Note 2. The Doctrine of the Divine Gennesis according to the early Fathers
(Vide supra, p. 240.)

{416} ALREADY in the Notes (Oxf.) on Athanasius (Ath. Tr. pp. 272-280), and in Dissert. Theolog. iii. I have explained my difficulty in following Bull and others in the interpretation they assign to certain statements made in the first age of the Church concerning the Divine Sonship. Those statements, taken in their letter, are to the effect that our Lord was the word of God before He was the Son; that, though, as the Word, He was from eternity, His gennesis is in essential connexion both with the design and the fact of creation; that He was born indeed of the Father apart from all time, but still with a definite relation to that beginning of time when the creation took place, and though born, and not created, nevertheless born definitely in order to create.

Before the Nicene Council, of the various Schools of the Church, the Alexandrian alone, is distinctly clear of this doctrine; and even after the Council it is found in the West, in Upper Italy, Rome, and Africa; France, as represented by Hilary [Note 1] and Phœbadius, having no part in it. Nay, at Nicæa when that doctrine lay in the way of the Council to condemn it, it was not distinctly condemned, though to pass it over was in fact to give it some countenance. Bull indeed considers it was even recognized indirectly by the assembled Fathers, in their anathematizing those who contradicted its distinctive formula, "He was before He was born;" in this (as I have {417} said in the Notes on Athanasius), I cannot agree with him, but at least it is unaccountable that the Fathers should not have guarded their anathema from Bull's easy misinterpretation of it, if the opinion which it seems to countenance was as much reprobated then, as it rightly is now.

The opinion which I have been describing is, as far as words go, definitely held by Justin, Tatian, Theophilus, Methodius, in the East; by Hippolytus, Tertullian, Novatian, Lactantius, Zeno, and Victorinus, in the West; and that with so plain an identity of view in these various writers, and with such exact characteristics, that we cannot explain it away into carelessness of writing, personal idiosyncracy, or the influence of some particular school; but are forced to consider it as the common property of them all, so that we may interpret one writer by the other, and illustrate or supply from the rest what is obscure or deficient in each.

For instance: Justin says, "He was begotten, when God at the beginning through Him created and adorned all things" (Ap. ii. 6). "Not a perfect Son, without the flesh, though a perfect Word," says Hippolytus, "being the Only-begotten, … whom God called 'Son,' because He was to become such" (contr. Noet. 15) ... "There was a time when the Son was not," says Tertullian (adv. Herm. 3); "He proceeds unto a birth," says Zeno, "He who was, before He was born" (Tract. ii. 3).

There can be no doubt what the literal sense is of words such as these, and that in consequence they require some accommodation in order to reconcile them with the received Catholic teaching de Deo and de SS. Trinitate. It is the object of Bull, as of others after him, to effect this reconciliation. He thinks it a plain duty both to the authors in question and to the Church, at whatever cost, to reconcile their statements in all respects with the orthodox belief; but unless he had felt it a duty, I do not think he would {418} have ventured upon it. He would have taken them in their literal sense, had he found them in the writing of some Puritan or Quaker. If so, his defence of them is but a confirmation of a foregone conclusion; he starts with the assumption that the words of the early writers cannot mean what they naturally do mean; and, though this bias is worthy of all respect, still the fact that it exists is a call on us to examine closely arguments which without it would not have been used. And what I have said of Bull applies of course to others, such as Maran and the Ballerini, who have followed in his track.

Bull then maintains that the terms "generation," "birth," and the like, which occur in the passages of the authors in question, must be accommodated to a literary sense, that is, taken figuratively, or impropriè, to mean merely our Lord's going forth to create, and the great manifestation of the Sonship made in and to the universe at its creation; and on these grounds:—1. The terms used cannot be taken literally, from the fact that in those very passages, or at least in other passages of the same authors, His co-eternity with the Father is expressly affirmed. 2. And they must be taken figuratively, first, because in those passages they actually stand in connexion with mention of His forthcoming or mission to create; and next, because unsuspected authors, such as Athanasius, distinctly connect His creative office with His title of "First-born," which belongs to His nature.

Now I do not think these arguments will stand; as to the negative argument, it is true that the Fathers, who speak of the gennesis as having a relation to time and to creation, do in the same passages or elsewhere speak of the eternity of the Word. Doubtless; but no one says that these Fathers deny His eternity, as the Word, but His eternity as the Son. Bull ought to bring passages in which they declare the Son and His gennesis to be eternal.

As to the positive argument, if they recognized, as he thinks, {419} any gennesis besides that which had a relation to creation, and which he maintains to be only figuratively a gennesis, viz. an eternal gennesis from the substance of the Father, why do they not say so? do they ever compare and contrast the two births with each other? do they ever recognize them as two, one real and eternal, the other just before time; the one proper, the other metaphorical? We know they held a gennesis in order to creation, or with a relation to time; what reason have we for holding that they held any other? and what reason for saying that the gennesis which they connect with creation was not in their minds a real gennesis, that is, such a gennesis as we all now hold, all but, as they expressly state, its not being from eternity?

In other words, what reason have we for saying that the term gennesis is figurative in their use of it? It is true indeed that both the Son's gennesis and also His forthcoming, mission, or manifestation are sometimes mentioned together by these writers in the same sentence; but that does not prove they are not in their minds separate Divine acts; for His creation of the world is mentioned in such passages too, and as His creation of the world is not His mission, therefore His mission need not be His gennesis; and again, as His creating is (in their teaching) concurrent with His mission, so His mission may (in their teaching) be concurrent with His gennesis.

