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Section 2 — ¶2 [4] – 3 [13]

2 [4] You, then, O divine and most beloved friends to me, guard yourselves from the shepherds of the Philistines, lest such a one unawares block your wells and make turbid the purity of the knowledge (gnosis) which concerns the faith. For this is ever their business: not to teach the more guileless souls from the Holy Scriptures but to pervert the truth by fallacies, from the wisdom which is outside [our Faith]. For he who introduces ‘unbegotten’ and ‘begotten’ into our Faith and proclaims him who always has been not to have existed at one time; and the Father [who is Father] ever and by nature to have become [the Father at some time] and the Holy Spirit not to be eternal—is he not openly a Philistine, envying the sheep of our Patriarch so that they not drink from the water which is pure and springs up to eternal life? But they draw the saying of the Prophet to themselves: ‘They abandoned me, the spring of living water, and hewed for themselves broken cisterns which will not be able to hold water.’ It is obligatory to confess God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, as the divine words and those who have comprehended them in a higher way have taught. [5] To those who insolently allege that we teach that ‘three-god’ [doctrine], let it be said that we confess one God not in number but in nature. For everything which is said to be one in number—this is not one in reality, neither is it simple in nature. But God is confessed by all to be simple and incomposite. Therefore God is not one in number. [6] What I am saying is of this sort: We say that the world is one in number but not one in nature; neither is it a simple object. For we divide it into the elements from which it has been constituted, into fire and water and air and earth. Again, man is called one in number. For we often say ‘one man’. But he is not a simple being since he is constituted of body and soul. Similarly, then, we say that the angel is also one in number but not one in nature, neither simple. For we understand the hypostasis of the angel to be substance plus sanctification. [7] If, then, every thing which is one in number is not one in nature; and that which is one in nature and simple is not one in number; and we, however, say that God is one in nature: how do they bring in number to us who have exiled it completely from that blessed and intelligible[1] nature? For number is of quantity; quantity, however, is yoked to the bodily nature; but we have believed that our Lord is the creator of bodies. For which reason every number refers to those things that have chanced to have their nature implicated in material and to be circumscribed, but ‘Monad’ and ‘Unity’ are significant of the simple and uncirumscribed substance. [8] Accordingly, he who confesses the Son of God or the Holy Spirit to be number or creature introduces unawares a nature which is implicated in material and circumscribed. I call ‘circumscribed’ not only the nature which is contained in place, but also that very nature that he who was going to produce it from non-being to being grasped with his foreknowledge, which nature it is also possible to grasp with science[2]. Every holy thing which has a circumscribed nature and which has its holiness acquired is not unreceptive of evil. But the Son and the Holy Spirit are a fountain of sanctification, from which the whole rational nature is sanctified in proportion to its virtue.

3 [9] And further, according to the true reasoning we say that the Son is neither similar nor dissimilar to the Father. For each of these is equally impossible. ‘Similar’ and ‘dissimilar’ are spoken of in reference to qualities; the divine, however, is free of quality. Confessing, then, identity of nature we both accept the ‘same in substance (homoousios)’ and avoid the composite, the God and Father according to substance having begotten the God and Son according to substance. For from this the ‘same in substance (homoousios)’ is shown. For the God according to nature is the same in substance (homoousios) as the God according to nature, since man is also called ‘god’, as: ‘I said that you are gods.’ And the demon is a god, as: ‘The gods of the nations are demons.’ But the former are called so by Grace; the latter falsely. Only God, then, is God according to substance. [10] When I say ‘only’, I make known the holy and uncreated substance of God. For ‘only’ is also said in reference to some man; and simply in reference to universal nature. In reference to some man, for example, as in reference to Paul, for only he was ravished to the Third Heaven and heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for man to utter. In reference to universal nature, then, as when David says: ‘Man, as the grass are his days.’ For here he makes known not some one man, but the universal [human] nature. For every man is temporal and mortal. Thus we understand in reference to the [divine] nature these sayings also: ‘the only one having immortality,’ and ‘by the only wise God,’ and ‘No one is good except one, God.’ For here he declares ‘one’ to be identical to ‘only’. And: ‘he who only[3] has stretched out the Heavens’. And again: ‘You will bow down to the Lord your God and to him only will you offer worship.’ And: ‘There is no God except me.’ [11] For in Holy Scripture, ‘one’ and ‘only’ are said in reference to God [sc. the Father] not in contrast to the Son or to the Holy Spirit, but in reference to those who are not Gods but falsely so called. As: ‘The Lord only led them and there was not a strange god with them.’ And: ‘The sons of Israel destroyed the Baalim and the sacred groves of Astaroth and served the Lord only.’ And again Paul: ‘Just as there are many gods and many lords, but for us one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things.’ [12] But here we seek how, having said ‘one God’, he was not satisfied with that phrase (for we said that in reference to God ‘only’ and ‘one’ make known the nature) but added ‘Father’ and made reference to ‘Christ’. I suppose, accordingly, that Paul, the vessel of election, did not think that it was enough to proclaim the Son and the Holy Spirit to be God only, which very thing he had made known by means of the phrase ‘one God,’ if he did not also make known by means of the addition of ‘Father’, him ‘from whom are all things’, and refer by means of the memorial of ‘Lord’, to the Word, him ‘through whom are all things’, and, again, by also taking up ‘Jesus Christ’ proclaim the Incarnation and portray the Passion and bring to light the Resurrection. For ‘Jesus Christ’ brings to light concepts such as these. [13] Wherefore before the Passion the Lord forswears to be proclaimed Jesus Christ and restrains his disciples so that they say to no one that he is Jesus the Christ. It lies before him who is completing the Dispensation, to permit them, after the Resurrection from the dead and the Ascension into Heaven, to proclaim him to be Jesus the Christ. Of this sort also is ‘So that they know you the only true God and him who you have sent, Jesus Christ,’ and ‘Believe in God and believe in me,’ the Holy Spirit everywhere securing our concept, lest advancing to both[4] we fall from both; and paying attention to the Theology[5], we despise the Dispensation; and there occur to us impiety on account of deficiency.[6]

