A Summary of Basil’s Against Eunomius, Book 2

In Book 1 of Against Eunomius, Basil addresses the term “unbegotten.” Ultimately, the term means the same as “Father” (1.5), and hence refers to one who always, in eternity, has a Son (1.20; cf. 2:12). Against Eunomius, he says that “unbegotten” does not refer to God’s substance (1.15).

Book 1 addresses the “God of the universe,” the unbegotton, and therefore focuses on the Father. Book 2 focuses on what Eunomius says about the Son.

As in the prior post, the quotations and section numbers follow the English translation by DelCogliano and Radde-Gallwitz. All references to footnotes are to those provided in each section in the translated text.

Book Summary

Eunomius thinks that what he says about the Son is rooted in tradition (2.1), but this must be tested with “the teachings the Spirit gave us.” Eunomius must have Acts 2:36 as a proof-text for his position, but it neither says that the Son is “something made” (2.2), nor does the verse have to do with the Son’s substance (2.3).

Eunomius thinks that a difference of names means a difference of substance. Basil disagrees, and explains why (2.4). This lays the groundwork for much of what Basil says in response to Eunomius. For him, “Father” and “Son” do not indicate substance, but reveal what distinguishes them (2.5a).

Basil then turns to responding to what it means for the Son to be “begotten.” Apparently Eunomius thinks that the term immediately causes people to think of the sexual way things are begotten (2.5b). And, perhaps more importantly, he thinks that “something begotten” refers to the substance of the Son (2.6). This is of course a similar topic that Basil addressed in Book 1 about “unbegotton.”

Basil offers three responses. First, “something begotten” doesn’t occur anywhere in Scripture with reference to the Son (2.6b-2.8a). Second, the way Eunomius uses the term is contrary to common use (2.8b).

Third, Basil addresses, more directly to what Eunomius has written, whether “something begotten” refers to the Son’s substance. To begin, he distinguishes terms that reveal the thing named from terms that express a relation that something has to another (2.9). “Father” and “Son” are the latter (cf. 2.22). If Eunomius accepts both that “something begotten” reveals substance and is relational, this has absurd results (2.10).

The “chief point” of Eunomius’ evil is his affirmation that the Son was made from nothing, though he does not outright say this. The language that Eunomius uses to circumvent that direct statement makes little sense (2.11). In response, Basil argues that it is neither through lack of power nor ignorance that the Father doesn’t have a Son with him, and so the Son is eternally with the Father (2.12).

There are several more reasons to think the Son is always with the Father. First, if the Son is created out of nothing at some time, than the interval prior to the Son’s creation must be the “ages.” But the Son is supposed to be the creator of the ages, and indeed of all things (2.13). Again, Eunomius is misled because he can’t imagine the Son’s begetting without a corporeality (2.14a).

Second, John 1:1 shows that the Son, God the Word, was with God in the beginning (2.14-2.15a). The genealogies of Christ refer to the Son’s begetting “according to the flesh,” and do not contradict what John goes on to say in the rest of the prologue (2.15b).

One thing that John says is that the Son is the “true light” (John 1:9). This fact, among others, helps us understand the Son’s begetting without passion (2.16-2.17). The Son is eternal and begotten. The fact Eunomius denies this means he also denies it was the Son who named himself “He Who Is” (Exodus 3:14) and who is “the angel of great counsel” (Isaiah 9:5) who appeared before Moses’ time (2.18). He is thereby also in league with the fool who denies God exists and with the nations Paul repudiates (2.19). Basil briefly responds to Eunomius’ treatment of Proverbs 8:22 by appealing to the Hebrew (2.20).

Eunomius is inconsistent if he doesn’t affirm that the Son is the Only-Created. He is also committed to creation being the only-begotten because it ultimately comes from God alone on his view (2.21).

Faith in the Father and the Son is foundational. Eunomius denies this, and this aligns him more with Greeks or Jews than with Christians (2.22a). “Father” and “Son” are relational terms, where one (the Father) provides to another (the Son) “being in a nature similiar to his own” (2.22). Understanding this begetting is important, and Eunomius just can’t imagine what it could be other than something with passion (2.23a). There’s even a sense that the Father is such to us (2.23b). “Father” is a fitting term for God, even if it is impossible to conceive of how begetting occurs (2.24).

