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§22. He has no right to assert a greater and less in the Divine being. A systematic statement of the teaching of the Church.

Then they discover in His being a certain shortness in the way of deficiency, though they do not tell us by what method they measure that which is devoid of quantity and size: they are able to find out exactly by how much the size of the Only-begotten falls short of perfection, and therefore has to be classed with the inferior and imperfect: much else they lay down, partly by open assertion, partly by underhand inference: all the time making their confession of the Son and the Spirit a mere exercise-ground for their unbelieving spirit. How, then, can we fail to pity them more even than the condemned Jews, when views never ventured upon by the latter are inferred by the former? He who makes the being of the Son and of the Spirit comparatively less, seems, so far as words go perhaps, to commit but a slight profanity: but if one were to test his view stringently it will be found the height of blasphemy. Let us look into this, then, and let indulgence be shown me, if, for the sake of doctrine, and to place in a clear light the lie which they have demonstrated, I advance into an exposition of our own conception of the truth.

Now the ultimate division of all being is into the Intelligible and the Sensible. The Sensible world is called by the Apostle broadly “that which is seen.” For as all body has colour, and the sight apprehends this, he calls this world by the rough and ready name of “that which is seen,” leaving out all the other qualities, which are essentially inherent in its framework. The common term, again, for all the intellectual world, is with the Apostle “that which is not seen 117 :” by withdrawing all idea of comprehension by the senses he leads the mind on to the immaterial and intellectual. Reason again divides this “which is not seen” into the uncreate and the created, inferentially comprehending it: the uncreate being that which effects the Creation, the created that which owes its origin and its force to the uncreate. In the Sensible world, then, is found everything that we comprehend by our organs of bodily sense, and in which the differences of qualities involve the idea of more and less, such differences consisting in quantity, quality, and the other properties.

But in the Intelligible world,—that part of it, I mean, which is created,—the idea of such differences as are perceived in the Sensible cannot find a place: another method, then, is devised for discovering the degrees of greater and less. The fountain, the origin, the supply of every good is regarded as being in the world that is uncreate, and the whole creation inclines to that, and touches and shares the Highest Existence only by virtue of its part in the First Good: therefore it follows from this participation in the highest blessings varying in degree according to the amount of freedom in the will that each possesses, that the greater and less in this creation is disclosed according to the proportion of this tendency in each 118 . Created intelligible nature stands on the borderline between good and the reverse, so as to be capable of either, and to incline at pleasure to the things of its choice, as we learn from Scripture; so that we can say of it that it is more or less in the heights of excellence only in proportion to its removal from the evil and its approach to the good. Whereas 119 uncreate intelligible nature is far removed from such distinctions: it does not p. LXI possess the good by acquisition, or participate only in the goodness of some good which lies above it: in its own essence it is good, and is conceived as such: it is a source of good, it is simple, uniform, incomposite, even by the confession of our adversaries. But it has distinction within itself in keeping with the majesty of its own nature, but not conceived of with regard to quantity, as Eunomius supposes: (indeed the man who introduces the notion of less of good into any of the things believed to be in the Holy Trinity must admit thereby some admixture of the opposite quality in that which fails of the good: and it is blasphemous to imagine this in the case either of the Only-begotten, or of the Holy Spirit): we regard it as consummately perfect and incomprehensibly excellent yet as containing clear distinctions within itself which reside in the peculiarities of each of the Persons: as possessing invariableness by virtue of its common attribute of uncreatedness, but differentiated by the unique character of each Person. This peculiarity contemplated in each sharply and clearly divides one from the other: the Father, for instance, is uncreate and ungenerate as well: He was never generated any more than He was created. While this uncreatedness is common to Him and the Son, and the Spirit, He is ungenerate as well as the Father. This is peculiar and uncommunicable, being not seen in the other Persons. The Son in His uncreatedness touches the Father and the Spirit, but as the Son and the Only-begotten He has a character which is not that of the Almighty or of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit by the uncreatedness of His nature has contact with the Son and Father, but is distinguished from them by His own tokens. His most peculiar characteristic is that He is neither of those things which we contemplate in the Father and the Son respectively. He is simply, neither as ungenerate 120 , nor as only-begotten: this it is that constitutes His chief peculiarity. Joined to the Father by His uncreatedness, He is disjoined from Him again by not being ‘Father.’ United to the Son by the bond of uncreatedness, and of deriving His existence from the Supreme, He is parted again from Him by the characteristic of not being the Only-begotten of the Father, and of having been manifested by means of the Son Himself. Again, as the creation was effected by the Only-begotten, in order to secure that the Spirit should not be considered to have something in common with this creation because of His having been manifested by means of the Son, He is distinguished from it by His unchangeableness, and independence of all external goodness. The creation does not possess in its nature this unchangeableness, as the Scripture says in the description of the fall of the morning star, the mysteries on which subject are revealed by our Lord to His disciples: “I saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven 121 .” But the very attributes which part Him from the creation constitute His relationship to the Father and the Son. All that is incapable of degenerating has one and the same definition of “unchangeable.”

