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§1. The fifth book promises to speak of the words contained in the saying of the Apostle Peter, but delays their exposition. He discourses first of the creation, to the effect that, while nothing therein is deserving of worship, yet men, led astray by their ill-informed and feeble intelligence, and marvelling at its beauty, deified the several parts of the universe. And herein he excellently expounds the passage of Isaiah, “I am God, the first.”
It is now, perhaps, time to make enquiry into what is said concerning the words of the Apostle Peter688688 The words referred to are those in Acts ii. 36., by Eunomius himself, and by our father689689 S. Basil: the passages discussed are afterwards referred to in detail. concerning the latter. If a detailed examination should extend our discourse to considerable length, the fair-minded reader will no doubt pardon this, and will not blame us for wasting time in words, but lay the blame on him who has given occasion for them. Let me be allowed also to make some brief remarks preliminary to the proposed enquiry: it may be that they too will be found not to be out of keeping with the aim of our discussion.
That no created thing is deserving of man’s worship, the divine word so clearly declares as a law, that such a truth may be learned from almost the whole of the inspired Scripture. Moses, the Tables, the Law, the Prophets that follow, the Gospels, the decrees of the Apostles, all alike forbid the act of reverencing the creation. It would be a lengthy task to set out in order the particular passages which refer to this matter; but though we set out only a few from among the many instances of the inspired testimony, our argument is surely equally convincing, since each of the divine words, albeit the least, has equal force for declaration of the truth. Seeing, then, that our conception of existences is divided into two, the creation and the uncreated Nature, if the present contention of our adversaries should prevail, so that we should say that the Son of God is created, we should be absolutely compelled either to set at naught the proclamation of the Gospel, and to refuse to worship that God the Word Who was in the beginning, on the ground that we must not address worship to the creation, or, if these marvels recorded in the Gospels are too urgent for us, by which we are led to reverence and to worship Him Who is displayed in them, to place, in that case, the created and the Uncreated on the same level of honour; seeing that if, according to our adversaries’ opinion, even the created God is worshipped, though having in His nature no prerogative above the rest of the creation, and if this view should get the upper hand, the doctrines of religion will be entirely transformed to a kind of anarchy and democratic independence. For when men believe that the nature they worship is not one, but have their thoughts turned away to diverse Godheads, there will be none who will stay the conception of the Deity in its progress through creation, but the Divine element, once recognized in creation, will become a stepping-stone to the like conception in the case of that which is next contemplated, and that again for the next in order, and as a result of this inferential process the error will extend to all things, as the first deceit makes its way by contiguous cases even to the very last.
To show that I am not making a random statement beyond what probability admits of, I will cite as a credible testimony in favour of my assertion the error which still prevails among the heathen690690 With the following passage may be compared the parallel account in the Book of Wisdom (ch. xiii.).. Seeing that they, with their untrained and narrow intelligence, were disposed to look with wonder on the beauties of nature, not employing the things they beheld as a leader and guide to the beauty of the Nature that transcends them, they rather made their intelligence halt on arriving at the objects of its apprehension, and marvelled at each part of the creation severally—for this cause they did not stay their conception of the Deity at any single one of the things they beheld, but deemed everything they looked on in creation to be divine. And thus with the Egyptians, as the error developed its force more in respect of intellectual objects, the countless forms of spiritual beings were reckoned to be so many natures of Gods; while with the Babylonians the un173erring circuit of the firmament was accounted a God, to whom they also gave the name of Bel. So, too, the foolishness of the heathen deifying individually the seven successive spheres, one bowed down to one, another to another, according to some individual form of error. For as they perceived all these circles moving in mutual relation, seeing that they had gone astray as to the most exalted, they maintained the same error by logical sequence, even to the last of them. And in addition to these, the æther itself, and the atmosphere diffused beneath it, the earth and sea and the subterranean region, and in the earth itself all things which are useful or needful for man’s life,—of all these there was none which they held to be without part or lot in the Divine nature, but they bowed down to each of them, bringing themselves, by means of some one of the objects conspicuous in the creation, into bondage to all the successive parts of the creation, in such a way that, had the act of reverencing the creation been from the beginning even to them a thing evidently unlawful, they would not have been led astray into this deceit of polytheism. Let us look to it, then, lest we too share the same fate,—we who in being taught by Scripture to reverence the true Godhead, were trained to consider all created existence as external to the Divine nature, and to worship and revere that uncreated Nature alone, Whose characteristic and token is that it never either begins to be or ceases to be; since the great Isaiah thus speaks of the Divine nature with reference to these doctrines, in his exalted utterance,—who speaks in the person of the Deity, “I am the first, and hereafter am I, and no God was before Me, and no God shall be after Me691691 Cf. Is. xli. 4, xliv. 6, xlviii. 12 (LXX.). If the whole passage is intended to be a quotation, it is not made exactly from any one of these; the opening words are from the second passage referred to; and perhaps this is the only portion intended to be a quotation, the second clause being explanatory; the words of the second clause are varied in the repetition immediately afterwards..” For knowing more perfectly than all others the mystery of the religion of the Gospel, this great prophet, who foretold even that marvellous sign concerning the Virgin, and gave us the good tidings692692 εὐαγγελισάμενος of the birth of the Child, and clearly pointed out to us that Name of the Son,—he, in a word, who by the Spirit includes in himself all the truth,—in order that the characteristic of the Divine Nature, whereby we discern that which really is from that which came into being, might be made as plain as possible to all, utters this saying in the person of God: “I am the first, and hereafter am I, and before Me no God hath been, and after Me is none.” Since, then, neither is that God which was before God, nor is that God which is after God, (for that which is after God is the creation, and that which is anterior to God is nothing, and Nothing is not God;—or one should rather say, that which is anterior to God is God in His eternal blessedness, defined in contradistinction to Nothing693693 πρὸς οὐδὲν ὁριζόμενος; i.e. before the name of “God” could be applied, as now, in contradistinction to creation, it was applied in contradistinction to nothing, and that distinction was in a sense the definition of God. Or the words may be turned, as Gulonius turns them, “nulla re determinatus,” “with no limitation”—the contradistinction to creation being regarded as a limitation by way of definition.;—since, I say, this inspired utterance was spoken by the mouth of the prophet, we learn by his means the doctrine that the Divine Nature is one, continuous with Itself and indiscerptible, not admitting in Itself priority and posteriority, though it be declared in Trinity, and with no one of the things we contemplate in it more ancient or more recent than another. Since, then, the saying is the saying of God, whether you grant that the words are the words of the Father or of the Son, the orthodox doctrine is equally upheld by either. For if it is the Father that speaks thus, He bears witness to the Son that He is not “after” Himself: for if the Son is God, and whatever is “after” the Father is not God, it is clear that the saying bears witness to the truth that the Son is in the Father, and not after the Father. If, on the other hand, one were to grant that this utterance is of the Son, the phrase, “None hath been before Me,” will be a clear intimation that He Whom we contemplate “in the Beginning694694 S. John i. 1” is apprehended together with the eternity of the Beginning. If, then, anything is “after” God, this is discovered, by the passages quoted, to be a creature, and not God: for He says, “That which is after Me is not God695695 Taking the whole phrase τὸ μετ᾽ ἐμὲ ον as a loose quotation..”
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