injustice; and that all this is done by Wisdom in order that, by taking part in every work of equity and justice, it may supply to those that love it, a wealth of eternal goods and incorruptible treasures.
Therefore Wisdom, after declaring that it will relate the things which are done every day, promises that it will also be mindful to recount the things which are from of old. And now what blindness is it, to think that things were performed before the beginning of the ages, which are expressly declared to date merely from the beginning of the ages! For every work among those which date from the beginning of the ages is itself posterior to that beginning: but on the contrary, things which are before the beginning of the ages, precede the ordering of the ages, which are later than they. And so Wisdom, after declaring that it is mindful to speak of the things which date from the beginning of the ages, says, The Lord created Me for the beginning of His ways for His works, by these words denoting things performed from the date of the beginning of the ages. Thus Wisdom's teaching concerns not a generation declared to precede the ages, but a dispensation which began with the ages themselves.
45. We must also enquire what is the meaning of the saying that God, born before the ages, was again created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works. This surely is said because where there is a birth before the commencement of the ages, there is the eternity of an endless generation: but where the same birth is represented as a creation from the commencement of the ages, for the ways of God and for His works, it is applied as the creative cause to the works and to the ways. And first, since Christ is Wisdom, we must see whether He is Himself the beginning of the way of the works of God. Of this, I think, there is no doubt; for He says, "I am the way," and, "No man cometh to the Father except through Me." [John 14:6].
A way is the guide of those who go, the course marked out for those who hasten, the safeguard of the ignorant, a teacher, so to speak, of things unknown and longed for. Therefore He is created for the beginning of the ways, for the works of God; because He is the Way and leads men to the Father. But we must seek for the purpose of this creation, which is from the commencement of the ages. For it is also the mystery of the last dispensation, wherein Christ was again created in bodily form, and declared that He was the way of the works of God. Again, He was created for the ways of God from the commencement of the ages, when, subjecting Himself to the visible form of a creature, He took the form of a created being.
46. And so let us see for what ways of God, and for what works of God, Wisdom was created from the commencement of the ages, though born of God before all ages. Adam heard the voice of One walking in Paradise. Do you think that His approach could have been heard, had He not assumed the guise of a created being? Is not the fact, that He was heard as He walked, proof that He was present in a created form? I do not ask in what guise He spoke to Cain and Abel and Noah, and in what guise He was near to Enoch also, blessing him. An Angel speaks to Hagar, and certainly He is also God. Has He the same form, when He appears like an Angel, as He has in that nature, by virtue of which He is God? Certainly the form of an Angel is revealed, where afterwards mention is made of the nature of God.
But why should I speak of an Angel? He comes as a man to Abraham. Under the guise of a man, in the shape of that created being, is not Christ present in that nature, which He possesses as being also God? A man speaks, and is present in the body, and is nourished by food; and yet God is adored. Surely He Who was an Angel is now also man, in order to save us from the assumption that any of these diverse aspects of one state, that of the creature, is His natural form as God. Again, He comes to Jacob in human shape, and even grasps him for wrestling; and He takes hold with His hands, and struggles with His limbs, and bends His flanks, and adopts every movement and gesture of ours. But again He is revealed, this time to Moses, and as a fire; in order that you might learn to believe that this created nature was to provide Him with an outward guise, not to embody the reality of His nature. He possessed, at that moment, the power of burning, but He did not assume the destructive property which is inherent in the nature of fire, for the fire evidently burned and yet the bush was not injured.
47. Glance over the whole course of time, and realize in what guise He appeared to Joshua the son of Nun, a prophet bearing His name, or to Isaiah, who relates that he saw Him, as the Gospel also bears witness, or to Ezekiel, who was admitted even to knowledge of the Resurrection, or to Daniel, who confesses the Son of Man in the eternal kingdom of the ages, or to all the rest to whom He presented Himself in the form of various created beings, for the ways of God and for the works of God, that is to say, to teach us to know God, and to profit our eternal state. Why does this method, expressly designed for human salvation, bring about at the present time such an impious attack upon His eternal birth? The creation, of which you speak, dates from the commencement of the ages; but His birth is without end, and before the ages. Maintain by all means that we are doing violence to words, if a Prophet, or the Lord, or an Apostle, or any oracle whatever has described by the name of creation the birth of His eternal divinity. In all these manifestations God, Who is a consuming fire, is present, as created, in such a manner that He could lay aside the created form by the same power by which He assumed it, being able to destroy again that which had come into existence merely that it might be looked upon.
