Basil Contra Eunomius Bk 2


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.


Our astonishment at their foolishness is justified. For they fail to realise that when they say that the Son is from nothing, not only do they claim that he is posterior to the Father, but also that he is posterior to that by which they separate the Only-Begotten from the Father. If there is anything between the Father and the Son, this must be prior to the existence of the Son. So, then, what could this be? If someone thinks that the life of the Father surpasses that of the Only-Begotten, by what interval would he claim to have discovered the superiority other than that of an age of a time? But if this is true, scripture is clearly lying when it says that, through him the ages came into existence (Heb. 1.2) and teaches that all things came into existence through him (John 1.3). For it is clear that the ages are included among the all things. If they claim that they do not deny that the Son came to be before the ages, they should not forget that in reality they are denying that to which they are verbally agreeing.

In fact, let us pose a question to those who make the substance of the Only-Begotten come from nothing. What was the interval “when he was not,” as you say? What designation will you dream up for it? Common usage classifies every interval under either time or age, for that which is time among the sensory realities corresponds to the nature of age among the super-cosmic realities. So let these people tell me if they can imagine a third kind of interval based on the resources of their own wisdom. As long as they keep silent, they should not forget that they have placed the substance of the Only-Begotten, posterior to the ages. For if there were any interval prior to the Son that is coextensive with the life of the Father, it would clearly have to be one of these two. But there isn’t. Nor can there ever be a notion prior to the subsistence of the Only-Begotten. For one will find that the existence of God the Word who was in the beginning with God (John 1.2) is beyond everything that could conceivably be called primordial. Even if the mind, by deceiving itself through the innumerable fantasies and devoting itself to non existent fabrications, has contrived things that do not exist, it will not discover any means at all by which it could extend itself beyond the beginning of the Only-Begotten, leave behind the life of Life itself as lower than its own movement, transcend the beginning of God the Word by its own rational word, and contemplate ages that are deprived of the God of the ages.


What sensible person would not agree that, just as an eye that passes out of clearly illuminated places must stop its activity because of the absence of light, so too the mind that is forced outside of true being by imaginations, as it the truth lacked a kind of light, becomes confused and stupid and desists from thinking? So, then, an eye is not able to use its power of sight when there is no light, and a soul led away from the notion of the Only-Begotten is not able to have use of its thinking. For falling away from the Truth makes the mind unable to see and blind. When the mind is empty and demented, it lacks true understanding and thinks that it comprehends things prior to the Only-Begotten. It is as if someone testifies that an eye starting at dark objects can see them clearly. For it says: in your light we shall see light (Ps. 35.10). But when Eunomius asserts that he has come to comprehend a point when the light did not yet exist, he resembles the delirious who imagine that they see what is not present. For one cannot conceive anything beyond the Son, since what is perceptible to light is to the eye, God the Word is to the soul. For it says: The true light that enlightens every human being was coming into the world (John 1.9). Hence the unenlightened soul is incapable of thinking. So, then, how could one comprehend that which is above the generation of light?

I think any with even a slight concern for the truth would dismiss corporeal comparisons, avoid sullying the notions about God with material imaginations, and follow the theological teachings transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit. Instead of posing these questions, which have no lack of conundrums, in which either of the options contains a risk, they should, on the one hand, conceive of a begetting that is worthy of God, one without passion, partition, division, and temporality, being led to the divine begetting in a way consistent with the radiance that shines forth from the light. They should, on the other hand, conceive of the image of the invisible God (Col. 1.15), not that which is produced later that the archetype like those images produced by human skill, but as that which is co-existent with and subsists alongside the one who brought him into subsistence. For the image exists by virtue of the fact that the archetype exists. The image is not formed through imitation, since the whole nature of the Father is manifest in the Son as in a seal. It may help you if we say that it is like a teacher inculcating the full reality of an art in his disciples: the teacher loses nothing, and the disciples attain the fullness of the art. But this example surely does not exhibit an exact resemblance because of the temporal interval. It is more suitable to say that it is like the nature of concepts that co-exist non-temporally with motions of the mind.


So, then, there has been sufficient discussion of the fact that God is called Father in the proper and suitable sense, and this is not a name of passion but of affinity, affinity either by grace as in the case of human beings, or by nature as in the case of the Only-Begotten. Now let us grant that even this term, like so many others, is figurative and is said metaphorically. But when we hear that God becomes angry, falls asleep, and flies, and other descriptions like these which produce meanings that are not suitable when taken in their obvious sense, we neither strike out the words of the Spirit nor take what has been said in a bodily manner. Why shouldn’t we also inquire into the notions of this term, so often employed by the Spirit, that are appropriate for God? Or shall we expunge only this term from the scripture, denouncing it on the basis of how humans use it?

