Fathers of the Church
Catechetical Lecture XI
by Cyril of Jerusalem in 350 | translated by Mr. Church, Revised By Edward Hamilton Gifford
ON THE WORDS, THE ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD, BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER VERY GOD BEFORE ALL AGES, BY WHOM ALL THINGS WERE MADE.
HEBREWS i. 1.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the Fathers by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.
1. THAT we have hope in Jesus Christ has been sufficiently shewn, according to our ability, in what we delivered to you yesterday. But we must not simply believe in Christ Jesus nor receive Him as one of the many who are improperly called Christs. For they were figurative Christs, but He is the true Christ; not having risen by advancement from among men to the Priesthood, but ever booing the dignity of the Priesthood from the Father. And for this cause the Faith. guarding us beforehand lest we should suppose Him to be one of the ordinary Christs, adds to the profession of the Faith, that we believe IN ONE LORD JESUS CHRIST, THE ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD.
2. And again on hearing of a "Son," think not of an adopted son but a Son by nature, an Only-begotten Son, having no brother. For this is the reason why He is called "Only-begotten," because in the dignity of the Godhead, and His generation from the Father, He has no brother. But we call Him the Son of God, not of ourselves, but because the Father Himself named Christ His Son: and a true name is that which is set by fathers upon their children.
3. Our Lord Jesus Christ erewhile became Man, but by the many He was unknown. Wishing, therefore, to teach that which was not known, He called together His disciples, and asked them, Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? —not from vain-glory, but wishing to shew them the truth, lest dwelling with God, the Only-begotten of God, they should think lightly of Him as if He were some mere man. And when they answered that some said Elias, and some Jeremias, He said to them, They may be excused for not knowing, lint ye, My Apostles, who in My name cleanse lepers, and cast out devils, and raise the dead, ought not to be ignorant of Him, through whom ye do these wondrous works. And when they all became silent (for the matter was too high for man to learn), Peter, the foremost of the Apostles and chief herald of the Church, neither aided by cunning invention, nor persuaded by human reasoning, but enlightened in his mind from the Father, says to Him, Thou art the Christ, not only so, but the Son of the living God. And there follows a blessing upon his speech (for in truth it was above man), and as a seal upon what he had said, that it was the Father who had revealed it to him. For the Saviour says, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My father which is in heaven. He therefore who acknowledges our Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, partakes of this blessedness; but he who denies the Son of God is a poor and miserable man.
4. Again, I say, on hearing of a Son, understand it not merely in an improper sense, but as a Son in truth, a Son by nature, without beginning; not as having come out of bondage into a higher state of adoption, but a Son eternally begotten by an inscrutable and incomprehensible generation. And in like manner on hearing of the First- born, think not that this is after the manner of men; for the first-born among men have other brothers also. And it is somewhere written, Israel is My son, My first-born. But Israel is, as Reuben was, a first-born son rejected: for Reuben went up to his father's couch; and Israel cast his Father's Son out of the vineyard, and crucified Him.
To others also the Scripture says, Ye are the sons of the Lord your God: and in another place, I have said, Ye are gods, and ye are all sons of the Most High. I have said, not, "I have begotten." They, when God so said, received the sonship, which before they had not: but He was not begotten to be other than He was before; but was begotten from the beginning Son of the Father, being above all beginning and all ages, Son of the Father, in all things like to Him who begot Him, eternal of a Father eternal, Life of Life begotten, and Light of Light, and Truth of Truth, and Wisdom of the Wise, and King of King, and God of God, and Power of Power.
5. If then thou hear the Gospel saying, The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, understand "according to the flesh." For He is the Son of David at the end of the ages, but the Son of God BEFORE ALL AGES, without beginning. The one, which before He had not, He received; but the other, which He hath, He hath eternally as begotten of the Father. Two fathers He hath: one, David, according to the flesh, and one, God, His Father in a Divine manner. As the Son of David, He is subject to time, and to handling, and to genealogical descent: but as Son according to the Godhead, He is subject neither to time nor to place, nor to genealogical descent: for His generation who shall declare? God is a Spirit; He who is a Spirit hath spiritually begotten, as being incorporeal, an inscrutable and incomprehensible generation. The Son Himself says of the Father, The Lora said unto Me, Thou art My Son, to-day have I begotten Thee. Now this to- day is not recent, but eternal: a timeless to-day, before all ages. From the womb, before the morning star, have I begotten Thee.
