§ 5. The first opportunity opened to the heresy, the Principatus of the Father

{167} The Principatus of the Father is a great Catholic truth, and was taught in the Church after the Nicene Council as well as before it; but on the other hand, it might easily be perverted into a shape favourable to Semi-Arianism. This danger is so obvious, that I shall have chiefly to employ myself in this Section in defending the doctrine, not in showing its capability of perversion. Let us consider the place it holds in the Catholic system.

No subject was more constantly and directly before the Christian intellect in the first centuries of the Church than the doctrine of the Monarchia [Note 1]. That there was but one First Principle of all things was a fundamental doctrine of all Catholics, orthodox and heterodox alike; and it was the starting-point of heterodox as well as of orthodox speculation. To the orthodox believer, however, it brought with it a perplexity, which it did not occasion to the adherents of those shallow systems which led to heresy. Christianity began its teaching by denouncing polytheism as absurd and wicked; but the retort on the part of the polytheist was obvious:—Christianity taught a Divine Trinity: how was this consistent with its profession of a Monarchy? on the other hand, if there was {168} a Divine Monarchia, how was not Sabellius right in denying the distinction of Persons in the Divine Essence? or, if not Sabellius, then Arius, who degraded Son and Spirit to the condition of creatures? Polytheists, Sabellians, Arians, it might be objected, had more to say for themselves in this matter than Catholics.

Catholic theologians met this difficulty, both before and after the Nicene Council, by insisting on the unity of origin, which they taught as existing in the Divine Triad, the Son and Spirit having a communicated divinity from the Father, and a personal unity with Him; the Three Persons being internal to the Divine Essence, unlike the polytheism of the Greeks and Romans, the tritheism of Marcion and the Manichees, and the Archical Hypostases of Plotinus. Thus Hippolytus says: "I say, 'Another,' not two Gods, but as light from light, as water from a spring, or a ray from the sun." And Hilary, in the fourth century, confirms him, saying, "The Father does not lose His attribute of being the One God, because the Son also is God, for the Son is God from God, One from One, therefore One God, because God from Himself." De Trin. iv. 15. And Athanasius, "We preserve One Origin of Divinity, and not two Origins, whence there is properly a Monarchy." Orat. iv. 1.

It was for the same reason that the Father was called God absolutely, while the Second and Third Persons were designated by Their personal names of "the Son," or "the Word," and "the Holy Ghost;" viz. because they are to be regarded, not as separated from, but as inherent in the Father. {169}

In this enunciation of the august Mystery they were supported by the usage of Scripture, and by the nature of the case; since the very notion of a Father carries with it a claim to priority and precedence in the order of our ideas, even when in no other respect he has any superiority over those on whom he has this claim. There is One God then, they would say, "not only because the Three Persons are in one usia, or substance (though this reason is good too), but because the Second and Third stand to the First in the relation of derivation, and therefore are included in their Origin as soon as named; so that, in confessing One Father or Origin, we are not omitting, but including, those Persons whom the very name of the One Father or Origin necessarily implies." At the same time it is plain, that this method of viewing the Unity as centered in its Origin, and the Monarchia as equivalent to the Monas, might be perverted into a Semi-Arian denial of the proper divinity of Son and Spirit, if ever They were supposed, by reason of Their derivation, to be emanations, and therefore external to the Essence of the Father.

Nor is this all that has to be said upon this point. St. John translates our Lord's words (for the vernacular in which He spoke can only be conjectured), "I and the Father are one," by the neuter "Unum;" and he himself, if the passage be his, says: "These Three are one (unum)." In like manner Tertullian says: "They are all one (unum), by unity of substance." Other Fathers say the same. But this use of the neuter had this inconvenience, that it seemed to imply a fourth reality in the Divine Being, over and above the Three Persons, of which {170} the Three Persons partook; as if the Divine Unity were a physical whole; or, if not that, a logical species, which implies Tritheism. This is what the Antiochene Fathers, in the case of Paulus, seem to have feared would follow from the use of the word homoüsion, which in consequence they put aside; and we may understand their feeling on the subject, from the harshness with which Eusebius's statement falls upon the ear, when, in the passage quoted above, p. 157, he speaks of the Triad as attached or belonging to ([exertemene]) One Divine Nature.

