7. The second opportunity opened to the heresy, the Syncatabasis of the Son

{192} If all that was told us in Revelation about the Holy Trinity was of the same character as the information conveyed in the form of baptism, if we only learned from the inspired word about One Name, the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to whom religious service was to be paid, then it would be a reasonable surprise to find writers of the early centuries departing from the theological tone of that sacred formula, and using language derogatory to the supreme dignity of the Son and Spirit. But the case is otherwise; although Scripture tells us not a little concerning those Divine Persons, as They are in Themselves, it tells us much more about Them, as They are to us, in those ministrative offices towards creation, towards the Universe and towards mankind, which from the first They have exercised in contrariety to our higher conceptions of Them. Nor without reason; for it is by means of Their voluntary graciousness that man primarily has any knowledge of Them at all; since, except for that condescension, to use St. Athanasius's word, man would not have existed, man would not have been redeemed or illuminated. It is reserved for the close of that series of Dispensations which has innovated upon Eternity, for God to manifest Himself as in Eternity He was and ever has been, as "All in all," and "as He is;" hitherto, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear {193} heard" what He is in Himself; and, in particular as regards the Son and the Spirit, we know them mainly in Their economical aspect, as our Mediator and our Paraclete.

It is natural then, in spite of the baptismal formula, for Christians at all times, without guarding their words, to speak of the Second and Third Divine Persons as subordinate to the Father; for that Economy is the very state of things into which we are all born. St. Michael, indeed, and St. Gabriel, may have had almost from the first a Beatific Vision beyond all economies; but it was natural in St. Polycarp at the stake to address the Father through "the eternal High Priest;" and in St. Justin, when disputing with Trypho, to speak of the "Prophetical Spirit," for such are the pledged relations in which those Divine Persons are revealed towards us in the covenant of Mercy, and no experience had yet taught Saints and Martyrs that such language admitted of perversion.

Moreover, this Syncatabasis, or economy of condescension, on the part of the Son and Spirit, took place, not from the era of redemption merely, but, as I have remarked, from the beginning of all things; and this is a point which, as regards the Eternal Son, must be especially insisted on here. As to the Incarnation, it would have been hard, if the early Fathers might not, without the risk of misconception, have spoken of our Lord, in the acts of His human nature, as inferior to the Father, though even in this respect they have not always escaped censure; but there is in Scripture a record of acts before the Incarnation, which the Church, following {194} Scripture, has ever ascribed to Him, and which come short of His Supreme Majesty,—acts which belong to Him, not as man of course, nor yet simply as God, not to His Divine Nature, but, as I may say, to His Person, and to the special Office which it was congruous to His Person to undertake, and which He did voluntarily undertake, as being the Son and Word of the Father,—acts, which, if it was in the divine decrees that a universe of matter and spirit should be created, were ipso facto made obligatory on the Creator from the very idea of creation, and of necessity must proceed from Him, while they were in themselves of a ministrative character [Note]. I refer to that series or that tissue (as it may be called) of acts of creation, preservation, governance, correction, providence, which the Ante-Nicene theologian could not avoid dwelling on, and attributing to the Son, and treating as acts of ministration, (as they really were,) and describing in terms, (whether he would or no,) which heresy would pervert, supposing, in the presence of idolaters and atheists, he was to speak of the Supreme Being at all. Only an Almighty, Ever-present Intelligence is equal to the maintenance of this vast, minutely complex universe; its existence and continuance is His never-ceasing work; but work, as such, is ministration, as being a means to {195} an end; to rule is to serve; to be the Creator is to descend: and the Second Divine Person, in order to create, submitted to a descent, as was befitting in a Son, and as was compatible, rigorously so, with His co-equality and indivisible unity with the Father.

Nor is this all; whatever anxious care might be taken in guarding the doctrine of His divinity, the contrast between His Eternal Sonship and this Temporal Ministration, reasonable and intelligible as it is in itself, cannot be carried out into the details which Scripture opens upon our view, without affecting our imagination, as if such a ministry were incompatible with Divine Attributes. I mean, if St. Justin, or Clement, or Origen, spoke of our Lord as the Demiurge, or the Moral Governor, or the Judge, such offices indeed, though ministrative, would not seem unworthy of Divine Greatness; but if, with Athanasius and Augustine to corroborate them, they spoke of Him as the God who appeared to the Patriarchs, as the Divine Presence (for instance) or Angel who visited Abraham in his tent, or who spoke to Jacob from the heavenly ladder, or who called to Moses from the Burning Bush, they could not escape the imputation, where critics were unfair, of regarding Him as a secondary or representative deity, as Arius did, though they may be easily defended on the score that they spoke, not of what He was in His own nature, but of the mission which He undertook in the economy of grace. And therefore it may be quite true, without their being to blame, that they have in matter of fact accidentally opened the way or furnished an excuse for heresy.

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i.e., ministration to the creature; hence the Epicureans denied a Providence, as implying a God laden with laborious service. But Scripture does not hesitate to speak of God as "carrying" His people, as the eagle its young or as beasts of burden the idols, as "serving and being wearied" with their sins, as "groaning" under them, as a wain overladen; Deut. xxxii. 11; Isai. xlvi. 1-3; xliii 24; Amos ii. 13.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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