Basil returns to the Son as the “true light,” and what Eunomius says about this. Eunomius’ claim is that the Father is incomparable, and therefore that the light of the Father and the light of the Son are as well (2.25). There are several ways that this is mistaken (2.26-2.27a), and Basil offers what one should say instead (2.27b). This leads into an important section on Trinitarian metaphysics that shows the Father and Son cannot have opposition of substance as Eunomius says (2.28). Basil then offers one more response to the claim that the Father and Son—the two lights—are incomparable, and also responds to Eunomius charge that, unless “light” and “unbegotten” are the same, God will be composite (2.29).

In the concluding sections, Basil shows that Eunomius is not only inconsistent (2.30-2.31a), but that Eunomius ought to accept Basil’s position based on what he himself says (2.31b-2.32). He then begins a transition into Book 3 by noting how one ought to fear blaspheming the Holy Spirit (2.33) and separating him from the Father (2.34).

Section Summaries

2.1. What does Eunomius say about the “only-begotten God”? He says that he can do away with the troubles here simply “by quoting the sayings of the saints in which they declare that the Son is both something begotten and something made.” This makes his difference in substance from the Father clear.

Eunomius is crafty and cunning, and to some he seems to have a concern for the truth. So let’s compare his arguments with “the teachings that the Spirit gave us.”

2.2. Where does Eunomius think the saints say this about the Son? Perhaps from Acts 2:36: “Let all the house of Israel know that God has made him Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” But this Scripture does not deal with what Eunomius has in mind.

The verb phrase “he has made” refers to something the Father does, but Eunomius alters the phrase so that it means “something made” (see footnote 5). Instead, “When scripture refers to creation, we do find the designation ‘something made’ derived from ‘he made,’ but when referring to the Son of God, we no longer find it.” There are times where Scripture likens Christ to things made, but it never says he is “something made.”

2.3. Furthermore, Acts 2:36 doesn’t have to do with the substance of God the Word, but rather to his Incarnation. The Apostle Peter “does not teach us in the mode of theology, but hints at the reasons of the economy.” By saying “this Jesus,” it is clear that Peter is referring to Christ’s humanity.

The term “Lord” is a name for Christ’s authority, not for his substance. That is, Peter “is speaking of [Christ’s] rule and power over all, which the Father entrusted to him.”

2.4. Why else does Eunomius fasten on the name “something made”? Because he thinks that a difference in names means a difference in substance.

Basil disagrees that a difference in names means a difference in substance:

For the designations of Peter and Paul and of all people in general are different, but there is a single substance for all of them. For this reason, in most respects we are the same as one another, but it is only due to the distinguishing marks [τοῖς ἰδιώμασι] considered in connection with each one of us that we are different, each from the other. Hence the designations do not signify the substances, but rather the distinctive features that characterize the individual. So whenever we hear “Peter,” the name does not cause us to think of his substance . . . but rather the notion of the distinguishing marks that are considered in connection with him is impressed upon our mind. For as soon as we hear the sound of this designation, we immediately think of the son of Jonah, the man from Bethsaida, the brother of Andrew, the one summoned from the fishermen to the ministry of the apostolate, the one who because of the superiority of his faith was charged with the building up of the church. None of these is his substance, understood as subsistence.

If it were true that differing names requires difference of substance, then Peter and Paul must differ in substance. But this is absurd.

Also, names follow from realities (i.e., they “are found posterior to realities”), and not vise versa. If the reverse were the case (i.e., that realities follow on names) the substance of certain things with the same names would be the same. So, anything called “god” would have the same substance as God himself, which is absurd.

2.5. The foregoing shows that the names “Father” and “Son” do not “communicate substance but instead are revelatory of the distinguishing marks.” Hence, difference in name does not mean a difference of substance.

Where did Eunomius’ proofs from the saints that the Son is “something made” go? If there was proof there, he would have offered it already.

Also, when Eunomius says that he needs to address the notion of the Son’s begetting, his claim is that it causes some to think of corporeal begetting. But who thinks this way? Who is “so utterly fleshly” that when they hear this language they think of sexual intercourse?

