ž 11. The third opportunity opened to the heresy, the Temporal Gennesis

{227} Hitherto I have found scarcely anything in the thought or language of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, which, even though suggestive accidentally of the subsequent Semi-Arianism, does not admit of an orthodox sense, and has not the sanction of the Post-Nicene Fathers. The Principatus is the doctrine of St. Gregory Nazianzen and of St. Augustine; the Syncatabasis is the special teaching of St. Athanasius. Such doctrines are in no respect inconsistent with the consubstantiality, co-eternity, and co-equality of the Son with the Father. So far is clear; but I have something more to say concerning certain early writers, which I wish I could explain as satisfactorily. I do not know how to deny, that, both in the East and in the West, there are writers, otherwise Catholic and orthodox in their theology, who use language concerning the Divine Sonship, which can hardly be distinguished from what in St. Augustine's day would have been considered heretical, or close upon heresy.

The doctrine, which they favour, is the Temporal Gennesis; viz., that the Eternal Word was not the Son from everlasting, but became the Son before the creation in order to be its Creator; and this doctrine, afterwards repudiated by the Church, is, it is plain, in real connexion historically, and in apparent connexion theologically, with Arianism. I say "in real historical connexion," {228} because where it had first appeared, there Semi-Arianism was most successful, and where, as in Egypt, it had not been tolerated, Arianism in no shape gained a footing. And I say, "in only apparent theological connexion" with the heresy, because, while the Arians, of all shades of misbelief, repudiated the Nicene HomoŘsion, these writers, whose language is so equivocal on the point in question, all taught the cardinal truth, of which the HomoŘsion is the symbol, viz., the true divinity, in union with the Father, of the Word and Son. All could have subscribed to the Nicene Creed and to its Anathematisms.

That these writers held both the eternity, and the hypostatic existence of the Word, I think beyond a doubt. I am not for an instant supposing that, with Marcellus of Ancyra in the fourth century, and with the heretics whom Justin speaks of (Tryph. 128) in the second, they considered the Son to be a mere energy or action, or a temporary expansion, of the Divine Essence, and not the Divine Essence Itself; still that they believed in His eternity, viewed as the Son, I cannot persuade myself, if their language is the index of their belief; and this is the point on which I shall insist. Nor will it satisfy me even if some of them assert the existence of the Son, "before all ages;" this indeed would be enough, if it were all they said; in that case I could account the phrase to stand for "eternity." For what do we know of eternity except that it is the state of things before time? It is a negative idea; it has no epochs; as soon as we let time go, we are forthwith merged in eternity. The phrase then "before all ages," any how may mean, and often does {229} strictly mean, eternity; and it would have been conclusive that those who used it of the Son were believers in the eternal gennesis but for this,—that, whereas it need not mean eternity, those who use it in fact show us that it need not, by bringing up again the notion of time after they have seemed to drop it, viz. by such propositions as that the gennesis took place "when the Father willed to create the worlds," that our Lord "was before He was begotten," and the like. By such expressions they imply that the gennesis after all had a relation to time; and then it is that it occurs to the inquirer that "before all worlds" is also of the nature of a date, and, being a phrase not absolute but relative, is inadmissible as used for a categorical enunciation of the Son's eternity. Besides, the text in the Septuagint Version, Proverbs viii. 12, which was the stronghold of the Arians, because it spoke of Divine Wisdom being created, also speaks of Him as [pro tou aionos], showing that the pro-aeonian state, contemplated at least by the translator, was not eternity, as containing in it an act of creation, that is, an act which belongs to time. And further still; it was possible to hold the eternal conception of the Son in the Divine Essence, as a distinct Person, without holding His birth to have been from eternity, and to understand gennesis not to mean generation but birth.

Some light will be thrown upon these points as I proceed; meanwhile, fully conscious as I am how comprehensive a view it requires, and how minute and familiar a knowledge, of the literature of the first centuries of Christianity, if one is to have a right to pronounce definitely {230} what is in it and what is not, still, writing under the correction of that consciousness, I will venture to say as much as this;—first, that authors of the East and West, who are distinct in calling the Word "eternal," as well as "before all ages," are not distinct in calling the Son "eternal;" and next, that, while they speak of His gennesis taking place in order to creation, and as dated by creation, they add not a word to show that in such statements they meant (as Bull has thought) merely a certain figurative gennesis, and that there had already been another and a true gennesis from all eternity.