48. But that blessed and true birth of the flesh conceived within the Virgin the Apostle has named both a creating and a making, for then there was born both the nature and form of our created being. And without doubt in his view this name belongs to Christ's true birth as a man, since he says, "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, in order that He might redeem those who are under the law, that we might obtain the adoption of sons." [Galatians 4:4]. And so He is God's own Son, Who is made in human form and of human origin; nor is He only made but also created, as it is said: "Even as the truth is in Jesus, that ye put away according to your former manner of life, that old man, which becomes corrupt according to the lusts of deceit. However, be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put ye on that new man, which is created according to God." [Ephesians 4:21-24]. So the new man is to be put on Who has been created according to God. For He Who was Son of God was born also Son of Man. This was not the birth of the divinity, but the creating of the flesh; the new Man taking the title of the race, and being created according to God Who was born before the ages. And how the new man was created according to God, he explains in what follows, adding, in righteousness, and in holiness, and in truth. For there was no guile in Him; and He has been made unto us righteousness and sanctification, and is Himself the Truth. This, then, is the Christ, created a new man according to God, Whom we put on.
49. If, then, Wisdom, in saying that it was mindful of the things which have been performed since the beginning of the ages, said that it was created for the works of God and for the ways of God; and yet, while saying that it was created, taught that it was established before the ages, lest we should suppose that the mystery of that created form, so variously and frequently assumed, involved some change in its nature;-- for although the firmness with which it was established would not allow of any disturbance that could overthrow it, yet, lest the establishment might seem to mean something less than birth, Wisdom declared itself to be begotten before all things:-- if this is so, why is the term 'creation' now applied to the birth of that which was both begotten before all things, and also established before the ages? Because that which was established before the ages was created anew from the commencement of the ages for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works. In this sense must we understand the difference between creation from the commencement of the ages and that birth which precedes the ages and all things. Impiety at least has not this excuse, that it can plead error as the cause of its profanity.
50. For although the weakness of the understanding might hinder the perceptions of a man devoutly disposed, so that, even after this explanation, he might fail to grasp the meaning of "creation," nevertheless, even the letter of the Apostle's saying, when he applies the term "making" to a true birth, should have sufficed for a sincere, if not intelligent, belief, that the term "creation" was designed to conduce to a belief in generation. For when the Apostle was minded to assert the birth of One from one Parent, that is to say, the birth of the Lord from a virgin without a conception due to human passions, he clearly had a definite purpose in calling Him "made of a woman," Whom he knew and had frequently asserted to have been born.
He desired that the 'birth' should point to the reality of the generation, and the 'making' should testify to the birth of One from one Parent; because the term 'making' excludes the idea of a conception by means of human intercourse, it being expressly stated that He was made of a virgin, though it is equally certain that He was born and not made. But see, heretic, how impious you are. No sentence of prophet, or evangelist, or apostle has said that Jesus Christ was created from God, rather than born from Him: yet you deny the birth, and assert the creation, but not according to the Apostle's meaning, when he said that He was made, lest there should be any doubt that He was born as One from one Parent. You make your assertion in a most impious sense, implying that God did not derive His being by way of birth conveying nature; although a creature would rather have come into being out of nothing. This is the primary infection in your unhappy mind, not that you term birth a creating, but that you adapt your faith to the idea of creation instead of birth. And yet while it would mark a poor intellect, still it would not mark a man entirely undevout, if you had called Christ created, in order that men might recognize His impassible birth from God, as being that of One from One.
