« PreviousContinue »
East. In the course of time the Catholic took on himself the loftier and independent title of Patriarch of Babylon; and though Seleucia was changed for Ctesiphon and for Bagdad?, still the name of Babylon was preserved from first to last as a formal or ideal Metropolis. In the time of the Caliphs, it was at the head of as many as twenty-five Archbishops; its Communion extended from China to Jerusalem ; and its numbers, with those of the Monophysites, are said to have surpassed those of the Greek and Latin Churches together.
i Gibbon, ibid.
THE DOCTRINE OF THE DIVINE GENNESIS ACCORDING TO
THE EARLY FATHERS.
(Vide supra, p. 246.)
ALREADY in the Notes on Athanasius (Athan. 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
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 and Phoebadius, having no part in it. Nay, at Nicæa, when it 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 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 misinterpre
1 Vide however Hilar. in Matt. xxxi, 3; but he corrects himself, de Trin, xii.
tation 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 Onlybegotten, . . . 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, “ 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 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 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 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 :41. 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, 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, 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 Son applies His own Sonship to the creation, and makes Himself, who is the real Son, the first and the representative of a family of adopted sons. 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,