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§5. He discusses the incomprehensibility of the Divine essence, and the saying to the woman of Samaria, “Ye worship ye know not what.”

Now if any one should ask for some interpretation, and description, and explanation of the Divine essence, we are not going to deny that in this kind of wisdom we are unlearned, acknowledging only so much as this, that it is not possible that that which is by nature infinite should be comprehended in any conception expressed by words. The fact that the Divine greatness has no limit is proclaimed by prophecy, which declares expressly that of His splendour, His glory, His holiness, “there is no end 587 :” and if His surroundings have no limit, much more is He Himself in His essence, whatever it may be, comprehended by no limitation in any way. If then interpretation by way of words and names implies by its meaning p. CXLVII some sort of comprehension of the subject, and if, on the other hand, that which is unlimited cannot be comprehended, no one could reasonably blame us for ignorance, if we are not bold in respect of what none should venture upon. For by what name can I describe the incomprehensible? by what speech can I declare the unspeakable? Accordingly, since the Deity is too excellent and lofty to be expressed in words, we have learnt to honour in silence what transcends speech and thought: and if he who “thinketh more highly than he ought to think 588 ,” tramples upon this cautious speech of ours making a jest of our ignorance of things incomprehensible, and recognizes a difference of unlikeness in that which is without figure, or limit, or size, or quantity (I mean in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), and brings forward to reproach our ignorance that phrase which is continually alleged by the disciples of deceit, “‘Ye worship ye know not what 589 ,’ if ye know not the essence of that which ye worship,” we shall follow the advice of the prophet, and not fear the reproach of fools 590 , nor be led by their reviling to talk boldly of things unspeakable, making that unpractised speaker Paul our teacher in the mysteries that transcend knowledge, who is so far from thinking that the Divine nature is within the reach of human perception, that he calls even the judgments of God “unsearchable,” and His ways “past finding out 591 ,” and affirms that the things promised to them that love Him, for their good deeds done in this life, are above comprehension so that it is not possible to behold them with the eye, nor to receive them by hearing, nor to contain them in the heart 592 . Learning this, therefore, from Paul, we boldly declare that, not only are the judgments of God too high for those who try to search them out, but that the ways also that lead to the knowledge of Him are even until now untrodden and impassable. For this is what we understand that the Apostle wishes to signify, when he calls the ways that lead to the incomprehensible “past finding out,” showing by the phrase that that knowledge is unattainable by human calculations, and that no one ever yet set his understanding on such a path of reasoning, or showed any trace or sign of an approach, by way of perception, to the things incomprehensible.

Learning these things, then, from the lofty words of the Apostle, we argue, by the passage quoted, in this way:—If His judgments cannot be searched out, and His ways are not traced, and the promise of His good things transcends every representation that our conjectures can frame, by how much more is His actual Godhead higher and loftier, in respect of being unspeakable and unapproachable, than those attributes which are conceived as accompanying it, whereof the divinely instructed Paul declares that there is no knowledge:—and by this means we confirm in ourselves the doctrine they deride, confessing ourselves inferior to them in the knowledge of those things which are beyond the range of knowledge, and declare that we really worship what we know. Now we know the loftiness of the glory of Him Whom we worship, by the very fact that we are not able by reasoning to comprehend in our thoughts the incomparable character of His greatness; and that saying of our Lord to the Samaritan woman, which is brought forward against us by our enemies, might more properly be addressed to them. For the words, “Ye worship ye know not what,” the Lord speaks to the Samaritan woman, prejudiced as she was by corporeal ideas in her opinions concerning God: and to her the phrase well applies, because the Samaritans, thinking that they worship God, and at the same time supposing the Deity to be corporeally settled in place, adore Him in name only, worshipping something else, and not God. For nothing is Divine that is conceived as being circumscribed, but it belongs to the Godhead to be in all places, and to pervade all things, and not to be limited by anything: so that those who fight against Christ find the phrase they adduce against us turned into an accusation of themselves. For, as the Samaritans, supposing the Deity to be compassed round by some circumscription of place, were rebuked by the words they heard, “‘Ye worship ye know not what,’ and your service is profitless to you, for a God that is deemed to be settled in any place is no God,”—so one might well say to the new Samaritans, “In supposing the Deity to be limited by the absence of generation, as it were by some local limit, ‘ye worship ye know not what,’ doing service to Him indeed as God, but not knowing that the infinity of God exceeds all the significance and comprehension that names can furnish.”



Cf. Ps. cxlv. 3


Rom. xii. 3.


S. John iv. 22


Cf. Is. li. 7


Rom. xi. 33.


Cf. 1 Cor. ii. 9

Next: Thereafter he expounds the appellation of “Son,” and of “product of generation,” and very many varieties of “sons,” of God, of men, of rams, of perdition, of light, and of day.