1. The section of the Gospel which has been read, most dearly beloved brethren, looks for the pure eye of the heart. For from John's Gospel we have understood our Lord Jesus Christ according to His Divinity for the creating of the whole creation, and according to His Humanity for the recovery of the creature fallen. Now in this same Gospel we find what sort and how great a man was John, that from the dignity of the dispenser it may be understood of how great a price is the Word which could be announced by such a man; yea, rather how without price is That which surpasses all things. For any purchasable thing is either equal to the price, or it is below it, or it exceeds it. When any one procures a thing for as much as it is worth, the price is equal to the thing which is procured; when for less, it is below it; when for more, it exceeds it. But to the Word of God nothing can either be equalled, or to exchange can anything be below It, or above It. For all things can be below the Word of God, for that
all things were made by Him; yet are they not in such wise below, as if they were the price of the Word, that any one should give something to receive That. Yet if we may say so, and if any principle or custom of speaking admit this expression, the price for procuring the Word, is the procurer himself, who will have given himself for himself to This Word. Accordingly when we buy anything we look out for something to give, that for the price we give we may have the thing we wish to buy. And that which we give is without us; and if it was with us before, what we give becomes without us, that that which we procure may be with us. Whatever price the purchaser may find it, it must needs be such as that he gives what he has, and receives what he has not; yet so that he from whom the price goes himself remains, and that for which he gives the price is added to him. But whoso would procure this Word, whoso would have it, let him not seek for anything without himself to give, let him give himself. And when he shall have done this, he does not lose himself, as he loses the price when he buys anything.
2. The Word of God then is set forth before all men; let them who can, procure It, and they can who have a godly will. For in That Word is peace; and
peace on earth is to men of good will. So then whoso will procure it, let him give himself. This is as it were the price of the Word, if so it may in any way be said, when he that gives does not lose himself, and gains the Word for which he gives himself, and gains himself too in the Word to whom he gives himself. And what gives he to the Word? Not ought that is any other's than His, for whom he gives himself; but what by the Same Word was made, that is given back to Him to be remade;
All things were made by Him. If all things, then of course man too. If the heaven, and earth, and sea, and all things that are therein, if the whole creation; of course more manifestly he, who being made after the image of God by the Word was made man.
3. I am not now, brethren, discussing how the words, Word of God, and telling you why It is not understood. I am not now speaking to make It understood, but I tell you what hinders It from being understood. For He is a certain Form, a Form not formed, but the Form of all things formed; a Form unchangeable, without failure, without decay, without you, without place, surpassing all things, being in all things, as at once a kind of foundation in which they are, and a Head-stone under which they are. If you say that all things are in Him, you lie not. For This Word is called the Wisdom of God; and we have it written,
In Wisdom have You made all things. Lo, then in Him are all things: and yet in that He is God, under Him are all things. I am showing how incomprehensible is what has been read; yet it has been read, not that it should be comprehended by man, but that man should sorrow that he comprehends it not, and find out whereby he is hindered from comprehending, and remove those hindrances, and, himself changed from worse to better, aspire after the perception of the unchangeable Word. For the Word does not advance or increase by the addition of those who know It; but is Entire, if you abide; Entire, if you depart; Entire, when you return; abiding in Itself, and renewing all things. It is then the Form of all things, the Form unfashioned, without you, as I have said, and without space. For whatsoever is contained in space, is circumscribed. Every form is circumscribed by bounds; it has limits wherefrom and whereunto it reaches. Again, what is contained in place, and has extension in a sort of bulk and space, is less in its parts than in the whole. God grant that you may understand.
4. Now from the bodies which are day by day before our eyes, which we see, which we touch, among which we live, we are able to judge how that every body has a form in space. Now everything which occupies a certain space, is less in its parts than in its whole. The arm, for instance, is a part of the human body; of course the arm is less than the whole body. And if the arm be less, it occupies a smaller space. So again the head, in that it is a part of the body, is contained in less space, and is less than the whole body of which it is the head. So all things which are in space, are less in their several parts than in the whole. Let us entertain no such idea, no such thought concerning That Word. Let us not form our conceptions of spiritual things from the suggestion of the flesh. That Word, That God, is not less in part than in the whole.
