Here it is, once again, a Thursday. This means it is time for another post on Tradition, continuing the series on St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Letters/Lectures. Today’s post features the beginning of his eleventh lecture. As before, the subject is the Nicene Creed:
God, who at sundry times and in various manners spoke in times past unto the Fathers by the Prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.
1. That we have hope in Jesus Christ has been sufficiently shown, according to our ability, in what we delivered to you yesterday. But we must not simply believe in Christ Jesus nor receive Him as one of the many who are improperly called Christs. For they were figurative Christs, but He is the true Christ; not having risen by advancement from among men to the Priesthood, but ever having the dignity of the Priesthood from the Father. And for this cause the Faith guarding us beforehand lest we should suppose Him to be one of the ordinary Christs, adds to the profession of the Faith, that we believe In One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God.
2. And again on hearing of a
Son, think not of an adopted son but a Son by nature , an Only-begotten Son, having no brother. For this is the reason why He is called
Only-begotten, because in the dignity of the Godhead, and His generation from the Father, He has no brother. But we call Him the Son of God, not of ourselves, but because the Father Himself named Christ His Son : and a true name is that which is set by fathers upon their children.
3. Our Lord Jesus Christ erewhile became Man, but by the many He was unknown. Wishing, therefore, to teach that which was not known, He called together His disciples, and asked them, Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, amMatthew 13:16? — not from vain-glory, but wishing to show them the truth, lest dwelling with God, the Only-begotten of God , they should think lightly of Him as if He were some mere man. And when they answered that some said Elias, and some Jeremias, He said to them, They may be excused for not knowing, but you, My Apostles, who in My name cleanse lepers, and cast out devils, and raise the dead, ought not to be ignorant of Him, through whom you do these wondrous works. And when they all became silent (for the matter was too high for man to learn), Peter, the foremost of the Apostles and chief herald of the Church, neither aided by cunning invention, nor persuaded by human reasoning, but enlightened in his mind from the Father, says to Him, You are the Christ, not only so, but the Son of the living God. And there follows a blessing upon his speech (for in truth it was above man), and as a seal upon what he had said, that it was the Father who had revealed it to him. For the Saviour says, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but My Father which is in heaven. Matthew 16:17 He therefore who acknowledges our Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, partakes of this blessedness; but he who denies the Son of God is a poor and miserable man.
4. Again, I say, on hearing of a Son, understand it not merely in an improper sense, but as a Son in truth, a Son by nature, without beginning ; not as having come out of bondage into a higher state of adoption , but a Son eternally begotten by an inscrutable and incomprehensible generation. And in like manner on hearing of the First-born , think not that this is after the manner of men; for the first-born among men have other brothers also. And it is somewhere written, Israel is My son, My first-born. Exodus 4:22 But Israel is, as Reuben was, a first-born son rejected: for Reuben went up to his father’s couch; and Israel cast his Father’s Son out of the vineyard, and crucified Him.
To others also the Scripture says, You are the sons of the Lord your GodDeuteronomy 14:1: and in another place, I have said, You are gods, and you are all sons of the Most High. I have said, not,
I have begotten. They, when God so said, received the sonship, which before they had not: but He was not begotten to be other than He was before; but was begotten from the beginning Son of the Father, being above all beginning and all ages, Son of the Father, in all things like to Him who begot Him, eternal of a Father eternal, Life of Life begotten, and Light of Light, and Truth of Truth, and Wisdom of the Wise, and King of King, and God of God, and Power of Power.
5. If then thou hear the Gospel saying, The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of AbrahamMatthew 1:1, understand
according to the flesh. For He is the Son of David at the end of the agesHebrews 9:26, but the Son of God Before All Ages, without beginning. The one, which before He had not, He received; but the other, which He has, He has eternally as begotten of the Father. Two fathers He has: one, David, according to the flesh, and one, God, His Father in a Divine manner. As the Son of David, He is subject to time, and to handling, and to genealogical descent: but as Son according to the Godhead , He is subject neither to time nor to place, nor to genealogical descent: for His generation who shall declare ? God is a SpiritJohn 4:24; He who is a Spirit has spiritually begotten, as being incorporeal, an inscrutable and incomprehensible generation. The Son Himself says of the Father, The Lord said unto Me, You are My Son, today have I begotten You. Now this today is not recent, but eternal: a timeless today, before all ages. From the womb, before the morning star, have I begotten You.
6. Believe thou therefore on Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, and a Son Only-Begotten, according to the Gospel which says, For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16 And again, He that believes in the Son is not judged, but has passed out of death into life. But he that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. And John testified concerning Him, saying, And we beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten from the father—full of grace and truth : at whom the devils trembled and said, Ah! What have we to do with You, Jesus, Thou Son of the living GodLuke 4:34 .
