Chapter I.—The Oration.
1. To-day is the festival of our great emperor: and we his children rejoice therein, feeling the inspiration of our sacred theme. He who presides over our solemnity is the Great Sovereign himself; he, I mean, who is truly great; of whom I affirm (nor will the sovereign who hears me be offended, but will rather approve of this ascription of praise to God), that HE is above and beyond all created things, the Highest, the Greatest, the most Mighty One; whose throne is the arch of heaven, and the earth the footstool of his feet. 3498 His being none can worthily comprehend; and the ineffable splendor of the glory which surrounds him repels the gaze of every eye from his Divine majesty.
2. His ministers are the heavenly hosts; his armies the supernal powers, who own allegiance to him as their Master, Lord, and King. The countless multitudes of angels, the companies of archangels, the chorus of holy spirits, draw from and reflect his radiance as from the fountains of everlasting light. Yea every light, and specially those divine and incorporeal intelligences whose place is beyond the heavenly sphere, celebrate this august Sovereign with lofty and sacred strains of praise. The vast expanse of heaven, like an azure veil, is interposed between those without, and those who inhabit his royal mansions: while round this expanse the sun and moon, with the rest of the heavenly luminaries (like torch-bearers around the entrance of the imperial palace), perform, in honor of their sovereign, their appointed courses; holding forth, at the word of his command, an ever-burning light to those whose lot is cast in the darker regions without the pale of heaven.
3. And surely when I remember that our own victorious emperor renders praises to this Mighty Sovereign, I do well to follow him, knowing as I do that to him alone we owe that imperial power under which we live. The pious Cæsars, instructed by their fathers wisdom, acknowledge him as the source of every blessing: the soldiery, the entire body of the people, both in the country and in the cities of the empire, with the governors of the several provinces, assembling together in accordance with the precept of their great Saviour and Teacher, worship him. In short, the whole family of mankind, of every nation, tribe, and tongue, both collectively and severally, however diverse their opinions on other subjects, are unanimous in this one confession; and, in obedience to the reason implanted in them, and the spontaneous and uninstructed impulse of their own minds, unite in calling on the One and only God. 3499
4. Nay, does not the universal frame of earth acknowledge him her Lord, and declare, by the vegetable and animal life which she produces her subjection to the will of a superior Power? The rivers, flowing with abundant stream, and the perennial fountains, springing from hidden and exhaustless depths, ascribe to him the cause of their marvellous source. The mighty waters of the sea, enclosed in chambers of unfathomable depth, and the swelling surges, which lift themselves on high, and menace as it were the earth itself, shrink back when they approach the shore, checked by the power of his Divine law. The duly measured fall of winters rain, the rolling thunder, the lightnings flash, the eddying currents of the winds, and the airy courses of the clouds, all reveal his presence to those to whom his Person is invisible.
5. The all-radiant sun, who holds his constant career through the lapse of ages, owns him Lord alone, and obedient to his will, dares not depart from his appointed path. The inferior splendor of the moon, alternately diminished and increased at stated periods, is subject to his Divine command. The beauteous mechanism of the heavens, glittering with the hosts of stars, moving in harmonious order, and preserving the measure of each several orbit, proclaims him the giver of all light: yea, all the heavenly luminaries maintaining at his will and word a grand and perfect unity of motion, pursue the track of their ethereal career, and complete in the lapse of revolving ages their distant course. The alternate recurrence of day and night, the changing seasons, the order and proportion of the universe, all declare the manifold wisdom of [his boundless power]. To him the unseen agencies which hold their course throughout the expanse of space, render the due tribute of praise. To him this terrestrial globe itself, to him the heavens above, and the choirs beyond the vault of heaven, give honor as to their mighty Sovereign: the angelic hosts greet him with ineffable songs of Praise; and the spirits which draw their being from incorporeal light, adore him as their Creator. The p. 583 everlasting ages which were before this heaven and earth, with other periods beside them, infinite, and antecedent to all visible creation, acknowledge him the sole and supreme Sovereign and Lord.
6. Lastly, he who is in all, before, and after all, 3500 his only begotten, pre-existent Word, the great High Priest of the mighty God, elder than all time and every age, devoted to his Fathers glory, first and alone makes intercession with him for the salvation of mankind. 3501 Supreme and pre-eminent Ruler of the universe, he shares the glory of his Fathers kingdom: for he is that Light, which, transcendent above the universe, encircles the Fathers Person, interposing and dividing between the eternal and uncreated Essence and all derived existence: that Light which, streaming from on high, proceeds from that Deity who knows not origin or end, and illumines the super-celestial regions, and all that heaven itself contains, with the radiance of wisdom bright beyond the splendor of the sun. This is he who holds a supreme dominion over this whole world, 3502 who is over and in all things, and pervades all things 3503 visible and invisible; the Word of God. From whom and by whom our divinely favored emperor, receiving, as it were a transcript of the Divine sovereignty, directs, in imitation of God himself, the administration of this worlds affairs.
Paraphrased from Is. lxvi. 1.582:3499
[We must be content here (and probably in other passages of this Oration) to tolerate as rhetorical embellishment that which, regarded literally, is in every sense palpably untrue.—Bag.] The intention of the passage is probably like that of those who say now that there is no nation where, in some form, God is not worshiped.583:3500
[Referring possibly to Rev. i. 8. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”—Bag.] Or, possibly, refers to Eph. iv. 6, as it seems to be simply some verbal suggestion.583:3501
[The Arianism implied in this passage, if referred to the Word as God, disappears if we regard it as spoken of Christ as the Word manifested in human nature. See the note of Valesius ad loc.—Bag.]583:3502
This is directly from Eph. iv. 6: “Who is over all and through all and in all.” It is thus directly referred to the Father, and on the basis of the above note of Bag. seems to convict of Arianism, but in reality the conception of a pre-existing Word is distinctly orthodox.