• 17 July, 2024 20:47



Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on the Nicene Creed – Chapter III / On Faith


Dec 26, 2020

Translation. By Alphonse Mingana

I believe that from what has been said you have learnt sufficiently which are the things that those whose solicitude is the fear of God have to understand and utter concerning God the Father. Let us now quote and examine also the words uttered by our blessed Fathers in the profession of faith concerning the Son: And in one Lord Jesus Christ the Only Begotten Son of God, the first-born of all the creatures.

It was right that after their doctrine concerning the Father they should teach concerning the Son according to the teaching of our Lord, while preserving the order and the sequence of their words. As when speaking of the Father they not only said “Father” according to the teaching of our Lord, but added, in one God the Father and the Creator of all things, and first placed the name of God in the profession of faith by saying that He is one in order to refute the error of polytheism, and then added, the Father and the Creator of all things—so also they acted concerning the Son: In one Lord Jesus Christ the Only Begotten Son of God, the first-born of all the creatures. In this they clearly followed the preaching of the blessed Paul, who when teaching against idols and erroneous creeds said in refutation of the error of polytheism: “There is but one God,” and because he knew that we hold the doctrine of the faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, he strove openly to show us that the question of the faith in these persons does not inflict any injury on us in our faith nor does it lead us to the error of polytheism.

Because we know that the Divine nature of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one, when he desired to teach us this faith in a succinct manner he said: “To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things.” In saying “one God the Father” he confuted all the error of polytheism, and showed that to us one Divine nature is preached. By the addition of the person of the Father he showed us the Son also, as after this he said: “And one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things” in order to proclaim the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit together, while including also in his sentence the Incarnation of our Lord which took place for our salvation and in which Divine nature became our Saviour. When he says: “one Lord by whom are all things” he alludes to God the Word who is a true Son consubstantial with His Father. He called Him rightly Lord in order to make us understand that He is from the Divine nature of God the Father.

We do not say that the Father is one God in the sense that the Son is not God, nor that the Son is one Lord in the sense that the Father is not Lord, because it is known and evident that any one who is truly God is also truly Lord, and any one who is truly Lord is also truly God, and any one who is not truly God is not truly Lord: “The Lord thy God is one Lord,” as He alone is so in truth. He who possesses these true attributes is alone called Lord and God in truth, and there is no other thing outside this nature which may be called Lord and God in truth. He who says “one God” shows also that there is one Lord, and he who says “there is but one Lord” confesses also that there is but one God. He (Paul) first said: “There is but one God” and immediately after “there is but one Lord,” in order to separate the persons, because in repeating the word “one” about each one of them he showed that the two persons are to be known as of one Divine nature, which is truly both Lord and God.

In order to include in their sentence the human nature which was assumed for our salvation they said: In one Lord Jesus Christ. This name is that of the man whom God put on, as the angel said: “She shall bring forth a Son whose name shall be called ‘Jesus.'” They added also the word Christ in order to allude to the Holy Spirit, as it is written: “Jesus of Nazareth whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power.” And He is God because of the close union with that Divine nature which is truly God.

In this same way our blessed Fathers who assembled in that wonderful Council of the Catholic Church [of Nicea] first spoke, like Paul, of Divine nature while coupling with it a word which denotes the form of humanity which He took upon Him and said: And in one Lord Jesus Christ the Only Begotten Son of God, the first-born of all creatures. It is thus that they wished to teach mankind when they spoke of the Divine nature of the Son. His humanity, in which is Divine nature, is also made known and proclaimed in it, according to the saying of the blessed Paul: “God was manifest in the flesh,” and according to the saying of John the evangelist, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Our Fathers rightly thought not to overlook the humanity of our Lord which possesses such an ineffable union with Divine nature, but added: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, as if they had said, ‘We believe in one Lord who is of Divine nature, to which the name of Lord and God is truly due.’ In speaking of God the Word they said: By whom are all things, as the evangelist said: “All things were made by Him, and nothing was made without Him.” It is as if they had said, ‘ This one we understand to be one Lord who is of the Divine nature of God the Father, who for our salvation put on a man in whom He dwelt and through whom He appeared and became known to mankind. It is this man who was said by the angel that he would be called Jesus, who was anointed with the Holy Ghost in whom He was perfected and justified, as the blessed Paul testifies.’ After saying these and showing the Divine nature and the human nature which God put on, they added: The “Only Begotten Son,” the “first-born” of all creatures. With these two words they alluded to the two natures, and by the difference between the words they made us understand the difference between the natures. From the fact also that they referred both words to the one person of the Son they showed us the close union between the two natures. They did not make use of these words out of their own head but they took them from the teaching of Holy Writ. The blessed Paul said: “Of whom Christ in the flesh, who is God over all,” not that He is God by nature from the fact that He is of the House of David in the flesh, but he said “in the flesh” in order to indicate the human nature that was assumed. He said “God over all” in order to indicate the Divine nature which is higher than all, and which is the Lord. He used both words of one person in order to teach the close union of the two natures, and in order to make manifest the majesty and the honour that came to the man who was assumed by God who put Him on. 

