Letter I. Gregory to his brother Peter, Bishop of Sebasteia. Having with difficulty obtained a little leisure, I have been able to recover from bodily fatigue on my return from Armenia, and to collect the sheets of my reply to Eunomius which was suggested by your wise advice; so that my work is now arranged in a complete treatise, which can be read between covers. However, I have not written against both his pamphlets  ; even the leisure for that was not granted; for the person who lent me the heretical volume most uncourteously sent for it again, and allowed me no time either to write it out or to study it.
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For God , he says, being the most highly exalted of all goods, and the mightiest of all, and free from all necessity — Nobly does the gallant man bring his discourse, like some ship without ballast, driven unguided by the waves of deceit, into the harbour of truth!
God is the most highly exalted of all goods. Splendid acknowledgment! I suppose he will not bring a charge of unconstitutional conduct against the great John, by whom, in his lofty proclamation, the Only-begotten is declared to be God , Who was with God and was God. If he, then, the proclaimer of the Godhead of the Only-begotten, is worthy of credit, and if God is the most highly exalted of all goods, it follows that the Son is alleged by the enemies of His glory , to be the most highly exalted of all goods.
And as this phrase is also applied to the Father , the superlative force of most highly exalted admits of no diminution or addition by way of comparison. He says, God , the most highly exalted of all goods, being without hindrance from nature, or constraint from cause , or impulse from need, begets and creates according to the supremacy of His own authority, having His will as power sufficient for the constitution of the things produced. If, then, all good is according to His will , He not only determines that which is made as good, but also the time of its being good, if, that is to say, as one may assume, it is an indication of weakness to make what one does not will.
Yes, He Who has, by the supremacy of His authority, power in His will that suffices for the constitution of the things that are made, He Who created all things without hindrance from nature or compulsion from cause , does determine not only that which is made as good, but also the time of its being good. But He Who made all things is, as the gospel proclaims, the Only-begotten God. He, at that time when He willed it, did make the creation; at that time, by means of the circumambient essence , He surrounded with the body of heaven all that universe that is shut off within its compass: at that time, when He thought it well that this should be, He displayed the dry land to view, He enclosed the waters in their hollow places; vegetation, fruits, the generation of animals, the formation of man , appeared at that time when each of these things seemed expedient to the wisdom of the Creator: — and He Who made all these things I will once more repeat my statement is the Only-begotten God Who made the ages.
For if the interval of the ages has preceded existing things, it is proper to employ the temporal adverb, and to say He then willed and He then made : but since the age was not, since no conception of interval is present to our minds in regard to that Divine Nature which is not measured by quantity or by interval, the force of temporal expressions must surely be void.
Thus to say that the creation has had given to it a beginning in time, according to the good pleasure of the wisdom of Him Who made all things, does not go beyond probability: but to regard the Divine Nature itself as being in a kind of extension measured by intervals, belongs only to those who have been trained in the new wisdom. What a point is this, embedded in his words, which I intentionally passed by in my eagerness to reach the subject!
For He Who is most highly exalted in God Himself before all other things that are generated, he says, has dominion over His own power. I note the fact, however, at present, not so much to reproach our speech-monger with the poverty of his own arguments and thoughts, as with the intention of showing to my readers the close relationship between the doctrine of Eunomius and the reasoning of the Jews.
For this phrase of Philo would not have fitted word for word into his argument had there not been a sort of kindred between the intention of the one and the other.
In the Hebrew author you may find the phrase in this form: God , before all other things that are generated ; and what follows, has dominion over His own power, is an addition of the new Judaism.
But what an absurdity this involves an examination of the saying will clearly show. Tell me, what is He? Over what has He dominion? Is He something else than His own power, and Lord of a power that is something else than Himself? Then power is overcome by the absence of power. For that which is something else than power is surely not power, and thus He is found to have dominion over power just in so far as He is not power.
Or again, God , being power, has another power in Himself, and has dominion over the one by the other. And what contest or schism is there, that God should divide the power that exists in Himself, and overthrow one section of His power by the other.
I suppose He could not have dominion over His own power without the assistance to that end of some greater and more violent power! Again, with what intent does He dominate the power that urges on to generation? Lest some evil should arise if generation be not hindered?
Or rather let him explain this in the first place — what is that which is naturally under dominion? His language points to some movement of impulse and choice, considered separately and independently.
For that which dominates must needs be one thing, that which is dominated another. Now God has dominion over His power — and this is — what? A self-determining nature? Or something else than this, pressing on to disquiet, or remaining in a state of quiescence? Well, if he supposes it to be quiescent, that which is tranquil needs no one to have dominion over it: and if he says He has dominion, He has dominion clearly over something which impels and is in motion: and this, I presume he will say, is something naturally different from Him Who rules it.
