Athanasius to Bishop Serapion concerning the Holy Spirit Epistle 2

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1 . I was of the opinion that, even as it was, I had written briefly ; indeed, I taxed myself with great weakness, that I could not put into writing all that it is humanly possible to say against those who are guilty of impiety toward the Holy Spirit. But since, as you write, some of the brethren have actually asked that it should be abridged, so that they may have the means readily and briefly both to answer those who inquire concerning the faith that is in us, and to refute those who are impious, I am composing this as well, being confident that if here too there is anything lacking, you will not scruple to supply it. The Arians, being engrossed in themselves, and thinking with the Sadducees that there is nothing greater or beyond themselves, have met the inspired Scripture with human arguments. When they hear that the Son is the Wisdom, Radiance, and Word of the Father, they are accustomed to rejoin, ‘How can this be ?’, as though nothing can be unless they understand it. At that rate, they should occupy their minds with similar questions about the universe as well. How can creation, which once was not, come into being ? How can dust of the earth be fashioned into a rational man? How can the corruptible become incorruptible? How has the earth been founded ‘upon the seas’, and how did God ‘prepare it upon the floods’? Then, last of all, they ought to add to themselves, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die’: that it may be clear that, when they perish, u their insane heresy will perish with them!

2. This opinion of the Arians is indeed mortal and corruptible. But the argument of truth, which even they ought to ponder, runs like this: If God is Fountain and Light and Father, it is not lawful to say that the fountain is dry, or that the light has no ray, or that God has no Word; lest God be without wisdom, reason, and brightness. As, therefore, the Father is eternal, the Son also must be eternal; for whatsoever we see in the Father must without question also be in the Son. For the Lord himself says, ‘All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine’, and all ‘mine’ belong to the Father. The Father is eternal, the Son also is eternal; for through him the ages came into being. The Father is One that is; of necessity, the Son also is ‘He that is over all, God blessed for ever, Amen’, as the Apostle said. It is not lawful to say of the Father: ‘There was once when he was not’; it is unlawful to say of the Son : ‘There was once when he was not.’ The Father is Almighty; the Son also is Almighty, as John says: ‘These things saith he which is and which was and which is to come, the Almighty.’ The Father is light; the Son is radiance and true light. The Father is true God ; the Son is true God. For thus John wrote: ‘We are in him that is true, in his Son, Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.’ To sum up, of that which the Father has, there is nothing which does not belong to the Son. Therefore the Son is in the Father, and the Father is in the Son; for the things that belong to the Father, these are in the Son, and again they are seen in the Father. Thus is understood the saying: ‘I and the Father are one.’ For there are not some things in the Father and others in the Son; but the things that are in the Father are in the Son also. And if you see in the Son those things which you see in the Father, you have a right understanding of the saying: ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.’

3. When these points are thus proved, he is impious who says that the Son is a creature. For he will be compelled also to give the name of creature to the Fountain which sends forth as its creature Wisdom, the Word, in whom are all the things of the Father. Above all, from what follows can one observe how rotten is the heresy of the Arian madmen. Those to whom we are alike and whose identical nature we share, with these we are one in essence. For example, we men, because we are alike and share the same identical nature, are one in essence with each other. For it belongs to us all to be mortal, corruptible, capable of change, originated from nothing. So too are the angels among themselves, and all the rest in so far as they are one in nature with each other. Let these busybodies then examine whether the creatures have any likeness to the Son, or whether they can find in things originate the things that are in the Son, that they dare to call God’s Word a creature. But they will not find them there, these men who rush impetuously at everything and who go astray from true religion. Among the creatures none is almighty, and none is in subjection to another; for each belongs to God himself.

‘The heavens declare the glory of God’; and, ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’; ‘The sea saw and fled’. All things are the servants of him who is their Maker, doing his word and obeying his decree. But the Son, like the Father, is Almighty; as we have shown from Scripture. Again, among the creatures there is none that is not by nature capable of change. Some of the angels ‘kept not their own rank’; and, ‘The stars are not pure in his sight’. The devil fell from heaven; Adam transgressed; and all things suffer alteration. So Paul reminds us from the hundred and first Psalm: ‘Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou continuest; and they shall all wax old as doth a garment; and as a mantle shalt thou roll them up . . . and they shall be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.’ And again he says: ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, yea and for ever!’