Now to open the question:—

Christians in that early period had difficulties about the Divine Nature, which do not trouble us now. The most cultivated minds came to the Church from heathenism, and brought their ideas of the One God from Plato, if the philosophical contemplation of the Divine Being and His Attributes was not altogether new and strange to them. Was He All-powerful, All-knowing, All-merciful? Was He so from all eternity, so that He never could be without the attributes which those titles signify? If so, the subject of them, the created universe, must be eternal also. How could He have attributes, which during the antecedent eternity had no exercise? how could they have exercise without an existing creation? If creation had a beginning, He had a birth (so to speak) of attributes since that beginning, which He had not had before it.

Nor was this all. The dilemma, which arose out of the contemplation of the Divine Attributes, was involved also in that of the Divine gennesis. That gennesis, or internal {231} act of God, had its purpose and scope in His external act, the creation of the universe. It was the means towards creation; as then the attribute of Power implied a created world, so did the doctrine of the gennesis, and, if the creation was not from eternity, neither was the gennesis.

This necessary connexion between the two divine acts, the one internal, the other external, the gennesis and the creation, which was so widely assumed, as a principle, in the Ante-Nicene Church, is not altogether foreign to later theology. That is to say, if I understand Petavius rightly, the mission of the Son to be in due time incarnate, is included in His gennesis; and, if so, the syncatabasis or mission (as it may be called) to create, is included in the gennesis also. "Missio," he says, "nihil aliud est, quam Šterna productio communicatioque naturŠ, in qua illud est, ut in tempore opus aliquod externum appareat. Sicut, 'Patrem docere Filium,' est doctum et scientem genuisse, ut auctor Breviarii scribit, et 'judicium dare Filio' est judicem ipsum gignere, ut ait Chrysostomus, sic 'mitti a Patre Filium' est gigni naturam hominis assumpturum et suo tempore assumentem ... Non enim cogitandum est, duas ac separatas esse processiones PersonŠ Filii, quarum una est Šterna, altera temporalis." De Trin. viii, i. ž 10.

And the same doctrine, I suppose, is implied in the words which St. Thomas quotes from St. Augustine, QuŠst. 34. art. 3: "In nomine Verbi significatur, non solum respectus ad Patrem, sed etiam ad illa quŠ per Verbum facta sunt operativa potentia;" on which St. {232} Thomas says: "Importatur in Verbo ratio factiva eorum quŠ Deus fecit." [Note 1]

This connexion between the Divine act of the gennesis and the Divine act of the creation, real as it was, was pushed to that extreme by early theologians, as to lead to their holding that, if the gennesis was from eternity, so was the creation, and, if the creation was not from eternity, neither was the gennesis. From this common ground two schools took their start, but in opposite directions; the one holding that each of the two Divine acts, the other that neither of them, was from eternity. And of these schools two great writers may be considered the representatives respectively; of whom Origen affirmed that the creation was from eternity, as well as the gennesis, and Tertullian affirmed that the gennesis had a beginning as well as the creation.

1. Origen, for instance, says: "As there cannot be a Father without there being a Son, nor an owner without there being a possession ... so neither can God be called Omnipotent, unless He has those on whom to exercise power; and therefore, that He may be shown to be Omnipotent, all things must necessarily subsist." de Princ. i. 2, 10.

Tertullian, on the other hand:—"Because God is a Father, and God is a Judge, it does not therefore follow that He was Father and Judge always, because He was {233} God always. For He could not be Father before there was a Son, nor a Judge before there was sin. There was a time when neither sin nor Son was,—sin to make the Lord a Judge, Son to make Him a Father." contr. Hermog. iii.

2. But here I remark as to Origen's doctrine, that he held the eternity of the gennesis, not as a mere deduction from his general doctrine of the eternity of creation, as if the Son were one of the creatures, and gennesis a kind of creation; for, in passages preserved by Athanasius, he expressly says that the Son is from eternity because He is from and in God, and is co-eternal in His eternity. "When was not in being that Image of the Father's ineffable and nameless and unutterable subsistence, that Impress and Word, who knows the Father? for let him understand well, who dares to say, 'Once the Son was not,' that he is saying 'Once Wisdom was not,' and 'Word was not,' 'Life was not.'" Again: "It is not lawful, nor without peril, if, because of the difficulty of understanding it, we deprive God, as far as in us lies, of the Only-begotten Word, ever co-existing with Him." de Decr. 27. Thus Origen includes the Son, not in the world's eternity, but in God's eternity.

