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Home > Fathers of the Church > On the Trinity (Hilary of Poitiers) > Book II

On the Trinity (Book II)

Book II. He begins with the command to baptize all nations Matthew 28:19 as a summary of the faith; this by itself would suffice were not explanations rendered necessary by heretical misrepresentations of its meaning. For (§§ 3, 4) heresy is the result of Scripture misunderstood; and here we must notice that Scripture is regarded as ground common to both sides. All accept it as literally true, and combine its texts as will best serve their own purposes. Hilary, regarding all heresies as one combined opposition to the truth, makes the two objections that their arguments are mutually destructive, and that they are modern. Then in § 5 he expresses the awe with which he approaches the subject. The language which he must use is utterly inadequate, and yet he is compelled to use it. In §§ 6, 7 he begins with the notion of God as Father; in §§ 8-11 he proceeds to that of God the Son. He states the faith as it must be believed; it is not enough (§§ 12, 13) to accept the truth of Christ's miracles. The mystery, as it is revealed in St. John i. 1-4, must be the object of faith. In §§ 14-21 he expounds this passage in the face of current objections, and then triumphantly asserts that all the efforts of heresy are vain (§ 22). He advances proof-texts in § 23 against each objector, and then points out in §§ 24, 25 our indebtedness to the infinite Divine condescension thus revealed. For, in all the humiliation to which Christ stooped the Divine Majesty was still inseparably His, and was manifested both in the circumstances of His birth and in His life on earth (§§ 26-28). The book concludes (§§ 29-35) with a statement of the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, as perfect as in the undeveloped state of that doctrine was possible.

1. Believers have always found their satisfaction in that Divine utterance, which our ears heard recited from the Gospel at the moment when that Power, which is its attestation, was bestowed upon us:— Go now and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I command you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Matthew 28:19-20 What element in the mystery of man's salvation is not included in those words? What is forgotten, what left in darkness? All is full, as from the Divine fullness; perfect, as from the Divine perfection. The passage contains the exact words to be used, the essential acts, the sequence of processes, an insight into the Divine nature. He bade them baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that is with confession of the Creator and of the Only-begotten, and of the Gift. For God the Father is One, from Whom are all things; and our Lord Jesus Christ the Only-begotten, through Whom are all things, is One; and the Spirit, God's Gift to us, Who pervades all things, is also One. Thus all are ranged according to powers possessed and benefits conferred—the One Power from Whom all, the One Offspring through Whom all, the One Gift Who gives us perfect hope. Nothing can be found lacking in that supreme Union which embraces, in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, infinity in the Eternal, His Likeness in His express Image, our enjoyment of Him in the Gift.

2. But the errors of heretics and blasphemers force us to deal with unlawful matters, to scale perilous heights, to speak unutterable words, to trespass on forbidden ground. Faith ought in silence to fulfil the commandments, worshipping the Father, reverencing with Him the Son, abounding in the Holy Ghost, but we must strain the poor resources of our language to express thoughts too great for words. The error of others compels us to err in daring to embody in human terms truths which ought to be hidden in the silent veneration of the heart.

3. For there have risen many who have given to the plain words of Holy Writ some arbitrary interpretation of their own, instead of its true and only sense, and this in defiance of the clear meaning of words. Heresy lies in the sense assigned, not in the word written; the guilt is that of the expositor, not of the text. Is not truth indestructible? When we hear the name Father, is not sonship involved in that Name? The Holy Ghost is mentioned by name; must He not exist? We can no more separate fatherhood from the Father or sonship from the Son than we can deny the existence in the Holy Ghost of that gift which we receive. Yet men of distorted mind plunge the whole matter in doubt and difficulty, fatuously reversing the clear meaning of words, and depriving the Father of His fatherhood because they wish to strip the Son of His sonship. They take away the fatherhood by asserting that the Son is not a Son by nature; for a son is not of the nature of his father when begetter and begotten have not the same properties, and he is no son whose being is different from that of the father, and unlike it. Yet in what sense is God a Father (as He is), if He have not begotten in His Son that same substance and nature which are His own?

