Book I. The treatise begins with St. Hilary's own spiritual history, the events of which are displayed, no doubt, more logically and symmetrically in the narrative than they had occurred in the writer's experience. He tells of the efforts of a pure and noble soul, impeded, so far as we hear, neither by unworthy desires nor by indifference, to find an adequate end and aim of life. He rises first to the conception of the old philosophers, and then by successive advances, as he learns more and more of the Divine revelation in Scripture, he attains the object of his search in the apprehension of God as revealed in the Catholic Faith. But this happiness is not the result of a mere intellectual knowledge, but of belief as well. In §§ 1-14 we have this advance from ignorance and fear to knowledge and peace. And here he might have rested, had he not been charged with the sacerdotal (i.e., in the language of that time, the episcopal) office, which laid upon him the duty of caring for the salvation of others. And such care was needed, for (§§ 15, 16) heresies were abroad, and chiefly two; the Sabellian which said that Father and Son were mere names or aspects of one Divine Person, and therefore there had been no true birth of the Son; and the Arian (which, however, Hilary rarely calls by the name of its advocate, preferring to style it the 'new heresy') asserting more or less openly that the Son is created and not born, and therefore is different in kind from the Father, and not, in the true sense, God. Hilary declares (§ 17) that his purpose is to refute these heresies and to demonstrate the true faith by the evidence of Scripture. He demands from his hearers a loyal belief in the Scriptures which he will cite; without such faith his arguments will not profit them (§ 18); and in § 19 he warns them of the limits of the argument from analogy, which he must employ, inadequate as it is in respect of the finite illustrations which he must use to express the infinite. Then in § 20 he speaks with a modest pride of his careful marshalling of the arguments which shall lead his readers to the right conclusion, and in §§ 21-36 he gives a summary of the contents of the work. He concludes the first Book (§§ 37, 38) with a prayer which expresses his certainty that what he holds is the truth, and entreats the Father and the Son that he may have the eloquence of language and the cogency of reasoning needed for the worthy presentation of the truth concerning Them.
1. When I was seeking an employment adequate to the powers of human life and righteous in itself, whether prompted by nature or suggested by the researches of the wise, whereby I might attain to some result worthy of that Divine gift of understanding which has been given us, many things occurred to me which in general esteem were thought to render life both useful and desirable. And especially that which now, as always in the past, is regarded as most to be desired, leisure combined with wealth, came before my mind. The one without the other seemed rather a source of evil than an opportunity for good, for leisure in poverty is felt to be almost an exile from life itself, while wealth possessed amid anxiety is in itself an affliction, rendered the worse by the deeper humiliation which he must suffer who loses, after possessing, the things that most are wished and sought. And yet, though these two embrace the highest and best of the luxuries of life, they seem not far removed from the normal pleasures of the beasts which, as they roam through shady places rich in herbage, enjoy at once their safety from toil and the abundance of their food. For if this be regarded as the best and most perfect conduct of the life of man, it results that one object is common, though the range of feelings differ, to us and the whole unreasoning animal world, since all of them, in that bounteous provision and absolute leisure which nature bestows, have full scope for enjoyment without anxiety for possession.
2. I believe that the mass of mankind have spurned from themselves and censured in others this acquiescence in a thoughtless, animal life, for no other reason than that nature herself has taught them that it is unworthy of humanity to hold themselves born only to gratify their greed and their sloth, and ushered into life for no high aim of glorious deed or fair accomplishment, and that this very life was granted without the power of progress towards immortality; a life, indeed, which then we should confidently assert did not deserve to be regarded as a gift of God, since, racked by pain and laden with trouble, it wastes itself upon itself from the blank mind of infancy to the wanderings of age. I believe that men, prompted by nature herself, have raised themselves through teaching and practice to the virtues which we name patience and temperance and forbearance, under the conviction that right living means right action and right thought, and that Immortal God has not given life only to end in death; for none can believe that the Giver of good has bestowed the pleasant sense of life in order that it may be overcast by the gloomy fear of dying.
3. And yet, though I could not tax with folly and uselessness this counsel of theirs to keep the soul free from blame, and evade by foresight or elude by skill or endure with patience the troubles of life, still I could not regard these men as guides competent to lead me to the good and happy Life. Their precepts were platitudes, on the mere level of human impulse; animal instinct could not fail to comprehend them, and he who understood but disobeyed would have fallen into an insanity baser than animal unreason. Moreover, my soul was eager not merely to do the things, neglect of which brings shame and suffering, but to know the God and Father Who had given this great gift, to Whom, it felt, it owed its whole self, Whose service was its true honour, on Whom all its hopes were fixed, in Whose lovingkindness, as in a safe home and haven, it could rest amid all the troubles of this anxious life. It was inflamed with a passionate desire to apprehend Him or to know Him.
