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NPNF2-04. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters
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Chapter VI.—Subject Continued. Third proof of the Son’s eternity, viz. from other titles indicative of His coessentiality; as the Creator; One of the Blessed Trinity; as Wisdom; as Word; as Image. If the Son is a perfect Image of the Father, why is He not a Father also? because God, being perfect, is not the origin of a race. Only the Father a Father because the Only Father, only the Son a Son because the Only Son. Men are not really fathers and really sons, but shadows of the True. The Son does not become a Father, because He has received from the Father to be immutable and ever the same.

17. This is of itself a sufficient refutation of the Arian heresy; however, its heterodoxy will appear also from the following:—If God be Maker and Creator, and create His works through the Son, and we cannot regard things which come to be, except as being through the Word, is it not blasphemous, God being Maker, to say, that His Framing Word and His Wisdom once was not? it is the same as saying, that God is not Maker, if He had not His proper Framing Word which is from Him, but that that by which He frames, accrues to Him from without19361936    de Decr. 25, note 2., and is alien from Him, and unlike in essence. Next, let them tell us this,—or rather learn from it how irreligious they are in saying, ‘Once He was not,’ and, ‘He was not before His generation;’—for if the Word is not with the Father from everlasting, the Triad is not everlasting; but a Monad was first, and afterwards by addition it became a Triad; and so as time went on, it seems what we know concerning God grew and took shape19371937    Vid. Orat. iv. §13.. And further, if the Son is not proper offspring of the Father’s essence, but of nothing has come to be, then of nothing the Triad consists, and once there was not a Triad, but a Monad; and a Triad once with deficiency, and then complete; deficient, before the Son was originated, complete when He had come to be; and henceforth a thing originated is reckoned with the Creator, and what once was not has divine worship and glory with Him who was ever19381938    §8, note 8.. Nay, what is more serious still, the Triad is discovered to be unlike Itself, consisting of strange and alien natures and essences. And this, in other words, is saying, that the Triad has an originated consistence. What sort of a religion then is this, which is not even like itself, but is in process of completion as time goes on, and is now not thus, and then again thus? For probably it will receive some fresh accession, and so on without limit, since at first and at starting it took its consistence by way of accessions. And so undoubtedly it may decrease on the contrary, for what is added plainly admits of being subtracted.

18. But this is not so: perish the thought; the Triad is not originated; but there is an eternal and one Godhead in a Triad, and there is one Glory of the Holy Triad. And you presume to divide it into different natures; the Father being eternal, yet you say of the Word which is seated by Him, ‘Once He was not;’ and, whereas the Son is seated by the Father, yet you think to place Him far from Him. The Triad is Creator and Framer, and you fear not to degrade It to things which are from nothing; you scruple not to equal servile beings to the nobility of the Triad, and to rank the King, the Lord of Sabaoth with subjects19391939    De Decr. §31.. Cease this confusion of things unassociable, or rather of things which are not with Him who is. Such statements do not glorify and honour the Lord, but the reverse; for he who dishonours the Son, dishonours also the Father. For if the doctrine of God is now perfect in a Triad, and this is the true and only Religion, and this is the good and the truth, it must have been always so, unless the good and the truth be something that came after, and the doctrine of God is completed by additions. I say, it must have been eternally so; but if not eternally, not so at present either, but at present so, as you suppose it was from the beginning,—I mean, not a Triad now. But such heretics no Christian would bear; it belongs to Greeks, to introduce an originated Triad, and to level It with things originate; for these do admit of deficiencies and additions; but the faith of Christians acknowledges the blessed Triad as unalterable and perfect and ever what It was, neither adding to It what is more, nor imputing to It any loss (for both ideas are irreligious), and therefore it dissociates It from all things generated, and it guards as indivisible and worships the unity of the Godhead Itself; and shuns the Arian blasphemies, and confesses and acknowledges that the Son was ever; for He is eternal, as is the Father, of whom He is the Eternal Word,—to which subject let us now return again.

