by Christopher H. Dawson, Theodoret

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Catholic University of America Press
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Fathers of the Church Ser.
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5.56(w) x 8.64(h) x 0.94(d)

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ISBN: 978-0-8132-0106-1

Chapter One


ORTHODOX. It would have been better for us to agree and preserve the apostolic teaching in its integrity. But since you have for some reason destroyed harmony and are now offering us worthless doctrines, let us please search for the truth together without quarreling.

Eranistes. We do not need a search, for we clearly possess the truth.

Orthodox. Every heretic has assumed this. Why, even the Jews and the Greeks think that they are defending doctrines of truth, and this includes, not only the devotees of Plato and Pythagoras, but also the followers of Epicurus, outright atheists, and agnostics. We should not, however, be slaves of preconception, but should rather seek true knowledge.

Eranistes. I yield to your recommendation and accept your proposal.

Orthodox. In that case, since you willingly accepted my first request, I also beg you not to entrust the search for truth to human arguments, but to look instead for the tracks of the apostles, the prophets, and the holy people who followed them. For this is what travelers like to do when they go off the main road; they examine the paths carefully and look for footprints that show the comings and goings of people, horses, donkeys, or mules. And when they find some, they track them, like dogs, and do not stop until they recover the right road.

Eranistes. Let's do this. You lead the way, therefore, since you started the discussion.

Orthodox. Let us begin, then, with a thorough examination of terms about God, namely, substance, subsistent entities, persons, and properties; let us get to know them and distinguish them from one another, and then let us continue from there.

Eranistes. You have provided our dialogue with a most eloquent and indispensable introduction. For when these matters have been clarified, the discussion will proceed more smoothly.

Orthodox. Well then, since we agree and have decided upon this procedure, answer this question, [64] my friend. Do we say that there is one substance of God-the Father, the only begotten Son, and the all-Holy Spirit-as we were taught by divine Scripture, both old and new, and by the fathers who were gathered at Nicaea, or do we follow the blasphemies of Arius?

Eranistes. We confess one substance of the Holy Trinity.

Orthodox. Do we think that subsistent entity means something other than substance, or do we consider it a synonym for substance?

Eranistes. Does substance somehow differ from subsistent entity?

Orthodox. Not according to secular wisdom, where substance means "that which is," while subsistent entity means "that which exists." But according to the teaching of the fathers, substance differs from subsistent entity as the common differs from the proper, or as the genus differs from the species or the individual.

Eranistes. Clarify genus, species, and individual.

Orthodox. We call "living being" a genus, since it points to many things under the same aspect; for it refers to both the rational and the irrational. There are in turn many species of irrational things, such as winged, amphibious, land, and water animals. And each of these species has many subdivisions; among those that go on land are the lion, the leopard, the bull, and countless others. There are also many species of both the winged type and the others; but nevertheless they all belong to the genus of "living being" and their species are the ones just named.

In the same way the name "human being" is a name common to this nature, for it refers to the Roman, the Athenian, the Persian, the Sauromatian, the Egyptian, and, in brief, all who share this nature. The name Paul or Peter, however, no longer signifies what is common to the nature, but rather the individual human being. For no one who heard the name Paul would wander off in thought to Adam, Abraham, or Jacob, but would think only of this person whose personal name he heard. When we simply hear "human being," however, we do not direct our thought to the individual, but understand rather the Indian, the Scythian, the Massagete, and the whole human race in general.

And we learn this not only from nature, but from divine [65] Scripture as well; for it says, "God said, 'I shall wipe out from the face of the earth the human being whom I have formed.'" God said this concerning countless multitudes, since it was more than 2200 years after Adam that God totally destroyed human beings through the flood. And blessed David speaks in the same way: "A human being who is honored has not understood"; he is not accusing one individual or another, but all human beings in general. We could find many other examples, but we must not speak too long.

Eranistes. The difference between the common and the proper has been clearly defined. But let us return to the discussion of substance and subsistent entity.

Orthodox. Well, just as the term "human being" is a common name of this nature, we say in the same way that the divine substance signifies the Holy Trinity, while the subsistent entity denotes a person, such as the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. For we follow the limits set down by the holy fathers and say that subsistent entity, person, and property all signify the same thing.

Eranistes. We agree that this is true.

Orthodox. So terms that are predicated of the divine nature, such as "God," "Lord," "creator," "ruler of all," and others like them, are therefore common to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Eranistes. They are certainly common to the Trinity.

