Athanasius De Decr., 18-22; 31f

18. Now Eusebius and his fellows were at the former period examined at great length, and convicted themselves, as I said before; on this they subscribed; and after this change of mind they kept in quiet and retirement ; but since the present party, in the fresh arrogance of irreligion, and in dizziness about the truth, are full set upon accusing the Council, let them tell us what are the sort of Scriptures from which they have learned, or who is the Saint by whom they have been taught, that they have heaped together the phrases, ‘out of nothing ,’ and ‘He was not before His generation,’ and ‘once He was not,’ and ‘alterable,’ and ‘pre-existence,’ and ‘at the will.’ which are their fables in mockery of the Lord. For the blessed Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews says, ‘By faith we understand that the ages were framed by the Word of God, so that that which is seen was not made of things which do appear Hebrews 11:3.’ But nothing is common to the Word with the ages ; for He it is who is in existence before the ages, by whom also the ages came to be. And in the Shepherd it is written (since they allege this book also, though it is not of the Canon ), ‘First of all believe, that God is one, who created all things, and arranged them, and brought all things from nothing into being;’ but this again does not relate to the Son, for it speaks concerning all things which came to be through Him, from whom He is distinct; for it is not possible to reckon the Framer of all with the things made by Him, unless a man is so beside himself as to say that the architect also is the same as the buildings which he rears.

Why then, when they have invented on their part unscriptural phrases, for the purposes of irreligion, do they accuse those who are religious in their use of them ? For irreligiousness is utterly forbidden, though it be attempted to disguise it with artful expressions and plausible sophisms; but religiousness is confessed by all to be lawful, even though presented in strange phrases , provided only they are used with a religious view, and a wish to make them the expression of religious thoughts. Now the aforesaid grovelling phrases of Christ’s enemies have been shown in these remarks to be both formerly and now replete with irreligion; whereas the definition of the Council against them, if accurately examined, will be found to be altogether a representation of the truth, and especially if diligent attention be paid to the occasion which gave rise to these expressions, which was reasonable, and was as follows:—

19. The Council wishing to do away with the irreligious phrases of the Arians, and to use instead the acknowledged words of the Scriptures, that the Son is not from nothing but ‘from God,’ and is ‘Word’ and ‘Wisdom,’ and not creature or work, but a proper offspring from the Father, Eusebius and his fellows, led by their inveterate heterodoxy, understood the phrase ‘from God?’ as belonging to us, as if in respect to it the Word of God differed nothing from us, and that because it is written, ‘There is one God, from whom, all things 1 Corinthians 8:6;’ and again, ‘Old things are passed away, behold, all things have become new, and all things are from God 2 Corinthians 5:17.’ But the Fathers, perceiving their craft and the cunning of their irreligion, were forced to express more distinctly the sense of the words ‘from God.’ Accordingly, they wrote ‘from the essence of God ,’ in order that ‘from God?’ might not be considered common and equal in the Son and in things originate, but that all others might be acknowledged as creatures, and the Word alone as from the Father. For though all things be said to be from God, yet this is not in the sense in which the Son is from Him; for as to the creatures, ‘of God?’ is said of them on this account, in that they exist not at random or spontaneously, nor come to be by chance , according to those philosophers who refer them to the combination of atoms, and to elements of similar structure—nor as certain heretics speak of a distinct Framer,— nor as others again say that the constitution of all things is from certainAngels;— but in that (whereas God is), it was by Him that all things were brought into being, not being before, through His Word; but as to the Word, since He is not a creature, He alone is both called and is ‘from the Father.’ and it is significant of this sense to say that the Son is ‘from the essence of the Father,’ for to nothing originate does this attach. In truth, when Paul says that ‘all things are from God,’ he immediately adds, ‘and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things 1 Corinthians 8:6,’ in order to show all men, that the Son is other than all these things which came to be from God (for the things which came to be from God, came to be through His Son); and that he had used his foregoing words with reference to the world as framed by God , and not as if all things were from the Father as the Son is. For neither are other things as the Son, nor is the Word one among others, for He is Lord and Framer of all; and on this account did the Holy Council declare expressly that He was of the essence of the Father, that we might believe the Word to be other than the nature of things originate, being alone truly from God; and that no subterfuge should be left open to the irreligious. This then was the reason why the Council wrote ‘of the essence.’

