“But the Word is said to be and is alone from the Father because he is not a creature; and the Son’s being ‘from the essence of the Father’ is indicative of this sense, which does not pertain to anything that has come into being”

The council [of Nicaea] wished to banish the impious phrases of the Arians and to inscribe the words confessed by the Scriptures: that the Son is not from non-being but from God; that he is Word and Wisdom, neither creature nor something made, but from the Father as his own (idion) offspring. But the party of Eusebius, compelled by their longstanding perversity, wished the designation of his being “from God” to be taken as something in common with us and the Word of God to be no different from us in this respect, as it is written: “one God from whom are all things” (1 Cor 8:6) and “the old things have passed away; behold all that is new has come to be; and all this is from God” (2 Cor 5:17, 18). So the fathers of the council, seeing their deceit and the machinations of their impiety, finally found it necessary to proclaim the “from God” more clearly and to write “the Son is from the essence of the Father” (ek tes ousias tou theou), so that “from God” may not be considered to be the same and equal in the case of the Son as it is with things that have come to be; but that it may be confessed that while all others are creatures, the Word is uniquely from the Father. For even if all things are said to be from God, this is altogether otherwise than how the Son is. In the case of created things, they are said to be from God in that they do not exist randomly and unaccountably; neither do they attain their origination by chance, as those who speak of an origination that comes about from the intertwining of atoms and of like parts; nor, as certain heretics say, is there another creator, nor, as again others say, do all things have their subsistence through some angels. Rather, all things are said to be from God because the existent God, by himself and through the Word, brought all things that formerly did not exist into being. But the Word is said to be and is alone from the Father because he is not a creature; and the Son’s being “from the essence of the Father” is indicative of this sense, which does not pertain to anything that has come into being.

Certainly, Paul does say that all things are from God, but he immediately adds: “and one Lord Jesus Christ, from whom are all things” (1 Cor 8:6), in order to show to all, that the Son is other than all things which have come into being from God. For the things which have come into being from God have come to be through the Son. Paul said this because it is by God that creation comes to be, not because all things are from the Father in just the same way that the Son is. Neither are all things as the Son, nor is the Word one of “all things,” for he is Lord and Fashioner of all things. That is why the holy council proclaimed in a clearer way that he is “from the essence of the Father,” in order to proclaim the confession that the Word is other than the nature of things which have come to be and is alone truly from God, and in order to leave no more pretext for the deceit of the impious. This then is the reason for their having written “from the essence.”

Yet again, when the bishops said that it is necessary to proclaim the Word as true power and image of the Father and unchangeably like the Father in all things (homoion te kai aparal­lakton auton kata panta to patri) and inalterable and that he is always and inseparably in the Father—for never was he not, but rather, the Word is always with the Father, as the radiance and the light—the party of Eusebius persevered, though because of their shame at the refutations leveled against them, they did not dare to contradict. Instead, they were caught winking their eyes and murmuring among themselves that “like” (homoion) and “always” and the name of “Power” and “in him” are also common to us and the Son, so that it would not hurt them to agree with us. As to “like,” because it is written of us also, “the human being is the image and glory of God” (1 Cor 11: 7); as to “always,” because it is written, “we who live are always…” (2 Cor 4: 11); “in him,” because “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28); “inalterable,” because it is written, “Nothing will separate us from the love of Christ” (Rom 8:39); as to “Power,” because the caterpillar and the locust are called “power” and “great power” (cf. Joel 2:25) whereas it is often written in reference to the people, as “all the power of God came out from the land of Egypt” (Ex 12:41); and there are other heavenly powers, for it says, “the Lord of powers is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob” (Ps 46:8).

Asterius, who is called “the sophist,” has written these things, having learned from them and, along with him, Arius also, as has been said. But the bishops, perceiving their hypocrisy here also and seeing that, according to what is written, “deceit is in the hearts of the impious who plot evil” (Prov 12:20), found it necessary again to gather together the sense of the Scriptures and to speak more clearly the things which they said before, and to write, “the Son is one in essence (homoousion) with the Father,” in order to signify that the Son is not only like, but from the Father as the same in likeness (tauton te homoiosei), and in order to show that the likeness and inalterability of the Son is other than the imitative likeness that is ascribed to us and which we attain through virtue by keeping the commandments. For it is possible for bodies which are like each other to become in some way separated and distant from one another, which happens with the sons of human beings in relation to their begetters, as it is written concerning Adam and Seth, who was begotten of Adam and who was like him “according to his kind” (Gen 5:3). But since the generation of the Son from the Father is other than that which pertains to the nature of human beings and he is not only like (homoios) but also inseparable from the essence (ousia) of the Father and he and the Father are one, as he himself said (Jn 10:30), and the Word is always in the Father and the Father in the Word (cf. Jn 10:38)—as is the radiance in relation to the light (for this is what the phrase means)—the council, understanding all this, aptly wrote “one in essence” (homoousion). They did this in order to overturn the perversity of the hypocrites and to show that the Word is other than the things which come to be. For immediately after writing it, they added: “But those who say that the Son of God is from non-being or is a creature or changeable or made or from another essence (ousia), these the holy and catholic Church anathematizes.” In saying this, they made it manifestly clear that “from the essence” and “of one essence” are abrogations of the trite slogans of the impious: such as that he is a “crea­ture” and “made” and something which has come into being (geneton) and changeable and that he was not before he was generated. The one who thinks such things is contradicting the council. But the one who does not think along with Arius necessarily holds and takes to mind the teachings of the council and views them appropriately, as indicating a relation like that of the radiance to the light, and in this way attains to an image of the truth.