4. Since, therefore, they cannot make any change in the facts recorded, they bring novel principles and theories of man's device to bear upon them. Sabellius, for instance, makes the Son an extension of the Father, and the faith in this regard a matter of words rather than of reality, for he makes one and the same Person, Son to Himself and also Father. Hebion allows no beginning to the Son of God except from Mary, and represents Him not as first God and then man, but as first man then God; declares that the Virgin did not receive into herself One previously existent, Who had been in the beginning God the Word dwelling with God, but that through the agency of the Word she bore Flesh; the 'Word' meaning in his opinion not the nature of the pre-existent Only-begotten God , but only the sound of an uplifted voice. Similarly certain teachers of our present day assert that the Image and Wisdom and Power of God was produced out of nothing, and in time. They do this to save God, regarded as Father of the Son, from being lowered to the Son's level. They are fearful lest this birth of the Son from Him should deprive Him of His glory, and therefore come to God's rescue by styling His Son a creature made out of nothing, in order that God may live on in solitary perfection without a Son born of Himself and partaking His nature. What wonder that their doctrine of the Holy Ghost should be different from ours, when they presume to subject the Giver of that Holy Ghost to creation, and change, and non-existence. Thus do they destroy the consistency and completeness of the mystery of the faith. They break up the absolute unity of God by assigning differences of nature where all is clearly common to Each; they deny the Father by robbing the Son of His true Sonship; they deny the Holy Ghost in their blindness to the facts that we possess Him and that Christ gave Him. They betray ill-trained souls to ruin by their boast of the logical perfection of their doctrine; they deceive their hearers by emptying terms of their meaning, though the Names remain to witness to the truth. I pass over the pitfalls of other heresies, Valentinian, Marcionite, Manichee and the rest. From time to time they catch the attention of some foolish souls and prove fatal by the very infection of their contact; one plague as destructive as another when once the poison of their teaching has found its way into the hearer's thoughts.

5. Their treason involves us in the difficult and dangerous position of having to make a definite pronouncement, beyond the statements of Scripture, upon this grave and abstruse matter. The Lord said that the nations were to be baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The words of the faith are clear; the heretics do their utmost to involve the meaning in doubt. We may not on this account add to the appointed form, yet we must set a limit to their license of interpretation. Since their malice, inspired by the devil's cunning, empties the doctrine of its meaning while it retains the Names which convey the truth, we must emphasise the truth which those Names convey. We must proclaim, exactly as we shall find them in the words of Scripture, the majesty and functions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and so debar the heretics from robbing these Names of their connotation of Divine character, and compel them by means of these very Names to confine their use of terms to their proper meaning. I cannot conceive what manner of mind our opponents have, who pervert the truth, darken the light, divide the indivisible, rend the scatheless, dissolve the perfect unity. It may seem to them a light thing to tear up Perfection, to make laws for Omnipotence, to limit Infinity; as for me, the task of answering them fills me with anxiety; my brain whirls, my intellect is stunned, my very words must be a confession, not that I am weak of utterance, but that I am dumb. Yet a wish to undertake the task forces itself upon me; it means withstanding the proud, guiding the wanderer, warning the ignorant. But the subject is inexhaustible; I can see no limit to my venture of speaking concerning God in terms more precise than He Himself has used. He has assigned the Names— Father, Son and Holy Ghost—which are our information of the Divine nature. Words cannot express or feeling embrace or reason apprehend the results of enquiry carried further; all is ineffable, unattainable, incomprehensible. Language is exhausted by the magnitude of the theme, the splendour of its effulgence blinds the gazing eye, the intellect cannot compass its boundless extent. Still, under the necessity that is laid upon us, with a prayer for pardon to Him Whose attributes these are, we will venture, enquire and speak; and moreover— it is the only promise that in so grave a matter we dare to make— we will accept whatever conclusion He shall indicate.

6. It is the Father to Whom all existence owes its origin. In Christ and through Christ He is the source of all. In contrast to all else He is self-existent. He does not draw His being from without, but possesses it from Himself and in Himself. He is infinite, for nothing contains Him and He contains all things; He is eternally unconditioned by space, for He is illimitable; eternally anterior to time, for time is His creation. Let imagination range to what you may suppose is God's utmost limit, and you will find Him present there; strain as you will there is always a further horizon towards which to strain. Infinity is His property, just as the power of making such effort is yours. Words will fail you, but His being will not be circumscribed. Or again, turn back the pages of history, and you will find Him ever present; should numbers fail to express the antiquity to which you have penetrated, yet God's eternity is not diminished. Gird up your intellect to comprehend Him as a whole; He eludes you. God, as a whole, has left something within your grasp, but this something is inextricably involved in His entirety. Thus you have missed the whole, since it is only a part which remains in your hands; nay, not even a part, for you are dealing with a whole which you have failed to divide. For a part implies division, a whole is undivided, and God is everywhere and wholly present wherever He is. Reason, therefore, cannot cope with Him, since no point of contemplation can be found outside Himself and since eternity is eternally His. This is a true statement of the mystery of that unfathomable nature which is expressed by the Name 'Father:' God invisible, ineffable, infinite. Let us confess by our silence that words cannot describe Him; let sense admit that it is foiled in the attempt to apprehend, and reason in the effort to define. Yet He has, as we said, in 'Father' a name to indicate His nature; He is a Father unconditioned. He does not, as men do, receive the power of paternity from an external source. He is unbegotten, everlasting, inherently eternal. To the Son only is He known, for no one knows the Father save the Son and him to whom the Son wills to reveal Him, nor yet the Son save the Father. Matthew 11:27 Each has perfect and complete knowledge of the Other. Therefore, since no one knows the Father save the Son, let our thoughts of the Father be at one with the thoughts of the Son, the only faithful Witness, Who reveals Him to us.