51. But none of these phrases does a firm apostolic faith permit. For it knows in what dispensation of time Christ was created, and in what eternity of times He was born. Moreover, He was born God of God, and the divinity of His true birth and perfect generation is not doubtful. For in relation to God we acknowledge only two modes of being, birth and eternity: birth, moreover, not after anything, but before all things, so that birth only bears witness to a Source of being, and does not predicate any incongruity between the offspring and the Source of being.
Still, by common admission, this birth, because it is from God, implies a secondary position in respect to the Source of being, and yet cannot be separated from that Source, since any attempt of thought to pass beyond acceptance of the fact of birth, must also necessarily penetrate the mystery of the generation. And so this is the only pious language to use about God: to know Him as Father, and with Him to know also Him, Who is the Son born of Him. Nor assuredly are we taught anything concerning God, except that He is the Father of God the Only-begotten and the Creator. So let not human weakness overreach itself; and let it make this only confession, in which alone lies its salvation -- that, before the mystery of the Incarnation, it is ever assured, concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, of this one fact that He had been born.
52. For my part, so long as I shall have the power by means of this Spirit Whom Thou hast granted me, Holy Father, Almighty God, I will confess Thee to be not only eternally God, but also eternally Father. Nor will I ever break out into such folly and impiety, as to make myself the judge of Thy omnipotence and Thy mysteries, nor shall this weak understanding arrogantly seek for more than that devout belief in Thy infinitude and faith in Thy eternity, which have been taught me. I will not assert that Thou wast ever without Thy Wisdom, and Thy Power, and Thy Word, without God Only-begotten, my Lord Jesus Christ.
The weak and imperfect language, to which our nature is limited, does not dominate my thoughts concerning Thee, so that my poverty of utterance should choke faith into silence. For although we have a word and wisdom and power of our own, the product of our free inward activity, yet Thine is the absolute generation of perfect God, Who is Thy Word and Wisdom and Power; so that He can never be separated from Thee, Who in these names of Thy eternal properties is shown to be born of Thee. Yet His birth is only so far shown as to make manifest the fact that Thou art the Source of His being; yet sufficiently to confirm our belief in His infinity, inasmuch as it is related that He was born before times eternal.
53. For in human affairs Thou hast set before us many things of such a sort, that though we do not know their cause, yet the effect is not unknown; and reverence inculcates faith, where ignorance is inherent in our nature. Thus when I raised to Thy heaven these feeble eyes of mine, my certainty regarding it was limited to the fact that it is Thine. For seeing therein these orbits where the stars are fixed, and their annual revolutions, and the Pleiades and the Great Bear and the Morning Star, each having their varied duties in the service which is appointed them, I recognize Thy presence, O God, in these things whereof I cannot gain any clear understanding.
And when I view the marvellous swellings of Thy sea, I know that I have failed to comprehend not merely the origin of the waters but even the movements of this changeful expanse; yet I grasp at faith in some reasonable cause, although it is one that I cannot see, and fail not to recognize Thee in these things also, which I do not know. Furthermore, when in thought I turn to the earth, which by the power of hidden agencies causes to decay all the seeds which it receives, quickens them when decayed, multiplies them when quickened, and makes them strong when multiplied; in all these changes I find nothing which my mind can understand, yet my ignorance helps towards recognizing Thee, for though I know nothing of the nature that waits on me, I recognize Thee by actual experience of the advantages I possess.
Moreover, though I do not know myself, yet I perceive so much that I marvel at Thee the more because I am ignorant of myself. For without understanding it, I perceive a certain motion or order or life in my mind when it exercises its powers; and this very perception I owe to Thee, for though Thou deniest the power of understanding my natural first beginning, yet Thou givest that of perceiving nature with its charms. And since in what concerns myself I recognize Thee, ignorant as I am, so recognizing Thee I will not in what concerns Thee cherish a feebler faith in Thy omnipotence, because I do not understand. My thoughts shall not attempt to grasp and master the origin of Thy Only-begotten Son, nor shall my faculties strain to reach beyond the truth that He is my Creator and my God.