Orthodox. Words that denote the subsistent entities, however, are no longer common to the Holy Trinity, but belong only to that subsistent entity whose properties they are. For example, the words "Father" and "unbegotten" are proper to the Father, and the terms "Son," "only begotten," and "God the Word" do not refer to the Father or the Holy Spirit, but to the Son. And "Holy Spirit" and "Paraclete" denote the subsistent entity of the Spirit.

Eranistes. But doesn't divine Scripture call both the Father and the Son spirit?

Orthodox. It called the Father and the Son spirit in order to show that the divine nature is incorporeal [66] and unlimited; but it calls only the subsistent entity of the Spirit Holy Spirit.

Eranistes. This too is beyond question.

Orthodox. Since we say, then, that certain qualities are common to the Holy Trinity, while others are proper to each subsistent entity, do we say that the term "immutability" is common to the substance, or proper to a certain subsistent entity?

Eranistes. The term "immutable" is common to the Trinity, because it is impossible for one part of the substance to be mutable, while another part is immutable.

Orthodox. Well said. For just as mortality is common to human beings, so immutability and unchangeability are common to the Holy Trinity. The only begotten Son is, therefore, immutable, as are the Father who begot him, and the Holy Spirit.

Eranistes. The Son is immutable.

Orthodox. Then why do you attribute change to the immutable nature by introducing that Gospel text, "The Word became flesh"?

Eranistes. We say that the Word became flesh, not by changing, but in a manner he himself knows.

Orthodox. If you say that the Word became flesh but did not assume flesh, then you must choose one of two conclusions: Either the Word underwent a change into flesh, or was seen this way in appearance, but in actual reality was God without flesh.

Eranistes. This is the opinion of the Valentinians, the Marcionites, and the Manichaeans. We were taught clearly that God the Word was made flesh.

Orthodox. How do you understand "was made flesh"? The assumption of flesh or a change into flesh?

Eranistes. It means what we heard from the evangelist, who says, "The Word became flesh."

Orthodox. How do you understand this word "became"? Do you mean that the Word became flesh by undergoing a change into flesh?

[67] Eranistes. I already said that he knows, and we know that all things are possible for him.15 For he changed the Nile's water into blood and day into night, presented the sea as dry land, and filled the arid desert with water. And we also hear the prophet say, "All that the Lord wished, he did, in heaven and on earth."

Orthodox. The creator transforms creation as he wishes, because creation is mutable and obeys the commands of the creator. But the creator has an immutable and unchangeable nature. That is why the prophet says about creation, "The one who makes all things and transforms them." And mighty David says about God the Word, "You are the same, and your years will not fail." And it was God who says about himself, "I am and I have not been changed."

Eranistes. It is wrong to investigate things that have been concealed.

Orthodox. And [it is also wrong] to be totally ignorant of things that have been revealed.

Eranistes. I do not know how the Incarnation took place; but I did hear that "The Word became flesh."

Orthodox. If the Word became flesh by changing, he did not remain what he was before. And it is easy to learn this from many examples. When a certain type of sand comes into contact with fire, it first liquefies and then is hardened into glass; and it alters its name with the change, since it is no longer called sand, but glass.

Eranistes. That is true.

Orthodox. And we call the fruit of the vine a grape; but when we press it out, we call it wine, not a grape.

Eranistes. Correct.

Orthodox. And when the wine has turned sour, we usually call it vinegar, not wine.

Eranistes. True.

Orthodox. And when we have refined and dissolved stone, we no longer call it stone, but lime or gypsum. We could find thousands of things like these, which alter their names when they change.

[68] Eranistes. I agree.

Orthodox. If you say, then, that God the Word underwent a change into flesh, please tell me why you call [the Word] God, but not flesh? For the change of name is in harmony with the modification of the nature. If things that have undergone a change have some relationship with their previous state-for vinegar is somehow close to wine, as is wine to the fruit of the vine, and glass to sand-then they share in the other name after the change. But when the difference is infinite and as great as that between a gnat and all visible and invisible creation-for the difference between flesh and divinity is so great, and in fact even much greater than that-how can the former name remain after the change?

Eranistes. I have often said that the Word did not become flesh by undergoing a change, but that, remaining what it was, became what it was not.

