On the Trinity

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Book V.

Proceeds to treat of the arguments put forward by the heretics, not from scripture, but from their own reason. those are refuted, who think the substance of the father and of the son to be not the same, because everything predicated of god is, in their opinion, predicated of him according to substance; and therefore it follows, that to beget and to be begotten, or to be begotten and unbegotten, being diverse, are diverse substances; whereas it is here demonstrated that not everything predicated of god is predicated according to substance, in such manner as He is called good and great according to substance, or anything else that is predicated of Him in respect to Himself; but that some things are also predicated of Him relatively, I. E. Not in respect to himself, but to something not himself, as he is called father in respect to the son, and lord in respect to the creature that serveth him; in which case, if anything thus predicated relatively, I. E. In respect to something not himself, is even predicated as happening in time, as E. G. "Lord, thou hast become our refuge," yet nothing happens to god so as to work a change in him, but he himself remains absolutely unchangeable in his own nature or essence.

Chapter 1.-What the Author Entreats from God, What from the Reader. In God Nothing is to Be Thought Corporeal or Changeable.

1. Beginning, as I now do henceforward, to speak of subjects which cannot altogether be spoken as they are thought, either by any man, or, at any rate, not by myself; although even our very thought, when we think of God the Trinity, falls (as we feel) very far short of Him of whom we think, nor comprehends Him as He is; but He is seen, as it is written, even by those who are so great as was the Apostle Paul, "through a glass and in an enigma:"(1) first, I pray to our Lord God Himself, of whom we ought always to think, and of whom we are not able to think worthily, in praise of whom blessing is at all times to be rendered,(2) and whom no speech is sufficient to declare, that He will grant me both help for understanding and explaining that which I design, and pardon if in anything I offend. For I bear in mind, not only my desire, but also my infirmity. I ask also of my readers to pardon me, where they may perceive me to have had the desire rather than the power to speak, what they either understand better themselves, or fail to understand through the obscurity of my language, just as I myself pardon them what they cannot understand through their own dullness.

2. And we shall mutually pardon one another the more easily, if we know, or at any rate firmly believe and hold, that whatever is said of a nature, unchangeable, invisible and having life absolutely and sufficient to itself, must not be measured after the custom of things visible, and changeable, and mortal, or not self-sufficient. But although we labor, and yet fail, to grasp and know even those things which are within the scope of our corporeal senses, or what we are ourselves in the tuner man; yet it is with no shamelessness that faithful piety burns after those divine and unspeakable things which are above: piety, I say, not inflated by the arrogance of its own power, but inflamed by the grace of its Creator and Saviour Himself. For with what understanding can man apprehend God, who does not yet apprehend that very understanding itself of his own, by which he desires to apprehend Him? And if he does already apprehend this, let him carefully consider that there is nothing in his own nature better than it; and let him see whether he can there see any outlines of forms, or brightness of colors, or greatness of space, or distance of parts, or extension of size, or any movements through intervals of place, or any such thing at all. Certainly we find nothing of all this in that, than which we find nothing better in our own nature, that is, in our own intellect, by which we apprehend wisdom according to our capacity. What, therefore, we do not find in that which is our own best, we ought not to seek in Him who is far better than that best of ours; that so we may understand God, if we are able, and as much as we are able, as good without quality, great without quantity, a creator though He lack nothing, ruling but from no position, sustaining all things without "having" them, in His wholeness everywhere, yet without place, eternal without time, making things that are changeable, without change of Himself, and without passion. Whoso thus thinks of God, although he cannot yet find out in all ways what He is, yet piously takes heed, as much as he is able, to think nothing of Him that He is not.

Chapter 2.-God the Only Unchangeable Essence.

3. He is, however, without doubt, a substance, or, if it be better so to call it, an essence, which the Greeks call onsia. For as wisdom is so called from the being wise, and knowledge from knowing; so from being(3) comes that which we call essence. And who is there that is, more than He who said to His servant Moses, "I am that I am;" and, "Thus shall thou say unto the children of Israel, He who is hath sent me unto you?"(4) But other things that are called essences or substances admit of accidents, whereby a change, whether great or small, is produced in them. But there can be no accident of this kind in respect to God; and therefore He who is God is the only unchangeable substance or essence, to whom certainly Being itself, whence comes the name of essence, most especially and most truly belongs. For that which is changed does not retain its own being; and that which can be changed, although it be not actually changed, is able not to be that which it had been; and hence that which not only is not changed, but also cannot at all be changed, alone falls most truly, without difficulty or hesitation, under the category of Being.