In this same way they said also: The Only Begotten Son, the first-born of all creatures. Because they were on the point of enlightening us concerning the two natures: how they are, which was the Divine nature which came down, and which was the human nature which was assumed—they used in advance these two expressions together in order to indicate the two natures through them. It is clear that they do not speak of one nature when they say: The Only Begotten Son, the first-born of all creatures, because the two expressions cannot be said of one nature, as there is a great difference between an only son and a first-born. It is not possible that an only son and a first-born should denote the same man. A first-born is the one who has many brothers while an only son is the one who has no brothers. So great is the difference between an only son and a firstborn that it may be compared with the difference that nature places between the one who is alone and the one who is in company of others.

We call an only son one who has no other brothers at all while we call a first-born one who clearly has other brothers. This the Sacred Book teaches us also without ambiguity. In wishing to speak of an only son it says: “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It says also: “The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father,” so that by His close proximity to His Father He might be known as an only Son. The sentence, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of an only begotten of the Father” shows that He alone is of the nature of the Father by birth, and He alone is a Son. In using the word “bosom” it conveys to us a union that never ceases, as it is unbecoming to understand this word to refer to a corporeal bosom of God. Inasmuch as they call eye “sight” and ear “hearing,” so also they call a union that never ceases “bosom,” as it is said: “Render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom,” that is to say let them receive punishment continually and always. The expression “only Son” that has been used signifies, therefore, that He is alone born of the Father, that He is alone Son, that He is always with His Father and is known with Him, because He is truly a Son from His Father.

As to the expression “the first-born of all the creatures,” we understand it in the sense in which it is said: “For whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate, and He formed them to the image of His Son that He might be the first-born among many brethren.” (Paul) did not make use of this word in order to show us that He is Son alone, but in order to make us understand that He has many brethren and that He is known among many since they acquired with Him participation in the adoption of sons, and because of them He is called first-born as they are His brothers. In another passage He is called “first-born of all the creatures.” This is also said about the humanity of Christ, because (Paul) did not simply say “first-born” but “first-born of all the creatures.”

No one is called first-born if he has no other brothers because of whom he is called and is a first-born, so the expression “the first-born of all creatures” means that He was the first to be renewed by His resurrection from the dead; and He changed into a new and wonderful life, and He renewed also all the creatures and brought them to a new and a higher creation. It is indeed said: “Everything that is in Christ is a new creature. Old things are passed away, and all things are become new through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He is the firstborn of all the creatures because all the creation was renewed and changed through the renewal which He granted to it by His grace from the renewal into which He Himself was renewed, and through which He moved to a new life and ascended high above all creatures.

He is rightly called the first-born of all the creatures, because He was first renewed, and then He renewed the creatures, while He is higher in honour than all of them. This is how we understand the difference between the two names. Our Fathers, who took their wisdom from Holy Writ, referred this difference to one person and said: In the Only Begotten Son, the first-born of all creatures, in order to show us, as I said previously, the close union of the two natures. It is with justice, therefore, that they first said, “an only Son” and then, “the first-born.” Indeed they had first to show us who was the one who was in the form of God, and who, because of His grace, took upon Him our nature, and afterwards to speak of that form of a servant which was assumed for our salvation. In this way and by the change in the terms that they used, they made manifest to us the two natures and differences, and also the unity of sonship arising out of the closeness of the union of the natures, which was effected by the will of God. In this they kept also the right order of things as they taught first concerning Divine nature which by its grace came down to us and put on humanity, and then concerning that humanity which was assumed through grace, and afterwards they gave the true doctrine for the refutation of the heretics who strove to twist the truth.

