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THE ECCLESIASTICAL DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY.
This being the general Scripture view of the Holy Trinity, it follows to describe the Ecclesiastical Doctrine, chiefly in relation to our Lord, as contained in the writings of the Fathers, especially the AnteNicene!
Scripture is express in declaring both the divinity of Him who in due time became man for us, and also His personal distinction from God in His pre-existent state. This is sufficiently clear from the opening of St. John's Gospel, which states the mystery as distinctly as an ecclesiastical comment can propound it. On these two truths the whole doctrine turns, viz. that our Lord is one with, yet personally separate from God. Now there are two appellations given to Him in Scripture, enforcing respectively these two essentials of the true doctrine ; appellations imperfect and open to misconception by themselves, but qualifying and completing each other. The title of the
? The examples cited are principally borrowed from the elaborate catalogues furnished by Petavius, Bishop Bull. and Suicer, in his Thesaurus and his Comment on the Nicene Creed.
Son marks His derivation and distinction from the Father, that of the Word (i.e. Reason) denotes His inseparable inherence in the Divine Unity; and while the former taken by itself, might lead the mind to conceive of Him as a second being, and the latter as no real being at all, both together witness to the mystery, that He is at once from, and yet in, the Immaterial, Incomprehensible God. Whether or not these titles contain the proof of this statement, (which, it is presumed, they actually do,) at least, they will enable us to classify our ideas : and we have authority for so using them. "The Son," says Athanasius, “is the Word and Wisdom of the Father : from which titles we infer His impassive and indivisible derivation from the Father, inasmuch as the word (or reason) of a man is no mere part of him, nor when exercised, goes forth from him by a passion ; much less, therefore, is it so with the Word of God. On the other hand, the Father calls Him His Son, lest, from hearing only that He was the Word, we should consider Him such as the word of man, impersonal, whereas the title of Son, designates Him as a Word which exists, and a substantial Wisdom 2."
Availing ourselves of this division, let us first dwell on the appellation of Son, and then on that of Word or Reason.
3 Athan. de Syn. 41.
In the same way the Semi-Arian Basil (of Ancyra), speaking of such heretics as argued that the Son has no existence separate from the Father, because He is called the Word, says, “ For this reason our predecessors, in order to signify that the Son has a reality, and is in being, and not a mere word which comes and goes, were obliged to call Him a substance. . . . For a word has no real existence, and cannot be a Son of God, else were there many sons." Epiph. Hær. lxxiii. 12,
Nothing can be plainer to the attentive student of Scripture, than that our Lord is there called the Son of God, not only in respect of His human nature, but of His pre-existent state also. And if this be so, the very fact of the revelation of Him as such, implies that we are to gather something from it, and attach in consequence of it some ideas to our notion of Him, which otherwise we should not have attached; else would it not have been made. Taking then the word in its most vague sense, so as to admit as little risk as possible of forcing the analogy, we seem to gain the notion of derivation from God, and therefore, of the utter dissimilarity and distance existing between Him and all beings except God His Father, as if He partook of that unapproachable, incommunicable Divine Nature, which is increate and imperishable.
But Scripture does not leave us here : in order to fix us in this view, lest we should be perplexed with another notion of the analogy, derived from that adopted sonship, which is ascribed therein to created beings, it attaches a characteristic epithet to His Name, as descriptive of the peculiar relation of Him who bears it to the Father. It designates Him as the Only-begotten or the own3 Son of God, terms evidently referring, where they occur, to His heavenly nature, and thus becoming the inspired comment on the more general title. It is true that the term generation is also applied to certain events in our Lord's mediatorial history : to His resurrection from the dead 4 ;
3 [John i. 1. 14. 18; jii. 16 ; v. 18. Rom. viii. 32. Heb. i. 1-14.] * Ps. ii. 7. Acts xiii. 33. Heb. v. 5. Rev. i. 5. Rom. i. 4.
and, according to the Fathers 5, to His original mission in the beginning of all things to create the world ; and to His manifestation in the flesh. Still, granting this, the sense of the word "only-begotten” remains, defined by its context to relate to something higher than any event occurring in time, however great or beneficial to the human race.
Being taken then, as it needs must be taken, to designate His original nature, it witnesses most forcibly and impressively to that which is peculiar in it, viz. His origination from God, and such as to exclude all resemblance to any being but Him, whom nothing created resembles. Thus, without irreverently and idly speculating upon the generation in itself, but considering the doctrine as given us as a practical direction for our worship and obedience, we may accept it in token, that whatever the Father is, such is the Son. And there are some remarkable texts in Scripture corroborative of this view : for instance, that in the fifth chapter of St. John, “ As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself. . What things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth Him all things that Himself doeth. . As the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom He will .. that all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him."
This is the principle of interpretation acknowledged by the primitive Church. Its teachers warn us against
• Bull, Defens. Fid. Nic. iii. 9, § 12.
resting in the word “generation,” they urge us on to seize and use its practical meaning. “Speculate not upon the divine generation (gennesis),” says Gregory Nazianzen, "for it is not safe ... let the doctrine be honoured silently ; it is a great thing for thee to know the fact; the mode, we cannot admit that even Angels understand, much less thou 6." “Seek not what is undiscoverable, for you will not discover; . . if you will not comply, but are obstinate, I shall deride you, or rather I weep at your daring :
believe what is written, seek not what is not written 7.” Athanasius and
Athanasius and Chrysostom repel the profane inquiry argumentatively. “Such speculators," the former says, "might as well investigate, where God is, and how God is, and of what nature the Father is. But as such questions are irreligious, and argue ignorance of God, so is it also unlawful to venture such thoughts about the generation of the Son of God.” And Chrysostom; “I know that He begat the Son: the manner how, I am ignorant of. I know that the Holy Spirit is from Him ; how from Him, I do not understand. I eat food; but how this is converted into my flesh and blood, I know not. We know not these things, which we see every day when we eat, yet we meddle with inquiries concerning the substance of God 8."
While they thus prohibited speculation, they boldly used the doctrine for the purposes for which it was given them in Scripture. Thus Justin Martyr speaks of Christ as the Son," who alone is literally called by that name:" and arguing with the heathen, he says,
Greg. Naz. Orat. xxxv. 29, 30 [xxix. 8]. 7 Petav. v. 6, § 2.