Chapter 3.-The Argument of the Arians is Refuted, Which is Drawn from the Words Begotten and Unbegotten.

4. Wherefore,-to being now to answer the adversaries of our faith, respecting those things also, which are neither said as they are thought, nor thought as they really are:-among the many things which the Arians are wont to dispute against the Catholic faith, they seem chiefly to set forth this, as their most crafty device, namely, that whatsoever is said or understood of God, is said not according to accident, but according to substance: and therefore, to be unbegotten belongs to the Father according to substance, and to be begotten belongs to the Son according to substance; but to be unbegotten and to be begotten are different; therefore the substance of the Father and that of the Son are different. To whom we reply, If whatever is spoken of God is spoken according to substance, then that which is said, "I and the Father are one,"(5) is spoken according to substance. Therefore there is one substance of the Father and the Son. Or if this is not said according to substance, then something is said of God not according to substance, and therefore we are no longer compelled to understand unbegotten and begotten according to substance. it is also said of the Son, "He thought it not robbery to be equal with God."(6) We ask, equal according to what? For if He is not said to be equal according to substance, then they admit that something may be said of God not according to substance. Let them admit, then, that unbegotten and begotten are not spoken according to substance. And if they do not admit this, on the ground that they will have all things to be spoken of God according to substance, then the Son is equal to the Father according to substance.

Chapter 4.-The Accidental Always Implies Some Change in the Thing.

5. That which is accidental commonly implies that it can be lost by some change of the thing to which it is an accident. For although some accidents are said to be inseparable, which in Greek are called akprista, as the color black is to the feather of a raven; yet the feather loses that color, not indeed so long as it is a feather, but because the feather is not always. Wherefore the matter itself is changeable; and whenever that animal or that feather ceases to be, and the whole of that body is changed and turned into earth, it loses certainly that color also. Although the kind of accident which is called separable may likewise be lost, not by separation, but by change; as, for instance, blackness is called a separable accident to the hair of men, because hair continuing to be hair can grow white; yet, if carefully considered, it is sufficiently apparent, that it is not as if anything departed by separation away from the head when it grows white, as though blackness departed thence and went somewhere and whiteness came in its place, but that the quality of color there is turned and changed. Therefore there is nothing accidental in God, because there is nothing changeable or that may be lost. But if you choose to call that also accidental, which, although it may not be lost, yet can be decreased or increased,-as, for instance, the life of the soul: for as long as it is a soul, so long it lives, and because the soul is always, it always lives; but because it lives more when it is wise, and less when it is foolish, here, too, some change comes to pass, not such that life is absent, as wisdom is absent to the foolish, but such that it is less;-nothing of this kind, either, happens to God, because He remains altogether unchangeable.

Chapter 5.-Nothing is Spoken of God According to Accident, But According to Substance or According to Relation.

6. Wherefore nothing in Him is said in respect to accident, since nothing is accidental to Him, and yet all that is said is not said according to substance. For in created and changeable things, that which is not said according to substance, must, by necessary alternative, be said according to accident. For all things are accidents to them, which can be either lost or diminished, whether magnitudes or qualities; and so also is that which is said in relation to something, as friendships, relationships, services, likenesses, equalities, and anything else of the kind; so also positions and conditions,(7) places and times, acts and passions. But in God nothing is said to be according to accident, because in Him nothing is changeable; and yet everything that is said, is not said, according to substance. For it is said in relation to something, as the Father in relation to the Son and the Son in relation to the Father, which is not accident; because both the one is always Father, and the other is always Son: yet not "always," meaning from the time when the Son was born [natus], so that the Father ceases not to be the Father because the Son never ceases to be the Son, but because the Son was always born, and never began to be the Son. But if He had begun to be at any time, or were at any time to cease to be, the Son, then He would be called Son according to accident. But if the Father, in that He is called the Father, were so called in relation to Himself, not to the Son; and the Son, in that He is called the Son, were so called in relation to Himself, not to the Father; then both the one would be called Father, and the other Son, according to substance. But because the Father is not called the Father except in that He has a Son, and the Son is not called Son except in that He has a Father, these things are not said according to substance; because each of them is not so called in relation to Himself, but the terms are used reciprocally and in relation each to the other; nor yet according to accident, because both the being called the Father, and the being called the Son, is eternal and unchangeable to them. Wherefore, although to be the Father and to be the Son is different, yet their substance is not different; because they are so called, not according to substance, but according to relation, which relation, however, is not accident, because it is not changeable.

