Basil: Contra Eunomius

The Fathers of the Church


Hence through this one blasphemy he rejects all terms handed down by the Holy Spirit for the glorification of the Only-Begotten, even though the gospel teaches that the Father, God, has set his seal upon him (John 6.27), and the Apostle that he is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1.15). He is not a lifeless image, nor handmade, nor a product of art or conceptualisation, but a living image, or rather self-existent life which always preserves the indistinguishability, not by likeness of shape, but in his very substance. In my opinion, I say that existing in the form of God (Phil 2.6) means the same as “existing in the substance of God.” For just as having taken up the form of a slave (Phil. 2.7) signifies that our Lord was begotten in the substance of humanity, so too saying existing in the form of God (Phil. 2.6) certainly reveals the distinctive feature of the divine substance.The one who sees me, he says, sees the Father (John 14.9).

When Eunomius alienates the Only-Begotten from the Father and utterly separates him from fellowship with the Father, he cuts off (insofar as he can) the way upward to knowledge that occurs through the Son. While the Lord says: All that the Father has is mine (John 17.9), Eunomius says that the Father has no fellowship whatsoever with the one who comes from him. In addition, the Lord himself has taught us that as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted also to the Son to have life in himself (John 5.26). But what has Eunomius taught us? That the one who is begotten has no comparison with the one who has begotten him. Through this one statement he once and for all does away with the account of the image and denies that the Son is the Father’s radiance and the character of his subsistence (Hebrews 1.3). Now it is impossible to conceive and image of something that in incomparable or for there to be a radiance of something with which it has not fellowship by nature. But once again, he persists in the same kind of scheme, saying that “the unbegotten has no comparison with the begotten.” He does not say “the Father has no comparison with the one from him” in order to demonstrate the opposition between these words, thereby transferring this opposition to the very substance of the Father and the Son.


In order to keep our treatise from becoming excessively long by going through each of the blasphemies and trying to correct everything he said, we will omit those passages whose impiety is obvious and immediately manifest to those who read them. Instead, we will adduce those passages which need some argument for their refutation. After he established in manifold ways that the Father’s substance has no fellowship with the Son and demonstrated absurdity in every way (or so he thinks), he adds:

Now they would certainly not say the following: that while the substance is common to both, it is due to order and to superiorities based on time that the one is a first and the other a second. This is because the cause of the pre-eminence must be present in that which is pre-eminent, but neither time nor age nor order has been joined with the substance of God. For order is secondary to the orderer, but nothing that belongs to God has been ordered by another. Time is a certain kind of motion of the stars, but the stars came into being not only later than the substance of the unbegotten and all the intelligibles, but also later than the primary bodies. Do we not even need to speak about ages? For scripture clearly declares: Before the ages God exists (Ps. 54.20).

In the course of the treatise he has presupposed whatever he wanted and drawn what follows from his presuppositions. Then, diving headlong into absurd notions, he thinks that from this reasoning he has demonstrated the necessity of accepting his own doctrines. He says: “they would not say the following: that while the substance is common to both, it is due to order and superiorities based on time that the one is a first and the other a second.” So then, if he is speaking of the commonality of the substance, conceiving it to be a king of doling out and division of pre-existent matter into things that come from it, this understanding is unacceptable to us. God forbid! We declare that those who speak in this way (of indeed anyone really does) are no less impious that those who affirm the ‘unlike.’ But if someone takes the commonality of the substance to mean that one and the same formula of being is observed in both, such that if, hypothetically speaking, the Father is conceived of as light in his substrate, then the substance of the Only-Begotten is also confessed as light, and whatever one may assign to the Father as the formula of his being, the very same also applies to the Son. If someone takes the commonality of the substance in this way, we accept it and claim it as our doctrine. For this is how divinity is one. Clearly, their unity is conceived to be a matter of the formula of the substance. Hence while there is difference in number and in distinctive features that characterise each, their unity is observed in the formula of the divinity.


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.