4. Some of these teachers brought forward large households of dubious deities, and under the persuasion that there is a sexual activity in divine beings narrated births and lineages from god to god. Others asserted that there were gods greater and less, of distinction proportionate to their power. Some denied the existence of any gods whatever, and confined their reverence to a nature which, in their opinion, owes its being to chance-led vibrations and collisions. On the other hand, many followed the common belief in asserting the existence of a God, but proclaimed Him heedless and indifferent to the affairs of men. Again, some worshipped in the elements of earth and air the actual bodily and visible forms of created things; and, finally, some made their gods dwell within images of men or of beasts, tame or wild, of birds or of snakes, and confined the Lord of the universe and Father of infinity within these narrow prisons of metal or stone or wood. These, I was sure, could be no exponents of truth, for though they were at one in the absurdity, the foulness, the impiety of their observances, they were at variance concerning the essential articles of their senseless belief. My soul was distracted amid all these claims, yet still it pressed along that profitable road which leads inevitably to the true knowledge of God. It could not hold that neglect of a world created by Himself was worthily to be attributed to God, or that deities endowed with sex, and lines of begetters and begotten, were compatible with the pure and mighty nature of the Godhead. Nay, rather, it was sure that that which is Divine and eternal must be one without distinction of sex, for that which is self-existent cannot have left outside itself anything superior to itself. Hence omnipotence and eternity are the possession of One only, for omnipotence is incapable of degrees of strength or weakness, and eternity of priority or succession. In God we must worship absolute eternity and absolute power.
5. While my mind was dwelling on these and on many like thoughts, I chanced upon the books which, according to the tradition of the Hebrew faith, were written by Moses and the prophets, and found in these words spoken by God the Creator testifying of Himself 'I Am that I Am, and again, He that is has sent me unto you Exodus 3:14.' I confess that I was amazed to find in them an indication concerning God so exact that it expressed in the terms best adapted to human understanding an unattainable insight into the mystery of the Divine nature. For no property of God which the mind can grasp is more characteristic of Him than existence, since existence, in the absolute sense, cannot be predicated of that which shall come to an end, or of that which has had a beginning, and He who now joins continuity of being with the possession of perfect felicity could not in the past, nor can in the future, be non-existent; for whatsoever is Divine can neither be originated nor destroyed. Wherefore, since God's eternity is inseparable from Himself, it was worthy of Him to reveal this one thing, that He is, as the assurance of His absolute eternity.
6. For such an indication of God's infinity the words 'I Am that I Am ' were clearly adequate; but, in addition, we needed to apprehend the operation of His majesty and power. For while absolute existence is peculiar to Him Who, abiding eternally, had no beginning in a past however remote, we hear again an utterance worthy of Himself issuing from the eternal and Holy God, Who says, Who holds the heaven in His palm and the earth in His hand Isaiah 40:12, and again, The heaven is My throne and the earth is the footstool of My feet. What house will you build Me or what shall be the place of My rest ? The whole heaven is held in the palm of God, the whole earth grasped in His hand. Now the word of God, profitable as it is to the cursory thought of a pious mind, reveals a deeper meaning to the patient student than to the momentary hearer. For this heaven which is held in the palm of God is also His throne, and the earth which is grasped in His hand is also the footstool beneath His feet. This was not written that from throne and footstool, metaphors drawn from the posture of one sitting, we should conclude that He has extension in space, as of a body, for that which is His throne and footstool is also held in hand and palm by that infinite Omnipotence. It was written that in all born and created things God might be known within them and without, overshadowing and indwelling, surrounding all and interfused through all, since palm and hand, which hold, reveal the might of His external control, while throne and footstool, by their support of a sitter, display the subservience of outward things to One within Who, Himself outside them, encloses all in His grasp, yet dwells within the external world which is His own. In this wise does God, from within and from without, control and correspond to the universe; being infinite He is present in all things, in Him Who is infinite all are included. In devout thoughts such as these my soul, engrossed in the pursuit of truth, took its delight. For it seemed that the greatness of God so far surpassed the mental powers of His handiwork, that however far the limited mind of man might strain in the hazardous effort to define Him, the gap was not lessened between the finite nature which struggled and the boundless infinity that lay beyond its ken , I had come by reverent reflection on my own part to understand this, but I found it confirmed by the words of the prophet, Whither shall I go from Your Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Your face? If I ascend up into heaven, You are there; if I go down into hell, You are there also; if I have taken my wings before dawn and made my dwelling in the uttermost parts of the sea (You are there). For there Your hand shall guide me and Your right hand shall hold me. There is no space where God is not; space does not exist apart from Him. He is in heaven, in hell, beyond the seas; dwelling in all things and enveloping all. Thus He embraces, and is embraced by, the universe, confined to no part of it but pervading all.
7. Therefore, although my soul drew joy from the apprehension of this august and unfathomable Mind, because it could worship as its own Father and Creator so limitless an Infinity, yet with a still more eager desire it sought to know the true aspect of its infinite and eternal Lord, that it might be able to believe that that immeasurable Deity was apparelled in splendour befitting the beauty of His wisdom. Then, while the devout soul was baffled and astray through its own feebleness, it caught from the prophet's voice this scale of comparison for God, admirably expressed, By the greatness of His works and the beauty of the things that He has made the Creator of worlds is rightly discerned. Wisdom 13:5 The Creator of great things is supreme in greatness, of beautiful things in beauty. Since the work transcends our thoughts, all thought must be transcended by the Maker. Thus heaven and air and earth and seas are fair: fair also the whole universe, as the Greeks agree, who from its beautiful ordering call it κόσμος, that is, order. But if our thought can estimate this beauty of the universe by a natural instinct— an instinct such as we see in certain birds and beasts whose voice, though it fall below the level of our understanding, yet has a sense clear to them though they cannot utter it, and in which, since all speech is the expression of some thought, there lies a meaning patent to themselves— must not the Lord of this universal beauty be recognised as Himself most beautiful amid all the beauty that surrounds Him? For though the splendour of His eternal glory overtax our mind's best powers, it cannot fail to see that He is beautiful. We must in truth confess that God is most beautiful, and that with a beauty which, though it transcend our comprehension, forces itself upon our perception.