7. It is easier for me to feel this concerning the Father than to say it. I am well aware that no words are adequate to describe His attributes. We must feel that He is invisible, incomprehensible, eternal. But to say that He is self-existent and self-originating and self-sustained, that He is invisible and incomprehensible and immortal; all this is an acknowledgment of His glory, a hint of our meaning, a sketch of our thoughts, but speech is powerless to tell us what God is, words cannot express the reality. You hear that He is self-existent; human reason cannot explain such independence. We can find objects which uphold, and objects which are upheld, but that which thus exists is obviously distinct from that which is the cause of its existence. Again, if you hear that He is self-originating, no instance can be found in which the giver of the gift of life is identical with the life that is given. If you hear that He is immortal, then there is something which does not spring from Him and with which He has, by His very nature , no contact; and, indeed, death is not the only thing which this word 'immortal' claims as independent of God. If you hear that He is incomprehensible, that is as much as to say that He is non-existent, since contact with Him is impossible. If you say that He is invisible, a being that does not visibly exist cannot be sure of its own existence. Thus our confession of God fails through the defects of language; the best combination of words we can devise cannot indicate the reality and the greatness of God. The perfect knowledge of God is so to know Him that we are sure we must not be ignorant of Him, yet cannot describe Him. We must believe, must apprehend, must worship; and such acts of devotion must stand in lieu of definition.

8. We have now exchanged the perils of a harbourless coast for the storms of the open sea. We can neither safely advance nor safely retreat, yet the way that lies before us has greater hardships than that which lies behind. The Father is what He is, and as He is manifested, so we must believe. The mind shrinks in dread from treating of the Son; at every word I tremble lest I be betrayed into treason. For He is the Offspring of the Unbegotten, One from One, true from true, living from living, perfect from perfect; the Power of Power, the Wisdom of Wisdom, the Glory of Glory, the Likeness of the invisible God, the Image of the Unbegotten Father. Yet in what sense can we conceive that the Only-begotten is the Offspring of the Unbegotten? Repeatedly the Father cries from heaven, This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased . It is no rending or severance, for He that begot is without passions, and He that was born is the Image of the invisible God and bears witness, The Father is in Me and I in the Father. John 10:38 It is no mere adoption, for He is the true Son of God and cries, He that has seen Me has seen the Father also. Nor did He come into existence in obedience to a command as did created things, for He is the Only-begotten of the One God; and He has life in Himself, even as He that begot Him has life, for He says, As the Father has life in Himself, even so gave He to the Son to have life in Himself. Nor is there a portion of the Father resident in the Son, for the Son bears witness, All things that the Father has are Mine , and again, And all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine , and the Apostle testifies, For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily Colossians 2:9; and by the nature of things a portion cannot possess the whole. He is the perfect Son of the perfect Father, for He Who has all has given all to Him. Yet we must not imagine that the Father did not give, because He still possesses, or that He has lost, because He gave to the Son.

9. The manner of this birth is therefore a secret confined to the Two. If any one lays upon his personal incapacity his failure to solve the mystery, in spite of the certainty that Father and Son stand to Each Other in those relations, he will be still more pained at the ignorance to which I confess. I, too, am in the dark, yet I ask no questions. I look for comfort to the fact that Archangels share my ignorance, that Angels have not heard the explanation, and worlds do not contain it, that no prophet has espied it and no Apostle sought for it, that the Son Himself has not revealed it. Let such pitiful complaints cease. Whoever you are that search into these mysteries, I do not bid you resume your exploration of height and breadth and depth; I ask you rather to acquiesce patiently in your ignorance of the mode of Divine generation, seeing that you know not how His creatures come into existence. Answer me this one question:— Do your senses give you any evidence that you yourself were begotten? Can you explain the process by which you became a father? I do not ask whence you drew perception, how you obtained life, whence your reason comes, what is the nature of your senses of smell, touch, sight, hearing; the fact that we have the use of all these is the evidence that they exist. What I ask is:— How do you give them to your children? How do you ingraft the senses, lighten the eyes, implant the mind? Tell me, if you can. You have, then, powers which you do not understand, you impart gifts which you cannot comprehend. You are calmly indifferent to the mysteries of your own being, profanely impatient of ignorance concerning the mysteries of God's.

10. Listen then to the Unbegotten Father, listen to the Only-begotten Son. Hear His words, The Father is greater than I John 14:28, and I and the Father are One , and He that has seen Me has seen the Father also , and The Father is in Me and I in the Father , and I went out from the Father , and Who is in the bosom of the Father , and Whatsoever the Father has He has delivered to the Son , and The Son has life in Himself, even as the Father has in Himself. John 5:26 Hear in these words the Son, the Image, the Wisdom, the Power, the Glory of God. Next mark the Holy Ghost proclaiming Who shall declare His generation Isaiah 53:8? Note the Lord's assurance, No one knows the Son save the Father, neither does any know the Father save the Son and He to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 Penetrate into the mystery, plunge into the darkness which shrouds that birth, where you will be alone with God the Unbegotten and God the Only-begotten. Make your start, continue, persevere. I know that you will not reach the goal, but I shall rejoice at your progress. For He who devoutly treads an endless road, though he reach no conclusion, will profit by his exertions. Reason will fail for want of words, but when it comes to a stand it will be the better for the effort made.