19. If God be, and be called, the Fountain of wisdom and life—as He says by Jeremiah, ‘They have forsaken Me the Fountain of living waters19401940    Jer. ii. 13.;’ and again, ‘A glorious high throne from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary; O Lord, the Hope of Israel, all that forsake Thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the Fountain of living waters19411941    Ib. xvii. 12, 13.;’ and in the book of Baruch it is written, ‘Thou hast forsaken the Fountain of wisdom19421942    Bar. iii. 12.,’—this implies that life and wisdom are not foreign to the Essence of the Fountain, but are proper to It, nor were at any time without existence, but were always. Now the Son is all this, who says, ‘I am the Life19431943    John xiv. 6.,’ and, ‘I Wisdom dwell with prudence19441944    Prov. viii. 12..’ Is it not then irreligious to say, ‘Once the Son was not?’ for it is all one with saying, ‘Once the Fountain was dry, destitute of Life and Wisdom.’ But a fountain it would then cease to be; for what begetteth not from itself, is not a fountain19451945    Supr. §15.. What a load of extravagance! for God promises that those who do His will shall be as a fountain which the water fails not, saying by Isaiah the prophet, ‘And the Lord shall satisfy thy soul in drought, and make thy bones fat; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not19461946    Isa. lviii. 11..’ And yet these, whereas God is called and is a Fountain of wisdom, dare to insult Him as barren and void of His proper Wisdom. But their doctrine is false; truth witnessing that God is the eternal Fountain of His proper Wisdom; and, if the Fountain be eternal, the Wisdom also must needs be eternal. For in It were all things made, as David says in the Psalm, ‘In Wisdom hast Thou made them all19471947    Ps. civ. 24.;’ and Solomon says, ‘The Lord by Wisdom hath formed the earth, by understanding hath He established the heavens19481948    Prov. iii. 19..’ And this Wisdom is the Word, and by Him, as John says, ‘all things were made,’ and ‘without Him was made not one thing19491949    John i. 3. See Westcott’s additional note on the passage.].’ And this Word is Christ; for ‘there is One God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we for Him; and One Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him19501950    1 Cor. viii. 6..’ And if all things are through Him, He Himself is not to be reckoned with that ‘all.’ For he who dares19511951    Vid. Petav. de Trin. ii. 12, §4. to call Him, through whom are things, one of that ‘all,’ surely will have like speculations concerning God, from whom are all. But if he shrinks from this as unseemly, and excludes God from that all, it is but consistent that he should also exclude from that all the Only-Begotten Son, as being proper to the Father’s essence. And, if He be not one of the all19521952    De Decr. §30., it is sin to say concerning Him, ‘He was not,’ and ‘He was not before His generation.’ Such words may be used of the creatures; but as to the Son, He is such as the Father is, of whose essence He is proper Offspring, Word, and Wisdom19531953    De Decr. §17.. For this is proper to the Son, as regards the Father, and this shews that the Father is proper to the Son; that we may neither say that God was ever without Word19541954    ἄλογον. Vid. note on de Decr. §§1, 15, where other instances are given from Athan. and Dionysius of Rome; vid. also Orat. iv. 2, 4. Sent. D. 23. Origen, supr. p. 48. Athenag. Leg. 10. Tat. contr. Græc. 5. Theoph. ad. Autol. ii. 10. Hipp. contr. Noet. 10. Nyssen. contr. Eunom. vii. p. 215. viii. pp. 230, 240. Orat, Catech. 1. Naz. Orat. 29. 17 fin. Cyril. Thesaur. xiv. p. 145 (vid. Petav. de Trin. vi. 9). It must not be supposed from these instances that the Fathers meant that our Lord was literally what is called the attribute of reason or wisdom in the Divine Essence, or in other words, that He was God merely viewed as He is wise; which would be a kind of Sabellianism. But, whereas their opponents said that He was but called Word and Wisdom after the attribute (vid. de Syn. 15, note), they said that such titles marked, not only a typical resemblance to the attribute, but so full a correspondence and (as it were) coincidence in nature with it, that whatever relation that attribute had to God, such in kind had the Son;—that the attribute was His symbol, and not His mere archetype; that our Lord was eternal and proper to God, because that attribute was, which was His title, vid. Ep. Æg. 14, that our Lord was that Essential Reason and Wisdom,—not by which the Father is wise, but without which the Father was not wise;—not, that is, in the way of a formal cause, but in fact. Or, whereas the Father Himself is Reason and Wisdom, the Son is the necessary result of that Reason and Wisdom, so that, to say that there was no Word, would imply there was no Divine Reason; just as a radiance implies a light; or, as Petavius remarks, l.c. quoting the words which follow shortly after in the text, the eternity of the Original implies the eternity of the Image; τῆς ὑποστάσεως ὑπαρχούσης, πάντως εὐθὺς εἶναι δεῖ τὸν χαρακτῆρα καὶ τὴν εἰκόνα ταύτης, §20. vid. also infr. §31, de Decr. §13, p. 21, §§20, 23, pp. 35, 40. Theod. H. E. i. 3. p. 737., nor that the Son was non-existent. For wherefore a Son, if not from Him? or wherefore Word and Wisdom, if not ever proper to Him?