8. Thus my mind, full of these results which by its own reflection and the teaching of Scripture it had attained, rested with assurance, as on some peaceful watchtower, upon that glorious conclusion, recognising that its true nature made it capable of one homage to its Creator, and of none other, whether greater or less; the homage namely of conviction that His is a greatness too vast for our comprehension but not for our faith. For a reasonable faith is akin to reason and accepts its aid, even though that same reason cannot cope with the vastness of eternal Omnipotence.
9. Beneath all these thoughts lay an instinctive hope, which strengthened my assertion of the faith, in some perfect blessedness hereafter to be earned by devout thoughts concerning God and upright life; the reward, as it were, that awaits the triumphant warrior. For true faith in God would pass unrewarded, if the soul be destroyed by death, and quenched in the extinction of bodily life. Even unaided reason pleaded that it was unworthy of God to usher man into an existence which has some share of His thought and wisdom, only to await the sentence of life withdrawn and of eternal death; to create him out of nothing to take his place in the World, only that when he has taken it he may perish. For, on the only rational theory of creation, its purpose was that things non-existent should come into being, not that things existing should cease to be.
10. Yet my soul was weighed down with fear both for itself and for the body. It retained a firm conviction, and a devout loyalty to the true faith concerning God, but had come to harbour a deep anxiety concerning itself and the bodily dwelling which must, it thought, share its destruction. While in this state, in addition to its knowledge of the teaching of the Law and Prophets, it learned the truths taught by the Apostle in the Gospel— In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made. That which was made in Him is life , and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light. That was the true light, which lightens every man that comes into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own things, and they that were His own received Him not. But to as many as received Him He gave power to become sons of God, even to them that believe in His Name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the Only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-14 Here the soul makes an advance beyond the attainment of its natural capacities, is taught more than it had dreamed concerning God. For it learns that its Creator is God of God; it hears that the Word is God and was with God in the beginning. It comes to understand that the Light of the world was abiding in the world and that the world knew Him not; that He came to His own possession and that they that were His own received Him not; but that they who do receive Him by virtue of their faith advance to be sons of God, being born not of the embrace of the flesh nor of the conception of the blood nor of bodily desire, but of God; finally, it learns that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that His glory was seen, which, as of the Only-begotten from the Father, is perfect through grace and truth.
11. Herein my soul, trembling and distressed, found a hope wider than it had imagined. First came its introduction to the knowledge of God the Father. Then it learned that the eternity and infinity and beauty which, by the light of natural reason, it had attributed to its Creator belonged also to God the Only-begotten. It did not disperse its faith among a plurality of deities, for it heard that He is God of God; nor did it fall into the error of attributing a difference of nature to this God of God, for it learned that He is full of grace and truth. Nor yet did my soul perceive anything contrary to reason in God of God, since He was revealed as having been in the beginning God with God. It saw that there are very few who attain to the knowledge of this saving faith, though its reward be great, for even His own received Him not though they who receive Him are promoted to be sons of God by a birth, not of the flesh but of faith. It learned also that this sonship to God is not a compulsion but a possibility, for, while the Divine gift is offered to all, it is no heredity inevitably imprinted but a prize awarded to willing choice. And lest this very truth that whosoever will may become a son of God should stagger the weakness of our faith (for most we desire, but least expect, that which from its very greatness we find it hard to hope for), God the Word became flesh, that through His Incarnation our flesh might attain to union with God the Word. And lest we should think that this incarnate Word was some other than God the Word, or that His flesh was of a body different from ours, He dwelt among us that by His dwelling He might be known as the indwelling God, and, by His dwelling among us, known as God incarnate in no other flesh than our own, and moreover, though He had condescended to take our flesh, not destitute of His own attributes; for He, the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, is fully possessed of His own attributes and truly endowed with ours.
12. This lesson in the Divine mysteries was gladly welcomed by my soul, now drawing near through the flesh to God, called to new birth through faith, entrusted with liberty and power to win the heavenly regeneration, conscious of the love of its Father and Creator, sure that He would not annihilate a creature whom He had summoned out of nothing into life. And it could estimate how high are these truths above the mental vision of man; for the reason which deals with the common objects of thought can conceive of nothing as existent beyond what it perceives within itself or can create out of itself. My soul measured the mighty workings of God, wrought on the scale of His eternal omnipotence, not by its own powers of perception but by a boundless faith; and therefore refused to disbelieve, because it could not understand, that God was in the beginning with God, and that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but bore in mind the truth that with the will to believe would come the power to understand.
