Sunday, October 21, 2007

Defending the Orthodoxy of the Fathers

1. The Cappadocian St. Basil the Great (330-1/1/379), Bishop of Caesarea and Doctor of the Church, says, "The Holy Spirit, sent by God Himself, has Himself for a cause." He meant not that the Holy Spirit is a creature, but that the Father is His principle of origin. We do not use the word "cause" these days because even efficient causes always differ in essence from their effects but Basil used that word in an orthodox sense, i.e. to mean "principle." Likewise St. Athanasius the Great, Doctor of the Church, in this sense affirms that "The Son is not the cause, but is caused." St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church, says [On the Trinity, Bk. 12], "And being born of a cause [although that cause be] perfect and unchangeable, it must be that He is born from the cause, in the property of the cause itself." St. Augustine the Greta, Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Church, says in his Book on 83 Questions Qq. 16, "God is the cause of all things that exist. Now, in that He is the cause of all things, He is the cause also of His own Wisdom; and [yet] God never was without His own Wisdom; consequently He is the eternal cause of His own eternal Wisdom, nor is He prior in time to His own Wisdom." And St. John Damascene says, "The Son is the (living, natural, and unvarying) image of the invisible God, bearing in Him the Father entire, having His identity with Him in all respects, and differing from Him only in this, that He is caused; for the Father is by nature a cause, and the Son caused" and in On the Orthodox Faith Bk. 3 Ch. 5 he states, "We acknowledge a difference of the Persons in their three properties alone, of being uncaused, and what belongs to a Father; being caused, and what belongs to a Son; and of being caused and proceeding."

2. Moreover, Basil says that "In dignity and order, the Spirit is second from the Son." In Bk. 3 against Eunomius he says, "The Son is indeed in order second to the Father, because He is of Him, and in dignity because the Father is the beginning and cause of His being." But by this he means not that the Spirit is less dignified than the Son but that He is a distinct hypostasis by His personal dignity and is second in numerical order.

3. St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus, says that "The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, the third light from the Father and Son." St. Epiphanius confessed three lights as in three persons and the relation of origin (since light is diffusive), but these days we just confess one light to denote the unity of essence (one light = one God).
4. We say the Father alone is unbegotten, but the Cappadocian St. Gregory Nazianzen the Great (329-1/25/389), Patriarch of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church and Theologian of the Trinity, called the Holy Spirit unbegotten in an orthodox sense. It is wrong to say that the Holy Spirit is unbegotten in the sense of lacking a principle. But the Dalmatian priest and monk St. Jerome the Great (347-9/30/420), Doctor of the Church, joined Gregory in calling the Holy Spirit unbegotten because He is not begotten but He has a principle.

5. Further, when the Egyptian St. Cyril of Alexandria (376-6/27/444), Doctor Incarnationis, says, "So how would Jesus, the Son of the essence of the Father, be a creature?" he does not mean that Jesus was begotten from the Father’s essence but rather that Jesus receives the Father's essence through the generation.

6. Origen Adamantius, who was undeniably heterodox in other doctrines (e.g. by affirming universalism, the preexistence of souls, and radical allegorism), called the Son "the Second God" in an orthodox sense in his fifth book Contra Celsus. He calls the Son "the Second God" in the same sense that St. Basil the Great calls the Son second in dignity and order, viz. the Son is God of God, i.e. has His origin from the Father. Wherefore in order to intimate his orthodoxy Origen says, "Albeit, then, we call Him second God, let them know, that by second God we mean nothing else than the Power which embraces all Powers." For the Son is "the very Word, and the very Wisdom, and the very Righteousness." Origen clearly meant that the Son is "the Second Person Who is called God."

7. In his eighth book Contra Celsus Origen declares, "For we, who say that the sensible world is His Who made all things, distinctly affirm that the Son is not mightier than the Father, but inferior to Him. And this we maintain, persuaded by Him Who said, ‘the Father, Who sent Me, is greater than I." Origen's choice of "inferior" is unwise because it is too strong a term but elsewhere he explicitly declares the Son to be just as great as His Father, lacking no perfections of the divine nature. Here Origen simply agrees with our Lord Who affirms that the Father is greater insofar as the Son is begotten of Him [Jn 14:28]. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Origen correctly said that the Father is pre-eminent in rank (taxis) because He is mentioned first among the Persons, in dignity (axioma) as I explained in (2) above, for He is the principle (arche), origin (aitios), and source (pege) of the whole Godhead not in the sense of generating or spirating it but because He communicates it via generation and spiration.
Source: St. Thomas Aquinas, CEG 1-3; 5; 8.


More to come on St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Damascene, St. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Augustine the Great, and St. Gregory of Nyssa.

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