20. When then was God without that which is proper to Him? or how can a man consider that which is proper, as foreign and alien in essence? for other things, according to the nature of things originate, are without likeness in essence with the Maker; but are external to Him, made by the Word at His grace and will, and thus admit of ceasing to be, if it so pleases Him who made them19551955    This was but the opposite aspect of the tenet of our Lord’s consubstantiality or eternal generation. For if He came into being at the will of God, by the same will He might cease to be; but if His existence is unconditional and necessary, as God’s attributes might be, then as He had no beginning, so can He have no end; for He is in, and one with, the Father, who has neither beginning nor end. On the question of the ‘will of God’ as it affects the doctrine, vid. Orat. iii. §59, &c.; for such is the nature of things originate19561956    §29, note.. But as to what is proper to the Father’s essence (for this we have already found to be the Son), what daring is it in irreligion to say that ‘This comes from nothing,’ and that ‘It was not before generation,’ but was adventitious19571957    De Decr. 22, note 9., and can at some time cease to be again? Let a person only dwell upon this thought, and he will discern how the perfection and the plenitude of the Father’s essence is impaired by this heresy; however, he will see its unseemliness still more clearly, if he considers that the Son is the Image and Radiance of the Father, and Expression, and Truth. For if, when Light exists, there be withal its Image, viz. Radiance, and, a Subsistence existing, there be of it the entire Expression, and, a Father existing, there be His Truth (viz. the Son); let them consider what depths of irreligion they fall into, who make time the measure of the Image and Form of the Godhead. For if the Son was not before His generation, Truth was not always in God, which it were a sin to say; for, since the Father was, there was ever in Him the Truth, which is the Son, who says, ‘I am the Truth19581958    John xiv. 6..’ And the Subsistence existing, of course there was forthwith its Expression and Image; for God’s Image is not delineated from without19591959    Athan. argues from the very name Image for our Lord’s eternity. An Image, to be really such, must be an expression from the Original, not an external and detached imitation. vid. supr. note 10, infr. §26. Hence S. Basil, ‘He is an Image not made with the hand, or a work of art, but a living Image,’ &c. vid. also contr. Eunom. ii. 16, 17. Epiph. Hær. 76. 3. Hilar. Trin. vii. 41 fin. Origen observes that man, on the contrary, is an example of an external or improper image of God. Periarch. i. 2. §6. It might have been more direct to have argued from the name of Image to our Lord’s consubstantiality rather than eternity, as, e.g. S. Gregory Naz. ‘He is Image as one in essence, ὁμοούσιον,…for this is the nature of an image, to be a copy of the archetype.’ Orat. 30. 20. vid. also de Decr. §§20, 23, but for whatever reason Athan. avoids the word ὁμοούσιον in these Discourses. S. Chrys. on Col. i. 15., but God Himself hath begotten it; in which seeing Himself, He has delight, as the Son Himself says, ‘I was His delight19601960    Prov. viii. 30..’ When then did the Father not see Himself in His own Image? or when had He not delight, that a man should dare to say, ‘the Image is out of nothing,’ and ‘The Father had not delight before the Image was originated?’ and how should the Maker and Creator see Himself in a created and originated essence? for such as is the Father, such must be the Image.