6. Believe thou therefore on Jesus Christ, SON of the living God, and a Son ONLY-BEGOTTEN, according to the Gospel which says, Far God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. And again, He that believeth on the Son is not judged, but hath passed out of death into life. But he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. And John testified concerning Him, saying, And we beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten from the father,— full of grace and truth: at whom the devils trembled and said, Ah! what have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the living God.
7. He is then the Son of God by nature and not by adoption, begotten of the Father. And he that loveth Him that begat, loveth Him also that is begotten of Him; but he that despiseth Him that is begotten casts back the insult upon Him who begat. And whenever thou hear of God begetting, sink not down in thought to bodily things, nor think of a corruptible generation, lest thou be guilty of impiety. God is a Spirit, His generation is spiritual: for bodies beget bodies, and for the generation of bodies time needs must intervene; but time intervenes not in the generation of the Son from the Father. And in our case what is begotten is begotten imperfect: but the Son of God was begotten perfect; for what He is now, that is He also from the beginning, begotten without beginning. We are begotten so as to pass from infantile ignorance to a state of reason: thy generation, O man, is imperfect, for thy growth is progressive. But think not that it is thus in His case, nor impute infirmity to Him who hath begotten. For if that which He begot was imperfect, and acquired its perfection in time, thou art imputing infirmity to Him who hath begotten; if so be, the Father did not bestow from the beginning that which, as thou sayest, time bestowed afterwards.
8. Think not therefore that this generation is human, nor as Abraham begat Isaac. For in begetting Isaac, Abraham begat not what he would, but what another granted. But in God the Father's begetting there is neither ignorance nor intermediate deliberation. For to say that He knew not what He was be-getting is the greatest impiety; and it is no less impious to say, that after deliberation in time He then became a Father. For God was not previously without a Son, and afterwards in time became a Father; but hath the Son eternally, having begotten Him not as men beget men, but as Himself only knoweth, who begat Him before all ages Very God.
9. For the Father being Very God begot the Son like unto Himself, Very God; not as teachers beget disciples, not as Paul says to some, For in Christ Jesus I begat you through the Gospel. For in this case he who was not a son by nature became a son by discipleship, but in the former case He was a Son by nature, a true Son. Not as ye, who are to be illuminated, are now becoming sons of God: for ye also become sons, but by adoption of grace, as it is written, But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to became children of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And we indeed are begotten of water and of the Spirit, but not thus was Christ begotten of the Father. For at the time of His Baptism addressing Him, and saying, This is My Son, He did not say, "This has now become My Son," but, This is My Son; that He might make manifest, that even before the operation of Baptism He was a Son.
10. The Father begat the Son, not as among men mind begets word. For the mind is substantially existent in us; but the word when spoken is dispersed into the air and comes to an end. But we know Christ to have been begotten not as a word pronounced, but as a Word substantially existing and living; not spoken by the lips, and dispersed, but begotten of the Father eternally and ineffably, in substance. For, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, sitting at God's right hand;—the Word understanding the Father's will, and creating all things at His bidding: the Word, which came down and went up; for the word of utterance when spoken comes not down, nor goes up; the Word speaking and saying, The things which I have seen with My Father, these I speak: the Word possessed of power, and reigning over all things: for the Father hath committed all things unto the Son.
11. The Father then begot Him not in such wise as any man could understand, but as Himself only knoweth. For we profess not to tell in what manner He begot Him, but we insist that it was not in this manner. And not we only are ignorant of the generation of the Son from the Father, but so is every created nature. Speak to the earth, if perchance it may teach thee: and though thou inquire of all things which are upon the earth, they shall not be able to tell thee. For the earth cannot tell the substance of Him who is its own potter and fashioner. Nor is the earth alone ignorant, but the sun also: for the sun was created on the fourth day, without knowing what had been made in the three days before him; and he who knows not the things made in the three days before him, cannot tell forth the Maker Himself. Heaven will not declare this: for at the Father's bidding the heaven also was like smoke established by Christ. Nor shall the heaven of heavens declare this, nor the waters which are above the heavens. Why then art thou cast down, O man, at being ignorant of that which even the heavens know not? Nay, not only are the heavens' ignorant of this generation, but also every angelic nature. For if any one should ascend, were it possible, into the first heaven, and perceiving the ranks of the Angels there should approach and ask them how God begot His own Son, they would say perhaps, "We have above us beings greater and higher; ask them." Go up to the second heaven and the third; attain, if thou canst, to Thrones, and Dominions, and Principalities, and Powers: and even if any one should reach them, which is impossible, they also would decline the explanation, for they know it not.