20. Again, when the Bishops said that the Word must be described as the True Power and Image of the Father, in all things exact and like the Father, and as unalterable, and as always, and as in Him without division (for never was the Word not, but He was always, existing everlastingly with the Father, as the radiance of light), Eusebius and his fellows endured indeed, as not daring to contradict, being put to shame by the arguments which were urged against them; but withal they were caught whispering to each other and winking with their eyes, that ‘like,’ and ‘always,’ and ‘power,’ and ‘in Him,’ were, as before, common to us and the Son, and that it was no difficulty to agree to these. As to ‘like,’ they said that it is written of us, ‘Man is the image and glory of God 1 Corinthians 11:7:’ ‘always,’ that it was written, ‘For we which live are always 2 Corinthians 4:11:’ ‘in Him,’ ‘In Him we live and move and have our being Acts 17:28:’ ‘unalterable,’ that it is written, ‘Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ :’ as to ‘power,’ that the caterpillar and the locust are called ‘power’ and ‘great power Joel 2:25,’ and that it is often said of the people, for instance, ‘All the power of the Lord came out of the land of Egypt Exodus 12:41:’ and there are others also, heavenly ones, for Scripture says, ‘The Lord of powers is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. ‘ Indeed Asterius, by title the sophist, had said the like in writing, having learned it from them, and before him Arius having learned it also, as has been said. But the Bishops discerning in this too their dissimulation, and whereas it is written, ‘Deceit is in the heart of the irreligious that imagine evil Proverbs 12:20,’ were again compelled on their part to collect the sense of the Scriptures, and to re-say and re-write what they had said before, more distinctly still, namely, that the Son is ‘one in essence ‘ with the Father: by way of signifying, that the Son was from the Father, and not merely like, but the same in likeness , and of showing that the Son’s likeness and unalterableness was different from such copy of the same as is ascribed to us, which we acquire from virtue on the ground of observance of the commandments. For bodies which are like each other may be separated and become at distances from each other, as are human sons relatively to their parents (as it is written concerning Adam and Seth, who was begotten of him that he was like him after his own pattern Genesis 5:3); but since the generation of the Son from the Father is not according to the nature of men, and not only like, but also inseparable from the essence of the Father, and He and the Father are one, as He has said Himself, and the Word is ever in the Father and the Father in the Word, as the radiance stands towards the light (for this the phrase itself indicates), therefore the Council, as understanding this, suitably wrote ‘one in essence,’ that they might both defeat the perverseness of the heretics, and show that the Word was other than originated things. For, after thus writing, they at once added, ‘But they who say that the Son of God is from nothing, or created, or alterable, or a work, or from other essence, these the Holy Catholic Church anathematizes. ‘ And by saying this, they showed clearly that ‘of the essence,’ and ‘one in essence,’ are destructive of those catchwords of irreligion, such as ‘created,’ and ‘work,’ and ‘originated,’ and ‘alterable,’ and ‘He was not before His generation.’ And he who holds these, contradicts the Council; but he who does not hold with Arius, must needs hold and intend the decisions of the Council, suitably regarding them to signify the relation of the radiance to the light, and from thence gaining the illustration of the truth.

21. Therefore if they, as the others, make an excuse that the terms are strange, let them consider the sense in which the Council so wrote, and anathematize what the Councilanathematized; and then if they can, let them find fault with the expressions. But I well know that, if they hold the sense of the Council, they will fully accept the terms in which it is conveyed; whereas if it be the sense which they wish to complain of, all must see that it is idle in them to discuss the wording, when they are but seeking handles for irreligion. This then was the reason of these expressions; but if they still complain that such are not scriptural, that very complaint is a reason why they should be cast out, as talking idly and disordered in mind. And let them blame themselves in this matter, for they set the example, beginning their war against God with words not in Scripture. However, if a person is interested in the question, let him know, that, even if the expressions are not in so many words in the Scriptures, yet, as was said before, they contain the sense of the Scriptures, and expressing it, they convey it to those who have their hearing unimpaired for religious doctrine. Now this circumstance it is for you to consider, and for those ill-instructed men to give ear to. It has been shown above, and must be believed as true, that the Word is from the Father, and the only Offspring proper to Him and natural. For whence may one conceive the Son to be, who is the Wisdom and the Word, in whom all things came to be, but from God Himself? However, the Scriptures also teach us this, since the Father says by David, ‘My heart uttered a good Word ,’ and, ‘From the womb before the morning star I begot You ;’ and the Son signifies to the Jews about Himself, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth from the Father John 8:42.’ And again; ‘Not that anyone has seen the Father, save He which is from God, He has seen the Father. ‘ And moreover, ‘I and My Father are one,’ and, ‘I in the Father and the Father in Me ,’ is equivalent to saying, ‘I am from the Father, and inseparable from Him.’ And John in saying, ‘The Only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him, ‘ spoke of what He had learned from the Saviour. Besides, what else does ‘in the bosom’ intimate, but the Son’s genuine generation from the Father?

