Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

§15. He does wrong in making the being of the Father alone proper and supreme, implying by his omission of the Son and the Spirit that theirs is improperly spoken of, and is inferior.

But at all events he will allow that this supremacy of being betokens no excess of power, or of goodness, or of anything of that kind. Every one knows that, not to mention those whose knowledge is supposed to be very profound; viz., that the personality of the Only-begotten and of the Holy Ghost has nothing lacking in the way of perfect goodness, perfect power, and of every quality like that. Good, as long as it is incapable of its opposite, has no bounds to its goodness: its opposite alone can circumscribe it, as we may see by particular examples. Strength is stopped only when weakness seizes it; life is limited by death alone; darkness is the ending of light: in a word, every good is checked by its opposite, and by that alone. If then he supposes that the nature of the Only-begotten and of the Spirit can change for the worse, then he plainly diminishes the conception of their goodness, making them capable of being associated with their opposites. But if the Divine and unalterable nature is incapable of degeneracy, as even our foes allow, we must regard it as absolutely unlimited in its goodness: and the unlimited is the same as the infinite. But to suppose excess and defect in the infinite and unlimited is to the last degree unreasonable: for how can the idea of infinitude remain, if we posited increase and loss in it? We get the idea of excess only by a comparison of limits: where p. LII there is no limit, we cannot think of any excess. Perhaps, however, this was not what he was driving at, but he assigns this superiority only by the prerogative of priority in time, and, with this idea only, declares the Father’s being to be alone the supreme one. Then he must tell us on what grounds he has measured out more length of life to the Father, while no distinctions of time whatever have been previously conceived of in the personality of the Son.

And yet supposing for a moment, for the sake of argument, that this was so, what superiority does the being which is prior in time have over that which follows, on the score of pure being, that he can say that the one is supreme and proper, and the other is not? For while the lifetime of the elder as compared with the younger is longer, yet his being has neither increase nor decrease on that account. This will be clear by an illustration. What disadvantage, on the score of being, as compared with Abraham, had David who lived fourteen generations after? Was any change, so far as humanity goes, effected in the latter? Was he less a human being, because he was later in time? Who would be so foolish as to assert this? The definition of their being is the same for both: the lapse of time does not change it. No one would assert that the one was more a man for being first in time, and the other less because he sojourned in life later; as if humanity had been exhausted on the first, or as if time had spent its chief power upon the deceased. For it is not in the power of time to define for each one the measures of nature, but nature abides self-contained, preserving herself through succeeding generations: and time has a course of its own, whether surrounding, or flowing by, this nature, which remains firm and motionless within her own limits. Therefore, not even supposing, as our argument did for a moment, that an advantage were allowed on the score of time, can they properly ascribe to the Father alone the highest supremacy of being: but as there is really no difference whatever in the prerogative of time, how could any one possibly entertain such an idea about these existencies which are pre-temporal? Every measure of distance that we could discover is beneath the divine nature: so no ground is left for those who attempt to divide this pre-temporal and incomprehensible being by distinctions of superior and inferior.

We have no hesitation either in asserting that what is dogmatically taught by them is an advocacy of the Jewish doctrine, setting forth, as they do, that the being of the Father alone has subsistence, and insisting that this only has proper existence, and reckoning that of the Son and the Spirit among non-existencies, seeing that what does not properly exist can be said nominally only, and by an abuse of terms, to exist at all. The name of man, for instance, is not given to a portrait representing one, but to so and so who is absolutely such, the original of the picture, and not the picture itself; whereas the picture is in word only a man, and does not possess absolutely the quality ascribed to it, because it is not in its nature that which it is called. In the case before us, too, if being is properly ascribed to the Father, but ceases when we come to the Son and the Spirit, it is nothing short of a plain denial of the message of salvation. Let them leave the church and fall back upon the synagogues of the Jews, proving, as they do, the Son’s non-existence in denying to Him proper being. What does not properly exist is the same thing as the non-existent.

Again, he means in all this to be very clever, and has a poor opinion of those who essay to write without logical force. Then let him tell us, contemptible though we are, by what sort of skill he has detected a greater and a less in pure being. What is his method for establishing that one being is more of a being than another being,—taking being in its plainest meaning, for he must not bring forward those various qualities and properties, which are comprehended in the conception of the being, and gather round it, but are not the subject itself? Shade, colour, weight, force or reputation, distinctive manner, disposition, any quality thought of in connection with body or mind, are not to be considered here: we have to inquire only whether the actual subject of all these, which is termed absolutely the being, differs in degree of being from another. We have yet to learn that of two known existencies, which still exist, the one is more, the other less, an existence. Both are equally such, as long as they are in the category of existence, and when all notions of more or less value, more or less force, have been excluded.

If, then, he denies that we can regard the Only-begotten as completely existing,—for to this depth his statement seems to lead,—in withholding from Him a proper existence, let him deny it even in a less degree. If, however, he does grant that the Son subsists in some substantial way—we will not quarrel now about the particular way—why does he take away again that which he has conceded Him to be, and prove Him to exist not properly, which is tantamount, as we have said, to not at all? For as humanity is not possible to that which does not possess the p. LIII complete connotation of the term ‘man,’ and the whole conception of it is cancelled in the case of one who lacks any of the properties, so in every thing whose complete and proper existence is denied, the partial affirmation of its existence is no proof of its subsisting at all; the demonstration, in fact, of its incomplete being is a demonstration of its effacement in all points. So that if he is well-advised, he will come over to the orthodox belief, and remove from his teaching the idea of less and of incompleteness in the nature of the Son and the Spirit: but if he is determined to blaspheme, and wishes for some inscrutable reason thus to requite his Maker and God and Benefactor, let him at all events part with his conceit of possessing some amount of showy learning, unphilosophically piling, as he does, being over being, one above the other, one proper, one not such, for no discoverable reason. We have never heard that any of the infidel philosophers have committed this folly, any more than we have met with it in the inspired writings, or in the common apprehension of mankind.

I think that from what has been said it will be clear what is the aim of these newly-devised names. He drops them as the base of operations or foundation-stone of all this work of mischief to the Faith: once he can get the idea into currency that the one Being alone is supreme and proper in the highest degree, he can then assail the other two, as belonging to the inferior and not regarded as properly Being. He shows this especially in what follows, where he is discussing the belief in the Son and the Holy Spirit, and does not proceed with these names, so as to avoid bringing before us the proper characteristic of their nature by means of those appellations: they are passed over unnoticed by this man who is always telling us that minds of the hearers are to be directed by the use of appropriate names and phrases. Yet what name could be more appropriate than that which has been given by the Very Truth? He sets his views against the Gospel, and names not the Son, but ‘a Being existing through the First, but after It though before all others.’ That this is said to destroy the right faith in the Only-begotten will be made plainer still by his subsequent arguments. Still there is only a moderate amount of mischief in these words: one intending no impiety at all towards Christ might sometimes use them: we will therefore omit at present all discussion about our Lord, and reserve our reply to the more open blasphemies against Him. But on the subject of the Holy Spirit the blasphemy is plain and unconcealed: he says that He is not to be ranked with the Father or the Son, but is subject to both. I will therefore examine as closely as possible this statement.

Next: Examination of the meaning of 'subjection:' in that he says that the nature of the Holy Spirit is subject to that of the Father and the Son. It is shewn that the Holy Spirit is of an equal, not inferior, rank to the Father and the Son.