4. Again, all things originate were not and have come into being. For, ‘He made the earth as nothing’; and, ‘Who calleth the things that are not as though they were’; and they are also ‘works’ and ‘creatures’. Therefore they have a beginning from which they come to be. For ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’, and all that in them is; and again: ‘All these things hath mine hand made.’ But the Son, like the Father, is ‘One that is’ and ‘God over all things’, as we have shown. He is not made, he makes; he is not created, but creates and makes the works of the Father. Through him ‘the ages’ came to be; and, ‘All things have come to be through him, and without him has not anything come to be’. And, as the Apostle has expounded the contents of the Psalm, he himself at the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of his hands. Again, none of the creatures is by nature God. Each thing that comes into being has been called whatever it has come to be: one heaven, another earth; some planets, others stars; yet others seas, depths, four footed things; and finally, man. And previous to these, angels and archangels, cherubim, virtues, principalities, powers, dominions, paradise. And so each remains. But if some have been called gods, u they are not so by nature, but by participation in the Son. Thus he himself said, ‘If he called them gods, unto whom the Word of God came . . .’Hence, because they are not gods by nature, there comes a time when some of them suffer a change and hear him say: ‘I said, Ye are gods and sons of the Most High. Nevertheless, ye die like men.’ Such was he who heard God say: ‘Thou art a man and not god.’ But the Son, like the Father, is true God. For he is in him, and the Father in the Son. John wrote it, as we have shown; and David sings: ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever ; a sceptre of equity is the sceptre of thy kingdom.’ And the prophet Isaiah cries: ‘Egypt was overwhelmed and the commerce of the Ethiopians; and the Sabaeans, men of stature, shall come over to thee, and they shall follow behind thee bound with fetters, and they shall worship thee, because God is in thee. For thou art the God of Israel, and we knew thee not.’ Who is this God in whom God is, except the Son who said: ‘I am in the Father and the Father in me’?

5. Since these things are true and are written in Scripture, who does not recognize that, inasmuch as the Son has no likeness to the creatures but has all that belongs to the Father, he must be one in essence with the father? He would be one in essence with the creatures, had he any like- ness to them or any kinship with them. So likewise, being by essence foreign to things originate and being the Word who is proper to the Father, inasmuch as the Word is different from things originate and has as his own properties all that belongs to the Father, it follows that he will be one in essence with the Father. Thus the Fathers understood it, when at the Council of Nicaea they confessed that the Son is ‘one in essence with the Father’, and ‘from the essence of the Father’. Well they realized that created essence could never say : ‘All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine.’ Because it has a beginning from which it came to be, we do not predicate of it that it ‘has being’ and that it ‘was eternally’. Inasmuch, therefore, as the Son does receive these predicates, and as all the things mentioned above that belong to the Father belong to him, it must be that the essence of the Son is not created, but that he is one in essence with the Father. Created essence his cannot be, for this reason above all, that it can comprehend the properties of God. By his properties, I mean the things whereby he is recognized to be God: for example, that he is omnipotent, that he has being, that he is incapable of alteration, and the others aforementioned ; lest, by having what the creatures also can have, God himself should appear in the sight of fools to be one in essence with the creatures.

6. In this way too we can refute the impiety of those who say that the Word of God is a creature. Our faith is in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as the Son himself said to the apostles: ‘Go ye, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ He spoke thus that by means of things we know we may understand the matters of which we have been speaking. Just as we would not call our fathers makers, but begetters, and as no one would call us their creatures, but sons by nature and one in essence with them: so, if God be Father, he must be Father of one who is by nature a Son and one in essence with him. Abraham did not create Isaac, he begat him. Bezalel and Eliab did not beget but made all the works in the Tabernacle. The shipwright and the house builder do not beget the things they make; they work, the one on the ship, the other on the house. Isaac does not make Jacob ; he begets him by nature, a son. And likewise Jacob, Judah and his brethren. Just as one would be mad to say that the house is one in essence with the builder, and the ship with the shipwright, so it is correct to say that every son is one in essence with his own father. If then there is Father and Son, the Son must be Son by nature and in truth. But this is to be one in essence with the Father, as we have shown from many instances. 5 Thus of the things that are made it is written : ‘He spoke, and they came to be; he commanded and they were created.’ But of the Son: ‘My heart hath uttered a good Word.’ Daniel knew the Son of God and he knew the works of God. The Son he saw quench the furnace; of the works he said, ‘O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord’, and then he enumerated each of the creatures. But he did not number the Son with them, for he knew that he is not a work. It is through him that the works came into being; while he in the Father is praised and exalted. As then through him God is revealed to them that know him, so through him, ‘blessing and praise and glory and power’ are ascribed to the Father—through him and in him, that this ascription may, in the words of Scripture, be ‘acceptable’. From these sayings, therefore, among many, we have shown, and we now show, that he is impious who says that the Word of God is a creature.