12. For my part, I have ever wondered at the curiosity of the bold men, who by their imagined reverence fall into impiety. For though they know nothing of Thrones, and Dominions, and Principalities, and Powers, the workmanship of Christ, they attempt to scrutinise their Creator Himself. Tell me first, O most daring man, wherein does Throne differ from Dominion, and then scrutinise what pertains to Christ. Tell me what is a Principality, and what a Power, and what a Virtue, and what an Angel: and then search out their Creator, for all things were made by Him. But thou wilt not, or thou canst not ask Thrones or Dominions. What else is there that knoweth the deep things of God, save only the Holy Ghost, who spoke the Divine Scriptures? But not even the Holy Ghost Himself has spoken in the Scriptures concerning the generation of the Son from the Father. Why then dost thou busy thyself about things which not even the Holy Ghost has written in the Scriptures? Thou that knowest not the things which are written, busiest thou thyself about the things which are not written? There are many questions in the Divine Scriptures; what is written we comprehend not, why do we busy ourselves about what is not written? It is sufficient for us to know that God hath begotten One Only Son.
13. Be not ashamed to confess thine ignorance, since thou sharest ignorance with Angels. Only He who begot knoweth Him who was begotten, and He who is begotten of Him knoweth Him who begat. He who begot knoweth what He begat: and the Scriptures also testify that He who was begotten is God. For as the Father hath life in Himself, so also hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself; and, that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father; and, as the Father quickeneth whom He will, even so the Son quickeneth whom He will. Neither He who begot suffered any loss, nor is anything lacking to Him who was begotten (I know that I have said these things many times, but it is for your safety that they are said so often): neither has He who begat, a Father, nor He who was begotten, a brother. Neither was He who begot changed into the Son, nor did He who was begotten become the Fathers. Of One Only Father there is One Only-begotten Son: neither two Unbegotten, nor two Only-begotten; but One Father, Un-begotten (for He is Unbegotten who hath no father); and One Son, eternally begotten of the Father; begotten not in time, but before all ages; not increased by advancement, but begotten that which He now is.
14. We believe then IN THE ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD, WHO WAS BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER VERY GOD. For the True God begetteth not a false god, as we have said, nor did He deliberate and afterwards beget; but He begat eternally, and much more swiftly than our words or thoughts: for we speaking in time, consume time; but in the case of the Divine Power, the generation is timeless. And as I have often said, He did not bring forth the Son from non existence into being, nor take the non-existent into sonship: but the Father, being Eternal, eternally and ineffably begat One Only Son, who has no brother. Nor are there two first principles; but the Father is the head of the Son; the beginning is One. For the Father begot the Son VERY GOD, called Emmanuel; and Emmanuel being interpreted is, God with us.
15. And wouldest thou know that He who was begotten of the Father, and afterwards became man, is God? Hear the Prophet saying, This is our God, none other shall be accounted of in comparison with Him. He hath found out every way of knowledge, and given it to Jacob His servant, and to Israel His beloved. Afterwards He was seen on earth, and conversed among men. Seest thou herein God become man, after the giving of the law by Moses? Hear also a second testimony to Christ's Deity, that which has just now been read, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever. For lest, because of His presence here in the flesh, He should be thought to have been advanced after this to the Godhead, the Scripture says plainly, Therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows. Seest thou Christ as God anointed by God the Father?
