Athanasius to Serapion on the Holy Spirit Epistle 4

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1 . I have read the letter which your Piety has now written ; and the shamelessness of the heretics filled me with such amazement that I came to the conclusion nothing can so appropriately be said of them as what the Apostle enjoined: ‘A man that is heretical after a first and second admonition refuse; knowing that such a one is perverted and sins self- condemned.’ For, having a warped mind, he does not inquire that he may hear and be persuaded, or that he may learn and repent, but just because of those whom he has deceived; lest, keeping silent, he should be condemned by them also. What we have already said would have sufficed. It would have sufficed had they, after receiving such proofs, desisted from their evil speech against the Holy Spirit. But they were not satisfied. Once more they indulge their shamelessness, to show that, having trained themselves to fight with the Word, they are now fighting with the Spirit, and will soon be dead in unreason. For if we should answer their present questions, none the less will they be ‘inventors of evil things’; only that seeking they may not find, and hearing they may not understand. Their wise questions run like this. If the Holy Spirit is not a creature, then, say they, he is a son, and the Word and he are two brothers. Then, as you write, they add, If the Spirit ‘shall take of’ the Son and is given from him, (for so it is written) — they go on directly, Then the Father is a grandfather and the Spirit is His grandson.

2 . Who, when he hears these things, will still regard them as Christians, and not rather as pagans ? For such things the pagans say against us in conversation among themselves. Who will be willing to answer this folly of theirs ? For my part, in my search for an appropriate answer to them, after much thought I find none except that which of old was given to the Pharisees. For as the Saviour, when the Pharisees maliciously questioned him, questioned them in return, that they might perceive their evil mindedness; so likewise, when they ask such questions, let them tell us, nay rather, let them answer us, being questioned as they question. If, when they speak, they do not understand their inventions, perhaps, when they listen, they may realize their folly. If the Holy Spirit is not a creature, as has been shown in our previous writings, but is in God and is given from God: then he is a son, and there are two brothers, he and the Word. And if the Spirit is of the Son, and the Spirit receives all things from the Son, as the Son himself said and inasmuch as it was he who gave him to the disciples by breathing upon them (for you too acknowledge these things): then the Father is a grand- father and the Spirit is his grandson. It is just that you should be questioned from the same Scriptures with the same ques- tions to which you in your questioning ask answer from us. If you deny those things which are written, then you can no longer be called Christians, and it is just for us who are Christians to be questioned by you. But if you read the same Scriptures as we read, then must you likewise be questioned about the same by us. Tell us, therefore, and do not hesitate, whether the Spirit is a son and the Father a grandfather. But if, as did the Pharisees of old, you too reason and say among yourselves, If we say that he is a son, we shall hear the question, Where is it written ? If we say, he is not a son, we fear lest they say to us, How then is it written: ‘We received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is of God’? But if, when you debate these things among yourselves, you too say, We do not know : then must he of whom you ask these questions be silent also, in obedience to him who says : ‘Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.’ Silence is the answer most appropriate to you, that you may realize your own ignorance.

3. Once again, in the following way also, it is just for you to be questioned from the questions you ask. If the prophets speak in the Spirit of God, and the Holy Spirit prophesies in Isaiah, as has been shown in our previous writings, then the Spirit is a word of God, and there are two Words, the Spirit and the Son. For it was when the Word came upon them that the prophets used to prophesy. Furthermore, in addition to these things, if all things were made through the Word and ‘without him was not anything made’, and if ‘the Lord by Wisdom founded the earth’ and ‘in Wisdom’ made all things; and if it is written, as has been shown in our previous writings, ‘Thou shalt send forth thy Spirit and they shall be created’ — then either the Spirit is the Word, or God has made all things in two Persons, both in Wisdom and in the Spirit. How then does Paul say: ‘One God . . . of whom are all things, and one Lord through whom are all things’? Again, if the Son is an ‘image of the invisible Father’, and the Spirit is an image of the Son — for it is written, ‘Whom he foreknew he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son’ — then, according to this, the Father is a grandfather. And if the Son came in the name of the Father, and the Son says, ‘The Holy Spirit whom the Father shall send in my name’ — then thus also is the Father a grandfather. What have you to say to this, you who have a glib answer to everything? What are you reasoning among yourselves ? Do you find fault with such questions, now that you see yourselves at a loss? First blame yourselves, for you were used to ask them, and harken to the Scriptures, and, if you are at a loss for words, become learners at last. In the Scriptures the Spirit is not called son but Holy Spirit and Spirit of God. As the Spirit is not called son, so neither is it written of the Son that he is the Holy Spirit. If then the Spirit is not called son, nor is it written that the Son is the Spirit, is the faith in contradiction to the truth? God forbid ! It is rather that each of the above-mentioned terms has its proper meaning. The Son is an offspring proper to the essence and nature of the Father; that is the sense the term bears. The Spirit, who is said to be of God and is in God, is not alien to the nature of the Son nor to the Godhead of the Father. Therefore there is in the Triad — in Father and in Son and in the Holy Spirit himself — one Godhead, and in the same Triad there is one baptism and one faith. Thus when the Father sends the Spirit, it is the Son who, by breathing upon them, gives him to the disciples. For ‘all things whatsoever the Father hath’ belong to the Son. When the Word came to the prophets, they used to prophesy by the Spirit, as it is written and we have shown. And : ‘By the Word of the Lord the heavens were established, and by the Spirit of his mouth is all their power.’

