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Basil the Great

On the Holy Spirit

From: Schaff - Wace, (ed)., Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Series II, v. 8, tr. by the Rev. Blomfield Jackson, London 1894.


Against those who say that the Holy Ghost is not to be numbered with, but numbered under, the Father and the Son. Wherein moreover there is a summary notice of the faith concerning right sub-numeration.

41. What, however, they call sub-numeration, and in what sense they use this word, cannot even be imagined without difficulty. It is well known that it was imported into our language from the "wisdom of the world;" but a point for our present consideration will be whether it has any immediate relation to the subject under discussion. Those who are adepts in vain investigations tell us that, while some nouns are common and of widely extended denotation, others are more specific, and that the force of some is more limited than that of others. Essence, for instance, is a common noun, predicable of all things both animate and inanimate; while animal is more specific, being predicated of fewer subjects than the former, though of more than those which are considered under it, as it embraces both rational and irrational nature. Again, human is more specific than animal, and man than human, and than man the individual Peter, Paul or John. Do they then mean by sub-numeration the division of the common into its subordinate parts? But I should hesitate to believe they have reached such a pitch of infatuation as to assert that the God of the universe, like some common quality conceivable only by reason and without actual existence in any hypostasis, is divided into subordinate divisions, and that then this subdivision is called sub-numeration. This would hardly be said even by men melancholy mad, for, besides its impiety, they are establishing the very opposite argument to their own contention. For the subdivisions are of the same essence as that from which they have been divided. The very obviousness of the absurdity makes it difficult for us to find arguments to confute their unreasonableness; so that really their folly looks like an advantage to them; just as soft and yielding bodies offer no resistance, and therefore cannot be struck a stout blow. It is impossible to bring a vigorous confutation to bear on a palpable absurdity. The only course open to us is to pass by their abominable impiety in silence. Yet our love for the brethren and the importunity of our opponents makes silence impossible.

42. What is it that they maintain? Look at the terms of their imposture. "We assert that connumeration is appropriate to subjects of equal dignity, and sub-numeration to those which vary in the direction of inferiority." "Why," I rejoined, "do you say this? I fail to understand your extraordinary wisdom. Do you mean that gold is numbered with gold, and that lead is unworthy of the connumeration, but, because of the cheapness of the material, is subnumerated to gold? And do you attribute so much importance to number as that it can either exalt the value of what is cheap, or destroy the dignity of what is valuable? Therefore, again, you will number gold under precious stones, and such precious stones as are smaller and without lustre under those which are larger and brighter in colour. But what will not be said by men who spend their time in nothing else but either 'to tell or to hear some new thing'? Let these supporters of impiety be classed for the future with Stoics and Epicureans. What sub-numeration is even possible of things less valuable in relation to things very valuable? How is a brass obol to be numbered under a golden stater? "Because," they reply, "we do not speak of possessing two coins, but one and one." But which of these is subnumerated to the other? Each is similarly mentioned. If then you number each by itself, you cause an equality value by numbering them in the same way but, if you join them, you make their value one by numbering them one with the other. But if the sub-numeration belongs to the one which is numbered second, then it is in the power of the counter to begin by counting the brass coin. Let us, however, pass over the confutation of their ignorance, and turn our argument to the main topic.

43. Do you maintain that the Son is numbered under the Father, and the Spirit under the Son, or do you confine your sub-numeration to the Spirit alone? If, on the other hand, you apply this sub-numeration also to the Son, you revive what is the same impious doctrine, the unlikeness of the substance, the lowliness of rank, the coming into being in later time, and once for all, by this one term, you will plainly again set circling all the blasphemies against the Only-begotten. To controvert these blasphemies would be a longer task than my present purpose admits of; and I am the less bound to undertake it because the impiety has been refuted elsewhere to the best of my ability. If on the other hand they suppose the sub-numeration to benefit the Spirit alone, they must be taught that the Spirit is spoken of together with the Lord in precisely the same manner in which the Son is spoken of with the Father. "The name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" is delivered in like manner, and, according to the co-ordination of words delivered in baptism, the relation of the Spirit to the Son is the same as that of the Son to the Father. And if the Spirit is co-ordinate with the Son, and the Son with the Father, it is obvious that the Spirit is also co-ordinate with the Father. When then the names are ranked in one and the same co-ordinate series, what room is there for speaking on the one hand of connumeration, and on the other of sub-numeration? Nay, without exception, what thing ever lost its own nature by being numbered? Is it not the fact that things when numbered remain what they naturally and originally were, while number is adopted among us as a sign indicative of the plurality of subjects? For some bodies we count, some we measure, and some we weigh; those which are by nature continuous we apprehend by measure; to those which are divided we apply number (with the exception of those which on account of their fineness are measured); while heavy objects are distinguished by the inclination of the balance. It does not however follow that, because we have invented for our convenience symbols to help us to arrive at the knowledge of quantity, we have therefore changed the nature of the things signified. We do not speak of "weighing under" one another things which are weighed, even though one be gold and the other tin; nor yet do we "measure under" things that are measured; and so in the same way we will not "number under" things which are numbered. And if none of the rest of things admits of sub-numeration how can they allege that the Spirit ought to be subnumerated? Labouring as they do under heathen unsoundness, they imagine that things which are inferior, either by grade of rank or subjection of substance, ought to be subnumerated.

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