54. His birth is before times eternal. If anything exist which precedes eternity, it will be something which, when eternity is comprehended, still eludes comprehension. And this something is Thine, and is Thy Only-begotten; no portion, nor extension, nor any empty name devised to suit some theory of Thy mode of action. He is the Son, a Son born of Thee, God the Father, Himself true God, begotten by Thee in the unity of Thy nature, and meet to be acknowledged after Thee, and yet with Thee, since Thou art the eternal Author of His eternal origin. For since He is from Thee, He is second to Thee; yet since He is Thine, Thou art not to be separated from Him. For we must never assert that Thou didst once exist without Thy Son, lest we should be reproaching Thee either with imperfection, as then unable to generate, or with superfluousness after the generation. And so the exact meaning for us of the eternal generation is that we know Thee to be the eternal Father of Thy Only-begotten Son, Who was born of Thee before times eternal.
55. But, for my part, I cannot be content by the service of my faith and voice, to deny that my Lord and my God, Thy Only-begotten, Jesus Christ, is a creature; I must also deny that this name of 'creature' belongs to Thy Holy Spirit, seeing that He proceeds from Thee and is sent through Him, so great is my reverence for everything that is Thine. Nor, because I know that Thou alone art unborn and that the Only-begotten is born of Thee, will I refuse to say that the Holy Spirit was begotten, or assert that He was ever created. I fear the blasphemies which would be insinuated against Thee by such use of this title 'creature,' which I share with the other beings brought into being by Thee.
Thy Holy Spirit, as the Apostle says, searches and knows Thy deep things, and as Intercessor for me speaks to Thee words I could not utter; and shall I express or rather dishonor, by the title 'creature,' the power of His nature, which subsists eternally, derived from Thee through Thine Only-begotten? Nothing, except what belongs to Thee, penetrates into Thee; nor can the agency of a power foreign and strange to Thee measure the depth of Thy boundless majesty. To Thee belongs whatever enters into Thee; nor is anything strange to Thee, which dwells in Thee through its searching power.
56. But I cannot describe Him, Whose pleas for me I cannot describe. As in the revelation that Thy Only-begotten was born of Thee before times eternal, when we cease to struggle with ambiguities of language and difficulties of thought, the one certainty of His birth remains; so I hold fast in my consciousness the truth that Thy Holy Spirit is from Thee and through Him, although I cannot by my intellect comprehend it. For in Thy spiritual things I am dull, as Thy Only-begotten says, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born anew. The Spirit breathes where it will, and thou hearest the voice of it; but dost not know whence it comes or whither it goes. So is every one who is born of water and of the Holy Spirit." [John 3:7-8].
Though I hold a belief in my regeneration, I hold it in ignorance; I possess the reality, though I comprehend it not. For my own consciousness had no part in causing this new birth, which is manifest in its effects. Moreover the Spirit has no limits; He speaks when He will, and what He will, and where He will. Since, then, the cause of His coming and going is unknown, though the watcher is conscious of the fact, shall I count the nature of the Spirit among created things, and limit Him by fixing the time of His origin? Thy servant John says, indeed, that all things were made through the Son, Who as God the Word was in the beginning, O God, with Thee. Again, Paul recounts all things as created in Him, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. And, while he declared that everything was created in Christ and through Christ, he thought, with respect to the Holy Spirit, that the description was sufficient, when he called Him Thy Spirit. With these men, peculiarly Thine elect, I will think in these matters; just as, after their example, I will say nothing beyond my comprehension about Thy Only-begotten, but simply declare that He was born, so also after their example I will not trespass beyond that which human intellect can know about Thy Holy Spirit, but simply declare that He is Thy Spirit. May my lot be no useless strife of words, but the unwavering confession of an unhesitating faith!
57. Keep, I pray Thee, this my pious faith undefiled, and even till my spirit departs, grant that this may be the utterance of my convictions: so that I may ever hold fast that which I professed in the creed of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let me, in short, adore Thee our Father, and Thy Son together with Thee; let me win the favor of Thy Holy Spirit, Who is from Thee, through Thy Only-begotten. For I have a convincing Witness to my faith, Who says, "Father, all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine." [John 17:10], even my Lord Jesus Christ, abiding in Thee, and from Thee, and with Thee, for ever God: Who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.