13. And lest the soul should stray and linger in some delusion of heathen philosophy, it receives this further lesson of perfect loyalty to the holy faith, taught by the Apostle in words inspired:— Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the word, and not after Christ; for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and you are made full in Him, Which is the Head of all principality and power; in Whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in putting off the body, of the flesh, but with the circumcision of Christ; buried with Him in Baptism, wherein also you have risen again through faith in the working of God, Who raised Him from the dead. And you, when you were dead in sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has quickened with Him, having forgiven you all your sins, blotting out the bond which was against us by its ordinances, which was contrary to us; and He has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the Cross; and having put off the flesh He made a show of powers openly, triumphing over them through confidence in Himself. Colossians 2:8-15 Steadfast faith rejects the vain subtleties of philosophic enquiry; truth refuses to be vanquished by these treacherous devices of human folly, and enslaved by falsehood. It will not confine God within the limits which barred our common reason, nor judge after the rudiments of the world concerning Christ, in Whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and in such wise that the utmost efforts of the earthly mind to comprehend Him are baffled by that immeasurable Eternity and Omnipotence. My soul judged of Him as One Who, drawing us upward to partake of His own Divine nature, has loosened henceforth the bond of bodily observances Who, unlike the Symbolic Law, has initiated us into no rites of mutilating the flesh, but Whose purpose is that our spirit, circumcised from vice, should purify all the natural faculties of the body by abstinence from sin, that we being buried with His Death in Baptism may return to the life of eternity (since regeneration to life is death to the former life), and dying to our sins be born again to immortality, that even as He abandoned His immortality to die for us, so should we awaken from death to immortality with Him. For He took upon Him the flesh in which we have sinned that by wearing our flesh He might forgive sins; a flesh which He shares with us by wearing it, not by sinning in it. He blotted out through death the sentence of death, that by a new creation of our race in Himself He might sweep away the penalty appointed by the former Law. He let them nail Him to the cross that He might nail to the curse of the cross and abolish all the curses to which the world is condemned. He suffered as man to the utmost that He might put powers to shame. For Scripture had foretold that He Who is God should die; that the victory and triumph of them that trust in Him lay in the fact that He, Who is immortal and cannot be overcome by death, was to die that mortals might gain eternity. These deeds of God, wrought in a manner beyond our comprehension, cannot, I repeat, be understood by our natural faculties, for the work of the Infinite and Eternal can only be grasped by an infinite intelligence. Hence, just as the truths that God became man, that the Immortal died that the Eternal was buried, do not belong to the rational order but are an unique work of power, so on the other hand it is an effect not of intellect but of omnipotence that He Who is man is also God, that He Who died is immortal, that He Who was buried is eternal. We, then, are raised together by God in Christ through His death. But, since in Christ there is the fullness of the Godhead, we have herein a revelation of God the Father joining to raise us in Him Who died; and we must confess that Christ Jesus is none other than God in all the fullness of the Deity.
14. In this calm assurance of safety did my soul gladly and hopefully take its rest, and feared so little the interruption of death, that death seemed only a name for eternal life. And the life of this present body was so far from seeming a burden or affliction that it was regarded as children regard their alphabet, sick men their draught, shipwrecked sailors their swim, young men the training for their profession, future commanders their first campaign; that is, as an endurable submission to present necessities, bearing the promise of a blissful immortality. And further, I began to proclaim those truths in which my soul had a personal faith, as a duty of the episcopate which had been laid upon me, employing my office to promote the salvation of all men.
15. While I was thus engaged there came to light certain fallacies of rash and wicked men, hopeless for themselves and merciless towards others, who made their own feeble nature the measure of the might of God's nature. They claimed, not that they had ascended to an infinite knowledge of infinite things, but that they had reduced all knowledge, undefined before, within the scope of ordinary reason, and fixed the limits of the faith. Whereas the true work of religion is a service of obedience; and these were men heedless of their own weakness, reckless of Divine realities, who undertook to improve upon the teaching of God.
16. Not to touch upon the vain enquiries of other heretics— concerning whom however, when the course of my argument gives occasion, I will not be silent— there are those who tamper with the faith of the Gospel by denying, under the cloak of loyalty to the One God, the birth of God the Only-begotten. They assert that there was an extension of God into man, not a descent; that He, Who for the season that He took our flesh was Son of Man, had not been previously, nor was then, Son of God; that there was no Divine birth in His case, but an identity of Begetter and Begotten; and (to maintain what they consider a perfect loyalty to the unity of God) that there was an unbroken continuity in the Incarnation, the Father extending Himself into the Virgin, and Himself being born as His own Son. Others, on the contrary (heretics, because there is no salvation apart from Christ, Who in the beginning was God the Word with God), deny that He was born and declare that He was merely created. Birth, they hold, would confess Him to be true God, while creation proves His Godhead unreal; and though this explanation be a fraud against the faith in the unity of God, regarded as an accurate definition, yet they think it may pass muster as figurative language. They degrade, in name and in belief, His true birth to the level of a creation, to cut Him off from the Divine unity, that, as a creature called into being, He may not claim the fullness of the Godhead, which is not His by a true birth.
17. My soul has been burning to answer these insane attacks. I call to mind that the very centre of a saving faith is the belief not merely in God, but in God as a Father; not merely in Christ, but in Christ as the Son of God; in Him, not as a creature, but as God the Creator, born of God. My prime object is by the clear assertions of prophets and evangelists to refute the insanity and ignorance of men who use the unity of God (in itself a pious and profitable confession) as a cloak for their denial either that in Christ God was born, or else that He is very God. Their purpose is to isolate a solitary God at the heart of the faith by making Christ, though mighty, only a creature; because, so they allege, a birth of God widens the believer's faith into a trust in more gods than one. But we, divinely taught to confess neither two Gods nor yet a solitary God, will adduce the evidence of the Gospels and the prophets for our confession of God the Father and God the Son, united, not confounded, in our faith. We will not admit Their identity nor allow, as a compromise, that Christ is God in some imperfect sense; for God, born of God, cannot be the same as His Father, since He is His Son, nor yet can He be different in nature.