It might seem safer then, as avoiding the chance of misapprehension, to substitute "unus" for "unum," as Augustine has done, and other Fathers, and the Athanasian and other Creeds; "unus" expressing any one or other of the Three Persons, since Each of Them (no matter which of Them is taken) is the One God [Note 2]. But at an earlier date, especially before the Nicene Council, though after it also, the chance of mistake was avoided by contemplating the usia or substance of divinity as it resided in the Father, and considering the Person of the Father as symbolical of the unity of substance in the Three, there being no real distinction in fact between the Father's substance and Person;—I say the First Person, and not the Second or Third, both because He had the priority of order as being the Father, and also because the Divine Father was already known to the Jews, not to say to the heathen. Thus, instead of saying "Father, Son, and Spirit, are one {171} substance (unum)," they would say "In one God and Father are the Son and Spirit;" the words "One Father" standing not only for the Person of the Father, but connoting that sole Divine substance which is one with His Person. Thus, Pope Dionysius, after insisting on the Divine Monarchia, says, "The God of the Universe and the Divine Word are One, and the Holy Ghost must repose and dwell in God; thus in One, as in a summit, I mean the God of the Universe, must the Divine Trinity be gathered up and brought together." Here "the God of the Universe" is not a Fourth, but stands for "the Father," and is equivalent to the One Divine Substance as well as to the First Divine Person, and in Him the Triad of Persons is summed up as One. And thus Eusebius's language of the [exertemene trias] is by anticipation corrected, not, however, in Augustine's way, by saying that the Three Persons are the "Unus Deus," where "unus" is used indefinitely, but by saying definitely that the Father is the "Unus Deus," with the explanation or understanding that the Son and Spirit are in Him. Thus, Epiphanius, illustrating the more ancient mode of securing the Unity through the Monarchia, says, "The Son glorified the Father, that the glory due to the Father might be referred on by the Son to the One Unity." Haer. lxix. 53.

I know all this will appear to many men very subtle writing; but they must please to recollect that, when we are treating of matters which we only know in part, our language necessarily seems subtle to those who are determined to know nothing unless they know everything; and that to those who only know Euclid, the reasonings {172} and formulę of the higher mathematics are so subtle as to be simply unintelligible. The subtlety of inquiry which is demanded by this high theological dogma is the consequence of the fundamental mystery that the Three Persons are Each really identical with the One Divine Essence, that is, Each really and entirely God, yet Each really distinct from the Other [Note 3]. However it is plain that to view the Person of the Father as the same as the Divine Essence, and to refer the Son and the Spirit to Him as the representative of that Divine Essence, was to ascribe a Monarchia or Principatus to the Father in a very emphatic way, and a sort of subordination to the Son and the Spirit, which, scriptural though it was, became a handle to Semi-Arianism, or even a suggestion of it. Therefore, I believe it was that, after the experience of that heresy, for Tertullian's "The Three are Unum," which was inconvenient on the one side, was substituted by St. Augustine, not "The Three are summed up in the First of them," which was inconvenient on the other, but the phrase "The Three are Unus," in which "unus" stands indeterminately for Either of the Three, somewhat in the sense of an individuum vagum.

The word "subordination," which I used just now, is a word of Bishop Bull's, and leads me to refer to the chapter of his "Defensio Fidei Nicenę," in which he treats professedly "De Subordinatione Filii." It is by this aspect of the Sonship that he would account, and {173} rightly, for various passages in the Ante-Nicene Fathers which have been considered to savour of Semi-Arianism. His explanation of the "subordinatio" is as follows:—

"Naturam perfectionesque divinas Patri Filioque competere et non collateraliter aut co-ordinate, sed subordinate, hoc est, Filium eandem quidem naturam divinam cum Patre communem habere, sed a Patre communicatam, ita scilicet ut Pater solus naturam illam divinam a se habeat, sive a nullo alio, Filius autem a Patre." Hence, "Deum Patrem, etiam secundum divinitatem Filio majorem esse, nempe non natura quidem aut perfectione aliqua essentiali, quae in Patre sit et non in Filio, sed auctoritate sua sola, hoc est, origine, quoniam a Patre est Filius, non a Filio Pater."

Bull, in spite of his acuteness and learning, seems to have worded this sentence incautiously. He says rightly that the Father is not "natura," but "auctoritate sola," greater than the Son; but if so, why does he say that the Father is "etiam secundum divinitatem Filio major?" whereas the Athanasian Creed says distinctly of the Son, "ęqualis Patri secundum divinitatem," and again, "Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas," which does not admit of more or less. I consider that what Bull really meant to say in the foregoing passage was that it was a subordination which was interior to the Divine Essence and "secundum filietatem."