And, on the other hand, as regards Tertullian's denial of our Lord's eternity as the Son, we must not thence at once conclude, that he denied the eternity of His hypostasis as the Word. Indeed, his strong expressions in enunciating the Catholic dogma of the Trinity, some of which I have quoted above, necessarily include substantial orthodoxy in respect to its separate portions. What do his reiterated {234} notices mean of the Divine Triad, of the Three Persons, Each of Them God and one and the same God, and his placing Them on one line, equal except in order of naming Them, (for instance, "Duos definimus Patrem et Filium, etiam Tres cum Spiritu Sancto,") if They were not in some true sense Three from all eternity? He whom he called the Son was no other than the Eternal Word, even though the name "Son" belonged to Him only upon His becoming the Creator of all things.

3. Again, as to Origen's notion of the eternity of the Universe, it must be recollected that, though in matter of fact creation is not from eternity, yet it might have been, had God so willed. At least so says Suarez: "Duobus modis posse rem aliquam vel productionem esse Šternam, uno modo ex intrinseca necessitate sua, quomodo Divini Verbi generatio Šterna est; alio modo absque necessitate simpliciter ex libertate causŠ volentis ex Šternitate eam efficere. Repugnat creationi quod sit ab intrinseco Šterna. Non est de ratione creationis novitas essendi actualis, &c. Negatur Šternitatem repugnare rationi creaturŠ. Ad Patres dici potest, loqui ex suppositione fidei, quŠ docet nullam creaturam esse ab Šterno creatam." Metaph. p. 1., pp. 409, 410, 412, ed. 1751. It must be recollected, too, that St. Thomas lays it down, "Quod mundum incepisse, sola fide tenetur, et demonstrative probari non potest." And he says: "Voluntas Dei ratione investigari non potest, nisi circa ea quŠ absolute necesse est Deum velle." QuŠst. 46. art. 2. That in Origen's time the "Novitas rerum creatarum" could be called an article of faith, is very doubtful. {235}

And then, on the other hand, as to Tertullian; it is true that to suppose the gennesis to be a divine act, not from eternity, but in time, is an offence, not only against the perfection of the Triad, but primarily against the simplicity and unchangeableness of the Divine Monad; but much may be said in his excuse. His religious knowledge was not ours: truths are taken for granted now on all hands, which had to be learned one by one then. The "de Deo" was not yet a formal theological treatise, familiar to the Schools, and found but a poor substitute in the writings or the floating dicta of heathen philosophy, recommended though they might be to Christian writers by reason of the Being or Attributes of God being natural truths, and only indirectly belonging to Revelation. Now it was in regard to the simplicity of the Divine Nature, that Plato and his numerous followers, with their doctrine of Divine Ideas, were most in fault. Moreover, if creation, as Tertullian rightly held, was a temporal act, while it was a received maxim, as Victorinus lays it down, "Facere motus est," [Note 2] he would not feel the force of that objection to a temporal divine birth, afterwards urged by the Arians (e.g. by Candidus, Galland, Bibl. t. viii. p. 140), viz., "Omnis generatio mutatio quŠdam est." And again, he might argue, that such a temporal act need not be inconsistent with the Divine Immutability, though human reason could not see how it was consistent with it, supposing there was no violation on the other hand of the Divine Unity, hard {236} as it was to understand this, in the dogma of a Tri-une God. And in corroboration we must consider, that even now among orthodox believers external to the Church, there is much confusion in their conception of the Son and the Spirit, as if these Divine Persons were in the Divine Nature rather than directly God, a confusion of thought inconsistent with a clear apprehension of His absolute simplicity and unity.

With this introduction, let us now collect the suffrages, so to speak, of Eastern, Western, and Alexandrian authors for and against the Temporal Gennesis; that is, the tenet that the Hypostatic Word was the Son, not from everlasting, but by a Divine act coincident with or equivalent to His manifestation as Prophoric, when in the beginning of all things He proceeded from the Father by a syncatabasis, to create, inform, and govern the universe, material and spiritual.

I shall take the Alexandrians first, then the Orientals or Asiatics, and lastly the Western or Latin writers.

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Notes

1. And so Augustine again, "Si, ut Deus, prŠceptum accepit, nascendo id accepit non indigendo. In Verbo enim Unico Dei omnia prŠcepta sunt Dei, quŠ ille gignens dedit nascenti." contr. Maxim. ii. 14, 9.
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2. ap. Galland Bibl. t. viii. p. 149. Vid. also Origen, ap. Method. [metaballein ton atrepton sumbesetai, ei husteron pepoieke to pan].
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