Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume IX/Title Page/De Trinitate or On the Trinity/De Trinitate or On the Trinity/Book XII
1. At length, with the Holy Ghost speeding our way, we are approaching the safe, calm harbour 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 out 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. 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 harbour 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 recognise 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
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. 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. 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. 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 honour is owed to the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is in the form of God, as He Himself says, That all men may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father Who sent Him. There is never a difference between things which does not also imply a different degree of honour. The same objects deserve the same reverence; for otherwise the highest honour will be unworthily bestowed on those which are inferior, or with insult to the superior the inferior will be made equal to them in honour. 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 honour to the Father, since we charge ourselves with only such reverence towards Him as is shewn 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 honour, 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. 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; or again, I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart. 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 will 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; and by the prophet, The heavens are the works of Thy hands; 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 favour, 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.
14. Yet perchance inasmuch as He says, My firstborn Son Israel, 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 shewn 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 to-day, 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 to-day 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 nonexistent, 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 notion 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 shewed 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 shewn, 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 fulness of the Godhead bodily. 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. 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 hit 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 fulness of true Godhead in Himself. For, as we have shewn in the former books, in respect of power and veneration He is as mighty and as worthy of honour 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, 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, and since Jesus Christ is God over all.
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 to-day, 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,” he 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 room 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. 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 shews that Christ remains before the sun, saying, His is name is before the sun. 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. 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.
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, lest 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. 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. 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. 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 shew 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, recognising 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 shews that God the Father is the Maker and Former of the universe, and shews 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 dulness. 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; and again, Through Me kings reign, and mighty men decree justice. Through Me princes are magnified, and through Me despots possess the earth; 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. 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 shews 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. 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 realise 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 fulness 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. 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. 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 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 recognise His impossible 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 shewn to be born of Thee. Yet His birth is only so far shewn 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 recognise 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 recognise 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 recognising Thee, for though I know nothing of the nature that waits on me, I recognise 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 recognise Thee, ignorant as I am, so recognising 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 dishonour, 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. 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 favour 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, 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.
- Prov. viii. 22.
- Rom. i. 23.
- Gen. xiv. 19.
- Hos. xiii. 4 (LXX.).
- 1 Pet. iv. 19.
- Rom. viii. 19–21.
- St. John v. 23.
- Ps. cix. 3 (LXX.).
- Hos. xiii. 4, according to LXX.
- Ps. xxxiv. 15.
- Acts xiii. 22; cf. Ps. lxxxix. 20.
- 1 St. John v. 1.
- St. John i. 3.
- Ps. cii. 25.
- Ib. cxxxviii. 8.
- Is. i. 2 (LXX.).
- Ex. iv. 22.
- St. Matt. xvii. 5.
- Ps. xxi. 32 (LXX.).
- Col. ii. 8, 9.
- 2 Cor. x. 4, 5.
- i.e. not yet born.
- Ex. iii. 14 (in LXX.).
- St. John i. 1, 9, 18.
- Rom. ix. 5.
- 2 Tim. i. 9, Tit. i. 2.
- Reading humanæ.
- Reading non solum.
- Reading generationis.
- Tit. i. 2.
- Gen. i. 14.
- Ps. lxxi. 17 (in LXX.).
- Ib. 5 (LXX.).
- Prov. viii. 22 (LXX.).
- Ib. 24, 25 (LXX.).
- Prov. viii. 26–30 (LXX.).
- Ps. xxxii. 6 (LXX.).
- Is. xlv. 11 (LXX. but altered from the 3rd person to the 2nd).
- Reading per id ipsum ea neque propter opera.
- Prov. viii. 21 (LXX.).
- Ib. 4, 5.
- Ib. 15, 16.
- Ib. 20, 21.
- St. John xiv. 6.
- St. John xii. 41.
- Gal. iv. 4, 5.
- Eph. iv. 21–24.
- Ib. 24.
- Deputantis, conj. edd. Benedict.
- St. John iii. 7, 8.
- Ib. i. 1, 3.
- Col. i. 16.
- St. John xvii. 10.