Basil: Contra Eunomius 2.4

Home / Basil: Contra Eunomius 2.4

But what sane person would agree with this logic that there must be a difference of substances for those things whose names are distinct? For the designations of Peter and Paul and of all the people in general are different, but there is a single substance for all of them. For this reason, in most respects we are the same as one another, but it is only due to the distinguishing marks considered in connection with each one of us that we are different, each from the other. Hence the designations do not signify the substances, but the distinctive features that characterise the individual. So whenever we hear ‘Peter,’ the name does not cause us to think of his substance—now by ‘substance’ I mean the material substrate which the name itself cannot ever signify—but rather the notion of the distinguishing marks that are considered in connection with him is impressed upon our mind. For as soon as we hear the sound of his designation, we immediately think of the son of Jonah, the man from Bethsaida, the brother of Andrew, the one summoned from the fishermen to the ministry of the apostolate, the one who because of the superiority of his faith was charged with building the church. None of these is his substance, understood as subsistence. Hence the name determines for us the character of Peter. It cannot ever communicate the substance itself. Likewise, when we hear ‘Paul,’ we think of a concurrence of other distinguishing marks: the man from Tarsus, the Hebrew, as to the law a Pharisee, the disciple of Gamaliel, the zealous persecutor of the churches of God, the man who was brought to knowledge by a terrifying vision, the Apostle to the Gentiles. All these things are encompassed by the single terms ‘Paul.’

Moreover, if it were true that the substances of things whose names differ are opposed, then Paul and Peter and all people in general must be different in substance from one another. But there is no one so stupid and so inattentive to the common nature that he would be led to say this—after all, the passage: You have been formed from clay, as also have I (Jb. 33.6) signals nothing other than that all human beings are of the same substance. This being the case, whoever evasively argues that differences in substance follows upon difference in names, but names are found posterior to realities. If the former were true, where designations are the same, the substance would also have to be one and the same. Accordingly, since those perfect in virtue have counted worthy of the designation ‘god,’ human beings would be of the same substance with the God of the universe. But just as saying this is sheer madness, so too is his logic here equally crazy.