[1] The author is contrasting the intelligible nature of God with the material nature of created objects. The polarity ‘intelligible’ and ‘in material’ is a basic feature of the philosophy being used here.

[2] This clause is difficult to construe because of its grammar, which may be corrupt. We have changed the gender of the relative pronoun from to ν so as to give the reading. What the author seems to be saying here is that he means by ‘circumscribed’ not only the material nature which is contained in place, but also the created intelligible nature which was known by God in his foreknowledge before he created it, which intelligible nature it is also possible for us men to comprehend by ‘science’—reasoning as opposed to the senses (since an intelligible nature is neither in a place nor comprehensible by the senses). This seems much more in accord with Cappadocian ontology than what the reading of the text would give—that the author’s statement can be comprehended by ‘science’. The author then goes on to speak of the intelligible object that is holy and to point out that because such an object is created, it is subject to change and in particular it is receptive of evil. It is not by nature holy as are the Son and the Holy Spirit, which are a fountain of holiness for all of the rational creation (the angels and men) in proportion to the virtue of each rational creature. What the author seems to mean is that the angels, which he has already described as substance plus sanctification, are not by nature holy but can fall into evil; and that the Son and Holy Spirit are a fountain of holiness for all the rational creation (angels and men) in proportion to each rational creature’s free exercise of virtue. This is a very strong doctrine of the free-will of the rational creature leading to that creature’s degree of sanctification through its own free exercise of virtue.

[3] Occasionally in the following citations, English style requires ‘alone’ instead of ‘only’ but we have used ‘only’ to maintain consistency with what the author is saying.

[4] I.e. the divinity of both the Father and the Son.

[5] ‘Theology’ here means the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in contrast to the doctrine of the Incarnation, here called the ‘Dispensation (oikonomia)’. The divinity of both the Father and the Son is a matter of Theology. The author is saying that to advance to the divinity of both the Father and the Son, in distinction to the divinity just of the Father, might cause us to lose both the Father and the Son—i.e. to lose our faith—because we attend to those things before we are ready; it might cause us to spend more time on the nature of the Holy Trinity than is warranted, to the detriment of our understanding of the Incarnation; and it might cause us to fall into impiety—i.e. wrong faith—on account of a defect in our understanding.

[6] We take this whole passage from the beginning of Section 2 to here (2 [4] to 3 [13]) to be in need of analysis of the extent to which it can be treated as part of Layer 2, or must be assigned to Layer 3. Although this passage does ostensibly have the form of commentary on passages of Scripture, it is in reality a far more sophisticated philosophical analysis of the oneness of God than we find in the simpler scriptural exegesis to follow. Moreover, many of the concepts concerning the relation of number to the Godhead are echoed in the Kephalaia Gnostica, including the references to the ‘Monad’ and ‘Unity’. See for example KG VI, 10 – 13. Finally, immediately after this passage, we seem to have the actual beginning of Layer 2: Let us thus examine the words of Divine Scripture…’. We discuss this issue somewhat at the end of the Introduction.


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