7. He is then the Son of God by nature and not by adoption , begotten of the Father. And he that loves Him that begot, loves Him also that is begotten of Him1 John 5:1; but he that despises Him that is begotten casts back the insult upon Him who begot. And whenever thou hear of God begetting, sink not down in thought to bodily things, nor think of a corruptible generation, lest you be guilty of impiety. God is a Spirit , His generation is spiritual: for bodies beget bodies, and for the generation of bodies time needs must intervene; but time intervenes not in the generation of the Son from the Father. And in our case what is begotten is begotten imperfect: but the Son of God was begotten perfect; for what He is now, that is He also from the beginning , begotten without beginning. We are begotten so as to pass from infantile ignorance to a state of reason: your generation, O man, is imperfect, for your growth is progressive. But think not that it is thus in His case, nor impute infirmity to Him who has begotten. For if that which He begot was imperfect, and acquired its perfection in time, you are imputing infirmity to Him who has begotten; if so be, the Father did not bestow from the beginning that which, as you say, time bestowed afterwards.
8. Think not therefore that this generation is human, nor as Abraham begot Isaac. For in begetting Isaac, Abraham begot not what he would, but what another granted. But in God the Father’s begetting there is neither ignorance nor intermediate deliberation. For to say that He knew not what He was begetting is the greatest impiety; and it is no less impious to say, that after deliberation in time He then became a Father. For God was not previously without a Son, and afterwards in time became a Father; but has the Son eternally, having begotten Him not as men beget men, but as Himself only knows, who begot Him before all ages Very God.
9. For the Father being Very God begot the Son like Himself, Very God ; not as teachers beget disciples, not as Paul says to some, For in Christ Jesus I begot you through the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 4:15 For in this case he who was not a son by nature became a son by discipleship, but in the former case He was a Son by nature, a true Son. Not as you, who are to be illuminated, are now becoming sons of God: for you also become sons, but by adoption of grace, as it is written, But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God, even to them that believe in His name: which were begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 And we indeed are begotten of water and of the Spirit, but not thus was Christ begotten of the Father. For at the time of His Baptism addressing Him, and saying, This is My SonMatthew 3:17, He did not say,
This has now become My Son, but, This is My Son; that He might make manifest, that even before the operation of Baptism He was a Son.
10. The Father begot the Son, not as among men mind begets word. For the mind is substantially existent in us; but the word when spoken is dispersed into the air and comes to an end. But we know Christ to have been begotten not as a word pronounced , but as a Word substantially existing and living; not spoken by the lips, and dispersed, but begotten of the Father eternally and ineffably, in substance. For, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodJohn 1:1, sitting at God’s right hand—the Word understanding the Father’s will, and creating all things at His bidding: the Word, which came down and went up; for the word of utterance when spoken comes not down, nor goes up; the Word speaking and saying, The things which I have seen with My Father, these I speakJohn 8:38: the Word possessed of power, and reigning over all things: for the Father has committed all things unto the Son.
11. The Father then begot Him not in such wise as any man could understand, but as Himself only knows. For we profess not to tell in what manner He begot Him, but we insist that it was not in this manner. And not we only are ignorant of the generation of the Son from the Father, but so is every created nature. Speak to the earth, if perchance it may teach youJob 12:8: and though thou inquire of all things which are upon the earth, they shall not be able to tell you. For the earth cannot tell the substance of Him who is its own potter and fashioner. Nor is the earth alone ignorant, but the sun also : for the sun was created on the fourth day, without knowing what had been made in the three days before him; and he who knows not the things made in the three days before him, cannot tell forth the Maker Himself. Heaven will not declare this: for at the Father’s bidding the heaven also was like smoke established by Christ. Nor shall the heaven of heavens declare this, nor the waters which are above the heavens. Why then art you cast down, O man, at being ignorant of that which even the heavens know not? Nay, not only are the heavens ignorant of this generation, but also every angelic nature. For if any one should ascend, were it possible, into the first heaven, and perceiving the ranks of the Angels there should approach and ask them how God begot His own Son, they would say perhaps,
We have above us beings greater and higher; ask them. Go up to the second heaven and the third; attain, if you can, to Thrones, and Dominions, and Principalities, and Powers: and even if any one should reach them, which is impossible, they also would decline the explanation, for they know it not.
12. For my part, I have ever wondered at the curiosity of the bold men, who by their imagined reverence fall into impiety. For though they know nothing of Thrones, and Dominions, and Principalities, and Powers, the workmanship of Christ, they attempt to scrutinise their Creator Himself. Tell me first, O most daring man, wherein does Throne differ from Dominion, and then scrutinise what pertains to Christ. Tell me what is a Principality, and what a Power, and what a Virtue, and what an Angel: and then search out their Creator, for all things were made by Him. John 1:3 But you will not, or you can not ask Thrones or Dominions. What else is there that knows the deep things of God 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 , save only the Holy Ghost, who spoke the Divine Scriptures? But not even the Holy Ghost Himself has spoken in the Scriptures concerning the generation of the Son from the Father. Why then do you busy yourself about things which not even the Holy Ghost has written in the Scriptures? Thou that know not the things which are written, busiest you yourself about the things which are not written? There are many questions in the Divine Scriptures; what is written we comprehend not, why do we busy ourselves about what is not written? It is sufficient for us to know that God has begotten One Only Son.