11. The Son draws His life from that Father Who truly has life; the Only begotten from the Unbegotten, Offspring from Parent, Living from Living. As the Father has life in Himself, even so gave He to the Son also to have life in Himself. John 5:26 The Son is perfect from Him that is perfect, for He is whole from Him that is whole. This is no division or severance, for Each is in the Other, and the fullness of the Godhead is in the Son. Incomprehensible is begotten of Incomprehensible, for none else knows Them, but Each knows the Other; Invisible is begotten of Invisible, for the Son is the Image of the invisible God, and he that has seen the Son has seen the Father also. There is a distinction, for They are Father and Son; not that Their Divinity is different in kind, for Both are One, God of God, One God Only begotten of One God Unbegotten. They are not two Gods, but One of One; not two Unbegotten, for the Son is born of the Unborn. There is no diversity, for the life of the living God is in the living Christ. So much I have resolved to say concerning the nature of their Divinity; not imagining that I have succeeded in making a summary of the faith, but recognising that the theme is inexhaustible. So faith, you object, has no service to render, since there is nothing that it can comprehend. Not so; the proper service of faith is to grasp and confess the truth that it is incompetent to comprehend its Object.

12. It remains to say something more concerning the mysterious generation of the Son; or rather this something more is everything. I quiver, I linger, my powers fail, I know not where to begin. I cannot tell the time of the Son's birth; it were impious not to be certain of the fact. Whom shall I entreat? Whom shall I call to my aid? From what books shall I borrow the terms needed to state so hard a problem? Shall I ransack the philosophy of Greece? No! I have read, Where is the wise? Where is the enquirer of this world 1 Corinthians 1:20 ? In this matter, then, the world's philosophers, the wise men of paganism, are dumb: for they have rejected the wisdom of God. Shall I turn to the Scribe of the law? He is in darkness, for the Cross of Christ is an offense to him. Shall I, perchance, bid you shut your eyes to heresy, and pass it by in silence, on the ground that sufficient reverence is shown to Him Whom we preach if we believe that lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the lame ran, the palsied stood, the blind (in general) received sight, the blind from his birth had eyes given to him , devils were routed, the sick recovered, the dead lived. The heretics confess all this, and perish.

13. Look now to see a thing not less miraculous than lame men running, blind men seeing, the flight of devils, the life from the dead. There stands by my side, to guide me through the difficulties which I have enunciated, a poor fisherman, ignorant, uneducated, fishing-lines in hand, clothes dripping, muddy feet, every inch a sailor. Consider and decide whether it were the greater feat to raise the dead or impart to an untrained mind the knowledge of mysteries so deep as he reveals by saying, In the beginning was the Word. John 1:1 What means this In the beginning was? He ranges backward over the spaces of time, centuries are left behind, ages are cancelled. Fix in your mind what date you will for this beginning; you miss the mark, for even then He, of Whom we are speaking, was. Survey the universe, note well what is written of it, In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. Genesis 1:1 This word beginning fixes the moment of creation; you can assign its date to an event which is definitely stated to have happened in the beginning. But this fisherman of mine, unlettered and unread, is untrammelled by time, undaunted by its immensity; he pierces beyond the beginning. For his was has no limit of time and no commencement; the uncreated Word was in the beginning.

14. But perhaps we shall find that our fisherman has been guilty of departure from the terms of the problem proposed for solution. He has set the Word free from the limitations of time; that which is free lives its own life and is bound to no obedience. Let us, therefore, pay our best attention to what follows:— And the Word was with God. We find that it is with God that the Word, Which was before the beginning, exists unconditioned by time. The Word, Which was, is with God. He Who is absent when we seek for His origin in time is present all the while with the Creator of time. For this once our fisherman has escaped; perhaps he will succumb to the difficulties which await him.