2.6. Eunomius thinks that he needs to address how corporeal-sounding the begetting of the Son is so that he can give the impression of instructing “brothers who lack understanding.” But he’s only really trying to heal half of the understanding here: by addressing the corporeality of “beget,” he leaves the stumbling block of “something made.” If it’s really the case that the Son was begotten of the Father, in one way or the other, the Son must have “affinity with the begetter.”

He says that “something begotten” refers to the substance of the Son, which is consistent with what he said about “unbegotten” with reference to the Father. This sets “unbegotton” in contrast to “something begotten,” which plays into the project of claiming the Only-Begotten is “contrary to the Father with respect to substance itself.” Problem is, the phrase “something begotten” doesn’t occur anywhere in Scripture.

2.7. Scripture teaches that the Father has begotten, but not that the Son is “something begotten.” In Isaiah 9:5 we are told “his name is called the angel of great council,” not that his name is “something begotten.” Peter doesn’t confess that Jesus is “something begotten” (Matthew 16:16), nor does Paul anywhere he discusses the Son.

Eunomius can’t get “something begotten” (γέννημα) from “he has begotten” (ἐγέννησε). We should content ourselves with the names Scripture uses, just as the Hebrews who translated the Hebrew into Greek simply transliterated those names instead of translating them.

2.8. Calling Christ “something begotten” is to use our own terminology of him, rather than to use “the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). God says to him: “For you are my Son, today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7). No father or mother would venture to call their child “my something begotten” rather than “my son” or “my child.” And why doesn’t anybody speak this way? Because “son” and “child” necessarily name living things, but “something begotten” does not (e.g., in a miscarriage).

Fruits and plants are also “things begotten,” but they are not necessarily “children.” It is rare for something else living to be called “begotten,” and it is usually in a negative context (cf. Matthew 23:33). The only way Eunomius can answer these points is to excise portions of Scripture like Marcion did.

2.9. Can “something begotten” apply to the Son’s substance? Eunomius thinks he has demonstrated this, but he has done no such thing.

Some names express a thing absolutely and in itself, but others refer to a thing as it relates to something else:

For example, “human being” and “horse” and “ox” each communicate the very thing that is named. But “son” and “slave” and “fiend” reveal only the connection with the associated name. So when anyone hears “something begotten,” he is not brought in his mind to a certain substance, but rather he understands that it is connected with another.

How, then, can a relational term signify the substance of a thing? Even with absolute names the substance is not communicated to us; rather, they reveal the “distinguishing marks” associated with the referent. (Note: For the latter claim the translators refer the reader to 2.4.)

2.10. If “something begotten” signifies the substance, then anything that is begotten is of the same substance, which is obviously absurd. Eunomius might want to say that “something begotten” signifies substance for the Son alone, but on what basis?

If “something begotten” and “substance” mean the same thing, then they can be substituted in truth claims. Nobody denies that “something begotten” is relational. So, if the Son is “something begotten” of God, then the Son is “substance” of God, which is to say that “something begotten” is the substance of the unbegotten.

2.11. The “chief point” of Eunomius’ evil is this affirmation:

The substance of the Son was begotten but did not exist before its own constitution, yet it exists after it was begotten before all things by the will of the Father.

In this statement Eunomius doesn’t outright say that the Son was “begotten from nothing.” He is simply trying to make his position sound more plausible, which is a sophism.

The phrase “before its own constitution” leads to several problems, such as the Son existing posterior to the ages, even though he made the ages (Hebrews 1:3), and the Father not being the Father from the beginning.

2.12. But in fact the Father has always been the Father of the Son:

If being Father is good and fitting to the blessedness of God, how is that which is fitting for him not present in him from the beginning? For the lack will certainly be considered either a matter of ignorance of what is better or a matter of inability. As a matter of ignorance, if he discovered what is better only later; as a matter of inability, if while knowing and understanding it he failed to attain what is best. But if—now saying this is irreligious—being Father is not good for him, why did he change, choosing what is worse?

There is no time that the Father began to be such, either by a deficiency of power or as if he had to wait. His “Fatherhood” is co-extensive with his eternity, and therefore the Son did not begin to exist at some point of time either. “From whatever point the Father exists, the Son also exists, and the notion of the Son immediately enters along with the notion of Father.” The Father is not “beyond [the Son] due to an interval but is ranked prior to him in terms of causality.”