Chapter 6.-Reply is Made to the Cavils of the Heretics in Respect to the Same Words Begotten and Unbegotten.

7. But if they think they can answer this reasoning thus,-that the Father indeed is so called in relation to the Son, and the Son in relation to the Father, but that they are said to be unbegotten and begotten in relation to themselves, not in relation each to the other; for that it is not the same thing to call Him unbegotten as it is to call Him the Father, because there would be nothing to hinder our calling Him unbegotten even if He had not begotten the Son; and if any one beget a son, he is not therefore himself unbegotten, for men, who are begotten by other men, themselves also beget others; and therefore they say the Father is called Father in relation to the Son, and the Son is called Son in relation to the Father, but unbegotten is said in relation to Himself, and begotten in relation to Himself; and therefore, if whatever is said in relation to oneself is said according to substance, while to be unbegotten and to be begotten are different, then the substance is different:-if this is what they say, then they do not understand that they do indeed say something that requires more careful discussion in respect to the term unbegotten, because neither is any one therefore a father because unbegotten, nor therefore unbegotten because he is a father, and on that account he is supposed to be called unbegotten, not in relation to anything else, but in respect to himself; but, on the other hand, with a wonderful blindness, they do not perceive that no one can be said to be begotten except in relation to something. For he is therefore a son because begotten; and because a son, therefore certainly begotten. And as is the relation of son to father, so is the relation of the begotten to the begetter; and as is the relation of father to son, so is the relation of the begetter to the begotten. And therefore any one is understood to be a begetter under one notion, but understood to be unbegotten under another. For though both are said of God the Father, yet the former is said in relation to the begotten, that is to the Son, which, indeed, they do not deny; but that He is called unbegotten, they declare to be said in respect to Himself. They say then, If anything is said to be a father in respect to itself, which cannot be said to be a son in respect to itself, and whatever is said in respect to self is said according to substance; and He is said to be unbegotten in respect to Himself, which the Son cannot be said to be; therefore He is said to be unbegotten according to substance; and because the Son cannot be so said to be, therefore He is not of the same substance. This subtlety is to be answered by compelling them to say themselves according to what it is that the Son is equal to the Father; whether according to that which is said in relation to Himself, or according to that which is said in relation to the Father. For it is not according to that which is said in relation to the Father, since in relation to the Father He is said to be Son, and the Father is not Son, but Father. Since Father and Son are not so called in relation to each other in the same way as friends and neighbors are; for a friend is so called relatively to his friend, and if they love each other equally, then the same friendship is in both; and a neighbor is so called relatively to a neighbor, and because they are equally neighbors to each other (for each is neighborto the other, in the same degree as the otheris neighbor to him), there is the same neighborhood in both. But because the Son is not so called relatively to the Son, but to the Father. it is not according to that which is said in relation to the Father that the Son is equal to the Father; and it remains that He is equal according to that which is said in relation to Himself. But whatever is said in relation to self is said according to substance: it remains therefore that He is equal according to substance; therefore the substance of both is the same. But when the Father is said to be unbegotten, it is not said what He is, but what He is not; and when a relative term is denied, it is not denied according to substance, since the relative itself is not affirmed according to substance.

Chapter 7.-The Addition of a Negative Does Not Change the Predicament.