15. For you will plead that a word is the sound of a voice; that it is a naming of things, an utterance of thoughts. This Word was with God, and was in the beginning; the expression of the eternal Thinker's thoughts must be eternal. For the present I will give you a brief answer of my own on the fisherman's behalf, till we see what defence he has to make for his own simplicity. The nature, then, of a word is that it is first a potentiality, afterwards a past event; an existing thing only while it is being heard. How can we say, In the beginning was the Word, when a word neither exists before, nor lives after, a definite point of time? Can we even say that there is a point of time in which a word exists? Not only are the words in a speaker's mouth non-existent until they are spoken, and perished the instant they are uttered, but even in the moment of utterance there is a change from the sound which commences to that which ends a word. Such is the reply that suggests itself to me as a bystander. But your opponent the Fisherman has an answer of his own. He will begin by reproving you for your inattention. Even though your unpractised ear failed to catch the first clause, In the beginning was the Word, why complain of the next, And the Word was with God? Was it And the Word was in God that you heard—the dictum of some profound philosophy? Or is it that your provincial dialect makes no distinction between in and with? The assertion is that Which was in the beginning was with, not in, Another. But I will not argue from the beginning of the sentence; the sequel can take care of itself. Hear now the rank and the name of the Word:And the Word was God. Your plea that the Word is the sound of a voice, the utterance of a thought, falls to the ground. The Word is a reality, not a sound, a Being, not a speech, God, not a nonentity.

16. But I tremble to say it; the audacity staggers me. I hear, And the Word was God; I, whom the prophets have taught that God is One. To save me from further fears, give me, friend Fisherman, a fuller imparting of this great mystery. Show that these assertions are consistent with the unity of God; that there is no blasphemy in them, no explaining away, no denial of eternity. He continues, He was in the beginning with God. This He was in the beginning removes the limit of time; the word God shows that He is more than a voice; that He is with God proves that He neither encroaches nor is encroached upon, for His identity is not swallowed up in that of Another, and He is clearly stated to be present with the One Unbegotten God as God, His One and Only-begotten Son.

17. We are still waiting, Fisherman, for your full description of the Word. He was in the beginning, it may be said, but perhaps He was not before the beginning. To this also I will furnish a reply on my Fisherman's behalf. The Word could not be other than He was; that was is unconditional and unlimited. But what says the Fisherman for himself? All things were made through Him. Thus, since nothing exists apart from Him through Whom the universe came into being, He, the Author of all things, must have an immeasurable existence. For time is a cognisable and divisible measure of extension, not in space, but in duration. All things are from Him, without exception; time then itself is His creature.

18. But, my Fisherman, the objection will be raised that you are reckless and extravagant in your language; that All things were made through Him needs qualification. There is the Unbegotten, made of none; there is also the Son, begotten of the Unborn Father. This All things is an unguarded statement, admitting no exceptions. While we are silent, not daring to answer or trying to think of some reply, do you break in with, And without Him was nothing made. You have restored the Author of the Godhead to His place, while proclaiming that He has a Companion. From your saying that nothing was made without Him, I learn that He was not alone. He through Whom the work was done is One; He without Whom it was not done is Another: a distinction is drawn between Creator and Companion.

19. Reverence for the One Unbegotten Creator distressed me, lest in your sweeping assertion that all things were made by the Word you had included Him. You have banished my fears by your Without Him was nothing made. Yet this same Without Him was nothing made brings trouble and distraction. There was, then, something made by that Other; not made, it is true, without Him. If the Other did make anything, even though the Word were present at the making, then it is untrue that through Him all things were made. It is one thing to be the Creator's Companion, quite another to be the Creator's Self. I could find answers of my own to the previous objections; in this case, Fisherman, I can only turn at once to your words, All things were made through Him. And now I understand, for the Apostle has enlightened me:— Things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers, all are through Him and in Him Colossians 1:16 .

20. Since, then, all things were made through Him, come to our help and tell us what it was that was made not without Him. That which was made in Him is life. That which was made in Him was certainly not made without Him; for that which was made in Him was also made through Him. All things were created in Him and through Him. Colossians 1:16 They were created in Him , for He was born as God the Creator. Again, nothing that was made in Him was made without Him, for the reason that God the Begotten was life, and was born as Life, not made life after His birth; for there are not two elements in Him, one inborn and one afterwards conferred. There is no interval in His case between birth and maturity. None of the things that were created in Him was made without Him, for He is the Life which made their creation possible. Moreover God, the Son of God, became God by virtue of His birth, not after He was born. Being born the Living from the Living, the True from the True, the Perfect from the Perfect, He was born in full possession of His powers. He needed not to learn in after time what His birth was, but was conscious of His Godhead by the very fact that He was born as God of God. I and the Father are One John 10:30, are the words of the Only-begotten Son of the Unbegotten. It is the voice of the One God proclaiming Himself to be Father and Son; Father speaking in the Son and Son in the Father. Hence also He that has seen Me has seen the Father also ; hence All that the Father has, He has given to the Son ; hence As the Father has life in Himself so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself ; hence No one knows the Father save the Son, nor the Son save the Father Matthew 11:27; hence In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.