2.13. If the Son exists posterior to the Father, he also exists posterior to that which separates them. This can be nothing other than a period of time (e.g., an age). But then Scripture “is clearly lying” when it says the ages came to be through the Son (Hebrews 1:2) and that “all things” came to be through him (John 1:3). So there can’t be a period of time that is anterior to the Son, since he is supposed to be that through whom they come to be.

2.14. One of Eunomius’ problems is that he offers absurd and blasphemous disjunctions in his arguments, such as when he argues that God has begotten the Son either before the Son existed or not. How can something that already exists be begotten? Really, Eunomius is just taking the material understanding we have of things begotten and projecting them onto the Son.

In John 1:1 we find that the Word is already in the beginning. “It is impossible to conceptualize something prior to a beginning. After all, a beginning would not still be a beginning if it were to have something anterior to it.” And to say “that he was not” denies the “was” in this verse; this imperfect tense verb does not suggest a temporal existence (cf. Revelation 1:8).

2.15. Was God the Word “with God in the beginning” (John 1:1b), or later? If not later, then Eunomius should stop saying “he was not.”

The “divine sayings” show that the Son was begotten before the ages. Various passages indicate the Son’s begetting “according to the flesh” (Matthew 1:1; Mark 1:1; Luke 3:23-38). John’s Gospel follows along the trajectory that “we have known Christ according to the flesh, but now we know him thus no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16). In only a few words (John 1:1), he covers the Son’s existence from eternity, his begetting with passion, and his “connaturality” with the Father.

John continues in verses 2, 4, and 9. Eunomius rejects all these testimonies of the Spirit. But John tells us repeatedly that God the Word “was.”

2.16. The eyes need light to see, and the mind needs a true understanding of the Only-Begotten to think. Eunomius thinks he can see without the true light, but the “true light that enlightens every human being was coming into to the world” (John 1:9).

What we ought to do is try to conceive of the generation of the Son without “passion, partition, division, and temporality.” It is like radiance that shines from light, like a wax seal to a letter, like a teacher inculcating a new skill in his disciples.

2.17. The analogies aren’t exact; they are only given to refute those who can’t imagine some sort of begetting without passion.

The Son is the radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3), among other things. “For this reason, in himself he reveals the Father in his entirety, as he is the radiance of his glory in its entirety. So isn’t it utterly absurd to claim that the glory of God is without its radiance?”

It was because the Son was begotten that he was with God. From whatever point the Father exists, the Son does too. This is not a novel idea if one considers John 1:1 and Psalm 110:3 [109:3, LXX].

Eunomius (et. al.) supposes that “eternal” means the same as “without beginning.” And if the Son is begotten, he cannot be without beginning, and therefore is not eternal. This is a mistake: “For ‘unbegotten’ is said of that which has no beginning and no cause of its own being, while ‘eternal’ is said of that which is prior in being to every time and age. Therefore, the Son is eternal but not unbegotten.”

2.18. Eunomius should stop saying the Son did not exist when he is the one who truly exists and gives life. Didn’t he name himself “He Who Is” (3:14)? Nobody who does not have the veil of Judaism upon them will disagree that the Son spoke there. This one is both angel and God alike (Exodus 3:6, 14), and who just is the one who is “the angel of great counsel” (Isaiah 9:5).

The angel also appears before Moses’ time, specifically to Jacob (Genesis 31:11, 13).

2.19. The “fool has said in his heart: there is no God” (Psalm 14:1 [13:1]). And they call God (the Son) “he who does not exist.” But then Eunomius affirms something also true of idols (see Galatians 4:8; Jeremiah 5:7): idols, by nature, do not exist.

Paul says the nations who do not have knowledge of God “that which does not exist” (1 Corinthians 1:28). And he calls the saints of Ephesus ones “who exist” (Ephesians 1:1). Eunomius doesn’t even find “our God” worthy of the title.

Eunomius claims that the Only-Begotten does not have a substance in common with other things that have come from nothing. But he does not prove how. When says that “we allot” superiority to the maker as one who is greater than the things he has created, this doesn’t do the job. Humans are of a similar substance to things that they create, as a potter to his clay, but both the potter and clay are perceptible to the senses and made of earth.