16. Wouldest thou receive yet a third testimony to Christ's Godhead? Hear Esaias saying, Egypt hath laboured, and the merchandise of Ethiopia: and soon after, In Thee shall they make supplication, because God is in Thee, and there is no God save Thee. Far Thou art God, and we knew it not, the God of Israel, the Saviour. Thou seest that the Son is God, having in Himself God the Father: saying almost the very same which He has said in the Gospels: The Father is in Me, and I am in the Father. He says not, I am the Father, but the Farther is in Me, and I am in the Father. And again He said not, I and the Father am one, but, I and the Father am one, that we should neither separate them, nor make a confusion of Son-Father. One they are because of the dignity pertaining to the Godhead, since God begat God. One in respect of their kingdom; for the Father reigns not over these, and the Son over those, lifting Himself up against His Father like Absalom: but the kingdom of the Father is likewise the kingdom of the Son. One they are, because there is no discord nor division between them: for what things the Father willeth, the Son willeth the same. One, because the creative works of Christ are no other than the Father's; for the creation of all things is one, the Father having made them through the Son: For He spake, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created, saith the Psalmist. For He who speaks, speaks to one who hears: and He who commands, gives His commandment to one who is present with Him.
17. The Son then is VERY GOD, having the Father in Himself, not changed into the Father; for the Father was not made man, but the Son. For let the truth be freely spoken. The Father suffered not for us, but the Father sent Him who suffered. Neither let us say, There was a time when the Son was not; nor let us admit a Son who is the Father: but let us walk in the king's highway; let us turn aside neither on the left hand nor on the right. Neither from thinking to honour the Son, let us call Him the Father; nor from thinking to honour the Father, imagine the Son to be some one of the creatures. But let One Father be worshipped through One Son, and let not their worship be separated. Let One Son be proclaimed, sitting at the right hand of the Father before all ages: sharing His throne not by advancement in time after His Passion, but by eternal possession.
18. He who hath seen the Son, hath seen the Father: for in all things the Son is like to Him who begat Him; begotten Life of Life and Light of Light, Power of Power, God of God; and the characteristics of the Godhead are unchangeable in the Son; and he who is counted worthy to behold Godhead in the Son, attains to the fruition of the Father. This is not my word, but that of the Only-begotten: Have I been so long time with you, and hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father. And to be brief, let us neither separate them, nor make a confusion: neither say thou ever that the Son is foreign to the Father, nor admit those who say that the Father is at one time Father, and at another Son: for these are strange and impious statements, and not the doctrines of the Church. But the Father having begotten the Son, remained the Father and is not changed. He begat Wisdom, yet lost not wisdom Himself; and begot Power, yet became not weak: He begot God, but lost not His own Godhead: and neither did He lose anything Himself by diminution or change; nor has He who was begotten any thing wanting. Perfect is He who begat, Per-feet that which was begotten: God was He who begot, God He who was begotten; God of all Himself, yet entitling the Father His own God. For He is not ashamed to say, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.
19. But lest thou shouldest think that He is in a like sense Father of the Son and of the creatures, Christ drew a distinction in what follows. For He said not, "I ascend to our Father," lest the creatures should be made fellows of the Only-begotten; but He said, My Father and your Father; in one way Mine, by nature; in another yours, by adoption. And again, to my God and your God, in one way Mine, as His true and Only-begotten Son, and in another way yours, as His workmanship. The Son of God then is VERY GOD, ineffably begotten before all ages (for I say the same things often to you, that it may be graven upon your mind). This also believe, that God has a Son: but about the manner be not curious, for by searching thou wilt not find Exalt not thyself, lest thou fall: think upon those things only which have been commanded thee. Tell me first what He is who begat, and then learn that which He begat; but if thou canst not conceive the nature of Him who hath begotten, search not curiously into the manner of that which is begotten.