21. This Life is the Light of men, the Light which lightens the darkness. To comfort us for that powerlessness to describe His generation of which the prophet speaks Isaiah 53:8, the Fisherman adds, And the darkness comprehended Him not. John 1:4 The language of unaided reason was baffled and silenced; the Fisherman who lay on the bosom of the Lord was taught to express the mystery. His language is not the world's language, for He deals with things that are not of the world. Let us know what it is, if there be any teaching that you can extract from his words, more than their plain sense conveys; if you can translate into other terms the truth we have elicited, publish them abroad. If there be none— indeed, because there are none— let us accept with reverence this teaching of the fisherman, and recognise in his words the oracles of God. Let us cling in adoration to the true confession of Father and Son, Unbegotten and Only-begotten ineffably, Whose majesty defies all expression and all perception. Let us, like John, lie on the bosom of the Lord Jesus, that we too may understand and proclaim the mystery.

22. This faith, and every part of it, is impressed upon us by the evidence of the Gospels, by the teaching of the Apostles, by the futility of the treacherous attacks which heretics make on every side. The foundation stands firm and unshaken in face of winds and rains and torrents; storms cannot overthrow it, nor dripping waters hollow it, nor floods sweep it away. Its excellence is proved by the failure of countless assaults to impair it. Certain remedies are so compounded as to be of value not merely against some single disease but against all; they are of universal efficacy. So it is with the Catholic faith. It is not a medicine for some special malady, but for every ill; virulence cannot master, nor numbers defeat, nor complexity baffle it. One and unchanging it faces and conquers all its foes. Marvellous it is that one form of words should contain a remedy for every disease, a statement of truth to confront every contrivance of falsehood. Let heresy muster its forces and every sect come forth to battle. Let our answer to their challenge be that there is One Unbegotten God the Father, and One Only-begotten Son of God, perfect Offspring of perfect Parent; that the Sun was begotten by no lessening of the Father or subtraction from His Substance, but that He Who possesses all things begot an all-possessing Son; a Son not emanating nor proceeding from the Father, but compact of, and inherent in, the whole Divinity, of Him Who wherever He is present is present eternally; One free from time, unlimited in duration, since by Him all things were made , and, indeed, He could not be confined within a limit created by Himself. Such is the Catholic and Apostolic Faith which the Gospel has taught us and we avow.

23. Let Sabellius, if he dare, confound Father and Son as two names with one meaning, making of them not Unity but One Person. He shall have a prompt answer from the Gospels, not once or twice, but often repeated, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. He shall hear the words, The Father is greater than I John 14:28, and I go to the Father , and Father, I thank You , and Glorify Me, Father , and You are the Son of the living God. Matthew 16:17 Let Hebion try to sap the faith, who allows the Son of God no life before the Virgin's womb, and sees in Him the Word only after His life as flesh had begun. We will bid him read again, Father, glorify Me with Your own Self with that glory which I had with You before the world was John 17:5, and In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God , and All things were made through Him , and He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world knew Him not. Let the preachers whose apostleship is of the newest fashion— an apostleship of Antichrist— come forward and pour their mockery and insult upon the Son of God. They must hear, I came out from the Father and The Son in the Father's bosom , and I and the Father are One , and I in the Father, and the Father in Me. And lastly, if they be wrath, as the Jews were, that Christ should claim God for His own Father, making Himself equal with God, they must take the answer which He gave the Jews, Believe My works, that the Father is in Me and I in the Father. Thus our one immovable foundation, our one blissful rock of faith, is the confession from Peter's mouth, You are the Son of the living God. Matthew 16:16 On it we can base an answer to every objection with which perverted ingenuity or embittered treachery may assail the truth.

24. In what remains we have the appointment of the Father's will. The Virgin, the birth, the Body, then the Cross, the death, the visit to the lower world; these things are our salvation. For the sake of mankind the Son of God was born of the Virgin and of the Holy Ghost. In this process He ministered to Himself; by His own power— the power of God— which overshadowed her He sowed the beginning of His Body, and entered on the first stage of His life in the flesh. He did it that by His Incarnation He might take to Himself from the Virgin the fleshly nature, and that through this commingling there might come into being a hallowed Body of all humanity; that so through that Body which He was pleased to assume all mankind might be hid in Him, and He in return, through His unseen existence, be reproduced in all. Thus the invisible Image of God scorned not the shame which marks the beginnings of human life. He passed through every stage; through conception, birth, wailing, cradle and each successive humiliation.

25. What worthy return can we make for so great a condescension? The One Only-begotten God, ineffably born of God, entered the Virgin's womb and grew and took the frame of poor humanity. He Who upholds the universe, within Whom and through Whom are all things, was brought forth by common childbirth; He at Whose voice Archangels and Angels tremble, and heaven and earth and all the elements of this world are melted, was heard in childish wailing. The Invisible and Incomprehensible, Whom sight and feeling and touch cannot gauge, was wrapped in a cradle. If any man deem all this unworthy of God, the greater must he own his debt for the benefit conferred the less such condescension befits the majesty of God. He by Whom man was made had nothing to gain by becoming Man; it was our gain that God was incarnate and dwelt among us, making all flesh His home by taking upon Him the flesh of One. We were raised because He was lowered; shame to Him was glory to us. He, being God, made flesh His residence, and we in return are lifted anew from the flesh to God.