In thus speaking then Bull is unjust to his own meaning; when we consider what he really would say, we shall find nothing to criticize in it. I understand his meaning to be, that, without derogating from the absolute co-equality {174} of the Three Persons in the Divine Essence, each of these being in Himself the one, same, and sole God, in the fulness of His being and attributes, nevertheless there is an aspect in which God the Father is personally greater than God the Son, and that the very idea of fatherhood implies a priority to sonship in dignity and order. This also is the doctrine of Petavius, as of all Catholic divines; viz. "Patrem ita dici majorem Filio, qua Filius est, vel qua genitus est, ut non major eodem dicatur qua Deus est, vel secundum naturam et essentiam ... Filietas ipsa Paternitate quodammodo minor dicitur, vel Filius, qua Filius, Patre, ut Pater est, minor dicitur, quoniam origine est posterior, non autem ut Deus, hoc est, ratione divinitatis, nisi quatenus proprietate hęc afficitur." De Trin. ii. 2, 15.

In like manner Thomassin and Maran speak of the Second Person as being the lesser "in quibusdam adjunctis," of a "gradatio Personarum," of a "discrimen ordinis," of (in Tertullian's words) a "decursus Personarum per gradus," of an "ordinis ratio," nay even of a "ministratio," or "subjectio" of the Son.

For myself, returning to Bull, I would rather avoid his word "subordination" in its application to our Lord, since, however grammatically exact, in its effect it is misleading, and I am able to do so by attaching the term discriminative of the Father and the Son in this aspect, not to the latter, but to the former, in keeping with St. Hilary's felicitous paradox, that "The Father is the greater without the Son being the lesser;" vid. Hil. de Trin. ix. 56, p. 1022. Therefore instead of the "subordinatio Filii," let us speak of the "Principatus Patris." {175}

I have fully allowed that the Principatus in the Ante-Nicene times was one of those doctrines which gave a shelter to the Semi-Arian heresy which came afterwards; and I think I have shown, even in the instance of a clear-headed divine like Bull, who desires with his whole heart to believe with Athanasius, that it is easy so to hold it as to be on the verge of heresy. However, I still consider it as an important doctrine, and valuable now not less than when it was more insisted on. It is remarkable that the great Fathers of the fourth century, with their full experience of Arianism, nevertheless continued to enunciate it. What Basil and Gregory did, we, under the guidance and correction of the Church, may safely do also; and if safely, profitably. There cannot be clearer evidence how little the rise of Arianism indisposed them towards the doctrine of the Principatus, than their unanimous interpretation of our Lord's words in John xiv., "My Father is greater than I," of our Lord's Divine Nature. These words, from their context, would certainly seem to be spoken of His humanity. He says, "If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice because I said, I go to the Father, for My Father is greater than I." In His Divine Nature He was not "going" to Him, but as man; therefore the Father's superiority to him must be spoken of Him as man. But in spite of the direct sense of the words, they are interpreted of our Lord's divinity by almost a consensus Patrum in the fourth and fifth centuries; as Petavius enumerates, by Alexander and Athanasius, Basil and Gregory, Chrysostom, Cyril, and John of Damascus among the Greeks; and by Hilary, Augustine and others among the Latins; {176} though some of them, especially Augustine, interpret them also of our Lord's human nature.

And not only as regards a particular text, but in the staple of their teaching they enforce the Principatus of the Father as pointedly as any Ante-Nicene writer.

Thus, if Hippolytus says, "The Father willed, the Son executed," Athanasius responds, "Men were made through the Word when the Father willed;" and, "The works, when He willed, He framed through the Word." Orat. i. 29, 63.

Again, if Hippolytus says, "The Father bids ([entelletai]), the Word acknowledges," and "He who commands ([keleuon]) is the Father, He who gives ear ([hupakouei]) is the Son;" and if St. Irenęus asks, "Whom else did He enjoin?" (pręcepit) and speaks of the Father being "well pleased and commanding" ([keleuontos]), and of the Son "doing and framing;"—St. Cyril of Jerusalem replies, "The Father bade ([entellomenou]) and the Son constructed all things at His fiat ([neumati])," Cat. xi. 23; and St. Hilary says, that "the Son was subject by the compliance of obedience (subditus per obedientię sequelam)," de Syn. 51; and St. Athanasius, "A Word there must be whom God bids ([entelletai])," Decr. 9; and St. Phœbadius, "The Son is subject to the Father, on the ground of their being Father and Son," contr. Ar. 15, ap. Galland. t. 5.