. . .

But if one considers God to be composite, as an essence in which there is accident, or to have any external covering and to be enveloped and concealed (kaluptesthai), or if one thinks that there is something around him (peri auton) which completes his essence, so that when we say “God” or name him “Father,” we are not signifying the invisible and incomprehensible essence itself but something of what is around God, then let them censure the council for having written that “the Son is from the essence of God.” But let them observe well that to think in this way is to blaspheme twice over, for they are insinuating the notion of a bodily god and they are falsely declaring that the Lord is not the Son of the Father himself but of what is around the Father. But if God is simple, as indeed he is, then quite clearly when we say “God” and name the Father we are not naming something around him, but are signifying his very essence (ousia). For even if it is impossible to comprehend what is the being and essence (ousia) of God, if only we understand that God is and consider that the Scriptures signify him in these terms, we intend to signify none other than him when we say “God” and “Father” and “Lord.” Therefore when he says “I am who is” (Ex 3:14) and “I am the Lord God” (Ex 20:2) and whenever Scripture says “God” we recognize that this signifies nothing other than his incomprehensible essence (ousia) itself and we understand that the one of whom they speak is the one who is.

Therefore, let no one be shocked to hear that the Son of God is from the being of God. Rather, let him be receptive to the fathers who wrote “from the essence” (ek tēs ousias), according to a purified sense, as more explicit and yet equivalent to “from God.” They considered that it was the same to say that the Word is “from God” as it is to say “from the essence of God,” since, as I have said, “God” signifies nothing other than the essence (tēn ousian) of the One who is. Therefore, if the Word is not from God as a genuine son who is from his father by nature, but is said to be from the Father in the same way that all creatures are said to be so, because of their having been created {by the Father}, then indeed he is not from the being of the Father, nor is he a son according to essence (kat ousian), but because of virtue, as are we who are called sons by grace. But if he is alone from God as genuine Son, as indeed is the case, then it is well said that the Son is from the being of God.

The symbol (paradeigma) of the light and the radiance also has the same meaning. For the sacred writers did not say that the Word was related to God like a fire which is ignited from the heat of the sun and which is usually extinguished again, for this is an external product and creation of its maker. But they all preached of him as Radiance, in order to disclose his being properly and inseparably from the essence and his unity with the Father. Thus will his unchangeability and inalterability also be truly secured, for how can he be unchangeable and inalterable if he is not the proper (idion) offspring of the Father’s essence? For it is neces­sary, in regard to this also, to safeguard his identity with his own Father.

Since this explanation is thus shown to be pious, the enemies of Christ should not be shocked by the “homoousios” either, since this term also has a sound sense and rationale. For if we say that the Word is from the essence of God (let this at last be confessed by them!), what is that except to say that he is truly and eternally of the essence from which he is begotten? For he is not different in kind, as if he were something foreign and dissimilar (anomoion) that is mixed in with the essence of the Father. Nor is his likeness merely extrinsic, as if he were in some other respect or completely of a different essence (heteroousios), just as brass shines like gold and silver and tin. These are foreign to one another and of different natures and are separate in their natures and their powers. Brass is not proper (idion) to gold, any more than a pigeon is from a dove. Even though they are considered to be like (homoia) each other, they are nevertheless different in essence. Therefore, if that is how the Son is, then he is a creature like us and not one in essence (homoousios). But if the Son is Word, Wisdom, Image of the Father, and Radiance, then it follows reasonably that he is “one in essence.” Unless it is established that he is not from God but is an instrument, of a different nature and a different essence, then the council has decreed aptly and thought rightly.

St Athanasius of Alexandria

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2 Responses to “But the Word is said to be and is alone from the Father because he is not a creature; and the Son’s being ‘from the essence of the Father’ is indicative of this sense, which does not pertain to anything that has come into being”

  1. Eric says:

    What is this from?


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