18. And you, whose warmth of faith and passion for a truth unknown to the world and its philosophers shall prompt to read me, must remember to eschew the feeble and baseless conjectures of earthly minds, and in devout willingness to learn must break down the barriers of prejudice and half-knowledge. The new faculties of the regenerate intellect are needed; each must have his understanding enlightened by the heavenly gift imparted to the soul. First he must take his stand upon the sure ground [substantia = ὑποστάσει] of God, as holy Jeremiah says , that since he is to hear about that nature [substantia] he may expand his thoughts till they are worthy of the theme, not fixing some arbitrary standard for himself, but judging as of infinity. And again, though he be aware that he is partaker of the Divine nature, as the holy apostle Peter says in his second Epistle , yet he must not measure the Divine nature by the limitations of his own, but gauge God's assertions concerning Himself by the scale of His own glorious self-revelation. For he is the best student who does not read his thoughts into the book, but lets it reveal its own; who draws from it its sense, and does not import his own into it, nor force upon its words a meaning which he had determined was the right one before he opened its pages. Since then we are to discourse of the things of God, let us assume that God has full knowledge of Himself, and bow with humble reverence to His words. For He Whom we can only know through His own utterances is the fitting witness concerning Himself.
19. If in our discussion of the nature and birth of God we adduce certain analogies, let no one suppose that such comparisons are perfect and complete. There can be no comparison between God and earthly things, yet the weakness of our understanding forces us to seek for illustrations from a lower sphere to explain our meaning about loftier themes. The course of daily life shows how our experience in ordinary matters enables us to form conclusions on unfamiliar subjects. We must therefore regard any comparison as helpful to man rather than as descriptive of God, since it suggests, rather than exhausts, the sense we seek. Nor let such a comparison be thought too bold when it sets side by side carnal and spiritual natures, things invisible and things palpable, since it avows itself a necessary aid to the weakness of the human mind, and deprecates the condemnation due to an imperfect analogy. On this principle I proceed with my task, intending to use the terms supplied by God, yet colouring my argument with illustrations drawn from human life.
20. And first, I have so laid out the plan of the whole work as to consult the advantage of the reader by the logical order in which its books are arranged. It has been my resolve to publish no half-finished and ill-considered treatise, lest its disorderly array should resemble the confused clamour of a mob of peasants. And since no one can scale a precipice unless there be jutting ledges to aid his progress to the summit, I have here set down in order the primary outlines of our ascent leading our difficult course of argument up the easiest path; not cutting steps in the face of the rock, but levelling it to a gentle slope, that so the traveller, almost without a sense of effort may reach the heights.
21. Thus, after the present first book, the second expounds the mystery of the Divine birth, that those who shall be baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost may know the true Names, and not be perplexed about their sense but accurately informed as to fact and meaning, and so receive full assurance that in the words which are used they have the true Names, and that those Names involve the truth.
22. After this short and simple discourse concerning the Trinity, the third book makes further progress, sure though slow. Citing the greatest instances of His power, it brings within the range of faith's understanding that saying, in itself beyond our comprehension, I in the Father and the Father in Me John 10:38, which Christ utters concerning Himself. Thus truth beyond the dull wit of man is the prize of faith equipped with reason and knowledge; for neither may we doubt God's Word concerning Himself, nor can we suppose that the devout reason is incapable of apprehending His might.
23. The fourth book starts with the doctrines of the heretics, and disowns complicity in the fallacies whereby they are traducing the faith of the Church. It publishes that infidel creed which a number of them have lately promulgated , and exposes the dishonesty, and therefore the wickedness, of their arguments from the Law for what they call the unity of God. It sets out the whole evidence of Law and Prophets to demonstrate the impiety of asserting the unity of God to the exclusion of the Godhead of Christ, and the treason of alleging that if Christ be God the Only-begotten, then God is not one.
24. The fifth book follows in reply the sequence of heretical assertion. They had falsely declared that they followed the law in the sense which they assigned to the unity of God, and that they had proved from it that the true God is of one Person; and this in order to rob the Lord Christ of His birth by their conclusion concerning the One true God, for birth is the evidence of origin. In answer I assert, step by step, what they deny; for from the Law and the Prophets I demonstrate that there are not two gods, nor one isolated true God, neither perverting the faith in the Divine unity nor denying the birth of Christ. And since they say that the Lord Jesus Christ, created rather than born, bears the Divine Name by gift and not by right, I have proved His true Divinity from the Prophets in such a way that, He being acknowledged very God, the assurance of His inherent Godhead shall hold us fast to the certainty that God is One.
25. The sixth book reveals the full deceitfulness of this heretical teaching. To win credit for their assertions they denounce the impious doctrine of heretics:— of Valentinus, to wit, and Sabellius and Manichæus and Hieracas, and appropriate the godly language of the Church as a cover for their blasphemy. They reprove and alter the language of these heretics, correcting it into a vague resemblance to orthodoxy, in order to suppress the holy faith while apparently denouncing heresy. But we state clearly what is the language and what the doctrine of each of these men, and acquit the Church of any complicity or fellowship with condemned heretics. Their words which deserve condemnation we condemn, and those which claim our humble acceptance we accept. Thus that Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ, which is the object of their most strenuous denial, we prove by the witness of the Father, by Christ's own assertion, by the preaching of Apostles, by the faith of believers, by the cries of devils, by the contradiction of Jews, in itself a confession, by the recognition of the heathen who had not known God; and all this to rescue from dispute a truth of which Christ had left us no excuse for ignorance.