5. But you are not able to conceive of any such thing. Such ignorance is more pious than presumptuous knowledge. For we are speaking of God. It is said,
And the Word was God. We are speaking of God; what marvel, if you do not comprehend? For if you comprehend, He is not God. Be there a pious confession of ignorance, rather than a rash profession of knowledge. To reach to God in any measure by the mind, is a great blessedness; but to comprehend Him, is altogether impossible. God is an object for the mind, He is to be understood; a body is for the eyes, it is to be seen. But do you think that you comprehend a body by the eye? You can not at all. For whatever you look at, you do not see the whole. If you see a man's face, you do not see his back at the time you see the face; and when you see the back, you do not at that time see the face. Thou dost not then so see, as to comprehend; but when you see another part which you had not seen before, unless memory aid you to remember that you have seen that from which you withdraw, you could never say that you had comprehended anything even on the surface. Thou handlest what you see, turnest it about on this side and that, or yourself dost go round it to see the whole. In one view then you can not see the whole. And as long as you turn it about to see it, you are but seeing the parts; and by putting together that you have seen the other parts, you fancy that you see the whole. But this must not be understood as the sight of the eyes, but the activity of the memory. What then can be said, Brethren, of that Word? Lo, of the bodies which are before our eyes we say they cannot comprehend them by a glance; what eye of the heart then comprehends God? Enough that it reach to Him if the eye be pure. But if it reach, it reaches by a sort of incorporeal and spiritual touch, yet it does not comprehend; and that, only if it be pure. And a man is made blessed by touching with the heart That which ever abides Blessed; and that is this Very Everlasting Blessedness, and that Everlasting Life, whereby man is made to live; that Perfect Wisdom, whereby man is made wise; that Everlasting Light, whereby man becomes enlightened. And see how by this touch you are made what you were not, you do not make that you touch be what it was not before. I repeat it, there grows no increase to God from them that know Him, but to them that know Him, from the knowledge of God. Let us not suppose, dearly beloved Brethren, that we confer any benefit on God, because I have said that we give Him in a manner a price. For we do not give Him anything whereby He can be increased, Who when you fall away, is Entire, and when you return, abides Entire, ready to make Himself seen that He may bless those who turn to Him, and punish those with blindness who turn away. For by this blindness, as the beginning of punishment, does He first execute vengeance on the soul that turns away from Him. For whoso turns away from the True Light, that is from God, is at once made blind. He is not yet sensible of his punishment, but he has it already.
6. Accordingly, dearly beloved brethren, let us understand that the Word of God is incorporeally, inviolably, unchangeably, without temporal nativity, yet born of God. Do we think that we can any how persuade certain unbelievers that that is not it, consistent with the truth, which is said by us according to the Catholic faith,which is contrary to the Arians, by whom the Church of God has been often tried, forasmuch as carnal men receive with greater ease what they have been accustomed to see? For some have dared to say,
The Father is greater than the Son, and precedes Him in you; that is, the Father is greater than the Son, and the Son is less than the Father, and is preceded by the Father in you. And they argue thus;
If He was born, of course the Father was before His Son was born to Him. Attend; may He be with me, while your prayers assist me, and with godly heed desire to receive what He may give, what He may suggest to me; may He be with me, that I may be able in some sort to explain what I have begun. Yet, brethren, I tell you before I begin, if I shall not be able to explain it, do not suppose that it is the failure of the proof, but of the man. Accordingly I exhort and entreat you to pray; that the mercy of God may be with me, and make the matter be so explained by me, as is meet for you to hear, and for me to speak. They then say thus;
If He be the Son of God, He was born. This we confess. For He would not be a Son, if He were not born. It is plain, the faith admits it, the Catholic Church approves it, it is truth. They then go on;
If the Son was born to the Father, the Father was before the Son was born to Him. This the faith rejects, Catholic ears reject it, it is anathematized, whoso entertains this conceit is without, he belongs not to the fellowship and society of the saints. Then says he,
Give me an explanation, how the Son could be born to the Father, and yet be coeval with Him of whom He was born?
