A Summary of Basil’s Against Eunomius, Book 3

In the prior two books of Against Eunomius, Basil addresses what Eunomius claims about the Father (Book 1) and the Son (Book 2). The major claim that Eunomius has made is that “unbegotten” and “begotten” refer to the substance of the Father and the Son, respectively. Basil disagrees with this central tenet and offers his own view these terms, as well as “Father” and “Son.” According to Basil, if Eunomius had only understood “begotten” correctly, he would realize that the Father and the Son must have “affinity of substance.” In Book 3 Basil turns his attention to the Holy Spirit.

As in the prior posts, the quotations and section numbers follow the English translation by DelCogliano and Radde-Gallwitz. Any mention of a “footnote” refers to one that is in the printed text. Also, I have provided some pages from Lampe’s patristic Greek lexicon for certain words that will be hyperlinked.

Book Summary

Eunomius has apparently received teaching about the Holy Spirit from the saints, and he claims that this teaching is that the Holy Spirit is third in rank, dignity, and nature (3.1a). But it simply doesn’t follow that the Holy Spirit is third in nature, even if he is third in rank and dignity (3.1b-3.2a).

There are a number of reasons to think that Eunomius is wrong about the Holy Spirit. We only need to consider what the Spirit is by nature (3.2b), the names he shares with the Father and Son (3.3), and his activities (3.4). Ultimately, what Eunomius says about the Holy Spirit is inconsistent with Christian baptism and our participation in divinity (3.5). If there’s anything we know about the Holy Spirit, it is that he cannot be ranked among creation (3.6). The proof-texts Eunomius (et. al.) use to justify calling the Holy Spirit a creature are no proof at all, and we should not use this unbiblical term for the Holy Spirit (3.7).

Section Summaries

3.1. Eunomius deviates from the multitude who disagree with him about the Holy Spirit, and he claims that this is so that he might guard the teaching of the saints. Yet he is silent about who transmitted this teaching about the Spirit to him, just as he was about the Son.

Who is it that taught that “the Holy Spirit is third both in rank and in dignity”? This belief must be on Eunomius’ own authority. We also don’t find from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit is third in substance, and this doesn’t follow from the Spirit’s being third in rank and dignity either. Rather, the following is the case:

The Son is second to the Father in rank [τάξει] because he is from him. He is second to the Father in dignity [άξιώματι] because the Father is the principle and cause by virtue of which he is the Son’s Father and because we approach and access the God and Father through the Son. Even so, the Son is not second in nature [φύσει δὲ ούκέτι δεύτερος], since there is one divinity [ή θεότης . . . μία] in both of them. Likewise, it is clear that, even if the Holy Spirit is below the Son in both rank and dignity—something with which we too are in total agreement [όλως συγχωρήσωμεν]—it is still not likely that he is of a foreign nature.

The angels provide an example of this. There are different ranks of angels—those that rule over nations, and that accompany individuals—and yet they share the same nature. Yet, those who rule over nations necessarily have a greater dignity than those who care for only one person.

There is testimony to the various ranks of angels in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32:8; Daniel 10:13, 20; Joshua 5:14) and the New Testament (Matthew 26:53).

3.2. What follows from this is that it is false that, if something is second or third in rank or dignity, then it has a different nature from that to which it is second or third.[1] Consider the following as well:

Indeed, star differs from star in glory [1 Cor 15:41], but all the stars have a single nature. And there are many places to live in the Father’s house [Jn 14:2]; that is, there are differences in dignity, whereas the nature of those who are glorified is similar. Likewise, the same clearly holds true for the Holy Spirit, even if he is subordinate in dignity and rank, as they claim.

Eunomius seems to suppose that the Holy Spirit is third in in rank and dignity because he is numbered third: “Go, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

There are a number of created things that the Holy Spirit might be ranked with, but none of them work. The Holy Spirit is, by nature, sanctity itself, good, holy. (The Father and the Son are also holy by nature.) So the Spirit must be ranked with divinity rather than with creation.

3.3. The Seraphic cry “Holy, Holy, Holy” indicates that “holiness in nature is observed in three subsistences [ἐν τρισὶ ταῖς ὑποστάσεσιν].” So the designation “holy” is common to the Father, Son, and Spirit.

He is also called “Spirit” in common with the Father (John 4:24) and Son (Lamentations 4:20; 2 Corinthians 3:17). There’s no reason, then, to estrange the Spirit, who is our Paraclete (John 14:16), from the nature of the Father and Son.

3.4. One should also consider the activities of the Holy Spirit. As “God the Word is the creator of the heavens, so too the Holy Spirit bestows firmness and steadfastness upon the heavenly powers” (Psalm 33:6 [32:6, LXX]). He perfects people in virtue (Job 33:4), sends (Isaiah 48:16), and his power pervades the universe (Psalm 139:7 [138:7]).

The Holy Spirit also benefits us as the “Spirit of adopted sonship” (Romans 8:15), as our teacher (John 14:26), and as the distributor of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). From these, “Do you see how here too the activity of the Holy Spirit is ranked with the activity of the Father and the Son?” Furthermore, the New Testament prophets speak “Thus says the Holy Spirit” (Acts 21:11), the Spirit shares secret things in common with God (1 Corinthians 2:11-12), and gives life (Romans 8:11).

3.5. Eunomius says that the holy Spirit does not share in divinity. And yet divinity is in us by the Holy Spirit (1 John 3:24; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21-22).

So, if God is said to dwell in us through the Spirit, how is it not blatantly impious to say that the Spirit himself has no share in the divinity? And if we call those who are perfect in virtue ‘gods,’ and this perfection comes through the Spirit, how does he make others gods if he is himself bereft of divinity?

If the Holy Spirit has divinity by participation, then he is like other things divinized by grace that are subject to change and may fall away.

But even more, Eunomius’ claim is inconsistent with Christian baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “In this formula, no creature or servant is ranked together with the Father and the Son, as if the divinity becomes complete in a Trinity.”

3.6. Eunomius reasons that if the Holy Spirit is not a creature, he must either be something begotten or unbegotten. But there is already a begotten and unbegotten, and therefore he is a creature and “something made.”

There are many things that we do not understand, even the most commonplace things like how vision works. There are many ways one might explain vision’s inner-workings, or even how there can be “movements of the mind.” Though we cannot but confess ignorance about the Holy Spirit, Scripture tells us what we need to know: he is beyond creation.

For it is impossible for the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified to be of the same nature. The same holds true for the one who teaches and those who are taught, and the one who reveals and those who are in need of revelation.

3.7. Eunomius (et. al.) cite Amos 4:13 and John 1:3 as proof that the Holy Spirit should be called a creature. The first text says no such thing, as “spirit” there refers to created wind. It may also be a prophecy that refers to the Incarnation. And John 1:3 does not number the Holy Spirit among “all things.” One should be wary of calling the Holy Spirit something Scripture never calls him (namely, a creature [κτίσμα]; footnote 38).


[1] To prove that a conditional statement of the form “If P, then Q” (P → Q)  is false, one must show there is a possible case where P is true and Q is false (P & ~Q). That is precisely what Basil does in 3.1 and 3.2. The conditional he is arguing against is, “If greater by rank or dignity (P), then greater by nature (Q).”

Image Credit: “St Basil” by Lawrence, OP

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