Basil: Contra Eunomius 2.17

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No one should quibble over our account here, if none if the examples harmonise completely with the matter at hand. For trivial and insignificant things cannot be adapted exactly to divine and eternal realities. they are sued only insofar as they refute the false pretences of those who cannot apprehend begetting with their mind in a way that does involve passion: Now the Son is said to be and is the begotten image (Col. 1.15; 2Cor 4.4), the radiance of God (Heb. 1.3), and God’s wisdom, power (1Cor 1.24), and righteousness (1Cor. 1.30), though not as a possession, nor as a faculty. On the contrary, he is a living and active substance and the radiance of the glory of God (Heb. 1.3). For this reason, in himself he reveals the Father in his entirety as he is the radiance of his glory in its entirety. So isn’t it utterly absurd to claim that the glory of God is without its radiance? That at some point the wisdom of God was not with God? “But if he was,” says Eunomius, “then he has not been begotten.” So let us answer that is is because he was begotten that he was. He does not have unbegotten being, he always is and co-exists with the Father, from he has the cause of his existence. So, then, when we he brought into being by the Father? From whatever point the Father exists. Eunomius says that the Father is from eternity. So the Son is from eternity, being connected in a begotten way to the unbegottenness of the Father.

To prove to them that we are not responsible for this argument, we will cite the very words of Holy Spirit. So, then, let us take the line from the gospel: In the beginning was the Word (John 1.1), and the line from the Psalm spoken in the person of the Father: From the womb before the daybreak I have begotten you (Ps. 109.3). When we combine both of these, we can say both that he was and that he has been begotten. This phrase I have begotten  signifies the cause from which he has the origin of his being. The phrase he was signifies his non-temporal existence even before the ages.

Striving to promote his own deceit, Eunomius thinks he has reduced this argument to absurdity when he says, “For if the Son was before his own begetting, he was unbegotten.” As for which is “before his begetting,’ you poor fool, there are two options. Either (1) it is something utterly non-existent and a mental fabrication without any foundation. If this is the case, what need is there to respond to such stupidity? For it would be just as if we were fighting against someone whose delirium has deprived of reason. Or (2), if Eunomius is thinking of something that exists, he will be led to the notion of the ages. But if all ages are understood to be below (as it were) the begetting of the Only-Begotten, being, as they are, things that he himself has made, then the one who looks for things prior to the subsistence of the Son is a fool. His question is no less inappropriate that if he were to inquire whether the Father existed “before his own constitution” or not, For just as in the case it is stupid to seek something beyond the one who is without beginning and unbegotten, so also in the case of the one who is with the Father from eternity and has no intermediary between himself and his begetter, it is truly of equal insanity to ask about the priority in a temporal sense. Seeking what exists “before the begetting” of the eternal one resembles asking what will exist after the end of the immortal one.

Since the Father’s being without beginning is called ‘eternal’ these men declare that ‘eternal’ is the same as ‘without beginning.’ Since the Son is not unbegotten, they do not confess that he is eternal. But the notional difference between these two terms is great. For ‘unbegotten’ is said of that which has no beginning and no cause of its own being, while ‘eternal’ is said of that which is prior in being to every time and age. Therefore the Son is eternal but no unbegotten. Now some people have previously judged that even the ages worthy of designation ‘eternal’ since they derive the ‘age’ (αἰόν) that it always exists (αεὶ εἰναι). But we consider it a mark of the same insanity to ascribe eternity to creation and yet refuse to acknowledge eternity in the case of the Master of creation.