Let’s examine the issue in this way. According to customary usage here below, the designation ‘to beget’ signifies two things: the passion of the begetter and affinity to the one begotten. This being the case, when the Father says to the Only-Begotten: From the womb before daybreak I have begotten you (Ps. 109.3) and: You are my Son, today I have begotten you (Ps. 2.7), which of these two do we say is communicated by means of this world? That begetters are subject to passion? Or that there is an affinity of nature between the begetter and the one begotten? For my part, I claim the latter. I can’t imagine that these men would ever contradict me, unless they have been reduced to manifest delirium. And so, if the term is proper to God, why do you dishonour it as if it were foreign? Since it has been transferred from human affairs, latch onto its sound sense and put aside the meanings that are less good. When it is a question of the word to its correct notion and thereby go beyond its lowly and dishonourable meanings.

Do not say to me: “What is begetting? What kind of thing is it? How could it happen? Even now we are not going to repudiate the solid foundation of our faith in the Father and the Son because the manner of the begetting is ineffable and utterly inconceivable. If we are going to measure all things by comprehension and suppose that that which is incomprehensible to our reasoning does not exist at all, the reward of faith will be gone, the reward of hope will be gone. How could we still be worthy of the blessings stored up for faith in invisible realities, if we trust only that which is evident to our reasoning? Why did the notions become futile and their senseless heart darkened (Rom. 1.21)? Wasn’t it because they followed only what was apparent to their reasoning and refused to believe the proclamation of the Spirit? Whom does Isaiah mourn for the lost? Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and smart in their own sight! (Is. 5.21) How can it not be men such as these?

I will pass by many things Eunomius says in the meantime—everything he openly puts forth about the Son not being begotten and everything he says by way of pretence about how the Only-Begotten admits of being a creature and something made—because I want to get to the most important part of his impiety. I will indicate only the following about what we are leaving out: wishing to conceal with his words the blasphemy he prepared earlier in the treatise and to soften the shamelessness of his account, he said that he does not construe the Only-Begotten as something common with creation. But he has forgotten his own doctrines which he expounded above with naked and undisguised expressions. Because of them he once again falls into shameless contradiction that is as obvious as can be. So, then, this is what he writes:

Let no one be disturbed when he hears that the Son is something made, as if a common substance were construed for them by the commonality of the names

So, then, O wisest of men, if diversity of substance necessarily follows upon difference in names—for you surely recall that he uttered these words in his earlier arguments—how is it not true even in this case that commonality of substance follows upon the commonality of names? For he clearly did not make this statement just once or incidentally. As soon as he says that the commonality of names does not mean there is a substance in common, a little further on, as if regretting what he just said, he adds the following to attack his opponents:

If in fact these people had any concern for the truth, they should confess that when the names are different, the substances are also different.

How could anyone use language more carelessly? In short measure, he switches between contrary positions: now he says that a difference in names necessarily intimates diversity in substance, now he says that commonality of names does not means there is a substance in common. But here I think we are behaving very similar to those who accuse a murderer of an insult or a punch or some such misdemeanour.


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.


So then, when we hear that a man is a father, at that time the notion of passion occurs to us as well. But when we hear that God is Father, we reason our way back to the cause that is without passion. Since Eunomius has become accustomed to using this designation for the nature that is subject to passion, he denies what is beyond the comprehension of his own reasoning as an impossibility. It is inappropriate to compare the immutable and inalterable substance to the transient nature that is subject to countless changes. The following thought is also not to be entertained: since mortal animals beget through passion, God too begets in this way. On the contrary, the following consideration must be our guide to the truth: since corruptible being beget in this way, the incorruptible one does so in the opposite way.

Furthermore, it should not be said that we attribute these names to God in an improper sense on the grounds that they are used in the proper and primary sense for human beings. For our Lord Jesus Christ leads us back to the principle of all things and the true cause of being when he says: Call no man your father on earth, for you have one father, who is in heaven (Matt. 23.9). So then, how can Eumomius believe that we ought to reject these terms because the principally indicate the passions of the flesh, when the Lord transfers them from human beings to God as fitting for his impassibility? Even if he is also called Father of creatures, this still does not conflict with our account. For according to the saying of Job,  he who gave birth to the drops of the dew (Job 38.38) did not give birth to the drops and the Son in a similar way. Nonetheless, if they dare to make this claim, such that they call the substance of the dew a ‘son’ who is equal in rank, then it is no longer incumbent upon us to provide any argument against them. For in this case they would have brought their blasphemy to the point of the most obvious shamelessness.

