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VARIATIONS IN THE ANTE-NICENE THEOLOGICAL
THERE will, of course, be differences of opinion, in deciding how much of the ecclesiastical doctrine, as above described, was derived from direct Apostolical Tradition, and how much was the result of intuitive spiritual perception in scripturally informed and deeply religious minds. Yet it does not seem too much to affirm, that copious as it may be in theological terms, yet hardly one can be pointed out which is not found or strictly implied in the New Testament itself. And indeed so much perhaps will be granted by all who have claim to be considered Trinitarians; the objections, which some among them may be disposed to raise, lying rather against its alleged over-exactness in systematizing Scripture, than against the truths themselves which are contained in it. But it should be remembered, that it is we in after times who systematize the statements of the Fathers, which, as they occur in their works, are for the most part as natural and unpremeditated as those of the inspired volume itself. If the more exact terms and phrases of any writer be brought together, that is, of a writer who has fixed principles at all, of course they will appear technical and severe. We count the words of the Fathers, and measure their sentences ; and so convert doxologies into creeds. That we do so, that the Church has done so more or less from the Nicene Council downwards, is the fault of those who have obliged us, of those who, “while men slept," have “sowed tares among the wheat.”
This remark applies to the statements brought together in the last Section, from the early writers : which, even though generally subservient to certain important ends, as, for instance, the maintenance of the Unity of God, &c., are still on the whole written freely and devotionally. But now the discussion passes on to that more intentional systematizing on the part of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, which, unavoidable as it was, yet because it was in part conventional and individual, was ambiguous, and in consequence afforded at times an apparent countenance to the Arian heresy. It often becomes necessary to settle the phraseology of divinity, in points, where the chief problem is, to select the clearest words to express notions in which all agree; or to find the proposition which will best fit in with, and connect, a number of received doctrines. Thus the Calvinists dispute among themselves whether or not God wills the damnation of the non-elect; both parties agree in doctrine, they doubt how their own meaning may be best expressed'. However clearly we see, and firmly we grasp the truth, we have a natural fear of the appearance of inconsistency; nay, a becoming fear of
1 Vid. another instance infra, ch. v. § 2, in the controversy about the use of the word hypostasis.
misleading others by our inaccuracy of language; and especially when our words have been misinterpreted by opponents, are we anxious to guard against such an inconvenience in future. There are two characteristics of opinions subjected to this intellectual scrutiny: first, they are variously expressed during the process; secondly, they are consigned to arbitrary formulas, at the end of it. Now, to exemplify this in certain Ante-Nicene statements of the great Catholic doctrine.
The word åyévvntos, ingenitus (unborn, ingenerate), was the philosophical term to denote that which had existed from eternity. It had accordingly been applied by Aristotle to the world or to matter, which was according to his system without beginning'; and by Plato to his ideas. Now since the Divine Word was according to Scripture generate, He could not be called ingenerate (or eternal), without a verbal contradiction. In process of time a distinction was made between áryévntos and åyévvntos, (increate and ingenerate,) according as the letter v was or was not doubled, so that the Son might be said to be αγενήτως γεννητός (increately generate). The argument which arose from this perplexity of language, is urged by Arius himself; who ridicules the ảyevuntoyevès, ingenerately-generate, which he conceives must be ascribed, according to the orthodox creed, to the Son of God?. Some years afterwards, the same was the palmary, or rather the essential argument of Eunomius, the champion of the Anomaans.
2 Vid. infra, Section 5.
The ävapxov (unoriginate). As is implied in the word monarchia, as already explained, the Father alone is the arche, or origin, and the Son and Spirit are not origins. The heresy of the Tritheists made it necessary to insist upon this. Hence the condemnation, in the (so-called) Apostolical Canons, of those who baptized “into the name of Three Unoriginates.” And Athanasius says, “We do not teach three Origins, as our illustration shows; for we do not speak of three Suns, but of the Sun and its radiance*.” For the same reason the early writers spoke of the Father as the Fount of Divinity. At the same time, lest they should in word dishonour the Son, they ascribed to Him“ an unoriginate generation” or “birth 5.” Thus Alexander, the first champion of orthodox truth against Arius, in his letter to his namesake of Byzantium : “We must reserve to the unbegotten (or unborn) Father His peculiar prerogative, confessing that no one is the cause of His existence, and to the Son we must pay the due honour, attributing to Him the unoriginate generation from the Father, and as we have said already, paying Him worship, so as ever to speak of Him piously and reverently, as pre-existent, ever-living,' and before the worlds.?” This distinction however, as might be expected, was but partially received among the Catholics. Contrasted with all created beings, the Son and Spirit are of necessity Unoriginate in the Unity of the Father. Clement, for instance, calls the Son, “the everlasting, unoriginate, origin and commencement of all things?.” It was not till they became alive to the seeming ditheism of such phrases, which the Sabellian controversy was sure to charge upon them, that they learned the accurate discrimination observed by Alexander. On the other hand, when the Arian contest urged them in the contrary direction to Sabellius, then they returned more or less to the original language of Clement, though with a fuller explanation of their own meaning. Gregory Nyssen gives the following plain account of the variations of their practice:“Whereas the word Origin has many significations ... sometimes we say that the appellation of the Unoriginate is not unsuitable to the Son. For when it is taken to mean derivation of substance from no cause, this indeed we ascribe to the Father alone. But according to the other senses of the word, since creation, time, the order of the world are referred to an origin, in respect of these we ascribe to the Only-begotten, superiority to any origin; so as to believe Him to be beyond creation, time, and mundane order, through whom were made all things. And thus we confess Him, who is not unoriginate in regard to His subsistence, in all other respects to be unoriginate, and, while the Father is unoriginate and unborn, the Son to be unoriginate in the sense explained, but not unborn®.” 7 την άχρονον, άναρχον, αρχήν τε και απαρχήν των πάντων. : 8 Gregory Nazianzen says the same more concisely : • Tiós, èàv ús
3 Bull, Defens. iv. 1, § 6.
+ Cudw. Intell. Syst. 4, § 36 [p. 709, ed. Mosheim. But the Bene. dictine Ed. in Cyril, Catech. xi., says that Athanasius maintained the Son's óvapxov. Epiphanius, from 1 Cor. xi. 3, argues that the Father is the kepanń, not the åpxh, of the Son. Hær. 76, fin.]
5 Suicer. Symb. Nicen. c. viii. 6 Theod. Hist. i. 4, p. 18.