26. But lest perchance fastidious minds be exercised by cradle and wailing, birth and conception, we must render to God the glory which each of these contains, that we may approach His self-abasement with souls duly filled with His claim to reign, and not forget His majesty in His condescension. Let us note, therefore, who were attendant on His conception. An Angel speaks to Zacharias; fertility is given to the barren; the priest comes forth dumb from the place of incense; John bursts forth into speech while yet confined within his mother's womb; an Angel blesses Mary and promises that she, a virgin, shall be the mother of the Son of God. Conscious of her virginity, she is distressed at this hard thing; the Angel explains to her the mighty working of God, saying, The Holy Ghost shall come from above into you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. Luke 1:35 The Holy Ghost, descending from above, hallowed the Virgin's womb, and breathing therein (for The Spirit blows where it lists John 3:8), mingled Himself with the fleshly nature of man, and annexed by force and might that foreign domain. And, lest through weakness of the human structure failure should ensue, the power of the Most High overshadowed the Virgin, strengthening her feebleness in semblance of a cloud cast round her, that the shadow, which was the might of God, might fortify her bodily frame to receive the procreative power of the Spirit. Such is the glory of the conception.

27. And now let us consider the glory which accompanies the birth, the wailing and the cradle. The Angel tells Joseph that the Virgin shall bear a Son, and that Son shall be named Emmanuel, that is, God with us. The Spirit foretells it through the prophet, the Angel bears witness; He that is born is God with us. The light of a new star shines forth for the Magi; a heavenly sign escorts the Lord of heaven. An Angel brings to the shepherds the news that Christ the Lord is born, the Saviour of the world. A multitude of the heavenly host flock together to sing the praise of that childbirth; the rejoicing of the Divine company proclaims the fulfilment of the mighty work. Then glory to God in heaven, and peace on earth to men of good will is announced. And now the Magi come and worship Him wrapped in swaddling clothes; after a life devoted to mystic rites of vain philosophy they bow the knee before a Babe laid in His cradle. Thus the Magi stoop to reverence the infirmities of Infancy; its cries are saluted by the heavenly joy of angels; the Spirit Who inspired the prophet, the heralding Angel, the light of the new star, all minister around Him. In such wise was it that the Holy Ghost's descent and the overshadowing power of the Most High brought Him to His birth. The inward reality is widely different from the outward appearance; the eye sees one thing, the soul another. A virgin bears; her child is of God. An Infant wails; angels are heard in praise. There are coarse swaddling clothes; God is being worshipped. The glory of His Majesty is not forfeited when He assumes the lowliness of flesh.

28. So was it also during His further life on earth. The whole time which He passed in human form was spent upon the works of God. I have no space for details; it must suffice to say that in all the varied acts of power and healing which He wrought, the fact is conspicuous that He was man by virtue of the flesh He had taken, God by the evidence of the works He did.

29. Concerning the Holy Spirit I ought not to be silent, and yet I have no need to speak; still, for the sake of those who are in ignorance, I cannot refrain. There is no need to speak, because we are bound to confess Him, proceeding, as He does, from Father and Son. For my own part, I think it wrong to discuss the question of His existence. He does exist, inasmuch as He is given, received, retained; He is joined with Father and Son in our confession of the faith, and cannot be excluded from a true confession of Father and Son; take away a part, and the whole faith is marred. If any man demand what meaning we attach to this conclusion, he, as well as we, has read the words of the Apostle, Because you are sons of God, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father Galatians 4:6, and Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in Whom you have been sealed Ephesians 4:30, and again, But we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things that are given unto us by God 1 Corinthians 2:12, and also But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God is in you. But if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is not His Romans 8:9, and further, But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies for the sake of His Spirit which dwells in you. Wherefore since He is, and is given, and is possessed, and is of God, let His traducers take refuge in silence. When they ask, Through Whom is He? To what end does He exist? Of what nature is He? We answer that He it is through Whom all things exist, and from Whom are all things, and that He is the Spirit of God, God's gift to the faithful. If our answer displease them, their displeasure must also fall upon the Apostles and the Prophets, who spoke of Him exactly as we have spoken. And furthermore, Father and Son must incur the same displeasure.

30. The reason, I believe, why certain people continue in ignorance or doubt is that they see this third Name, that of the Holy Spirit, often used to signify the Father or the Son. No objection need be raised to this; whether it be Father or Son, He is Spirit, and He is holy.