22. If then any man conceives God to be compound, as accident is in essence, or to have any external envelopement , and to be encompassed, or as if there is anything about Him which completes the essence, so that when we say ‘God,’ or name ‘Father,’ we do not signify the invisible and incomprehensible essence, but something about it, then let them complain of the Council’s stating that the Son was from the essence of God; but let them reflect, that in thus considering they utter two blasphemies; for they make God corporeal, and they falsely say that the Lord is not Son of the very Father, but of what is about Him. But if God be simple, as He is, it follows that in saying ‘God’ and naming ‘Father,’ we name nothing as if about Him, but signify his essence itself. For though to comprehend what the essence of God is be impossible, yet if we only understand that God is, and if Scripture indicates Him by means of these titles, we, with the intention of indicating Him and none else, call Him God and Father and Lord. When then He says, ‘I am that I am,’ and ‘I am the Lord God Exodus 3:14-15,’ or when Scripture says, ‘God,’ we understand nothing else by it but the intimation of His incomprehensible essence Itself, and that He Is, who is spoken of. Therefore let no one be startled on hearing that the Son of God is from the Essence of the Father; but rather let him accept the explanation of the Fathers, who in more explicit but equivalent language have for ‘from God?’ written ‘of the essence.’ For they considered it the same thing to say that the Word was ‘of God?’ and ‘of the essence of God,’ since the word ‘God,’ as I have already said, signifies nothing but the essence of Him Who Is. If then the Word is not in such sense from God, as a son, genuine and natural, from a father, but only as creatures because they are framed, and as ‘all things are from God,’ then neither is He from the essence of the Father, nor is the Son again Son according to essence, but in consequence of virtue, as we who are called sons by grace. But if He only is from God, as a genuine Son, as He is, then the Son may reasonably be called from the essence of God.


31. Therefore it will be much more accurate to denote God from the Son and to call Him Father, than to name Him and call Him Unoriginated from His works only; for the latter term refers to the works that have come to be at the will of God through the Word, but the name of Father points out the proper offspring from His essence. And whereas the Word surpasses things originated, by so much and more also does calling God Father surpass the calling Him Unoriginated; for the latter is non-scriptural and suspicious, as it has various senses; but the former is simple and scriptural, and more accurate, and alone implies the Son. And ‘Unoriginated’ is a word of the Greeks who know not the Son: but ‘Father’ has been acknowledged and vouchsafed by our Lord; for He knowing Himself whose Son He was, said, ‘I in the Father and the Father in Me John 14:9-10;’ and, ‘He that has seen Me has seen the Father.’ and, ‘I and the Father are one ;’ but nowhere is He found to call the Father Unoriginated. Moreover, when He teaches us to pray, He says not, ‘When ye pray, say, O GodUnoriginated,’ but rather, ‘When ye pray, say, Our Father, which art in heaven Matthew 6:9.’ And it was His Will, that the Summary of our faith should have the same bearing. For He has bid us be baptized, not in the name of Unoriginate and Originate, not into the name of Uncreate and Creature, but into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit , for with such an initiation we too are made sons verily , and using the name of the Father, we acknowledge from that name the Word in the Father. But if He wills that we should call His own Father our Father, we must not on that account measure ourselves with the Son according to nature, for it is because of the Son that the Father is so called by us; for since the Word bore our body and came to be in us, therefore by reason of the Word in us, is God called our Father. For the Spirit of the Word in us names through us His own Father as ours, which is the Apostle’s meaning when he says, ‘God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father Galatians 4:6.’

32. But perhaps being refuted as touching the term Unoriginate also, they will say according to their evil nature, ‘It behooved, as regards our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ also, to state from the Scriptures what is there written of Him, and not to introduce non-scriptural expressions.’ Yes, it behooved, say I too; for the tokens of truth are more exact as drawn from Scripture, than from other sources ; but the ill disposition and the versatile and crafty irreligion of Eusebius and his fellows, compelled the Bishops, as I said before, to publish more distinctly the terms which overthrew their irreligion; and what the Council did write has already been shown to have an orthodox sense, while the Arians have been shown to be corrupt in their phrases, and evil in their dispositions. The term Unoriginate, having its own sense, and admitting of a religious use, they nevertheless, according to their own idea, and as they will, use for the dishonour of the Saviour, all for the sake of contentiously maintaining, like giants , their fight with God. But as they did not escape condemnation when they adduced these former phrases, so when they misconceive of the Unoriginated which in itself admits of being used well and religiously, they were detected, being disgraced before all, and their heresy everywhere proscribed. This then, as I could, have I related, by way of explaining what was formerly done in the Council; but I know that the contentious among Christ’s foes will not be disposed to change even after hearing this, but will ever search about for other pretences, and for others again after those. For as the Prophet speaks, ‘If the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots Jeremiah 13:23 ‘, then will they be willing to think religiously, who have been instructed in irreligion. Thou however, beloved, on receiving this, read it by yourself; and if you approve of it, read it also to the brethren who happen to be present, that they too on hearing it, may welcome the Council’s zeal for the truth, and the exactness of its sense; and may condemn that of Christ’s foes, the Arians, and the futile pretences, which for the sake of their irreligious heresy they have been at the pains to frame among themselves; because to God and the Father is due the glory, honour, and worship with His co-existent Son and Word, together with the All-holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and unto endless ages of ages. Amen.