Having stated thus much as a preface we are in a position to discuss the rest of our adversaries’ teaching. “It necessarily follows,” he says in his system of the Son and the Spirit, “that the Beings are relatively greater and less.” Let us then inquire what is the meaning of this necessity of difference. Does it arise from a comparison formed from measuring them one with another in some material way, or from viewing them on the spiritual ground of more or less of moral excellence, or on that of pure being? But in the case of this last it has been shown by competent thinkers that it is impossible to conceive of any difference whatever, if one abstracts being from attributes and properties, and looks at it according to its bare definition. Again, to conceive of this difference as consisting in the case of the Only-begotten and the Spirit in the intensity or abatement of moral excellence, and in consequence to hint that their nature admits of change in either direction, so as to be equally capable of opposites, and to be placed in a borderland between moral beauty and its opposite—that is gross profanity. A man who thinks this will be proving that their nature is one thing in itself, and becomes something else by virtue of its participation in this beauty or its opposite: as happens with iron for example: if it is approached some time to the fire, it assumes the quality of heat while remaining iron: if it is put in snow or ice, it changes its quality to the mastering influence, and lets the snow’s coldness pass into its pores.

Now just as we cannot name the material of the iron from the quality now to be observed upon it (for we do not give the name of fire or ice to that which is tempered with either of these), so the moment we grant the view of these heretics, that in the case 122 of the Life-giving Power good does not reside in It essentially, but is imparted to it only, it will become impossible to call it properly good: p. LXII such a conception of it will compel us to regard it as something different, as not eternally exhibiting the good, as not in itself to be classed amongst genuine goods, but as such that the good is at times not in it, and is at times not likely to be in it. If these existences become good only by sharing in a something superior to themselves, it is plain that before this participation they were not good, and if, being other than good, they were then coloured by the influence of good they must certainly, if again isolated from this, be considered other than good: so that, if this heresy prevails, the Divine Nature cannot be apprehended as transmissive of good, but rather as itself needing goodness: for how can one impart to another that which he does not himself possess? If it is in a state of perfection, no abatement of that can be conceived, and it is absurd to talk of less of perfection. If on the other hand its participation of good is an imperfect one, and this is what they mean by ‘less,’ mark the consequence that anything in that state can never help an inferior, but will be busied in satisfying its own want: so that, according to them, Providence is a fiction, and so is the judgment and the Dispensation of the Only-begotten, and all the other works believed to be done, and still doing by Him: for He will necessarily be employed in taking care of His own good, and must abandon the supervision of the Universe 123 .

If, then, this surmise is to have its way, namely, that our Lord is not perfected in every kind of good, it is very easy to see the conclusion of the blasphemy. This being so, our faith is vain, and our preaching vain; our hopes, which take their substance from our faith, are unsubstantial. Why are they baptized into Christ 124 , if He has no power of goodness of His own? God forgive me for saying it! Why do they believe in the Holy Ghost, if the same account is given of Him? How are they regenerate 125 by baptism from their mortal birth, if the regenerating Power does not possess in its own nature infallibility and independence? How can their ‘vile body’ be changed, while they think that He who is to change it Himself needs change, i.e. another to change Him? For as long as a nature is in defect as regards the good, the superior existence exerts upon this inferior one a ceaseless attraction towards itself: and this craving for more will never stop: it will be stretching out to something not yet grasped: the subject of this deficiency will be always demanding a supply, always altering into the grander nature, and yet will never touch perfection, because it cannot find a goal to grasp, and cease its impulse upward. The First Good is in its nature infinite, and so it follows of necessity that the participation in the enjoyment of it will be infinite also, for more will be always being grasped, and yet something beyond that which has been grasped will always be discovered, and this search will never overtake its Object, because its fund is as inexhaustible as the growth of that which participates in it is ceaseless 126 .

Such, then, are the blasphemies which emerge from their making differences between the Persons as to the good. If on the other hand the degrees of more or less are to be understood in this case in some material sense, the absurdity of this surmise will be obvious at once, without examination in detail. Ideas of quality and distance, weight and figure, and all that goes to complete the notion of a body, will perforce be introduced along with such a surmise into the view of the Divine Nature: and where a compound is assumed, there the dissolution also of that compound must be admitted. A teaching so monstrous, which dares to discover a smaller and a larger in what is sizeless and not concrete lands us in these and suchlike conclusions, a few samples only of which are here indicated: nor indeed would it be easy to unveil all the mischief that lurks beneath it. Still the shocking absurdity that results from their blasphemous premiss will be clear from this brief notice. We now proceed to their next position, after a short defining and confirmation of our own doctrine. For an inspired testimony is a sure test of the truth of any doctrine: and so it seems to me that ours may be well guaranteed by a quotation from the divine words.