7. And what can we do, brethren, when we are conveying lessons of spiritual things to carnal men; even if so be we ourselves too are not carnal, when we intimate these spiritual truths to carnal men, to men accustomed to the idea of earthly nativities, and seeing the order of these creatures, where succession and departure separates off in age them that beget and them that are begotten? For after the father the son is born, to succeed the father, who in time of course must die. This do we find in men, this in other animals, that the parents are first, the children after them in time. Through this custom of observation they desire to transfer carnal things to spiritual, and by their intentness on carnal things are more easily led into error. For it is not the reason of the hearers which follows those who preach such things, but custom which even entangles themselves, that they do preach such things. And what shall we do? Shall we keep silence? Would that we might! For perchance by silence something might be thought of worthy of the unspeakable subject. For whatsoever cannot be spoken, is unspeakable. Now God is unspeakable. For if the Apostle Paul says, that he
was caught up even unto the third heaven, and that he heard unspeakable words; how much more unspeakable is He, who showed such things, which could not be spoken by him to whom they were shown? So then, brethren, it were better if we could keep silence, and say,
This the faith contains; so we believe; you are not able to receive it, you are but a babe; you must patiently endure till your wings be grown, lest when you would fly without wings, it should not be the free course of liberty, but the fall of temerity. What do they say against this?
O if he had anything to say, he would say it to me. This is the mere excuse of one who is at fault. He is overcome by the truth, who does not choose to answer. He to whom this is said, if he make no answer, though he be not conquered in himself is yet conquered in the wavering brethren. For the weak brethren hear it, and they think that there is really nothing to be said; and perhaps they think right that there is nothing to be said, yet not that there is nothing to be felt. For a man can express nothing which he cannot also feel; but he may feel something which he cannot express.
8. Nevertheless, saving the unspeakableness of that Sovereign Majesty, lest when we shall have produced certain similitudes against them, any one should think that we have by them arrived at that which cannot be expressed or conceived by babes (and if it can be at all even by the more advanced, it can only be in part, only in a riddle, only
through a glass; but not as yet,
face to face ), let us too produce certain similitudes against them, whereby they may be refuted, not
it comprehended. For when we say that it may very possibly happen, that it may be understood, that He may both be born, and yet Coeternal with Him of whom He was born, in order to refute this, and prove it as it were to be false, they bring forth similitudes against us. From whence? From the creatures, and they say to us,
Every man of course was before he begot a son, he is greater in age than his son; and so a horse was before he begot his foal, and a sheep, and the other animals. Thus do they bring similitudes from the creatures.
9. What! Must we labour too, that we may find resemblances of those things which we are establishing? And what if I should not find any, might I not rightly say,
The Nativity of the Creator has, it may be, no resemblance of itself among the creatures? For as far as He surpasses the things which are here, in that He is there, so far does He surpass the things which are born here, in that He was born there. All things here have their being from God; and yet what is to be compared with God? So all things which are born here, are born by His agency. And so perhaps there is no resemblance of His Nativity found, as there is none found whether of His Substance, Unchangeableness, Divinity, Majesty. For what can be found here like these? If then it chance that no resemblance of His Nativity either be found, am I therefore overwhelmed, because I have not found resemblances to the Creator of all things, when desiring to find in the creature what is like the Creator?
10. And in very truth, Brethren, I am not likely to discover any temporal resemblances which I can compare to eternity. But as to those which you have discovered, what are they? What have you discovered? That a father is greater in time than his son; and therefore you would have the Son of God to be less in time than the Eternal Father, because you have found that a son is less than a father born in time. Find me an eternal father here, and you have found a resemblance. Thou findest a son less than a father in time, a temporal son less than a temporal father. Have you found me a temporal son younger than eternal father? Seeing then that in Eternity is stability, but in time variety; in Eternity all things stand still, in time one thing comes, another succeeds; you can find a son of lesser age succeeding his father in the variety of time, for that he himself succeeded to his father also, not a son born in time to a father eternal. How then, Brethren, can we find in the creature anything coeternal, when in the creature we find nothing eternal? You find an eternal father in the creature, and I will find a coeternal son. But if you find not an eternal father, and the one surpasses the other in you; it is sufficient, that for a resemblance I find something coeval. For what is coeternal is one thing what is coeval another. Every day we call them coeval who have the same measure of times; the one is not preceded by the other in time, yet they both whom we call coeval once began to
be. Now if I shall be able to discover something which is born coeval with that of which it is born; if two coeval things can be discovered, that which begets, and that which is begotten; we discover in this case things coeval, let us understand in the other things coeternal. If here I shall find that a thing begotten has begun to be ever since that which begets began to be, we may understand at least that the Son of God did not begin to be, ever since He that begot Him did not begin to be. Lo, brethren, perhaps we may discover something in the creature, which is born of something else, and which yet began to be at the same time as that of which it is born began to be. In the latter case, the one began to be when the other began to be; in the former the one did not begin to be, ever since the other began not to be. The first then is coeval, the second coeternal.
