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Chapter V.

The various blasphemies uttered by the Arians against Christ are cited. Before these are replied to, the orthodox17381738    In the original Catholic, i.e. “Catholics.” Heresies might become widespread—the Arian heresy, indeed, counted numerous adherents in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries—but they took their rise in some member or other of the ecclesiastical body, in some one of the many local churches which together made up the one œcumenical church. On the other hand, the primitive teaching, received from the apostolic age, had been delivered without difference in every place to which it had penetrated. It was acknowledged and established before sects and heresies; its original was divine, theirs only human; it rested on the rock of Christ’s authority, speaking through His apostles, whilst they were built on the sands of preeminence in sophistry and captious interpretation; it was for all times and places, therefore, but they were only for a season. In this belief those who clave to the teaching of the apostles claimed for themselves the name of “Catholics,” and for the œcumenical church of which they were members that of “Catholic and Apostolic.” To avoid any misunderstanding, I have used the term “orthodox,” which will stand very well for “Catholic,” inasmuch as “the right faith” is for all, without difference, to hold—in a word, universal, or, as it is in Greek, καθ᾽ ὅλου (whence καθολικός, Catholicus, Catholic). are admonished to beware of the captious arguments of philosophers, forasmuch as in these especially did the heretics put their trust.

34. Now let us consider the disputings of the Arians concerning the Son of God.

35. They say that the Son of God is unlike His Father. To say this of a man would be an insult.17391739    It would constitute an insult, as suggesting that the man was a bastard, or supposititious.

36. They say that the Son of God had a beginning in time,17401740    Thus the Arians were anathematized by the Nicene Council as “those who say that there was a time when the Son of God was not.” whereas He Himself is the source and ordainer of time and all that therein is.17411741    The original was: “Cum conditor ipse sit temporum,” which, rendered more closely word for word, is, “whereas He Himself is the ordainer of times,” or “ages.” The Latin tempora is the equivalent of the Greek αἰῶνες, which is commonly rendered “worlds” in the A.V. of the New Testament, e.g. Heb. i. 2; Rom. xii. 2; 1 Cor. i. 20; ii. 6; 2 Cor. iv. 4; Gal. i. 4; 2 Tim. iv. 10. But αἰὼν also means “age”—“for ever and ever” is the rendering of εἰς αἰῶνας αἰώνων (“unto ages of ages”) or είς τὸν αἰῶνα. The term denotes the world as a complex, the parts of which are presented to us in succession of time, from which notion is derived its use to denote a selection of the parts so presented, collectively termed an “age” or “time.” Another word rendered “world” in the N.T. is κόσμος, which frequently occurs in St. John; and St. Paul also has it, in conjunction with ἀιὼν in Eph. ii. 2. “According to the course (ἀιῶνα) of this world (κόσμου).” Κόσμος means the world as an ordered whole, as opposed to a chaos. The use of “world” to translate both κόσμος and αἰὼν may be justified on the ground that we cannot think of time void of objects and events, whilst, on the other hand, we know not—at least, have never observed—any objects and events not in time. For us “time” is a necessary form of thought. We are men, and we would not be limited to time. We began to exist once, and we believe that we shall have a timeless existence. We desire after immortality—how, then, can we deny the eternity of God’s Son, Whom God declares to be eternal by nature, not by grace?

37. They say that He was created.17421742    The Arians asserted that the Son had no existence before He was begotten and that He was “formed out of nothing” or “out of things non-existent;” i.e. that He owed His existence to the Father’s absolute fiat, just as much as the light (Gen. i. 3). Furthermore, the Son’s will was mutable; He might have fallen like Satan. The Father, foreseeing that the Son would not fall, bestowed on Him the titles of “Son” and “Logos.” But who would reckon an author with his works, and have him seem to be what he has himself made?

