Exposition of the Orthodox Faith – De Fide Orthodoxa (II)


Chapter III.—Proof that there is a God.

That there is a God, then, is no matter of doubt to those who receive the Holy Scriptures, the Old Testament, I mean, and the New; nor indeed to most of the Greeks. For, as we said1423 , the knowledge of the existence of God is implanted in us by nature. But since the wickedness of the Evil One has prevailed so mightily against man’s nature as even to drive some into denying the existence of God, that most foolish and woe-fulest pit of destruction (whose folly David, revealer of the Divine meaning, exposed when he said1424 , The fool said in his heart, There is no God), so the disciples of the Lord and His Apostles, made wise by the Holy Spirit and working wonders in His power and grace, took them captive in the net of miracles and drew them up out of the depths of ignorance1425 to the light of the knowledge of God. In like manner also their successors in grace and worth, both pastors and teachers, having received the enlightening grace of the Spirit, were wont, alike by the power of miracles and the word of grace, to enlighten those walking in darkness and to bring back the wanderers into the way.

But as for us who1426 are not recipients either of the gift of miracles or the gift of teaching (for indeed we have rendered ourselves unworthy of these by our passion for pleasure), come, let us in connection with this theme discuss a few of those things which have been delivered to us on this subject by the expounders of grace, calling on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All things, that exist, are either created or uncreated. If, then, things are created, it follows that they are also wholly mutable. For things, whose existence originated in change, must also be subject to change, whether it be that they perish or that they become other than they are by act of will1427 . But if things are uncreated they must in all consistency be also wholly immutable. For things which are opposed in the nature of their existence must also be opposed in the mode of their existence, that is to say, must have opposite properties: who, then, will refuse to grant that all existing things, not only such as come within the province of the senses, but even the very angels, are subject to change and transformation and movement of various kinds?

For the things appertaining to the rational world, I mean angels and spirits and demons, are subject to changes of will, whether it is a progression or a retrogression in goodness, whether a struggle or a surrender; while the others suffer changes of generation and destruction, of increase and decrease, of quality and of movement in space. Things then that are mutable are also wholly created. But things that are created must be the work of some maker, and the maker cannot have been created. For if he had been created, he also must surely have been created by some one, and so on till we arrive at something uncreated. The Creator, then, being uncreated, is also wholly immutable. And what could this be other than Deity? 3b And even the very continuity of the creation, and its preservation and government, teach us that there does exist a Deity, who supports and maintains and preserves and ever provides for this universe.

For how1428 could opposite natures, such as fire and water, air and earth, have combined with each other so as to form one complete world, and continue to abide in indissoluble union, were there not some omnipotent power which bound them together and always is preserving them from dissolution? What is it that gave order to things of heaven and things of earth, and all those things that move in the air and in the water, or rather to what was in existence before these, viz., to heaven and earth and air and the elements of fire and water? What1429was it that mingled and distributed these? What was it that set these in motion and keeps them in their unceasing and unhindered course1430? Was it not the Artificer of these things, and He Who hath implanted in everything the law whereby the universe is carried on and directed? Who then is the Artificer of these things? Is it not He Who created them and brought them into existence. For we shall not attribute such a power to the spontaneous1431 . For, supposing their coming into existence was due to the spontaneous; what of the power that put all in order1432? And let us grant this, if you please. What of that which has preserved and kept them in harmony with the original laws of their existence1433? Clearly it is something quite distinct from the spontaneous1434 . And what could this be other than Deity1435?

CHAPTER IV. Concerning the nature of Deity: that it is incomprehensible.

It is plain, then, that there is a God. But what He is in His essence anti nature is absolutely incomprehensible and unknowable. For it is evident that He is incorporeal. For how could that possess body which is infinite, and boundless, and formless, and intangible and invisible, in short, simple and not compound? How could that be immutable which is circumscribed and subject to passion? And how could that be passionless which is composed of elements and is resolved again into them? For combination is the beginning of conflict, and conflict of separation, and separation of dissolution, and dissolution is altogether foreign to God. Again, how will it also be maintained that God permeates and fills the universe? as the Scriptures say, Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lords? For it is an impossibility that one body should permeate other bodies without dividing and being divided, and without being enveloped and contrasted, in the same way as all fluids mix and commingle. But if some say that the body is immaterial, in thee same way as the fifth body of which the Greek philosophers speak (which body is an impossibility), it will be wholly subject to motion like the heaven. For that is what they mean by the fifth body. Who then is it that moves it? For everything that is moved is moved by another thing. And who again is it that moves that? and so on to infinity till we at length arrive at something motionless. For the first mover is motionless, and that is the Deity. And must not that which is moved be circumscribed in space?