What then, let him tell us, does he understand in this idea? Is it something else besides God , considered as having an independent existence? How can another existence be in God? Or is it some condition in the Divine Nature considered as having an existence not its own? I hardly think he would say so: for that which has no existence of its own is not: and that which is not, is neither under dominion, nor set free from it.
What then is that power which was under dominion, and was restrained in respect of its own activity, while the due time of the generation of Christ was still about to come, and to set this power free to proceed to its natural operation? What was the intervening cause of delay, for which God deferred the generation of the Only-begotten, not thinking it good as yet to become a Father? And what is this that is inserted as intervening between the life of the Father and that of the Son , that is not time nor space, nor any idea of extension, nor any like thing?
To what purpose is it that this keen and clear-sighted eye marks and beholds the separation of the life of God in regard to the life of the Son? When he is driven in all directions he is himself forced to admit that the interval does not exist at all. However, though there is no interval between them, he does not admit that their communion is immediate and intimate, but condescends to the measure of our knowledge , and converses with us in human phrase as one of ourselves, himself quietly confessing the impotence of reasoning and taking refuge in a line of argument that was never taught by Aristotle and his school.
He says, It was good and proper that He should beget His Son at that time when He willed: and in the minds of sensible men there does not hence arise any questioning why He did not do so before.
What does this mean, Eunomius? Are you too going afoot like us unlettered men? Are you leaving your artistic periods and actually taking refuge in unreasoning assent? You, who so much reproached those who take in hand to write without logical skill?
You, who say to Basil, You show your own ignorance when you say that definitions of the terms that express things spiritual are an impossibility for men, who again elsewhere advance the same charge, you make your own impotence common to others, when you declare that what is not possible for you is impossible for all?
Is this the way that you, who say such things as these, approach the ears of him who questions about the reason why the Father defers becoming the Father of such a Son? Do you think it an adequate explanation to say, He begot Him at that time when He chose: let there be no questioning on this point?
Has your apprehensive fancy grown so feeble in the maintenance of your doctrines? What has become of your premises that lead to dilemmas? What has become of your forcible proofs?
How comes it that those terrible and inevitable syllogistic conclusions of your art have dissolved into vanity and nothingness? He begot the Son at that time when He chose: let there be no questioning on this point! Is this the finished product of your many labours, of your voluminous undertakings? What was the question asked? If it is good and fitting for God to have such a Son, why are we not to believe that the good is always present with Him? What is the answer he makes to us from the very shrine of his philosophy , tightening the bonds of his argument by inevitable necessity?
He made the Son at that time when He chose: let there be no questioning as to why He did not do so before. Why, if the inquiry before us were concerning some irrational being, that acts by natural impulse, why it did not sooner do whatever it may be — why the spider did not make her webs, or the bee her honey, or the turtle-dove her nest — what else could you have said?
Would not the same answer have been ready — She did it at that time when she chose: let there be no questioning on this matter? Nay, if it were concerning some sculptor or painter who works in paintings or in sculptures by his imitative art, whatever it may be supposing that he exercises his art without being subject to any authority , I imagine that such an answer would meet the case of any one who wished to know why he did not exercise his art sooner — that, being under no necessity, he made his own choice the occasion of his operation.
For men, because they do not always wish the same things , and commonly have not power co-operating with their will, do something which seems good to them at that time when their choice inclines to the work, and they have no external hindrance. But that nature which is always the same, to which no good is adventitious, in which all that variety of plans which arises by way of opposition, from error or from ignorance , has no place, to which there comes nothing as a result of change, which was not with it before, and by which nothing is chosen afterwards which it had not from the beginning regarded as good — to say of this nature that it does not always possess what is good , but afterwards chooses to have something which it did not choose before — this belongs to wisdom that surpasses us.
For we were taught that the Divine. Nature is at all times full of all good, or rather is itself the fullness of all goods, seeing that it needs no addition for its perfecting, but is itself by its own nature the perfection of good. Now that which is perfect is equally remote from addition and from diminution; and therefore, we say that perfection of goods which we behold in the Divine Nature always remains the same, as, in whatsoever direction we extend our thoughts, we there apprehend it to be such as it is.
The Divine Nature, then, is never void of good: but the Son is the fullness of all good: and accordingly He is at all times contemplated in that Father Whose Nature is perfection in all good. But he says, let there be no questioning about this point, why He did not do so before: and we shall answer him —It is one thing, most sapient sir, to lay down as an ordinance some proposition that you happen to approve , and another to make converts by reasoning on the points of controversy.