21. Proceed we then to consider the attributes of the Father, and we shall come to know whether this Image is really His. The Father is eternal, immortal, powerful, light, King, Sovereign, God, Lord, Creator, and Maker. These attributes must be in the Image, to make it true that he ‘that hath seen’ the Son ‘hath seen the Father19611961    John xiv. 9..’ If the Son be not all this, but, as the Arians consider, originate, and not eternal, this is not a true Image of the Father, unless indeed they give up shame, and go on to say, that the title of Image, given to the Son, is not a token of a similar essence19621962    ὁμοίας οὐσίας. And so §20 init. ὅμοιον κατ᾽ οὐσίαν, and ὅμοιος τῆς οὐσίας, §26. ὅμοιος κατ᾽ οὐσίαν, iii. 26. and ὅμοιος κατὰ τὴν οὐσίαν τοῦ πατρός. Ep. Æg. 17. Also Alex. Ep. Encycl. 2. Considering what he says in the de Syn. §38, &c., in controversy with the semi-Arians a year or two later, this use of their formula, in preference to the ὁμοούσιον (vid. foregoing note), deserves our attention., but His name19631963    De Decr. §16. only. But this, on the other hand, O ye enemies of Christ, is not an Image, nor is it an Expression. For what is the likeness of what is out of nothing to Him who brought what was nothing into being? or how can that which is not, be like Him that is, being short of Him in once not being, and in its having its place among things originate? However, such the Arians wishing Him to be, devised for themselves arguments such as this;—‘If the Son is the Father’s offspring and Image, and is like in all things19641964    De Syn. 27 (5) note 1, and infr. §40. to the Father, then it necessarily holds that as He is begotten, so He begets, and He too becomes father of a son. And again, he who is begotten from Him, begets in his turn, and so on without limit; for this is to make the Begotten like Him that begat Him.’ Authors of blasphemy, verily, are these foes of God! who, sooner than confess that the Son is the Father’s Image19651965    The objection is this, that, if our Lord be the Father’s Image, He ought to resemble Him in being a Father. S. Athanasius answers that God is not as man; with us a son becomes a father because our nature is ῥευστὴ, transitive and without stay, ever shifting and passing on into new forms and relations; but that God is perfect and ever the same, what He is once that He continues to be; God the Father remains Father, and God the Son remains Son. Moreover men become fathers by detachment and transmission, and what is received is handed on in a succession; whereas the Father, by imparting Himself wholly, begets the Son: and a perfect nativity finds its termination in itself. The Son has not a Son, because the Father has not a Father. Thus the Father is the only true Father, and the Son alone true Son; the Father only a Father, the Son only a Son; being really in their Persons what human fathers are but by office, character, accident, and name; vid. De Decr. 11, note 6. And since the Father is unchangeable as Father, in nothing does the Son more fulfil the idea of a perfect Image than in being unchangeable too. Thus S. Cyril also, Thesaur. 10. p. 124. And this perhaps may illustrate a strong and almost startling implication of some of the Greek Fathers, that the First Person in the Holy Trinity, is not God [in virtue of His Fatherhood]. E.g. εἰ δὲ θεὸς ὁ υἱ& 232·ς, οὐκ ἐπεὶ υἱ& 231·ς· ὁμοίως καὶ ὁ πατὴρ, οὐκ ἐπεὶ πατὴρ, θεός· ἀλλ᾽ ἐπεὶ οὐσία τοιάδε, εἷς ἐστὶ πατὴρ καὶ ὁ υἱ& 232·ς θεός. Nyssen. t. i. p. 915. vid. Petav. de Deo i. 9. §13. Should it be asked, ‘What is the Father if not God?’ it is enough to answer, ‘the Father.’ Men differ from each other as being individuals, but the characteristic difference between Father and Son is, not that they are individuals, but that they are Father and Son. In these extreme statements it must be ever borne in mind that we are contemplating divine things according to our notions. not in fact: i.e. speaking of the Almighty Father, as such; there being no real separation between His Person and His Substance. It may be added, that, though theologians differ in their decisions, it would appear that our Lord is not the Image of the Father’s person, but of the Father’s substance; in other words, not of the Father considered as Father, but considered as God. That is, God the Son is like and equal to God the Father, because they are both the same God. De Syn. 49. note 4, also next note., conceive material and earthly ideas concerning the Father Himself, ascribing to Him severings and19661966    Ep. Eus. 7, de Decr. 11, note 8. effluences and influences. If then God be as man, let Him become also a parent as man, so that His Son should be father of another, and so in succession one from another, till the series they imagine grows into a multitude of gods. But if God be not as man, as He is not, we must not impute to Him the attributes of man. For brutes and men, after a Creator has begun them, are begotten by succession; and the son, having been begotten of a father who was a son, becomes accordingly in his turn a father to a son, in inheriting from his father that by which he himself has come to be. Hence in such instances there is not, properly speaking, either father or son, nor do the father and the son stay in their respective characters, for the son himself becomes a father, being son of his father, but father of his son. But it is not so in the Godhead; for not as man is God; for the Father is not from a father; therefore doth He not beget one who shall become a father; nor is the Son from effluence of the Father, nor is He begotten from a father that was begotten; therefore neither is He begotten so as to beget. Thus it belongs to the Godhead alone, that the Father is properly19671967    κυρίως, de Decr. 11, note 6. Elsewhere Athan. says, ‘The Father being one and only is Father of a Son one and only; and in the instance of Godhead only have the names Father and Son stay, and are ever; for of men if any one be called father, yet he has been son of another; and if he be called son, yet is he called father of another; so that in the case of men the names father and son do not properly, κυρίως, hold.’ ad Serap. i. 16. also ibid. iv. 4 fin. and 6. vid. also κυρίως, Greg. Naz. Orat. 29. 5. ἀληθῶς, Orat. 25, 16. ὄντως, Basil. contr. Eunom. i. 5. p. 215. father, and the Son properly son, and in Them, and Them only, does it hold that the Father is ever Father and the Son ever Son.

22. Therefore he who asks why the Son is not to beget a son, must inquire why the Father had not a father. But both suppositions are unseemly and full of impiety. For as the Father is ever Father and never could become Son, so the Son is ever Son and never could become Father. For in this rather is He shewn to be the Father’s Expression and Image, remaining what He is and not changing, but thus receiving from the Father to be one and the same. If then the Father change, let the Image change; for so is the Image and Radiance in its relation towards Him who begat It. But if the Father is unalterable, and what He is that He continues, necessarily does the Image also continue what He is, and will not alter. Now He is Son from the Father; therefore He will not become other than is proper to the Father’s essence. Idly then have the foolish ones devised this objection also, wishing to separate the Image from the Father, that they might level the Son with things originated.


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