In the division of all existing things, then, we find these distinctions. There is, as appealing to our perceptions, the Sensible world: p. LXIII and there is, beyond this, the world which the mind, led on by objects of sense, can view: I mean the Intelligible: and in this we detect again a further distinction into the Created and the Uncreate: to the latter of which we have defined the Holy Trinity to belong, to the former all that can exist or can be thought of after that. But in order that this statement may not be left without a proof, but may be confirmed by Scripture, we will add that our Lord was not created, but came forth from the Father, as the Word with His own lips attests in the Gospel, in a manner of birth or of proceeding ineffable and mysterious: and what truer witness could be found than this constant declaration of our Lord all through the Gospel, that the Very Father was a father, not a creator, of Himself, and that He was not a work of God, but Son of God? Just as when He wished to name His connexion with humanity according to the flesh, He called that phase of his being Son of Man, indicating thereby His kinship according to the nature of the flesh with her from whom He was born, so also by the title of Son he expresses His true and real relationship to the Almighty, by that name of Son showing this natural connexion: no matter if there are some who, for the contradiction of the truth, do take literally and without any explanation, words used with a hidden meaning in the dark form of parable, and adduce the expression ‘created,’ put into the mouth of Wisdom by the author of the Proverbs 127 , to support their perverted views. They say, in fact, that “the Lord created me” is a proof that our Lord is a creature, as if the Only-begotten Himself in that word confessed it. But we need not heed such an argument. They do not give reasons why we must refer that text to our Lord at all: neither will they be able to show that the idea of the word in the Hebrew leads to this and no other meaning, seeing that the other translators have rendered it by “possessed” or “constituted:” nor, finally, even if this was the idea in the original text, would its real meaning be so plain and on the surface: for these proverbial discourses do not show their aim at once, but rather conceal it, revealing it only by an indirect import, and we may judge of the obscurity of this particular passage from its context where he says, “When He set His throne upon the winds 128 ,” and all the similar expressions. What is God’s throne? Is it material or ideal? What are the winds? Are they these winds so familiar to us, which the natural philosophers tell us are formed from vapours and exhalations: or are they to be understood in another way not familiar to man, when they are called the bases of His throne? What is this throne of the immaterial, incomprehensible, and formless Deity? Who could possibly understand all this in a literal sense?



Colossians i. 16.


i.e. according as each inclines more or less to the First Good.


uncreate intelligible nature is far removed from such distinctions. This was the impregnable position that Athanasius had taken up. To admit that the Son is less than the Father, and the Spirit less than the Son, is to admit the law of emanation such as hitherto conceived, that is, the gradual and successive degradation of God’s substance; which had conducted oriental heretics as well as the Neoplatonists to a sort of pantheistic polytheism. Arius had indeed tried to resist this tendency so far as to bring back divinity to the Supreme Being; but it was at the expense of the divinity of the Son, Who was with him just as much a created Intermediate between God and man, as one of the Æons: and Aetius and Eunomius treated the Holy Ghost also as their master had treated the Son. But Arianism tended at once to Judaism and, in making creatures adorable, to Greek polytheism. There was only one way of cutting short the phantasmagoria of divine emanations, without having recourse to the contradictory hypothesis of Arius: and that was to reject the law of emanation, as hitherto accepted, altogether. Far from admitting that the Supreme Being is always weakening and degrading Himself in that which emanates from Him, Athanasius lays down the principle that He produces within Himself nothing but what is perfect, and first, and divine: and all that is not perfect is a work of the Divine Will, which draws it out of nothing (i.e. creates it), and not out of the Divine Substance. This was the crowning result of the teaching of Alexandria and Origen. See Denys (De la Philosophie d’Origene, p. 432, Paris, 1884).


But He is not begotten. Athanasian Creed.


Luke x. 18.


τῆς ζωοποιοῦ δυνάμεως.


τοῦ παντὸς. It is worth while to mention, once for all, the distinction in the names used by the Stoics for the world, which had long since passed from them into the common parlance. Including the Empty, the world is called τὸ πᾶν, without it, λον (τὸ ὅλον, τὰ ὅλα frequently occurs with the Stoics). The πᾶν, it was said, is neither material nor immaterial, since it consists of both.


Τί γὰρ βαπτίζονται εἰς Χριστὸν. This throws some light on the much discussed passage, ‘Why are these baptized for the dead?’ Gregory at all events seems here to take it to mean, ‘Why are they baptized in the name of a dead Christ?’ as he is adopting partially S. Paul’s words, 1 Cor. xv. 29; as well as Heb. xi. 1 above.




Cf. Gregory’s theory of human perfection; De anima et Resurrectione, p. 229, 230. ‘The All-creating Wisdom fashioned these souls, these receptacles with free wills, as vessels as it were, for this very purpose, that there should be some capacities able to receive His blessings, and become continually larger with the inpouring of the stream. Such are the wonders that the participation in the Divine blessings works; it makes him into whom they come larger and more capacious.…The fountain of blessings wells up unceasingly, and the partaker’s nature, finding nothing superfluous and without a use in that which it receives, makes the whole influx an enlargement of its own proportions.…It is likely, therefore, that this bulk will mount to a magnitude wherein no limit checks the growth.


Proverbs viii. 22 (LXX). For another discussion of this passage, see Book II. ch. 10 (beginning) with note.


Proverbs viii. 27 (LXX).

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