Nor are such expositions of the title "First-born of creation," as Athanasius has so beautifully given us, to the purpose of Bull. Bull takes it to show that gennesis may be considered to be a mission or forthcoming; whereas Athanasius does not mean by the "First-born" any gennesis of our Lord from the Father at all, but he simply means His coming to the creature, that is, His exalting the creature into a Divine sonship by a union with His own Sonship. The Word applies His own Sonship to the creation, and makes Himself, who is the real Son, the first and the representative of a family of {420} adopted sons [Note 2]; the term expresses a relation, not towards God, but towards the creature. This Athanasius says expressly: "It is nowhere written [of the Son] in the Scriptures, 'the First-born of God,' nor 'the creature of God,' but it is 'Only-begotten,' and 'Son,' and 'Word,' and 'Wisdom,' that have relation to the Father. The same cannot be both Only-begotten and First-born, except in different relations,—Only-begotten because of His gennesis, First-born because of His condescension." Thus Athanasius expressly denies that, because our Lord is First-born at and to the creation, therefore He can be said to be begotten at the creation; "Only-begotten" is internal to the Divine Essence; "First-born" external to It: the one is a word of nature, the other, of office. If then the authors, whom Bull is defending, had wished to express a figurative gennesis, they would always have used the word "First-born," never "Only-begotten:" and never have associated the generation from the Father with the coming forth to create. It is true they sometimes associate the Word's creative office with the term "First-born;" but they also associate it with "Only-begotten."

There seems no reason then why the words of Theophilus, Hippolytus, and the rest should not be taken in their obvious sense; and so far I agree with Petavius against Bull, Fabricius, Maran, the Ballerini, and Routh. But, this being granted, still I am not disposed to follow Petavius in his severe criticism upon those Fathers, and for the following reasons:—

1. They considered the "Theos Logos" to be really distinct from God, (that is, the Father,) not a mere attribute, quality, or power, as the Sabellians did, and do.

2. They considered Him to be distinct from God from everlasting.

3. Since, as Dionysius says, "He who speaks is father of his words," they considered the Logos always to be of the nature of a Son. Hence Zeno says He was from everlasting {421} "Filii non sine affectu," and Hippolytus, [teleios logos, on monogenes].

4. They considered, to use the Scripture term, that He was "in utero Patris" before His actual gennesis. Victorinus applies the word "fœtus" to Him; "Non enim fœtus non est ante partum; sed in occulto est; generatio est manifestatio" (apud Galland, v. 8, p. 146, col. 2). Zeno says that He "prodivit ex ore Dei ut rerum naturam fingeret," "cordis ejus nobilis inquilinus," and was embraced by the Father "profundo suæ sacræ mentis arcano sine revelamine."

5. Hippolytus even considered that the perfection of His Sonship was not attained till His incarnation, [teleios logos huios ateles]; but even he recognized the identity of the Son with the Logos.

6. Further, this change of the Logos into the Son was internal to the Divine Mind, Tertull. adv. Prax. 8. contr. Hermog. 18, and therefore was unlike the probole of the Gnostics.

7. Such an opinion was not only not inconsistent with the Homoüsion, but implied it. It took for granted that the Son was from the substance of the Father, and consubstantial with Him; though it implied a very defective view of the immutability and simplicity of the Divine Essence.

8. Accordingly, though I cannot allow that it was actually protected at the Council by the anathema on those who said that our Lord "was not before He was born," at least it was passed over on an occasion when the Arian error had to be definitively reprobated.

This may be said in its favour: but then, on the other hand,—

1. It seriously compromised, as I have said, the simplicity and immutability of the Divine Essence.

2. It could be resolved, with very little alteration, into Semi-Arianism on the one hand, or into Sabellianism on the other. {422}

3. On this account it had all along been resisted with definiteness and earnestness by the Fathers of the Alexandrian School, by whom finally it was eradicated. Origen urges the doctrine of the [aeigennes]; "Perfect Son from Perfect Father," says Gregory Thaumaturgus in his creed; "The Father being everlasting the Son is everlasting," says Dionysius; "The Father," says Alexander, "is ever Father of the ever-present Son," and Athanasius reprobates the [logos en toi theoi ateles, gennetheis teleios] (Orat. iv. ii). Hence Gregory Nazianzen in like manner condemns the [atele proteron, eita teleion hosper nomos hemeteros geneseos] (Orat. xx. 9, fin.). And at length it was classed, and duly, among the heresies. "Alia (hæresis)," says Augustine, "sempiternè natum non intelligens Filium, putat illam nativitatem sumpsisse à tempore initium; et tamen volens coæternum Patri Filium confiteri, apud illum fuisse, antequàm de illo nasceretur, existimat; hoc est, semper eum fuisse, veruntamen semper eum Filium non fuisse, sed ex quo de illo natus est, Filium esse cœpisse" (Hær. 50).

However, this subject should be treated at greater length that I can allow it here. (Vide Tracts Theol. and Eccles.)

N.B.—The above addition (page 420) is in consequence of a misunderstanding, which leads me to repeat, now, 1890, as ever, that what I have here written is subject to the judgment of Holy Church.

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1. Vide however Hilar. in Matt. xxxi. 3; but he corrects himself, de Trin. xii.
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2. [(1890, Add): adopted, that is, through the grace of Him, who is in His nature, from eternity, the One and Only Son of God.]
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