2.20. Eunomius says that the Only-Begotten is such because “he was begotten and created by the power of the unbegotten.” This runs against “both the customary usage of people and the pious tradition of the scriptures.”

On the basis of Proverbs 8:22, he thinks it is permissible to call the Lord a creature. But there are many things one can say in response that must be deferred until later.

For now, consider this: Other translators say the Hebrew means “acquired” rather than “created.” This is problematic, since the similar meaning in Genesis 4:1 is that Cain was begotten.[1]

2.21. Now if “begotten” is the same as to be “created,” then why doesn’t Eunomius say that the Only-Begotten is the Only-Created? And since Eunomius thinks the Lord is the Only-Begotten because he is begotten from only one person, then is an only child born of two parents not an only-begotten child?

On Eunomius’ view, creation is not an only-begotten because, he says, the Son joins the Father in creating it. But if the Son is a mere instrument in creation, how is it really from two sources rather than from the Father alone? This would be like denying the shipbuilder is the only creator of a ship because he used instruments to do so. So all of creation is, after all, only-begotten (i.e., they come, ultimately, from one person).

This is the proper way to affirm the Son’s role in creation:

[T]he divine will, taking its origin from the Primal Cause as from a kind of spring, proceeds to activity through his own image, God the Word.

2.22. Eunomius wants to avoid all likeness of substance between the Father and Son.

Note: Consult footnote 110 when reading the first paragraph in this section.

I think there is no doctrine in the gospel of our salvation more important than faith in the Father and the Son. For even schismatics, whatever their error might be, agree that God is the Founder and the Creator.

But for Eunomius, it doesn’t matter if we say “Father” or “founder,” “Son” or “something made.” From this, doesn’t Eunomius fall into cohort with the Greeks or Jews?

Rather, “we have not put our faith in the Creator and something made,” but “we have been sealed in the Father and the Son through the grace received in baptism.”

“Father” and “Son” do not naturally bring to mind corporeal passions; they are terms that indicate relation.

The Father is he who provides to another the beginning of being in a nature similar to his own [κατά τήν όμοίαν έαυτώ φύσιν], whereas the Son is he who has the beginning of his being from another in a begotten way.[2]

2.23. Since Eunomius can’t imagine how the Father can beget a Son without corporeal passions, he reasons that it is impossible. It would be better if we were guided by the truth that God begets in a way opposite to that which we are familiar.

But even if God begets in such an opposite way, this doesn’t mean that it’s improper to say that he begets. Similarly, the Father is such to us, albeit in a different way (Matthew 23:9):

For he brings us into being from nothing through corporeal parents and into affinity with him by caring for us. If God has been truly called our Father since he had judged us worthy of adoption as sons by grace, what argument will deny that he is not unfittingly designated the Father of the one who is his Son by nature and has proceeded from his substance?

Really, the fact that Eunomius says that the Son’s substance is begotten, at bottom, just means that the Son is not begotten at all. That’s because he denies the “affinity of substance” between the Father and Son.

If Eunomius wants to avoid the term “Father” because it may introduce passion, why doesn’t he avoid the term “Creator,” since when we create things fatigue is one outcome? If God can be the Creator without the passion of fatigue, so too can he be the Father without passion.

2.24. There are a number of metaphorical terms Scripture uses of God: he becomes angry, falls asleep, flies, etc. These obviously aren’t suitable when applied to God literally. So why should we get rid of “Father” and not terms like these?

Again, when “Father” is used of God, it doesn’t refer to passion, but only to affinity between the Father and the one begotten.

Asking what exactly this begetting is, or how it happens, is useless. It is completely inconceivable. Didn’t the nations become darkened (Romans 1:21) because “they followed only what was apparent to their reasoning and refused to believe the proclamation of the Spirit” (cf. Isaiah 5:21).

Eunomius is clearly inconsistent when he asserts both (1) that a “difference in names” means a difference in substance, and yet (2) that a commonality of names does not mean there is a substance in common.

2.25. Eunomius recognizes that a “common preconception” Christians hold is that

the Son is the begotten light who has shone forth from the unbegotten light, that he is life itself and goodness itself that has proceeded from the lifegiving source and the paternal goodness.