26. Next the seventh book, starting from the basis of a true faith now attained, delivers its verdict in the great debate. First, armed with its sound and incontrovertible proof of the impregnable faith, it takes part in the conflict raging between Sabellius and Hebion and these opponents of the true Godhead. It joins issue with Sabellius on his denial of the pre-existence of Christ, and with his assailants on their assertion that He is a creature. Sabellius overlooked the eternity of the Son, but believed that true God worked in a human body. Our present adversaries deny that He was born, assert that He was created, and fail to see in His deeds the works of very God. What both sides dispute, we believe. Sabellius denies that it was the Son who was working, and he is wrong; but he proves his case triumphantly when he alleges that the work done was that of true God. The Church shares his victory over those who deny that in Christ was very God. But when Sabellius denies that Christ existed before the worlds, his adversaries prove to conviction that Christ's activity is from everlasting, and we are on their side in this confutation of Sabellius, who recognises true God, but not God the Son, in this activity. And our two previous adversaries join forces to refute Hebion, the second demonstrating the eternal existence of Christ, while the first proves that His work is that of very God. Thus the heretics overthrow one another, while the Church, as against Sabellius, against those who call Christ a creature, against Hebion, bears witness that the Lord Jesus Christ is very God of very God, born before the worlds and born in after times as man.
27. No one can doubt that we have taken the course of true reverence and of sound doctrine when, after proving from Law and Prophets first that Christ is the Son of God, and next that He is true God, and this without breach of the mysterious unity, we proceed to support the Law and the Prophets by the evidence of the Gospels, and prove from them also that He is the Son of God and Himself very God. It is the easiest of tasks, after demonstrating His right to the Name of Son, to show that the Name truly describes His relation to the Father; though indeed universal usage regards the granting of the name of son as convincing evidence of sonship. But, to leave no loophole for the trickery and deceit of these traducers of the true birth of God the Only-begotten, we have used His true Godhead as evidence of His true Sonship; to show that He Who (as is confessed by all) bears the Name of Son of God is actually God, we have adduced His Name, His birth, His nature, His power, His assertions. We have proved that His Name is an accurate description of Himself, that the title of Son is an evidence of birth, that in His birth He retained His Divine Nature, and with His nature His power, and that that power manifested itself in conscious and deliberate self-revelation. I have set down the Gospel proofs of each several point, showing how His self-revelation displays His power, how His power reveals His nature, how His nature is His by birthright, and from His birth comes His title to the name of Son. Thus every whisper of blasphemy is silenced, for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself by the witness of His own mouth has taught us that He is, as His Name, His birth, His nature, His power declare, in the true sense of Deity, very God of very God.
28. While its two predecessors have been devoted to the confirmation of the faith in Christ as Son of God and true God, the eighth book is taken up with the proof of the unity of God, showing that this unity is consistent with the birth of the Son, and that the birth involves no duality in the Godhead. First it exposes the sophistry with which these heretics have attempted to avoid, though they could not deny, the confession of the real existence of God, Father and Son; it demolishes their helpless and absurd plea that in such passages as, And the multitude of them that believed were one soul and heart , and again, He that plants and He that waters are one 1 Corinthians 3:8, and Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that shall believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us John 17:20-21, a unity of will and mind, not of Divinity, is expressed. From a consideration of the true sense of these texts we show that they involve the reality of the Divine birth; and then, displaying the whole series of our Lord's self-revelations, we exhibit, in the language of Apostles and in the very words of the Holy Spirit, the whole and perfect mystery of the glory of God as Father and as Only-begotten Son. Because there is a Father we know that there is a Son; in that Son the Father is manifested to us, and hence our certainty that He is born the Only-begotten and that He is very God.
29. In matters essential to salvation it is not enough to advance the proofs which faith supplies and finds sufficient. Arguments which we have not tested may delude us into a misapprehension of the meaning of our own words, unless we take the offensive by exposing the hollowness of the enemy's proofs, and so establish our own faith upon the demonstrated absurdity of his. The ninth book, therefore, is employed in refuting the arguments by which the heretics attempt to invalidate the birth of God the Only-begotten;— heretics who ignore the mystery of the revelation hidden from the beginning of the world, and forget that the Gospel faith proclaims the union of God and man. For their denial that our Lord Jesus Christ is God, like God and equal with God as Son with Father, born of God and by right of His birth subsisting as very Spirit, they are accustomed to appeal to such words of our Lord as, Why do you call Me good? None is good save One, even God. Luke 18:19 They argue that by His reproof of the man who called Him good, and by His assertion of the goodness of God only, He excludes Himself from the goodness of that God Who alone is good and from that true Divinity which belongs only to One. With this text their blasphemous reasoning connects another, And this is life eternal that they should know You the only true God, and Him Whom You sent, Jesus Christ. John 17:3 Here, they say, He confesses that the Father is the only true God, and that He Himself is neither true nor God, since this recognition of an only true God is limited to the Possessor of the attributes assigned. And they profess to be quite clear about His meaning in this passage, since He also says, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He has seen the Father doing. The fact that He can only copy is said to be evidence of the limitation of His nature. There can be no comparison between Omnipotence and One whose action is dependent upon the previous activity of Another; reason itself draws an absolute line between power and the want of power. That line is so clear that He Himself has avowed concerning God the Father, The Father is greater than I. So frank a confession silences all demur; it is blasphemy and madness to assign the dignity and nature of God to One who disclaims them. So utterly devoid is He of the qualities of true God that He actually bears witness concerning Himself, But of that day and hour knows no one, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but God only. Mark 13:32 A son who knows not his father's secret must, from his ignorance, be alien from the father who knows; a nature limited in knowledge cannot partake of that majesty and might which alone is exempt from the tyranny of ignorance.
