It follows that in discussing Plato’s use of the terms it is particularly important to avoid the mistake of imposing precision on what is imprecise. One can indeed sometimes infer the sense of οὐσία from a verbal form which is used in parallel with it. In some cases “the οὐσία of x is.” In other cases”the οὐσία of x is” corresponds to the question “What is x?”, so that οὐσία represents the predicate in the sentence “x is . . . “; it means “that which x is.” In other cases it represents the subject of the sentence, or the verbal idea itself, and so equivalent to τὸ ὄν and to τὸ εἴναι respectively. In these latter cases it seems the existential sense of the verb ‘to be’ is always prominent; one can hardly point to a case where οὐσία ‘thing-of-a-kind’ in Plato, without any suggestion that the thing in question is real; and it does not normally convey the verbal sense of ‘the-having-of-a-character,’ or ‘being-so-and-so,’ as distinguished from simply ‘being.’ However these analysis should not be pressed too far; for Plato may not have noticed all that we detect; and conversely, when we, with our highly sophisticated logical apparatus, approach one of the pioneers of its development, it is hard to be sure that his imaginative and intuitive mind is not seeing nuances that would strike us as forced if we detected them.
Origen differs form these Latin fathers in holding that the Son is eternally generated, and in showing more concern about possible materialising interpretations of the term ‘generation; this leads him to make constant use of the alternative metaphor of an act of will proceeding from the mind, even though this metaphor calls for the further corrective that God’s Word and Wisdom is to be understood as a substantive second being, not a mere utterance or act. He also shows a marked interest in the great metaphors of Wisdom 7, especially ‘breath’, ‘radiance’, ‘image’ (ἀτμίς, ἀπαύγασμα, εἰκών, vv. 25-6), which suggest an intangible and mysterious process of generation and avoid the distasteful suggestion of a physical ‘effluent’ (ἀπόρροια, ibid).
Both Tertullian and Origen seems to switch rather abruptly between metaphors of proclamation and procreation; and it may be worth remarking that in the light of the Stoic theory the contrast between them would be less extreme that it seems to ourselves. Both writers express the view that the emission of human seed is of itself sufficient to release a fully individualised offspring in germinal form, which only needs shelter and nourishment within the womb. Procreation would then be in principal asexual; would be, like speech, an activity of the ‘spirit’ in man; and the seed itself, embodying a ‘logos’ was sometimes thought to proceed direct from the brain by way of the spinal chord. Both Tertullian and Origen of course insist that these human processes offer only the remotest analogy for divine realities; my point is simply that in their thinking the two alternative bases were less widely separated that they are for us.