The Deity, then, alone is motionless, moving the universe by immobility. So then it must be assumed that the Deity is incorporeal. But even this gives no true idea of His essence, to say that He is unbegotten, and without beginning, changeless and imperishable, and possessed of such other qualities as we are wont to ascribe to God and His environments. For these do not indicate what He is, but what He is not. But when we would explain what the essence of anything is, we must not speak only negatively. In the case of God, however, it is impossible to explain what He is in His essence, and it befits us the rather to hold discourse about His absolute separation from all things. For He does not belong to the class of existing things: not that He has no existence, but that He is above all existing things, nay even above existence itself.

For if all forms of knowledge have to do with what exists, assuredly that which is above knowledge must certainly be also above essence: and, conversely, that which is above essence will also be above knowledge. God then is infinite and incomprehensible and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility. But all that we can affirm concerning God does not shew forth God’s nature, but only the qualities of His nature. For when you speak of Him as good, and just, and wise, and so forth, you do not tell God’s nature but only the qualities of His nature. Further there are some affirmations which we make concerning God which have the force of absolute negation: for example, when we use the term darkness, in reference to God, we do not mean darkness itself, but that He is not light but above light: and when we speak of Him as light, we mean that He is not darkness.



1423 Supr.c. 1; cf. Greg. Naz., Orat. 34.

1424 Ps. xiv. 1 (E.V.).

1425 The readings vary between ἀγνωσίας and ἀγνοίας.

1426 Greg. Naz., Orat. 34.

1427 Reading προαίρεσιν; a variant is τροπήν

1428 Athan., Cont. Gent.

1429 Various reading, Who.

1430 Greg. Naz., Orat. 34.

1431 The Greek is τῳ αὐτομάτῳ, to the automatic; perhaps = to the accidental, or, to chance.

1432 Or, Whose was the disposing of them in order?

1433 Or, Whose are the preserving of them, and the keeping of them in accordance with the principles under which they were first placed?

1434 παρα τὸ αὐτόματον; or, quite other than the spontaneous, or,than chance.

1435 Athan., De Incarn. Verbi, near the beginning. Greg. Naz., Orat. 34.

[1436] Various reading, It is evident that the divine (to Theion) is incorporeal.

[1437] Text atrepton. Most mss. read septon. So, too, Greg. Naz., Orat. 34, from which these words are taken. An old interpretation is `venerabile est.’ But in the opinion of Combefis, Gregory’s text is corrupt, and atreptonshould be read, which reading is also supported by various authorities, including three Cod. Reg.: cf. also De Trinit. in Cyril. [1438] sunthesis.

[1439] Greg. Naz., Orat. 32, 34.

[1440] Text, sothesetai: various reading, sunthesetai.

[1441] Jer. xxiii. 24.

[1442] Greg. Naz. ut supr.

[1443] The reference is to the Pythagorean and Aristotelian ideas of the heavens as being like the body of Deity, something uncorrupt, different from the four elements, and therefore called a fifth body, or element (stoicheion). In his Meteor. i. 3, De Coelo i. 3, &c., Aristotle speaks of the Ether as extending from the heaven of the fixed stars down to the moon, as of a nature specially adapted for circular motion, as the first element in rank, but as the fifth, “if we enumerate beginning with the elements directly known by the senses….the subsequently so-called pempton stoicheion, quinta essentia.” The other elements, he taught, had the upward motion, or the downward: the earth having the attribute of heaviness, and its natural place in the world being the lowest; fire being the light element, and “its place the sphere next adjoining the sphere of the ether.” See Ueberweg’s History of Philosophy, Vol. I. p. 167, Morris’s translation, and the chapter on the De Coelo in Grote’s Aristotle, Vol. II. pp. 389, &c.

[1444] Greg. Naz. ut supr.

[1445] Or, such as are said to exist in the case of God, or in relation to God. The Greek is, hosa peri Theou, e peri Theon einai legetai.

[1446] Greg. Naz. ut supr.

[1447] Greg. Naz., Orat. 32, 34. The Greek is, oikeioteron de mallon ek tes hapanton aphaireseos poieisthai ton logon. It may be given thus:–It is more in accordance with the nature of the case rather to discourse of Him in the way of abstracting from him all that belongs to us.

[1448] Dionys., De Myst. Theolog.

[1449] Or, above being; huper ousian.

[1450] Or, above being; huper ousian.

[1451] Or, but only the things which relate to His nature. The Greek is, hosa de legomen epi Theou kataphantikos, ou ten phusin, alla ta peri ten phusin deloi.

[1452] Or, the things that relate to his nature.

Translated by The Rev. S. D. F. Salmond, D.D., F.E.I.S.,
Principal of the Free Church College, Aberdeen.

Published in 1886 by Philip Schaff, New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co.

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