31. But the words of the Gospel, For God is Spirit John 4:24, need careful examination as to their sense and their purpose. For every saying has an antecedent cause and an aim which must be ascertained by study of the meaning. We must bear this in mind lest, on the strength of the words, God is Spirit, we deny not only the Name, but also the work and the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Lord was speaking with a woman of Samaria, for He had come to be the Redeemer for all mankind. After He had discoursed at length of the living water, and of her five husbands, and of him whom she then had who was not her husband, the woman answered, Lord, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. The Lord replied, Woman, believe Me, the hour comes when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. You worship that which you know not; we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth; for the Father seeks such to worship Him. For God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in the Spirit and in truth, for God is Spirit. We see that the woman, her mind full of inherited tradition, thought that God must be worshipped either on a mountain, as at Samaria, or in a temple, as at Jerusalem; for Samaria in disobedience to the Law had chosen a site upon the mountain for worship, while the Jews regarded the temple founded by Solomon as the home of their religion, and the prejudices of both confined the all-embracing and illimitable God to the crest of a hill or the vault of a building. God is invisible, incomprehensible, immeasurable; the Lord said that the time had come when God should be worshipped neither on mountain nor in temple. For Spirit cannot be cabined or confined; it is omnipresent in space and time, and under all conditions present in its fullness. Therefore, He said, they are the true worshippers who shall worship in the Spirit and in truth. And these who are to worship God the Spirit in the Spirit shall have the One for the means, the Other for the object, of their reverence: for Each of the Two stands in a different relation to the worshipper. The words, God is Spirit, do not alter the fact that the Holy Spirit has a Name of His own, and that He is the Gift to us. The woman who confined God to hill or temple was told that God contains all things and is self-contained: that He, the Invisible and Incomprehensible must be worshipped by invisible and incomprehensible means. The imparted gift and the object of reverence were clearly shown when Christ taught that God, being Spirit, must be worshipped in the Spirit, and revealed what freedom and knowledge, what boundless scope for adoration, lay in this worship of God, the Spirit, in the Spirit.

32. The words of the Apostle are of like purport; For the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2 Corinthians 3:17 To make his meaning clear he has distinguished between the Spirit, Who exists, and Him Whose Spirit He is Proprietor and Property, He and His are different in sense. Thus when he says, The Lord is Spirit he reveals the infinity of God; when He adds, Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, he indicates Him Who belongs to God; for He is the Spirit of the Lord, and Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. The Apostle makes the statement not from any necessity of his own argument, but in the interests of clearness. For the Holy Ghost is everywhere One, enlightening all patriarchs and prophets and the whole company of the Law, inspiring John even in his mother's womb, given in due time to the Apostles and other believers, that they might recognise the truth vouchsafed them.

33. Let us hear from our Lord's own words what is the work of the Holy Ghost within us. He says, I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now. John 16:12 For it is expedient for you that I go: if I go I will send you the Advocate. And again, I will ask the Father and He shall send you another Advocate, that He may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth. He shall guide you into all truth, for He shall not speak from Himself, but whatsoever things He shall hear He shall speak, and He shall declare unto you the things that are to come. He shall glorify Me, for He shall take of Mine. These words were spoken to show how multitudes should enter the kingdom of heaven; they contain an assurance of the goodwill of the Giver, and of the mode and terms of the Gift. They tell how, because our feeble minds cannot comprehend the Father or the Son, our faith which finds God's incarnation hard of credence shall be illumined by the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Bond of union and the Source of light.

34. The next step naturally is to listen to the Apostle's account of the powers and functions of this Gift. He says, As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God. For you received not the Spirit of bondage again unto fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father Romans 8:14-15; and again, For no man by the Spirit of God says anathema to Jesus, and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit 1 Corinthians 12:3; and he adds, Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit, and diversities of ministrations, but the same Lord, and diversities of workings, but the same God, Who works all things in all. But to each one is given the enlightenment of the Spirit, to profit withal. Now to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith in the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings in the One Spirit, to another workings of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another kinds of tongues, to another interpretation of tongues. But all these works the One and same Spirit. Here we have a statement of the purpose and results of the Gift; and I cannot conceive what doubt can remain, after so clear a definition of His Origin, His action and His powers.

35. Let us therefore make use of this great benefit, and seek for personal experience of this most needful Gift. For the Apostle says, in words I have already cited, But we have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things that are given unto us by God. We receive Him, then, that we may know. Faculties of the human body, if denied their exercise, will lie dormant. The eye without light, natural or artificial, cannot fulfil its office; the ear will be ignorant of its function unless some voice or sound be heard; the nostrils unconscious of their purpose unless some scent be breathed. Not that the faculty will be absent, because it is never called into use, but that there will be no experience of its existence. So, too, the soul of man, unless through faith it have appropriated the gift of the Spirit, will have the innate faculty of apprehending God, but be destitute of the light of knowledge. That Gift, which is in Christ, is One, yet offered, and offered fully, to all; denied to none, and given to each according to the measure of his willingness to receive; its stores the richer, the more earnest the desire to earn them. This gift is with us unto the end of the world, the solace of our waiting, the assurance, by the favours which He bestows, of the hope that shall be ours, the light of our minds, the sun of our souls. This Holy Spirit we must seek and must earn, and then hold fast by faith and obedience to the commands of God.

About this page

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/330202.htm>.

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