11. I suppose that your holiness has understood already what I am saying, that temporal things cannot be compared to eternal; but that by some slight and small resemblance, things coeval may be with things coeternal. Let us find accordingly two coeval things; and let us get our hints as to these resemblances from the Scriptures. We read in the Scriptures of Wisdom,
For she is the Brightness of the Everlasting Light. Again we read,
The unspotted Mirror of the Majesty of God. Wisdom Herself is called,
The Brightness of the Everlasting Light, is called,
The Image of the Father; from hence let us take a resemblance, that we may find two coeval things, from which we may understand things coeternal. O you Arian, if I shall find that something that begets does not precede in time that which it begot, that a thing begotten is not less in time than that of which it is begotten; it is but just that you concede to me, that these coeternals may be found in the Creator, when coevals can be found in the creature. I think that this indeed occurs already to some brethren. For some anticipated me as soon as I said,
For She is the Brightness of the Everlasting Light. For the fire throws out light, light is thrown out from the fire. If we ask which comes from which, every day when we light a candle are we reminded of some invisible and indescribable thing, that the candle as it were of our understanding may be lighted in this night of the world. Observe him who lights a candle. While the candle is not lighted, there is as yet no fire, nor any brightness which proceeds from the fire. But I ask, saying,
Does the brightness come from the fire, or the fire from the brightness? Every soul answers me (for it has pleased God to sow the beginnings of understanding and wisdom in every soul); every soul answers me, and no one doubts, that that brightness comes from the fire, not the fire from the brightness. Let us then look at the fire as the father of that brightness; for I have said before that we are looking for things coeval, not coeternal. If I desire to light a candle, there is as yet no fire there, nor yet that brightness; but immediately that I have lighted it, together with the fire comes forth the brightness also. Give me then here a fire without brightness, and I believe you that the Father ever was without the Son.
12. Attend; The matter has been explained by me as so great a matter could be, by the Lord helping the earnestness of your prayers, and the preparation of your heart, you have taken in as much as you were able to receive. Yet these things are ineffable. Do not suppose that anything worthy of the subject has been spoken, if it only be for that things carnal are compared with coeternal, things temporal with things abiding ever, things subject to extinction to things immortal. But inasmuch as the Son is said also to be the Image of the Father, let us take from this too a sort of resemblance, though in things very different, as I have said before. The image of a man looking into a glass is thrown out from the glass. But this cannot assist us for the clearing of that which we are endeavouring in some sort to explain. For it is said to me,
A man who looks into a glass of course, 'was' already, and was born before that. The image came out only as soon as he looked at himself. For a man who looks in a glass, 'was' before he came to the glass. What then shall we find, from which we may be able to draw out such a resemblance, as we did from the fire and the brightness? Let us find one from a very little thing. You know without any difficulty how water often throws out the images of bodies. I mean, when any one is passing, or standing still along the water, he sees his own image there. Let us suppose then something born on the water's side, as a shrub, or an herb, is it not born together with its image? As soon as ever it begins to be, its image begins to be with it, it does not precede in its birth its own image; it cannot be showed to me that anything is born upon the water's side, and that its image has appeared afterwards, whereas it first appeared without its image; but it is born together with its image; and yet the image comes from it, not it from the image. It is born then together with its image, and the shrub and its image begin to be together. Do you not confess that the image is begotten of that shrub, not the shrub of the image? So then you confess that the image is from that shrub. Accordingly that which begets and that which is begotten began to
be together. Therefore they are coeval. If the shrub had been always, the image from the shrub would have been always too. Now that which has its being from something else, is of course born of it. It is possible then that one that begets might always be, and always be together with that which was born of him. For here it was that we were in perplexity and trouble, how the Eternal Nativity might be understood. So then the Son of God is so called on this principle, that there is the Father also, that He has One from whom He derives His Being; not on this, that the Father is first in time, and the Son after. The Father always was, the Son always from the Father. And because whatever
is from another thing, is born, therefore the Son was always born. The Father always was, the image from Him always was; as that image of the shrub was born of the shrub, and if the shrub had always been, the image would also have always been born from the shrub. You could not find things begotten coeternal with the eternal begetters, but you have found things born coeval with those that begot them in time. I understand the Son coeternal with the Eternal who begot Him. For what with regard to things of time is coeval, with regard to things eternal is coeternal.