So long, therefore, as you cannot assign any reason why we may piously say that the Son was afterwards begotten by the Father , your ordinances will be of no effect with sensible men. Thus it is then that Eunomius brings the truth to light for us as the result of his scientific attack. And we for our part shall apply his argument, as we are wont to do, for the establishment of the true doctrine, so that even by this passage it may be clear that at every point, constrained against their will, they advocate our view.
For if, as our opponent says, He begot the Son at that time when He chose, and if He always chose that which is good , and His power coincided with His choice, it follows that the Son will be considered as always with the Father , Who always both chooses that which is excellent, and is able to possess what He chooses. And if we are to reduce his next words also to truth , it is easy for us to adapt them also to the doctrine we hold:— Let there be no questioning among sensible men on this point, why He did not do so before — for the word has a temporal sense, opposed to what is afterwards and later : but on the supposition that time does not exist, the terms expressing temporal interval are surely abolished with it.
Now the Lord was before times and before ages: questioning as to before or after concerning the Maker of the ages is useless in the eyes of reasonable men: for words of this class are devoid of all meaning, if they are not used in reference to time. Since then the Lord is antecedent to times, the words before and after have no place as applied to Him.
This may perhaps be sufficient to refute arguments that need no one to overthrow them, but fall by their own feebleness. For who is there with so much leisure that he can give himself up to such an extent to listen to the arguments on the other side, and to our contention against the silly stuff? Since, however, in men prejudiced by impiety, deceit is like some ingrained dye, hard to wash out, and deeply burned in upon their hearts, let us spend yet a little time upon our argument, if haply we may be able to cleanse their souls from this evil stain.
After the utterances that I have quoted, and after adding to them, in the manner of his teacher Prunicus, some unconnected and ill-arranged octads of insolence and abuse, he comes to the crowning point of his arguments, and, leaving the illogical exposition of his folly, arms his discourse once more with the weapons of dialectic, and maintains his absurdity against us, as he imagines, syllogistically. He further shows that the pretemporal generation of the Son is not the subject of influences drawn from ordinary and carnal generation, but is without beginning and without end, and not according to the fabrications constructed by Eunomius, in ignorance of His power, from the statements of Plato concerning the souland from the sabbath rest of the Hebrews.
What he says runs thus:— As all generation is not protracted to infinity, but ceases on arriving at some end, those who admit the origination of the Son are absolutely obliged to say that He then ceased being generated, and not to look incredulously on the beginning of those things which cease being generated, and therefore also surely begin: for the cessation of generation establishes a beginning of begetting and being begotten: and these facts cannot be disbelieved, on the ground at once of nature itself and of the Divine laws.
Now since he endeavours to establish his point inferentially, laying down his universal proposition according to the scientific method of those who are skilled in such matters, and including in the general premise the proof of the particular, let us first consider his universal, and then proceed to examine the force of his inferences.
Is it a reverent proceeding to draw from all generation evidence even as to the pre-temporal generation of the Son? And ought we to put forward ordinary nature as our instructor on the being of the Only-begotten? For my own part, I should not have expected any one to reach such a point of madness , that any such idea of the Divine and unsullied generation should enter his fancy.
All generation, is not protracted to infinity. What is it that he understands by generation? Is he speaking of fleshly, bodily birth, or of the formation of inanimate objects? The affections involved in bodily generation are well known — affections which no one would think of transferring to the Divine Nature. In order therefore that our discourse may not, by mentioning the works of nature at length, be made to appear redundant, we shall pass such matters by in silence, as I suppose that every sensible man is himself aware of the causes by which generation is protracted, both in regard to its beginning and to its cessation: it would be tedious and at the same time superfluous to express them all minutely, the coming together of those who generate, the formation in the womb of that which is generated, travail, birth, place, time, without which the generation of a body cannot be brought about — things which are all equally alien from the Divine generation of the Only-begotten: for if any one of these things were admitted, the rest will of necessity all enter with it.
That the Divine generation, therefore, may be clear of every idea connected with passion, we shall avoid conceiving with regard to it even that extension which is measured by intervals. Now that which begins and ends is surely regarded as being in a kind of extension, and all extension is measured by time, and as time by which we mark both the end of birth and its beginning is excluded, it would be vain, in the case of the uninterrupted generation, to entertain the idea of end or beginning, since no idea can be formed to mark either the point at which such generation begins or that at which it ceases.
Against Eunomius (Book IX)