30. We therefore expose the blasphemous misunderstanding at which they have arrived by distortion and perversion of the meaning of Christ's words. We account for those words by stating what manner of questions He was answering, at what times He was speaking, what partial knowledge He was deigning to impart; we make the circumstances explain the words, and do not force the former into consistency with the latter. Thus each case of variance, that for instance between The Father is greater than I , and I and the Father are One John 10:30, or between None is good save One, even God Luke 18:19, and He that has seen Me has seen the Father also John 14:9, or a difference so wide as that between Father, all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine , and That they may know You, the only true God , or between I in the Father and the Father in Me , and But of the day and hour knows no one, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father only Mark 13:32, is explained by a discrimination between gradual revelation and full expression of His nature and power. Both are utterances of the same Speaker, and an exposition of the real force of each group will show that Christ's true Godhead is no whit impaired because, to form the mystery of the Gospel faith, the birth and Name of Christ were revealed gradually, and under conditions which He chose of occasion and time.
31. The purpose of the tenth book is one in harmony with the faith. For since, in the folly which passes with them for wisdom, the heretics have twisted some of the circumstances and utterances of the Passion into an insolent contradiction of the Divine nature and power of the Lord Jesus Christ, I am compelled to prove that this is a blasphemous misinterpretation, and that these things were put on record by the Lord Himself as evidences of His true and absolute majesty. In their parody of the faith they deceive themselves with words such as, My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Matthew 26:38 He, they think, must be far removed from the blissful and passionless life of God, over Whose soul brooded this crushing fear of an impending woe, Who under the pressure of suffering even humbled Himself to pray, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from Me , and assuredly bore the appearance of fearing to endure the trials from which He prayed for release; Whose whole nature was so overwhelmed by agony that in those moments on the Cross He cried, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me ? Forced by the bitterness of His pain to complain that He was forsaken: Who, destitute of the Father's help, gave up the ghost with the words, Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit. Luke 23:46 The fear, they say, which beset Him at the moment of expiring made Him entrust His Spirit to the care of God the Father: the very hopelessness of His own condition forced Him to commit His Soul to the keeping of Another.
32. Their folly being as great as their blasphemy, they fail to mark that Christ's words, spoken under similar circumstances, are always consistent; they cleave to the letter and ignore the purpose of His words. There is the widest difference between My soul is sorrowful even unto death Matthew 26:38, and Henceforth you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power Matthew 26:64; so also between Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away, from Me , and The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it John 18:11 ? and further between My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me Matthew 27:46 ? and Verily I say unto you, Today shall you be with Me in Paradise Luke 23:43, and between Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit , and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do ; and their narrow minds, unable to grasp the Divine meaning, plunge into blasphemy in the attempt at explanation. There is a broad distinction between anxiety and a mind at ease, between haste and the prayer for delay, between words of anguish and words of encouragement, between despair for self and confident entreaty for others; and the heretics display their impiety by ignoring the assertions of Deity and the Divine nature of Christ, which account for the one class of His words, while they concentrate their attention upon the deeds and words which refer only to His ministry on earth. I have therefore set out all the elements contained in the mystery of the Soul and Body of the Lord Jesus Christ; all have been sought out, none suppressed. Next, casting the calm light of reason upon the question, I have referred each of His sayings to the class to which its meaning attaches it, and so have shown that He had also a confidence which never wavered, a will which never faltered, an assurance which never murmured, that, when He commended His own soul to the Father, in this was involved a prayer for the pardon of others. Thus a complete presentment of the teaching of the Gospel interprets and confirms all (and not some only) of the words of Christ.
33. And so— for not even the glory of the Resurrection has opened the eyes of these lost men and kept them within the manifest bounds of the faith— they have forged a weapon for their blasphemy out of a pretended reverence, and even perverted the revelation of a mystery into an insult to God. From the words, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, to My God and your God John 20:17, they argue that since that Father is ours as much as His, and that God also ours and His, His own confession that He shares with us in that relation to the Father and to God excludes Him from true Divinity, and subordinates Him to God the Creator Whose creature and inferior He is, as we are, although He has received the adoption of a Son. Nay more, we must not suppose that He possesses any of the characters of the Divine nature, since the Apostle says, But when He says, all things are put in subjection, this is except Him Who did subject all things unto Him, for when all things shall have been subjected unto Him, then shall also He Himself be subjected to Him that did subject all things unto Him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 For, so they say, subjection is evidence of want of power in the subject and of its possession by the sovereign. The eleventh book is employed in a reverent discussion of this argument; it proves from these very words of the Apostle not only that subjection is no evidence of want of power in Christ but that it actually is a sign of His true Divinity as God the Son; that the fact that His Father and God is also our Father and God is an infinite advantage to us and no degradation to Him, since He Who has been born as Man and suffered all the afflictions of our flesh has gone up on high to our God and Father, to receive His glory as Man our Representative.