Orthodox. But if this word "became" is not clarified, it suggests change and alteration. For if the Word became flesh, but did not take flesh, then he became flesh by undergoing a change.

Eranistes. This word "take" is your invention, for the evangelist says, "The Word became flesh."

Orthodox. It seems you are either ignorant of divine Scripture, or familiar with it, but malicious. So I shall teach you, if you are ignorant, or refute you, if you are malicious. Answer this, therefore. Do you admit that the divine Paul's teaching is spiritual?

Eranistes. Of course.

Orthodox. And do you say that the same Spirit worked through the evangelists and through the apostles?

Eranistes. I do. For I was taught this by the Apostle's words; for he says, "There are different gifts, but the same Spirit," and, "One and the same Spirit works all these things, dispensing individually to each one as [the Spirit] wishes." He also says, "Having the same Spirit of faith."

Orthodox. You introduced the apostolic testimony at the perfect moment. If [69] we say, therefore, that the teachings of the evangelists and of the apostles come from the same Spirit, listen to the Apostle as he interprets the Gospel passage. For in his letter to the Hebrews he says, "For surely he does not take hold of the angels, but takes hold of the seed of Abraham." He did not say, he became the seed of Abraham, but "he takes hold of the seed of Abraham." Tell me, then, what do you understand by the seed of Abraham?

Eranistes. It obviously refers to Abraham's nature.

Orthodox. Did the seed of Abraham, then, also have everything that Abraham had by nature?

Eranistes. It did not have everything, for Christ did not sin.

Orthodox. Sin does not flow from nature, but from evil free will. That is why I did not simply say, "what Abraham had," but rather, "what he had by nature," namely, a body and a rational soul. Tell me clearly, therefore, if you admit that the seed of Abraham is both a body and a rational soul. If you do not, then you agree in this matter with the babblings of Apollinarius. But I am going to force you to admit this in another way. Tell me, then, do the Jews have a body and a rational soul?

Eranistes. Of course they do.

Orthodox. Then when we hear the prophet say, "You, Israel my child, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham, whom I have loved," we don't think, do we, that the Jews are only flesh and not complete human beings composed of bodies and rational souls?

Eranistes. That's true.

Orthodox. And [don't we think] that the seed of Abraham is not without a soul and not without a mind, but that it possesses everything that belongs to Abraham's nature?

Eranistes. Whoever says this advocates two sons.

Orthodox. And whoever says that God the Word underwent a change into flesh does not even maintain one son, for flesh in and by itself is not a son. But we confess one Son, who, according to the divine Apostle, took hold of the seed of Abraham and brought about the salvation of human beings. If you are not satisfied with the apostolic teaching, admit it openly.

[70] Eranistes. We say that the apostles made conflicting statements; for "The Word became flesh" somehow seems to contradict "He took hold of the seed of Abraham."

Orthodox. Harmonious statements seem contradictory to you, because either you lack understanding or you enjoy useless controversy. For those who argue thoughtfully see no conflict here, because the divine Apostle teaches that God the Word became flesh, not by undergoing a change, but by taking hold of the seed of Abraham. At the same time he also recalls the promises made to Abraham. Or are you forgetting the promises that were made to the patriarch by the God of the universe?

Eranistes. Which promises?

Orthodox. When God led him from his ancestral home and ordered him to go to Palestine, didn't God say to him, "I shall bless those who bless you, and I shall curse those who curse you; and all the nations of the earth will be blessed in your seed"?

Eranistes. I remember these promises.

Orthodox. Then remember also the covenants God made with Isaac and Jacob. For God also made the same promises to them, confirming the original ones with the second and the third.

Eranistes. I remember these too.

Orthodox. The divine Apostle is interpreting these covenants when he says, in the letter to the Galatians, "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, 'and to his seeds,' as though referring to many, but, as though referring to one, 'and to his seed,' who is Christ." So he shows quite clearly that the humanity of Christ sprang from Abraham's seed and fulfilled the promise made to Abraham.

Eranistes. This is what the Apostle said.

Orthodox. And this is enough to resolve every controversy that arises over this question. But I shall remind you of still another prophecy. The patriarch Jacob gave to his son Judah alone this blessing, which had been given to him, to his father, and to his grandfather. [71] He said this: "A ruler shall not fail from Judah, nor a leader from his thighs, until he comes for whom it has been reserved, and he is the expectation of the nations." Or don't you accept this prophecy as spoken about Christ the savior?


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