In their teaching they began later to speak of Divine nature about which they had already spoken at the beginning of the profession of faith: Who was bom before all the worlds, and not made. It is clear that they said these words concerning Divine nature, although the word “only Son” was sufficient to teach the true doctrine concerning the Son to all non-contentious. If He is an only Son, it is clear that He alone is born of God, and He alone is a Son con-substantial with His Father. The expression “only Son” denotes all these things, and even more, because those who are called sons of God are numerous, while this one is alone the only Son. It is, indeed written: “I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you children of the Most High,” and again, “I have nourished and brought up children.” Since there are many who are called “sons” this one would not have been called “an only Son” if there was not a great difference between them. They were called sons by grace because they became near to God and members of the household, and because of this membership of the household they deserved by grace to be called by this name. This one, however, was called an only Son because He alone is a Son consubstantial with His Father. He was not called a Son, because He, like others, became by grace worthy of the adoption of sons, but because He was born of the very nature (of the Father) He was called and He is a Son. Although these things are clear and evident in the Sacred Books, and although it is patent to every one that no one can be called an only son except the one who is truly of the same nature as his father, the unholy and erroneous opinion of the heretics remained for some time without rectification.

Of all those who had received the knowledge of Christ, Arius was the first to dare and to say impiously that the Son was a creature and was made from nothing: a novel theory alien to public opinion and to the laws of nature, as any one who is created is not a Son, and any one who is a Son is not a creature, because it is impossible that a creature should be called a true Son or a true Son to be called a creature. This compelled our blessed Fathers to assemble from all regions and hold a holy Synod in the town of Nicea in the district of Bithynia, and to write this (profession of) faith in order to uphold the true faith, to confute the wickedness of Arius, to refute those who sprang up later and who are called by the name of their deceiver Eunomius, and to overthrow those heresies which arose out of erroneous opinions. Although the question was clear and evident to all from the law of nature, from common consent and from the teaching of the Sacred Books, they added and said: Born and not made.

They used words suitable to the belief in the Son, as if they had said: we call Him a Son, not a mere man and not like one who is figuratively called so—such as those who are by grace called children because of their adoption in the household—but alone a true Son. He is a true Son because He is an only Son; and He is truly born of His Father, is from Him and from His nature, and is eternally like Him. There is no created thing that is before the worlds, as the one who is before the worlds is the one who is alone from eternity. As the Father is from eternity so also the Son who is from Him is from eternity. He did not come into existence after a time nor was He born later, but He was born eternally before all the worlds from the one who is from eternity, and He is with Him from eternity as the evangelist said: “In the beginning was the Word.”

He is from eternity, and did not come into existence later, but He was in the beginning before everything. He who comes into existence later is called “the last,” and the last is not the first; and he who is not the first was not in the beginning. If, therefore, He was in the beginning, He was also the first, as there is nothing that precedes the beginning. If He is the first He is not the last, and if He is not the last He did not come into existence later.

In the beginning He was, and He was in the beginning from God, that is to say He was from eternity and before all the worlds with God. And to show that He was with God, and not from outside, as something foreign and not from the very nature of Divinity, the blessed evangelist called Him “Word,” because a word belongs to a man and is from a man; and since it is possible that the being who was with Him was from another he made use of this illustration so that the hearers should not doubt that He was from eternity from the one who is eternally from eternity. Indeed, the word of the soul, the rational character of which is accomplished in itself, is with it and in it by nature, and it is through it that this same soul is known to be rational. And it comes out of the soul, and is seen from it and in it, and is always with it and known through it.

In this same way the Son is from the Father like the word is from the soul. He is eternally from Him, with Him and in Him, and He is known from eternity with Him. “He was in the beginning,” that is to say He was from eternity, from the beginning, and before everything; not that He came into existence later, but that He was in the beginning and always; that He was eternally from Him and eternally with Him, like the word is with the soul, from which and with which it always is.

The word, however, is seen as something different from the soul, and is the personality of the soul, because not having its own personality it is seen in the soul. In order that, by following this illustration, we may not believe that the Son has no personality or that He was alien to the nature of the Father he quickly added: “And the Word was God.” After saying that He “was” and that He “was with God” he added “And the Word was God” so that he should show clearly that He was not from a nature different from that of God, or that He was different from Him in the Godhead, but that He was identical with the one from whom He was and that He was God with the one who was God.

He said wonderfully: “And the Word was God” in order to show that He is what God is, and that He is what our blessed Fathers rightly described: Born of Him before all the worlds. In this they wished to convey that from eternity and before all the worlds He was in the beginning from Him and with Him. Their words did not stop here but to complete the doctrine of truth, to warn the children of faith and to overthrow the error of the heretics, they added the sentence: And not made.

We should be in need of many words if we intended to comment fully upon all things said by our blessed Fathers concerning the Divinity of the Only Begotten. In order, however, to lighten to you the burden of the many things that are said to you we shall utter them little by little so that you may better be able to hear and to learn them. With your permission, therefore, we shall put an end here to the things that were said to-day, and keep the things that follow (in the credo) to another day, and for all of them let us praise the Father, the Only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit, now, always, and for ever and ever. Amen.

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