38. They deny His goodness.17431743    Arius’ arguments against believing in Christ as the Almighty Power of God were based on the N.T. records of Christ’s agony and prayer in view of death, which he thought must imply, not only changeableness of will, but also limitation of power. Had Christ been omnipotent, like the Father, He would have had no fears for Himself, but would rather have imparted strength to others. Their blaspheming is its own condemnation, and so cannot hope for pardon.

39. They deny that He is truly Son of God, they deny His omnipotence, in that whilst they admit that all things are made by the ministry of the Son, they attribute the original source of their being to the power of God. But what is power, save perfection of nature?17441744    Arius’ teaching on this head appears to be fairly enough represented by Athanasius: “When God, being purposed to establish created Nature, saw that it could not bear the immediate touch of the Father’s hand, and His operation, He in the first place made and created a single Being only, and called Him ‘Son’ and ‘Logos’ to the end that by His intermediate ministry all things might henceforth be brought into existence.” Contra Arianos, Oratio II. § 24.

40. Furthermore, the Arians deny that in 207Godhead He is One with the Father.17451745    Christ, according to the Arians, was not truly God, though He was called God. Again, He was only so called in virtue of communication of grace from the Father. Thus He obtained His title and dignity, though the name of God was used, in speaking of Him in a transference, such as we find in Ps. lxxxii. 6; though Christ’s claim to such a title far transcended any other. Let them annul the Gospel, then, and silence the voice of Christ. For Christ Himself has said: “I and the Father are one.”17461746    S. John x. 30. It is not I who say this: Christ has said it. Is He a deceiver, that He should lie?17471747    Num. xxiii. 19. Is He unrighteous, that He should claim to be what He never was? But of these matters we will deal severally, at greater length, in their proper place.

41. Seeing, then, that the heretic says that Christ is unlike His Father, and seeks to maintain this by force of subtle disputation, we must cite the Scripture: “Take heed that no man make spoil of you by philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, and after the rudiments of this world, not according to Christ; for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of Godhead in bodily shape.”17481748    It would, I think, be unfair to construe this passage into an absolute condemnation of all the results of human activity, arrived at without any conscious dependence on what we mean by revelation. We must remember, too, what “philosophy” was in the world into which St. Paul was born. It was no longer the golden age of philosophic activity—with the exception of Stoicism, there was hardly a school which exerted any elevating moral influence. Besides, the “philosophy” of which St. Paul was especially thinking when he wrote the passage cited (Col. iii. 8, 9) was hardly worthy of the name. It was one of the earliest forms of Gnosticism, and among other practices inculcated worship of angels, i.e. of created beings—“Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers.” See Col. i. 16–18; Eph. i. 20–22. Such “philosophies,” falsely so-called, would tend to bring philosophy in general into disfavour with the teachers of the Church. Yet we find Eusebius, in the fourth century, calling the Faith “the true philosophy” (H. E. IV. 8). The adoption of the term to denote what St. Luke called “the way” (Acts xix. 23) appears to have been due to the action of apologists like Justin Martyr, who set themselves to meet the wise of this world with their own weapons, on their own ground.

42. For they store up all the strength of their poisons in dialetical disputation, which by the judgment of philosophers is defined as having no power to establish aught, and aiming only at destruction.17491749    The original conception of Dialectic, as exhibited, for instance, in Plato’s Republic, hardly answers to this. According to Plato, the aim of Dialectic, so far from being destructive, was distinctly edifying. The Dialectic method, as its name implies, was one which took the external form of question and answer. It had a definite, positive object, viz., the attainment by force of pure reason to the clear vision of the Absolute Good, the ultimate cause of knowledge and existence. The sphere of Dialectic was pure reason, then, and its object the ultimate truth of things. (Republic, VII. p. 532.) The method which St. Ambrose here calls “Dialectic” would have been more correctly entitled “Elenchus.” But it was not by dialectic that it pleased God to save His people; “for the kingdom of God consisteth in simplicity of faith, not in wordy contention.”17501750    1 Cor. iv. 20. Cf. ii. 4, 5.


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