4. Thus the Spirit is not a creature but proper to the essence of the Word and proper to God in whom he is said to be. Once more, we must not shrink from repeating ourselves. Though the Holy Spirit is not called son, yet he is not outside the Son. For he is called ‘Spirit of sonship’; and as Christ is ‘the Power of Cod and the Wisdom of God’, it is fitly said of the Spirit that he is ‘Spirit of Wisdom’ and ‘Spirit of Power’. When we partake of the Spirit we have the Son ; and when we have the Son, we have the Spirit, as Paul said, crying in our hearts: ‘Abba Father!’ But seeing that the Spirit is of God and is said by Scripture to be in him (‘The things of God none knoweth save the Spirit of God which is in him’) and that the Son has said, ‘I am in the Father and the Father in me’ — why have not these two the same name, but the one is Son and the other Spirit ? If anyone asks such a question, he must be mad. For he is searching the unsearchable and disobeying the Apostle when he says: ‘For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor?’ Moreover, who shall dare to rename what God has named? Otherwise, let him bestow names on the things of creation! Let them tell us, since creation came into being by one and the same fiat, why one thing is sun, another heaven, earth, sea, air. But if the fools find this impossible — for each thing remains as it was originated — much more have the things above the creation an eternal stability. And it is not otherwise than that the Father is Father and not grandfather, and the Son is Son of God and not father of the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit Holy Spirit and not grandson of the Father or brother of the Son.

5. These things being thus proved, he must be mad who asks, Is the Spirit also a son ? But neither let any man, because this is not written, separate him from the nature of God and from that which is proper to God. As it is written, let him believe and not say, Why thus and not thus? Lest from reasoning about these things he take counsel and say, Where then is God? And lest finally he hear the words: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.’ The traditions of the faith are not to be known by impertinent scrutiny. When the disciples heard the words, ‘Baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, they did not ask impertinently, why the Son comes second and the Spirit third, or why the whole is a Triad. But as they heard, so they believed. They did not ask, as do you, Is the Spirit then a son? Nor, when the Lord spoke of the Spirit after the Son, did they ask, Is the Father then a grandfather? For they did not hear ‘into the name of the grandfather’, but ‘into the name of the Father’. They came to sound conclusions and preached this faith everywhere. For it was not to be put otherwise than as the Saviour put it, that he himself is the Son, and that the other is the Holy Spirit. Nor was it right to change the order in which they have been ranked together. This holds good of the Father also. As it is not lawful to speak of him in any other way than as Father, so it is impious to ask whether the Son is the Spirit or the Spirit a son. For this cause Sabellius was judged a stranger to the Church, because he dared to apply to the Father the title, Son, and to the Son the name of the Father. After this, will anyone still dare to say, when he hears the words son and spirit, Is the Father then a grandfather? Or, Is the Spirit then a son? Yes, they will dare, the Eunomii and the Eudoxii and the Eusebii ! When once they affect the Arian heresy, they will not keep their tongues from impiety. Who delivered these things to them? Who was their teacher? Certainly no one taught them out of the divine Scriptures. It was out of the abundance of their hearts this folly came.

6. For if you ask, Is the Spirit then a son?, since, by our showing, he is not a creature — so must you ask, Is the Son then a father ?, for you have learned that he is not a creature inasmuch as through him things originate were created. Or it may run thus: Is the Spirit then the Son and the Son himself the Holy Spirit? But if this be their opinion, they will be cut off from the holy Triad and will be judged to be godless, inasmuch as they change the names of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, transposing them at will on the analogy of human generation, calling them grandchildren and grand- fathers, and remaking for themselves the genealogies of the gods of the pagans. This is not the faith of the Church ; but, as the Saviour said, it is into Father, Son and Holy Spirit — Father who cannot be called grandfather, Son who cannot be called father, and Holy Spirit who is named by no other name than this. Of this faith it is not permissible to interchange the terms. The Father is always Father, and the Son always Son, and the Holy Spirit is and is called always Holy Spirit. In human relations it is not so, despite the Arians’ delusions.  As it is written, ‘God is not as man’, so we might say, Men are not as God. For in the case of men the father is not always a father nor the son always a son. The same man becomes father of a son, who was himself another’s son; and the son, being his father’s son, becomes another’s father. Abraham, for example, being son of Nahor, became father of Isaac; and Isaac, being son of Abraham, became father of Jacob. Each, being a part of his sire, is begotten a son, and becomes himself another’s father. But with the Godhead it is not so; for, ‘God is not as man. Thus the Father is not from a father; wherefore he begets not one who should become another’s father. Nor is the Son a part of the Father; wherefore he is not a thing begotten to beget a son. Hence in the Godhead alone the Father is and was and always is, because he is Father in the strict sense, and Only Father. The Son is Son in the strict sense, and Only Son. And of them it holds good that the Father is and is called always Father, and the Son, Son; and the Holy Spirit is always Holy Spirit, whom we have believed to be of God and to be given from the Father through the Son. Thus the holy Triad remains incapable of alteration, and is known in one Godhead. Wherefore he who asks, Is the Spirit then a son?, as though the name could be altered, is deluded and infects himself with madness. And he who asks, Is the Father then a grandfather?, by inventing a new name for the Father, errs in his heart. It is not safe to make any further answer to the effrontery of the heretics, for that is to oppose the Apostle’s injunction. It is good rather to give the counsel he commanded.

7. These things are sufficient to refute your foolish speech. Mock no more at the Godhead. For it is the part of those who mock to ask the questions which are not written and to say, So the Spirit is a son and the Father a grandfather? So scoffs he of Caesarea and he of Scythopolis. It is sufficient for you to believe that the Spirit is not a creature, but is Spirit of God; and that in God there is a Triad, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is no need to use the name Father of the Son; nor is it lawful to say that the Spirit is the Son, nor that the Son is the Holy Spirit. But as we have said, so it is. The Godhead which is in this Triad is one; and there is one faith and one baptism given therein. And one is the initiation in Jesus Christ our Lord: through whom and with whom to the Father with the Holy Spirit be glory and power to all ages of ages. Amen.