34. In this treatise we have followed the course which we know is pursued in every branch of education. First come easy lessons and a familiarity, slowly attained by practice, with the groundwork of the subject; then the student may make proof, in the business of life, of the training which he has received. Thus the soldier, when he is perfect in his exercises, can go out to battle; the advocate ventures into the conflicts of the courts when he is versed in the pleadings of the school of rhetoric; the sailor who has learned to navigate his ship in the land-locked harbour of his home may be trusted amid the storms of open seas and distant climes. Such has been our proceeding in this most serious and difficult science in which the whole faith is taught. First came simple instruction for the untaught believer in the birth, the name, the Divinity, the true Divinity of Christ; since then we have quietly and steadily advanced till our readers can demolish every plea of the heretics; and now at last we have pitted them against the adversary in the present great and glorious conflict. The mind of men is powerless with the ordinary resources of unaided reason to grasp the idea of an eternal birth, but they attain by study of things Divine to the apprehension of mysteries which lie beyond the range of common thought. They can explode that paradox concerning the Lord Jesus, which derives all its strength and semblance of cogency from a purblind pagan philosophy: the paradox which asserts, There was a time when He was not, and He was not before He was born, and He was made out of nothing; as though His birth were proof that He had previously been non-existent and at a given moment came into being, and God the Only-begotten could thus be subjected to the conception of time, as if the faith itself [by conferring the title of 'Son'] and the very nature of birth proved that there was a time when He was not. Accordingly they argue that He was born out of nothing, on the ground that birth implies the grant of being to that which previously had no being. We proclaim in answer, on the evidence of Apostles and Evangelists, that the Father is eternal and the Son eternal, and demonstrate that the Son is God of all with an absolute, not a limited, pre-existence; that these bold assaults of their blasphemous logic— He was born out of nothing, and He was not before He was born— are powerless against Him; that His eternity is consistent with sonship, and His sonship with eternity; that there was in Him no unique exemption from birth but a birth from everlasting, for, while birth implies a Father, Divinity is inseparable from eternity.
35. Ignorance of prophetic diction and unskilfulness in interpreting Scripture has led them into a perversion of the point and meaning of the passage, The Lord created Me for a beginning of His ways for His works. They labour to establish from it that Christ is created, rather than born, as God, and hence partakes the nature of created beings, though He excel them in the manner of His creation, and has no glory of Divine birth but only the powers of a transcendent creature. We in reply, without importing any new considerations or preconceived opinions, will make this very passage of Wisdom display its own true meaning and object. We will show that the fact that He was created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works, cannot be twisted into evidence concerning the Divine and eternal birth, because creation for these purposes and birth from everlasting are two entirely different things. Where birth is meant, there birth, and nothing but birth, is spoken of; where creation is mentioned, the cause of that creation is first named. There is a Wisdom born before all things, and again there is a wisdom created for particular purposes; the Wisdom which is from everlasting is one, the wisdom which has come into existence during the lapse of time is another.
36. Having thus concluded that we must reject the word 'creation' from our confession of faith in God the Only-begotten, we proceed to lay down the teachings of reason and of piety concerning the Holy Spirit, that the reader, whose convictions have been established by patient and earnest study of the preceding books, may be provided with a complete presentation of the faith. This end will be attained when the blasphemies of heretical teaching on this theme also have been swept away, and the mystery, pure and undefiled, of the Trinity which regenerates us has been fixed in terms of saving precision on the authority of Apostles and Evangelists. Men will no longer dare, on the strength of mere human reasoning, to rank among creatures that Divine Spirit, Whom we receive as the pledge of immortality and source of fellowship with the sinless nature of God.
37. I know, O Lord God Almighty, that I owe You, as the chief duty of my life, the devotion of all my words and thoughts to Yourself. The gift of speech which You have bestowed can bring me no higher reward than the opportunity of service in preaching You and displaying You as You are, as Father and Father of God the Only-begotten, to the world in its blindness and the heretic in his rebellion. But this is the mere expression of my own desire; I must pray also for the gift of Your help and compassion, that the breath of Your Spirit may fill the sails of faith and confession which I have spread, and a favouring wind be sent to forward me on my voyage of instruction. We can trust the promise of Him Who said, Ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you Luke 11:9; and we in our want shall pray for the things we need. We shall bring an untiring energy to the study of Your Prophets and Apostles, and we shall knock for entrance at every gate of hidden knowledge, but it is Yours to answer the prayer, to grant the thing we seek, to open the door on which we beat. Our minds are born with dull and clouded vision, our feeble intellect is penned within the barriers of an impassable ignorance concerning things Divine; but the study of Your revelation elevates our soul to the comprehension of sacred truth, and submission to the faith is the path to a certainty beyond the reach of unassisted reason.
38. And therefore we look to Your support for the first trembling steps of this undertaking, to Your aid that it may gain strength and prosper. We look to You to give us the fellowship of that Spirit Who guided the Prophets and the Apostles, that we may take their words in the sense in which they spoke and assign its right shade of meaning to every utterance. For we shall speak of things which they preached in a mystery; of You, O God Eternal, Father of the Eternal and Only-begotten God, Who alone art without birth, and of the One Lord Jesus Christ, born of You from everlasting. We may not sever Him from You, or make Him one of a plurality of Gods, on any plea of difference of nature. We may not say that He is not begotten of You, because You are One. We must not fail to confess Him as true God, seeing that He is born of You, true God, His Father. Grant us, therefore, precision of language, soundness of argument, grace of style, loyalty to truth. Enable us to utter the things that we believe, that so we may confess, as Prophets and Apostles have taught us, You, One God our Father, and One Lord Jesus Christ, and put to silence the gainsaying of heretics, proclaiming You as God, yet not solitary, and Him as God, in no unreal sense.
Source. Translated by E.W. Watson and L. Pullan. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 9. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1899.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/330201.htm>.
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