13. Here there is somewhat for you to consider, Brethren, as a protection against blasphemies. For it is constantly said,
See you have produced certain resemblances; but the brightness which is thrown out from the fire, shines less brilliantly than the fire itself, and the image of the shrub has less proper subsistence, than that shrub of which it is the image. These instances have a resemblance, but they have not a thorough equality: wherefore they do not seem to be of the same substance. What then shall we say, if any one say,
The Father then is to the Son, such as the brightness is to the fire, and the image to the shrub? See I have understood the Father to be eternal; and the Son to be coeternal with Him; nevertheless say we that He is as the brightness which is thrown out from and is less brilliant than the fire, or as the image which is reflected from and has less real existence than the shrub? No, but there is a thorough equality.
I do not believe it, he will say,
because you have not discovered a resemblance. Well then, believe the Apostle, because he was able to see what I have said. For he says,
Not robbery. Why? Because that is robbery which belongs to another.
14. Yet from these two comparisons, these two kinds, we may perhaps find in the creature a resemblance whereby we may understand how the Son is both coeternal with the Father, and in no respect less than He. But this we cannot find in one kind of resemblances singly: let us join both kinds together. How both kinds? One, of which they themselves give instances of resemblances, and the other, of which we gave. For they gave instances of resemblances from those things which are born in time, and are preceded in time by them of whom they are born, as man of man. He that is born first is greater in time; but yet man and man, that is of the same substance. For man begets a man, and a horse a horse, and a sheep a sheep. These beget after the same substance, but not after the same time. They are diverse in time, but not in nature diverse. What then do we praise here in this nativity? The equality of nature surely. But what is wanting? The equality of time. Let us retain the one thing which is praised here, that is, the equality of nature. But in the other kind of resemblances, which we gave from the brightness of the fire and the image of the shrub, you find not an equality of nature, you do find an equality of time. What do we praise here? Equality of time. What is wanting? Equality of nature. Join the things which you praise together. For in the creatures there is wanting something which you praise, in the Creator nothing can be wanting: because what you find in the creature, came forth from the Hand of the Creator. What then is there in things coeval? Must not that be given to God which you praise here in? But what is wanting must not be attributed to that Sovereign Majesty, in the which there is no defect. See I offer to you things begetting coeval with things begotten: in these you praise the equality of time, but find fault with the inequality of nature. What you find fault with, do not attribute to God; what you praise, attribute to Him; so from this kind of resemblances you attribute to Him instead of a cotemporaneousness a coeternity, that the Son may be coeternal with Him of whom He was born. But from the other kind of resemblances, which itself too is a creature of God, and ought to praise the Creator, what do you praise in them? Equality of nature. You had before assigned coeternity by reason of the first distinction; by reason of this last, assign equality; and the nativity of the same substance is complete. For what is more mad, my brethren, than that I should praise the creature in anything which does not exist in the Creator? In man I praise equality of nature, shall I not believe it in Him who made man? That which is born of man is man; shall not that which is born of God, be That which He is of whom He was born? Converse have I none with works which God has not made. Let then all the works of the Creator praise Him. I find in the one case a cotemporaneousness, I get at the knowledge of a coeternity in the other. In the first I find an equality of nature, I understand an equality of substance in the other. In this then that is
wholly, which in the other case is found in the several parts, and several things. It is then
wholly here altogether, and not only what is in the creature; I find it wholly here, but as being in the Creator, in so much higher a way, in that the one is visible, the Other Invisible; the one temporal, the Other Eternal; the one changeable, the Other Unchangeable; the one corruptible, the Other Incorruptible. Lastly, in the case of men themselves, what we find, man and man, are two men; here the Father and the Son are One God.
