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How Philosophers Spoke of God
"For both is it a difficult task to discover the Father and Maker of this universe; and having found Him, it is impossible to declare Him to all. For this is by no means capable of expression, like the other subjects of instruction," says the truth-loving Plato. For he that had heard right well that the all-wise Moses, ascending the mount for holy contemplation, to the summit of intellectual objects, necessarily commands that the whole people do not accompany him. And when the Scripture says, "Moses entered into the thick darkness where God was," this shows to those capable of understanding, that God is invisible and beyond expression by words, and "the darkness "which is, in truth, the unbelief and ignorance of the multitude-obstructs the gleam of truth. And again Orpheus, the theologian, aided from this quarter, says:
"One is perfect in himself, and all things are made the progeny of one," or, "are born;" for so also is it written. He adds: "Him no one of mortals has seen, but He sees all." And he adds more clearly: "Him see I not, for round about, a cloud has settled; for in mortal eyes are small, and mortal pupils-only flesh and bones grow there."
To these statements the apostle will testify: "I know a man in Christ, caught up into the third heaven, and thence into Paradise, who heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for a man to speak," intimating thus the impossibility of expressing God, and indicating that what is divine is unutterable by human power; if, indeed, he begins to speak above the third heaven, as it is lawful to initiate the elect souls in the mysteries there. For I know what is in Plato (for the examples from the barbarian philosophy, which are many, are suggested now by the composition which, in accordance with promises previously given, waits the suitable time). For doubting, in Timaeus , whether we ought to regard several worlds as to be understood by many heavens, or this one, he makes no distinction in the names, calling the world and heaven by the same name. But the words of the statement are as follows: "Whether, then, have we rightly spoken of one heaven, or of many and infinite? It were more correct to say one, if indeed it was created according to the model." Further, in the Epistle of the Romans to the Corinthians it is written, "An ocean illimitable by men and the worlds after it." Consequently, therefore, the noble apostle exclaims, "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!"
And was it not this which the prophet meant, when he ordered unleavened cakes to be made, intimating that the truly sacred mystic word, respecting the unbegotten and His powers, ought to be concealed? In confirmation of these things, in the Epistle to the Corinthians the apostle plainly says: "Howbeit we speak wisdom among those who are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world, or of the princes of this world, that come to naught. But we speak the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery." And again in another place he says: "To the acknowledgment of the mystery of God in Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." These things the Savior Himself seals when He says: "To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." And again the Gospel says that the Savior spoke to the apostles the word in a mystery. For prophecy says of Him: "He will open His mouth in parables, and will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world." And now, by the parable of the leaven, the Lord shows concealment; for He says, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened." For the tripartite soul is saved by obedience, through the spiritual power hidden in it by faith; or because the power of the word which is given to us, being strong and powerful, draws to itself secretly and invisibly every one who receives it, and keeps it within himself, and brings his whole system into unity.
Accordingly Solon has written most wisely respecting God thus: "It is most difficult to apprehend the mind's invisible measure which alone holds the boundaries of all things." For "the divine," says the poet of Agrigenturn, "Is not capable of being approached with our eyes, or grasped with our hands; but the highway of persuasion, highest of all, leads to men's minds."
And John the apostle says: "No man hath seen God at any time. The only-begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him," calling invisibility and ineffableness the bosom of God. Hence some have called it the Depth, as containing and embosoming all things, inaccessible and boundless.
This discourse respecting God is most difficult to handle. For since the first principle of everything is difficult to find out, the absolutely first and oldest principle, which is the cause of all other things being and having been, is difficult to exhibit. For how can that be expressed which is neither genus, nor difference, nor species, nor individual, nor number; nay more, is neither an event, nor that to which an event happens? No one can rightly express Him wholly. For on account of His greatness He is ranked as the All, and is the Father of the universe. Nor are any parts to be predicated of Him. For the One is indivisible; wherefore also it is infinite, not considered with reference to inscrutability, but with reference to its being without dimensions, and not having a limit. And therefore it is without form and name. And if we name it, we do not do so properly, terming it either the One, or the Good, or Mind, or Absolute Being, or Father, or God, or Creator or Lord. We speak not as supplying His name; but for want, we use good names, in order that the mind may have these as points of support, so as not to err in other respects. For each one by itself does not express God; but all together are indicative of the power of the Omnipotent. For predicates are expressed either from what belongs to things themselves, or from their mutual relation. But none of these are admissible in reference to God. Nor any more is He apprehended by the science of demonstration. For it depends on primary and better-known principles. But there is nothing antecedent to the Unbegotten.
It remains that we understand, then, the Unknown, by divine grace, and by the word alone that proceeds from Him; as Luke in the Acts of the Apostles relates that Paul said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For in walking about, and beholding the objects of your worship, I found an altar on which was inscribed, To the Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you."
Source for the English Digital text: Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf02.vi.iv.v.xii.html