In like manner St. Justin says, on the one hand, that "The Lord ministered ([huperetounta]) to the Father of all;" and Origen, "The Word became minister ([huperetes]);" and Theophilus designates him as [hupourgos]; but, on the other hand, Athanasius says, "Let the Word work the materials, {177} being bidden and working under God" ([prostattomenos kai hupourgon]), Orat. ii. 22; and Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of Him as "obedient" ([eupeithes]), Cat. x. 5; and St. Hilary, after naming His "subjection," de Syn. 51, adds (as also more fully, ibid. 79), that His "subjectio" is "naturae pietas," not "creationis infirmitas."

Clement again, ere yet a heretical spirit had wrested words, and the orthodox had become suspicious of them, had said that "the Son's Nature is the closest to the sole Almighty;" but Alexander, in the very heat of the Arian controversy, could also speak of there being between the Father and the universe a "mediating, only-begotten Nature, by whom all things were created," ap. Theod. Hist. i. 4.

I will add three longer passages from Fathers still later than the above, of special authority, and independent one of another.

1. St. Gregory Nazianzen:—"If, when we say that the Father, in being the cause ([toi aitioi]) of the Son, is greater than the Son, they assume the proposition, 'The being a cause belongs to a being's nature,' and then conclude that that 'greater' belongs to the Father's nature, they seem to be damaging their own reasoning rather than that of their opponents ... For we grant that it is the nature of a cause to be greater, but they infer that that is greater in its nature, which is a cause." Orat. xxix. 15. And "If the Father were called 'greater,' and not also called 'equal,' perhaps there would be some force in what they allege; but if we find clearly both 'equal' and 'greater,' what will the good men say? ... Is it not plain that {178} 'greater' refers to cause, and 'equal' to nature?" Orat. xxx. 7.

2. St. Ambrose:—"The Son cannot do anything but what He has learned from the Father, because He is the everlastingly abiding Word of God; nor at any time is the Father divided from the Son's working, and what the Son works, He knows that the Father wills, and what the Father wills that the Son knows how to work." de Sp. S. ii. 12, n. 135.

3. And St. Augustine:—"When there are two men, father and son, if the son is obedient to the father, and when there is reason, asks his father, thanks his father, and is sent some whither by his father, on which he declares that he has not come to do his own will, but the will of him by whom he is sent, now does it follow from hence, that he is not of the same substance with his father? Why, then, when you read such things of the Son of God, do you at once rush into so great a sacrilege of heart and word, as to believe and profess that the Son of God is not one and the same substance with the Father?" contr. Maxim. ii. 3, p. 708.

Though Augustine in this extract lays down with much distinctness the doctrine of the Principatus, yet the tendency of his theology—certainly that of the times that followed—was to throw that doctrine into the background. The abuse of it by the Arians is a full explanation of this neglect of it. However, what St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, and St. Basil taught, never can be put aside. It is as true now as when those great Fathers enunciated it; and if true, it cannot be ignored without some detriment to the fulness and the symmetry of the Catholic dogma. {179}

One obvious use of it is to facilitate to the imagination the descent of the Divine Nature to the human, as revealed in the doctrine of the Incarnation; the Eternal Son of God becoming by a second birth the Son of God in time, is a line of thought which preserves to us the continuity of idea in the Divine Revelation; whereas, if we say abruptly that the Supreme Being became the Son of Mary, this, however true when taken by itself, still by reason of the infinite distance between God and man, acts in the direction of the Nestorian error of a Christ with two Persons, as certainly as the doctrine of the Principatus, when taken by itself, favours the Arian error of a merely human Christ. The Principatus then is the formal safeguard of the Faith against Nestorianism. And (if the thought is not too bold) I may suggest, in coincidence with what I have been saying, that the heresy of Nestorius did, in matter of fact, immediately spring into existence upon this reaction; and St. Augustine, to whom we owe so much for what he has written on the Holy Trinity, lived long enough to be invited on his death-bed to the Ephesian Council summoned by St. Cyril for the condemnation of the Nestorian teaching.

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1. Vid. references in Suicer in voc. and in Forbes's Instruct. Hist. i. 18 and 33.
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2. Hilary, in the fourth century, refuses to admit "unus;" "ut unum in fide nostra sint uterque, non unus." De Trin. i. 17.
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3. "Non omittendum personas tres, etsi invicem reipsa distant, re tamen idem esse cum essentia, et ab ea nonnisi ratione discrepare." Petav. De Trin. iii. 11, 7.
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