7. But as they plead the passage in Proverbs, ‘The Lord created me, a beginning of his ways, for his works’, adding, ‘See, “He created” He is a creature!’: we must show from this passage too how greatly they err, not realizing the scope of divine Scripture. If he is a Son, let him not be called creature; if a creature, let him not be called Son. For in what precedes we have shown how great is the difference between a creature and a son. And inasmuch as the baptismal initiation is not validly performed into Creator and creature but into Father and Son, the Lord must not be called creature but Son. ‘But,’ says the Arian, ‘is it not written?’ Yes, it is written ! And it is necessary that it should be said. But what is well written is ill understood by heretics. If they had understood and grasped the terms in which Christianity is expressed, they would not have called the Lord of glory a creature nor stumbled over what is well written. They, therefore, ‘knew not, neither did they understand’. Therefore, as it is written : ‘They walk in darkness.’ But as for us, speak we must, that in this matter also they may be shown up as fools, that we may not neglect to answer their impiety, and that they may perhaps even repent. These then are the terms in which we express our faith in Christ: the Son of God, being the Word of God (‘in the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God’), being the Wisdom and Power of the Father (‘Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God’), at the ‘end of the ages'” became man for our salvation. For John, after he had said, ‘In the beginning was the Word’, after a little added, ‘And the Word became flesh’, that is to say, became man. And our Lord said concerning himself: ‘Why seek ye to kill me … a man that hath told you the truth?’ And Paul, having learned from him, said : ‘One God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus.’ Being made man, and having fulfilled his human economy, having overthrown and abolished death, the penalty we had incurred, he now sits at the right hand of the Father, being in the Father and the Father in him, as always was and for ever is.

8. In these terms, derived from the Apostles through the Fathers, our faith is expressed. It remains that he who reads Scripture should examine and judge when it speaks of the Godhead of the Word, and when it speaks of his human life; lest, by understanding the one when the other is intended, we become victims of the same derangement as has befallen the Arians. Knowing him to be Word, we know that ‘through him all things were made, and without him was not anything made’, and, ‘by the Word of the Lord the heavens were established’, and, ‘he sendeth his Word and healeth all things’. Knowing him to be Wisdom, we know that ‘God by Wisdom founded the earth’, and the Father ‘hath made all things in Wisdom’. Knowing him to be God, we have believed that he is the Christ; for, ‘Thy throne, O God,’ sings David, ‘is for ever and ever; a sceptre of equity is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated unrighteousness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows’. In Isaiah he says concerning himself: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me.’ Peter confessed: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ So likewise, knowing him to be made man, we do not repudiate those things which are spoken of him in his human nature, as, for example, that he hungered, thirsted, was smitten, wept, slept, and finally endured death in our behalf upon the Cross. For all these things are written concerning him. So Scripture has not suppressed, but employs the words, ‘He created’, though they are applicable to men. For we men have been created and made. But as, when we hear that he hungered, slept, was beaten, we do not deny his Godhead: so, when we hear the words, ‘He created’, we should be consistent and remember that, being God, he was created man. For it belongs to man to be created, as do the experiences mentioned above, hunger and the like.

9. Then too there is that other saying, which is indeed well said, but by them ill understood—I mean : ‘Of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels, neither the Son.’ It also has a true meaning. From the words ‘neither the Son’ they suppose that by his ignorance he makes it clear he is a creature. It is not so. God forbid ! For as, when he said, ‘he created me’, he spoke as a man; so too he spoke as a man when he said, ‘neither the Son’. And there is good reason why he spoke thus. For he was made man, as it is written, and it belongs to men to be ignorant, as it belongs to them to hunger and the rest. For they do not know unless they hear and learn. Therefore, inasmuch as he was made man, he displays the ignorance which belongs to men: firstly, to show that he really has a human body, secondly, that, having in his body the ignorance of men, he might redeem his humanity from all its imperfections and cleanse it and offer it perfect and holy to the Father.

What further excuse will the Arians discover? What else will they devise to chatter about? They have been convicted of ignorance as to ‘The Lord created me for his works’. They have been shown to have no understanding of: ‘Of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels, neither the Son.’ By saying, ‘He created’ he signifies his human nature, that he became man and was created. But by saying, ‘I and the Father are one’, and, ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’, and, ‘I am in the Father and the Father in me’, he signifies his eternity and that he is one in essence with the Father. So likewise when he says, ‘. . . knoweth no one . . . neither the Son’, once more he speaks as a man, for it belongs to men to be ignorant. But when he says, ‘No man knoweth the Father save the Son’, nor the Son save the Father, by how much more does he know things originate ! In the Gospel according to John the disciples said to the Lord: ‘Now know we that thou knowest all things.’ So it is clear that there is nothing of which he is ignorant, for he is the Word through whom all things came to be. But as ‘all things’ includes ‘that day’, it will come to be through him — though in their ignorance the Arians explode ten thousand times over!