Anybody who recognizes that the Father is light and the Son is light will also see their affinity of substance. But Eunomius argues instead that “these lights are absolutely incomparable and have nothing at all in common with one another” (Basil’s summary) otherwise one must accept that God is composite.

Just how much does the unbegotten differ from the begotten? A little, or even as much as one person can be both alive and dead?

2.26. What is “opposed” to the unbegotten but the begotten? So, when Eunomius says that the light that is the begotten is opposed to the light that is the unbegotten, his claim is that one light is opposed to the other; they are incomparable lights. But if the begotten is light, and the unbegotten is light, while the two are opposed, then what follows is that the begotten is actually darkness. Only darkness is opposed to light.

What Eunomius thinks about contraries leads to his mistake about the unbegotten and begotten being contrary in nature. Consider this pair: vision and blindness. Clearly where there is vision, there is light; light follows upon vision. The opposite is the case with blindness: where there is blindness there is darkness. There are two pairs of contraries here: vision and blindness, light and darkness. The latter pair follows upon the first pair. But it is not true in every case, as it is with vision and blindness, that two things that are opposed imply further contraries. For example, to be awake means that one is alive; life follows upon being awake. But it does not follow that if one is asleep (which is contrary to being awake), that one is dead. Neither “is the begotten contrary to the unbegotten.”[3]

2.27. “In [Eunomius’] view, the substance of the Only-Begotten will be equally distant from both being unbegotten and being conceived as and named ‘light.’” That is, the Son can never participate in light because of the Father’s incomparability. This is obvious contrary to John, who says “he was the true light” (John 1:9). Even if Eunomius wants to deny this verbally, he’s committed to it logically by what he has written.

Remember that Eunomius said that “as much as the begotten differs from the unbegotten, so much must the light differ from the light, and the life from the life, and the power from the power.” So the Only-Begotten is neither life nor power. This contradicts both John 14:6 and 1 Corinthians 1:24.

Here is what one should say instead:

We say that he is the good Son of the good Father, the eternal light that has shone forth from the unbegotten light, the lifegiving source that has proceeded from the true life, and the power of God that has appeared from power itself. But darkness and death and weakness are classed with the ruler of this world, with the world rulers of the darkness [Eph 6:12], with the spirits of wickedness [Eph 6:12], and with every power that is an enemy of the divine nature. None of these have acquired opposition to the good according to their substance. If so, the blame would redound to the creator. It is by their own freewill that they have fallen away into evil, depriving themselves of what is good.

2.28. Those who accept Eunomius’ teaching accept that “the contrary will be begotten from the contrary,” rather than that the one begotten has a natural affinity with the one who begets. But even this is ignorant; “wise men outside the faith” recognized that substance is not contrary to substance (cf. footnote 130).

Rather, “begotten and unbegotten are distinctive features that enable identification and are observed in the substance, which lead to the clear and unconfused notion of the Father and the Son.” These features mark off the common from the unique: “the divinity is common, whereas fatherhood and sonship are distinguishing marks.” As light and light, they are not opposed; as Father and Son, they are.

The distinguishing marks for the Father and the Son cannot show opposition of substance any more than winged and footed, rational and irrational, etc. show a division of substances that are under the substance “animal.”[4]

2.29. “Light” must differ from “unbegotten,” otherwise the begotten cannot also be light any more than he can be the unbegotten. God dwells in light (1 Timothy 6:16) and is robed in light (Psalm 104:2 [103:2]), and it is nowhere said that God dwells in unbegottenness or is surrounded by it.

Here’s a response to the claim that unless “light” and “unbegotten” are the same God will be composite:

If we were to understand unbegottenness as part of the substance, there would be room for the argument which claims that what is compounded from different things is composite. But if we were to posit, on the one hand, the light or the life or the good as the substance of God, claiming that the very thing which God is is life as a whole, light as a whole, and good as a whole, while positing, on the other hand, that the life has unbegottenness as a concomitant, then how is the one who is simple in substance not incomposite?

Note: What Basil says after this statement is difficult for me to summarize.

2.30. Eunomius implicitly says that God has deemed him worthy to receive a revelation  because he has brought his mind to God in good will. So he distances the Only-Begotten as far as possible from the Father because it’s a “law of nature.” Apparently God is then “subject to the limits of necessity.” And nothing subject to such laws are free to choose something other than what the laws prescribe (e.g., fire cannot choose to be cold).