8. This is to be made clear by examples. And first we must notice, that by the word begotten is signified the same thing as is signified by the word son. For therefore a son, because begotten, and because a son, therefore certainly begotten. By the word unbegotten, therefore, it is declared that he is not son. But begotten and unbegotten are both of them terms suitably employed; whereas in Latin we can use the word "filius," but the custom of the language does not allow us to speak of "infilius." It makes no difference, however, in the meaning if he is called "non filius;" just as it is precisely the same thing if he is called "non genitus," instead of "ingenitus." For so the terms of both neighbor and friend are used relatively, yet we cannot speak of "invicinus" as we can of "inimicus." Wherefore, in speaking of this thing or that, we must not consider what the usage of our own language either allows or does not allow, but what clearly appears to be the meaning of the things themselves. Let us not therefore any longer call it unbegotten, although it can be so called in Latin; but instead of this let us call it not begotten, which means the same. Is this then anything else than saying that he is not a son? Now the prefixing of that negative particle does not make that to be said according to substance, which, without it, is said relatively; but that only is denied, which, without it, was affirmed, as in the other predicaments. When we say he is a man, we denote substance. He therefore who says he is not a man, enunciates no other kind of predicament, but only denies that. As therefore I affirm according to substance in saying he is a man, so I deny according to substance in saying he is not a man. And when the question is asked how large he is? and I say he is quadrupedal, that is, four feet in measure, I affirm according to quantity, and he who says he is not quadrupedal, denies according to quantity. I say he is white, I affirm according to quality; if I say he is not white, I deny according to quality. I say he is near, I affirm according to relation; if I say he is not near, I deny according to relation. I affirm according to position, when I say he lies down; I deny according to position, when I say he does not lie down. I speak according to condition,(8) when I say he is armed; I deny according to condition, when I say he is not armed; and it comes to the same thing as if I should say he is unarmed. I affirm according to time, when I say he is of yesterday; I deny according to time, when I say he is not of yesterday. And when I say he is at Rome, I affirm according to place; and I deny according to place, when I say he is not at Rome. I affirm according to the predicament of action, when I say he smites; but if I say he does not smite, I deny according to action, so as to declare that he does not so act. And when I say he is smitten, I affirm according to the predicament of passion; and I deny according to the same, when I say he is not smitten. And, in a word, there is no kind of predicament according to which we may please to affirm anything, without being proved to deny according to the same predicament, if we prefix the negative particle. And since this is so, if I were to affirm according to substance, in saying son, I should deny according to substance, in saying not son. But because I affirm relatively when I say he is a son, for I refer to the father therefore I deny relatively if I say he is not a son, for I refer the same negation to the father, in that I wish to declare that he has not a parent. But if to be called son is precisely equivalent to the being called begotten (as we said before), then to be called not begotten is precisely equivalent to the being called not son. But we deny relatively when we say he is not son, therefore we deny relatively when we say he is not begotten. Further, what is unbegotten, unless not begotten? We do not escape, therefore, from the relative predicament, when he is called unbegotten. For as begotten is not said in relation to self, but in that he is of a begetter; so when one is called unbegotten, he is not so called in relation to himself, but it is declared that he is not of a begetter. Both meanings, however, turn upon the same predicament, which is called that of relation. But that which is asserted relatively does not denote substance, and accordingly, although begotten and unbegotten are diverse, they do not denote a different substance; because, as son is referred to father, and not son to not father, so it follows inevitably that begotten must be referred to begetter, and not-begotten to not-begetter.(9)

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FootNotes:

  1. 1 Cor. xiii. 12.
  2. Ps. xxxiv. 1.
  3. Esse.
  4. Ex. iii. 14.
  5. John x. 30.
  6. Phil. ii. 6.
  7. Habitus.
  8. Habitus.
  9. The terms "unbegotten" and "begotten" are interchangeable with the terms Father and Son. This follows from the relation of a substantive to its adjective. In whatever sense a substantive is employed, in the same sense must the adjective formed from it be employed. Consequently, if the first person of the Trinity may be called Father in a sense that implies deity, he may be called Unbegotten in the same sense. And if the second person may be called Son in a sense implying deity, he may be called Begotten in the same sense. The Ancient church often employed the adjective, and spoke of God the Unbegotten and God the Begotten (Justin Martyr, Apol. i. 25, 53; ii. 12, 13. Clem. Alex. Stromata v. xii.). This phraseology sounds strange to the Modern church, yet the latter really says the same thing when it speaks of God the Father, and God the Son.-W.G.T.S.]