15. I render unspeakable thanks to our Lord God, that He has vouchsafed, at your prayers, to deliver my infirmity from this most perplexed and difficult place. Yet above all things remember this, that the Creator transcends indescribably whatever we could gather from the creature, whether by the bodily senses, or the thought of the mind. But would you with the mind reach Him? Purify your mind, purify your heart. Make clean the eye whereby That, whatever It be, may be reached. For
blessed are the clean in heart, for they shall see God. But while the heart was not cleansed, what could be provided and granted more mercifully by Him, than that That Word of whom we have spoken so great and so many things, and yet have spoken nothing worthy of Him; that That Word,
by whom all things were made, should become that which we are, that we might be able to attain to That which we are not? For we are not God; but with the mind or the interior eye of the heart we can see God. Our eyes dulled by sins, blinded, enfeebled by infirmity, desire to see; but we are in hope, not yet in possession. We are the children of God. This says John, who says,
16. But in order that we may attain, if we cannot yet see God the Word, let us hear the Word made Flesh; seeing we are carnal, let us hear the Word Incarnate. For for this cause came He, for this cause took upon Him our infirmity, that you might be able to receive the strong words of a God bearing your weakness. And He is truly called
milk. For He gives milk to infants, that He may give the meat of wisdom to them of riper years. Suck then now with patience, that you may be fed to your heart's most eager wish. For how is even the milk, wherewith infants are suckled, made? Was it not solid meat on the table? But the infant is not strong enough to eat the meat which is on the table; what does the mother do? She turns the meat into the substance of her flesh, and makes milk of it. Makes for us what we may be able to take. So the Word was made Flesh, that we little ones, who were indeed as infants with respect to food, might be nourished by milk. But there is this difference; that when the mother makes the food turned into flesh milk, the food is turned into milk; whereas the Word abiding Itself unchangeably assumed Flesh, that there might be, as it were, a tissue of the two. What He is, He did not corrupt or change, that in your fashion, He might speak to you, not transformed and turned into man. For abiding unalterable, unchangeable, and altogether inviolable, He became what you are in respect of you, what He is in Himself in respect of the Father.
17. For what does He say Himself to the infirm, to the end that recovering that sight, they may be able in some measure to reach the Word by whom all things were made?
Come unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart. What does the Master, the Son of God, the Wisdom of God, by whom all things were made, proclaim? He calls the human race, and says,
Come unto Me, all you that labour, and learn of Me. You were thinking haply that the Wisdom of God would say,
Learn how I have made the heavens and the stars; how all things also were numbered in Me before they were made, how by virtue of unchangeable principles your very hairs were numbered. Did you think that Wisdom would say these things, and such as these? No. But first that.
That I am meek and lowly in heart. Lo, see here what ye can comprehend, brethren; it is surely a little thing. We are making our way to great things, let us receive the little things, and we shall be great. Would you comprehend the height of God? First comprehend the lowliness of God. Condescend to be humble for your own sake, seeing that God condescended to be humble for your sake too; for it was not for His own. Comprehend then the lowliness of Christ, learn to be humble, be loth to be proud. Confess your infirmity, lie patiently before the Physician; when you shall have comprehended His lowliness, you rise with Him; not as though He should rise Himself in that He is the Word; but you rather, that He may be more and more comprehended by you. At first you understood falteringly and hesitatingly; afterwards you will understand more surely and more clearly. He does not increase, but you make progress, and He seems as it were to rise with you. So it is, brethren. Believe the commandments of God, and do them, and He will give you the strength of understanding. Do not put the last first, and, as it were, prefer knowledge to the commandments of God; lest ye be only the lower, and none the more firmly rooted. Consider a tree; first it strikes downwards, that it may grow up on high; fixes its root low in the ground, that it may extend its top to heaven. Does it make an effort to grow except from humiliation? And would you without charity comprehend these transcendent matters, shoot toward the heaven without a root? This were a ruin, not a growing. With
Source. Translated by R.G. MacMullen. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160367.htm>.
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