20. For godliness it sufficeth thee to know, as we have said, that God hath One Only Son, One naturally begotten; who began not His being when He was born in Bethlehem, but ALL AGES. For hear the Prophet Micah saying, And thou, Bethlehem, house of Ephrata, art little to be among the thousands of Judah. Out of thee shall come forth unto Me a Ruler, who shall feed My people Israel: and His goings forth are front the beginning, from days of eternity. Think not then of Him who is now come forth out of Bethlehem, but worship Him who was eternally begotten of the Father. Suffer none to speak of a beginning of the Son in time, but as a timeless Beginning acknowledge the Father. For the Father is the Beginning of the Son, timeless, incomprehensible, without beginning. The fountain of the river of righteousness, even of the Only-begotten, is the Father, who begot Him as Himself only knoweth. And wouldest thou know that our Lord Jesus Christ is King Eternal? Hear Him again saying, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad. And then, when the Jews received this hardly, He says what to them was still harder, Before Abraham was, I am. And again He saith to the Father, And now, Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was. He says plainly, "before the world was, I had the glory which is with Thee." And again when He says, For Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world, He plainly declares, "The glory which I have with thee is from eternity."
21. We believe then IN ONE LORD JESUS CHRIST, THE ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD, BEGOTTEN OF HIS FATHER VERY GOD BEFORE ALL WORLDS, BY WHOM ALL THINGS WERE MADE. For whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or flowers, all things were made through Him, and of things created none is exempted from His authority. Silenced be every heresy which brings in different creators and makers of the world; silenced the tongue which blasphemes the Christ the Son of God; let them be silenced who say that the sun is the Christ, for He is the sun's Creator, not the sun which we see. Silenced be they who say that the world is the workmanship of Angels, who wish to steal away the dignity of the Only-begotten. For whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, or anything that is named, all things were made by Christ. He reigns over the things which have been made by Him, not having seized another's spoils, but reigning over His own workmanship, even as the Evangelist John has said, All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made. All things were made by Him, the Father working by the Son.
22. I wish to give also a certain illustration of what I am saying, but I know that it is feeble; for of things visible what can be an exact illustration of the Divine Power? But nevertheless as feeble be it spoken by the feeble to the feeble. For just as any king, whose son was a king, if he wished to form a city, might suggest to his son, his partner in the kingdom, the form of the city, and he having received the pattern, brings the design to completion; so, when the Father wished to form all things, the Son created all things at the Father's bidding, that the act of bidding might secure to the Father His absolute authority, and yet the Son in turn might have authority over His own workmanship, and neither the Father be separated from the lordship over His own works, nor the Son rule over things created by others, but by Himself. For, as I have said, Angels did not create the world, but the Only-begotten Son, begotten, as I have said, before all ages, BY WHOM ALL THINGS WERE MADE, nothing having been excepted from His creation. And let this suffice to have been spoken by us so far, by the grace of Christ.
23. But let us now recur to our profession of the Faith, and so for the present finish our discourse. Christ made all things, whether thou speak of Angels, or Archangels, of Dominions, or Thrones. Not that the Father wanted strength to create the works Himself, but because He willed that the Son should reign over His own workmanship, God Himself giving Him the design of the things to be made. For honouring His own Father the Only-begotten saith, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do; for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. And again, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work, there being no opposition in those who work. For all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine, saith the Lord in the Gospels. And this we may certainly know from the Old and New Testaments. For He who said, Let us make man in our image and after our likeness, was certainly speaking to some one present. But clearest of all are the Psalmist's words, He spoke and they were made; He commanded, and they were created, as if the Father commanded and spoke, and the Son made all things at the Father's bidding. And this Job said mystically, Which alone spread out the heaven, and walketh upon the sea as an firm ground; signifying to those who understand that He who when present here walked upon the sea is also He who aforetime made the heavens. And again the Lord saith, Or didst Thou take earth, and fashion clay into a living beings? then afterwards, Are the gates of death opened to Thee through fear, and did the door-keepers of hell shudder at sight of Thee? thus signifying that He who through loving-kindness descended into hell, also in the beginning made man out of clay.
24. Christ then is the Only-begotten Son of God, and Maker of the world. For He was in the world, and the world was made by Him; and He came unto His own, as the Gospel teaches us. And not only of the things which are seen, but also of the things which are not seen, is Christ the Maker at the Father's bidding. For in Him, according to the Apostle, were all flyings created that are in the heavens, and that are upon the earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things have been created by Him and for Him; and He is before all, and in Him all things consist. Even if thou speak of the worlds, of these also Jesus Christ is the Maker by the Father's bidding. For in these last days God spake unto us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds. To whom be the glory, honour, might, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (LNPF II/VII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.