When God is called the ‘Father of us all,’ he is not our Father and the Father of the Only-Begotten in the same way. If their impiety is based on the fact that the Lord is designated the first born of all creation (Col. 1.15) and the first born among the many brothers (Rom. 8.29), they should learn from the gospel that the Lord gives designation ‘his own mother and brothers’ to those who do the will of my Father in heaven? (Matt. 12.48-50) Hence God is named our Father not in an improper sense, nor metaphorically, but in the proper, primary, and true sense. For he brings us into being from nothing through corporeal parents and into affinity with him by caring for us. If God has been truly called our Father since he had judged us worthy of adoption as sons by grace, what argument will deny that his is not unfittingly designated the Father of the one who is his Son by nature and has proceeded from his substance?

On account of “the designation of Father and Son,” says Eunomius ‘one must think of the begetting of the Lord as human.” Even I would say this. But what prevents the pious from believing in a begetting that is divine and without passion? I think he uses these words not in order to show that God has begotten him without passion, but to show that God has not begotten at all. So, then, how was it that you declared in your words above, O noblest of men, that the substance of the Only-Begotten is something begotten? For if he has not been begotten, on what basis does ‘something begotten’ belong to him in your account? Because of the opposition between ‘begotten’ and ‘unbegotten,’ he strives to show that the substance is something begotten. Then again, when he sees how affinity of substance is signified by this term, he deprives the one who is something begotten of being begotten.

Furthermore, if he refuses to use this term on the grounds that it indicates passion, what prevents him from not admitting for the same reasons that God is the Creator? For a certain fatigue always accompanies all corporeal activities, which is of greater or lesser intensity in proportion to the power of the maker and the various magnitudes of its tasks. Saying that the divine and blessed nature is constrained by weariness is no less impious than subjecting it to dishonourable passions. So if he creates without passion, you should admit that the begetting is without passion.


What do I claim? I say that unless the light it something different from unbegottenness, then one can no longer attribute it to the Son, just as one cannot attribute unbegottenness itself to him. The following teaches us how the meanings of the words differ. God is said to dwell in light [1Tim 6.16] and to be robed in light [Ps 103.2], but nowhere does the Word say that he dwells in his own unbegottenness or that unbegottenness surrounds him externally—for such things are ridiculous. Rather, begottenness and unbegottenness are distinctive features that enable identification. If there were nothing that characterised the substance, there would be no way for our understanding to penetrate it. Since the divinity is one, it is impossible to receive a notion of the Father or the Son that distinguishes each, unless our thinking is nuanced by the addition of the distinguishing marks.

Our response to the objection that God will be revealed as composite unless the light is understood to be the same thing as unbegotten goes as follows. If we were to understand unbegottenness as part of the substance, there would be room for the argument which claims that what is compounded from things is composite. But if we were to posit, on the one hand, the light or the life or the good as the substance of God, claiming that the very thing which God is is life as a whole, light as a whole, and good as a whole, while positing, on the other hand, that the life has unbegottenness as a concomitant, then how is the one who is simple in substance not incomposite? For surely the ways of indicating his distinctive feature will not violate the account of simplicity. Otherwise, all the things said about God will indicate to us that God is composite. And so, it seems that if we are going to preserve the notion of simplicity and partlessness, there are two options. Either we will not claim anything about God except that he is unbegotten, and we will refuse to name him ‘invisible,’ incorruptible,’ ‘immutable,’ ‘creator,’ ‘judge,’ and all the names we now use to glorify him. Or, if we do admit these names what will we make of them? Shall we apply all of them to the substance? If so, we will demonstrate not only that he is composite, but also that he is compounded from unlike parts, because different things are signified by each of these names. Or shall we take them as external to the substance? So, whatever account of attribution they dream up for each of these names, they should apply the designation ‘unbegotten’ in the same way.


Let’s see what follows:

If someone were to base his investigation on created works, from them he would be led up to the substances, discovering the Son is something made by the Unbegotten, whereas the Paraclete is something made by the Only-Begotten. Convinced on this basis of the superiority of the Only-Begotten that their activities are different, he accepts their difference in substance as indisputably demonstrated.

First of all, how is it possible to reason back from create works to substance? This is something which I for my part fail to see. For things which have been made are indicative of power and wisdom and skill, but not of the substance itself. Furthermore, they do not even necessarily communicate the entire power of the creator, seeing that the artisan can at times not put his entire strength into his activities; rather, he frequently attenuates his exertions for the products of his art. But if he were to set his whole power into motion for his product, even in this case it would be his strength that could be measured by means of his products, not his substance that could be comprehended, whatever it may be.