2.31. Earlier in his writings Eunomius said that that the Father is “free from all laws,” and yet he also says it is a “law of nature” that predetermines that the begotten cannot be in communion with the substance of the Father.

He also says that the substance of the Only-Begotten is servile. Doesn’t this clearly show that “[the Only-Begotten] is co-ordinate with all creation?” Being set “at the head of [his] fellow-servants” isn’t noble, but accepting submission because of the goodness of his free choice is.

The activity of God, Eunomius admits, is appropriate to its own dignity. So he agrees with Basil that “unbegottenness is a dignity.” But since Eunomius claims that unbegottenness is substance, this means the Only-Begotten is either the activity of God or the image of an activity.

All of these admissions are problematic for Eunomius:

[I]f unbegottenness is a dignity of God, and the same is also substance, and if the activity of God is consistent with and appropriate to his dignity, and according to their supposition Christ is this activity, then he will have affinity and propriety with the substance of God. None of these premises comes from us: combining their very own statements, we have made our demonstration on the basis of their claims. The dignity, says Eunomius, is consistent with the substance of God; his activity is proportional to the dignity; the Only-Begotten is an image of the activity. And vice versa, if the Only-Begotten is an image of the activity, and the activity is an image of the dignity, and the dignity is an image of the substance, then the Only-Begotten will be an image of the substance.

In other words, Eunomius accepts claims that jointly imply claims that Basil makes about God.

2.32. Eunomius says that if we reason back from created works, we will see that the Son is something made. But how can anybody reason like this? Things that are made indicate power, wisdom, and skill, but not substance itself. Things that are made don’t always show the full extent of power, etc. either.

Now suppose that, when the Father makes the Son and the Son (as Eunomius says) makes the Holy Spirit, these activities express the full power of the Father and Son. If so, then it will clearly follow that the Son is exactly like the Father in substance, as shown by the generative power (which just is each’s substance) each has.[5]

It is not through the effects of a thing that we know its substance. Rather, through what has been begotten we come to know the nature of the begetter. The Son who makes the Father known through himself (cf. John 17:26) is the image of God.

2.33. The Son has allowed certain blasphemies about himself, but it is a fearful thing to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Nobody to this day has called the Holy Spirit “a created work” (though see footnote 141), but that’s what Eunomius does.

2.34. None of the Son’s activities are severed from the Father (John 17:10), but this is precisely what Eunomius affirms about the Holy Spirit who is created by the Son alone.

Paul says that the Spirit is both the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 2:12). So how can somebody separate the Holy Spirit from the Father?

Continue to: Book 3


[1] Though on “I have created” in Genesis 4:1, the NET says this:

Here is another sound play (paronomasia) on a name. The sound of the verb קָנִיתִי (qaniti, “I have created”) reflects the sound of the name Cain in Hebrew (קַיִן, qayin) and gives meaning to it. The saying uses the Qal perfect of קָנָה (qanah). There are two homonymic verbs with this spelling, one meaning “obtain, acquire” and the other meaning “create” (see Gen 14:19, 22; Deut 32:6; Ps 139:13; Prov 8:22). The latter fits this context very well. Eve has created a man.

[2] I suspect that the translators shouldn’t have capitalized “Father” and “Son” in this sentence. The Greek I have provided comes from PG 29.621 since I don’t currently have access to the critical text the translators consult; so, I have yet to confirm if the PG matches the critical edition here. Yet, rendered ultra-literally, the Greek says, “according to the similar to himself nature.”

[3] This paragraph is very much an expanded paraphrase that, overall, I’m trying to avoid in my summary of Against Eunomius. That’s because it’s easy to import my own reasoning about what Basil has said if I do this sort of thing. However, I felt it necessary in this case because it is difficult to see at first pass what Basil is getting at here. I had to draw a diagram to be sure I understood it. Hopefully the way I have stated things actually aids in understanding what Basil said.

[4] See footnote 133 for why I again expanded the paraphrase.

[5] “Generative power” is my term, and by it I mean the Father’s ability to make the Son, and the Son’s ability to make the Holy Spirit, which is what Basil quotes Eunomius as saying in 2.32.

Image Credit: “St Basil the Great” by Lawrence, OP

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