If, because of the simplicity and in-compositeness of the divine nature, Eunomius were to posit that the substance is concurrent with the power, and if, because of the goodness that belongs to God, he were to say that the whole power of the Father has been set into motion for the begetting of the Son, and the whole power of the Only-Begotten for the constitution of the Holy Spirit, so that one may consider the power of the Only-Begotten simultaneously with his substance on the basis of the Spirit, , and comprehended the power of the Father and his substance on the basis of the Only-Begotten, note what the consequence of this is. The very points he uses to try to confirm the unlikeness of the substance actually confirm its likeness! For it the power has nothing in common with the substance, how could he be led from the created works, which are the effects of power, to the comprehension of the substance? But if the power and substance are the same thing, then that which characterises the power will also completely characterise the substance. Hence the created works will not bring one to the unlikeness of substance, as you say, but rather to the exactness of the likeness. So once again, this attempt confirms our account rather than his.

Either there is no basis on which to demonstrate his claims, or, if he were to draw his images from human affairs, he would discover that it is not from the products of the artisan that we comprehend the artisan’s substance, but that it is from that which has been begotten that we come to know the nature of the begetter. After all, it is impossible to comprehend the substance of the house-builder from the house. But on the basis of that which is begotten it is easy to conceive of the nature of the begetter. Consequently, if the Only-Begotten is a created work, he does not communicate to us of the substance of the Father. But if he makes the Father known to us through himself, he is not a created work but rather the true Son, “the image of God,” [2Cor. 4.4], and “the character of His subsistance,” [Col. 1.15]. So much for this subject.


Look how much he adds to the blasphemy! After disdaining the warning which the Lord extends in the gospels to those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, which is as fearful as could be, Eunomius says that the Spirit is a created work. He barely concedes that he is alive, since this designation for the most part applies to lifeless things. Surely, his inclusion of the Lord in this blasphemy does not justify slackening our irritation one bit. For this does not nullify his impiety but adds to his condemnation. The Lord allowed the blasphemy against himself on account of his goodness, whereas he declared that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable for those who dare do it. So, of all those who attacked the truth from the time when the proclamation of piety was announced, Eunomius is the first to dare utter this term about the Spirit. We have certainly never heard anyone, even unto today, calling the Holy Spirit a created work, nor have we found this designation in the treatises that have bequeathed to us.

The he says: “If someone should base his investigation on the created works in order to comprehend the substances, he would discover that the Son is something made by the Unbegotten, while the Paraclete is something made by the Only-Begotten.” Here is a different kind of impiety, uttering two blasphemies with a single statement! And taking his contempt of the Holy Spirit as granted, he proceeds from this to the demonstration of the inferiority of the Only-Begotten. While the heavens proclaim the glory of God (Ps. 18.2), it appears that the Holy Spirit announces the inferiority of the glory of the Only-Begotten. When the Lord was speaking about the Paraclete, he said: He will glorify me (John 16.14), whereas that evil speaking tongue declares that he prevents the Son from being compared with the Father. For Eunomius says that the Son is the maker of the Spirit—have mercy on us, O Lord, for saying these things! But this adds no nobility to the one who has created him. Therefore, he is not even worthy of being compared with the Father, since the worthlessness of what he has made has deprived him of that dignity of his which is equal to the Father’s honour.


Have you ever heard a blasphemy more insidious? Has anyone fallen so conspicuously in the inescapable judgment for having blasphemed against the Holy Spirit? Only Montanus raged to such an extent against the Spirit, insulting him with lowly names and disparaging his nature to such and extent that he said that the Spirit brought ignominy on the one who had made him. Eunomius should have avoided speaking in a lowly manner about the Spirit to keep from deflating his own self-importance. We will speak of this when we have the time.

Isn’t it clear to everyone that no activity of the Son is severed from the Father? That none of all the existing things that belong to the Son is foreign to the Father? For he says: All that is mine is yours, and all that is yours is mine ((John 17.10). So, then, how does Eunomius impute the cause of the Spirit as an accusation against the Only-Begotten’s nature? If he says these things to introduce two principles in conflict with one another, he will be crushed along with Mani and Marcion. But if he makes the beings depend on a single principle, that which is said to come into being from the Son has a relationship with the first cause. Hence, even if we believe that all things have been brought into being through God the Word, we nevertheless do not deny that the God of the universe is the cause of all.

How is it not an unmistakable danger to separate the Spirit from God? On the one hand, the Apostle hands down to us that they are connected, saying now that he is the Spirit of Christ, now that he is the Spirit of God. For he writes: If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him (Rom. 8.9). And again: You have not received the spirit of the world, but the spirit that comes from God (1Cor. 2.12). On the other hand, the Lord says that he is the Spirit of Truth (John 15.26)—since he himself is the Truth—and that he proceeds from the Father (John 15.26). But Eunomius, in order to diminish the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, separates the Spirit from the Father and imputes him exclusively to the Only-Begotten in order to diminish his glory, insulting him (or so he thinks) without any anticipation of the recompense for his wicked words and ideas on the day of retribution.