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AUGUSTINE ON CHRIST’S ETERNAL GENERATION

In this post I will cite snippets from St. Augustine’s commentary on John in respect to his understanding of the eternal begetting of the Son. All emphasis shall be mine.

ON JOHN 1:13

  1. But John adds: As many as received Him. What did He afford to them? Great benevolence! Great mercy! He was born the only Son of God, and was unwilling to remain alone. Many men, when they have not sons, in advanced age adopt a son, and thus obtain by an exercise of will what nature has denied to them: this men do. But if any one have an only son, he rejoices the more in him; because he alone will possess everything, and he will not have any one to divide with him the inheritance, so that he should be poorer. Not so God: that same only Son whom He had begotten, and by whom He created all things, He sent into this world that He might not be alone, but might have adopted brethren. For we were not born of Godin the manner in which the Only-begotten was born of Him, but were adopted by His grace. For He, the Only-begotten, came to loose the sinsin which we were entangled, and whose burden hindered our adoption: those whom He wished to make brethren to Himself, He Himself loosed, and made joint-heirs. For so says the apostle, But if a son, then an heir through God. And again, Heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. He did not fear to have joint-heirs, because His heritage does not become narrow if many are possessors. Those very persons, He being possessor, become His inheritance, and He in turn becomes their inheritance. Hear in what manner they become His inheritance: The Lord has said to me, You are my Son, this day have I begotten You. Ask of me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance. Hear in what manner He becomes their inheritance. He says in the Psalms: The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup. Let us possess Him, and let Him possess us: let Him possess us as Lord; let us possess Him as salvation, let us possess Him as light. What then did He give to them who received Him? To them He gave power to become sons of God, even to them that believe in His name; that they may cling to the wood and cross the sea. (Tractate 2. John 1:6-14)

ON JOHN 5:26

  1. Not, then, in like manner as the soulis one thing before it is enlightened, and becomes a better thing when it is enlightened, by participation of a better; not so, I say, was the Word of God, the Son of God, something else before He received life, that He should have life by participation; but He has life in Himself, and is consequently Himself the very life. What is it, then, that He says, has given to the Son to have life in Himself? I would say it briefly, He begotthe Son. For IT IS NOT THAT EXISTED WITHOUT LIFE, AND RECEIVED LIFE, but He is life BY BEING BEGOTTEN. The Father is life not by being begotten; the Son is life by being begotten. The Father is of no father; the Son is of God the Father. The Father in His being is of none, but in that He is Father, ’tis because of the Son. But the Son also, in that He is Son, ’tis because of the Father: in His being, He is of the Father. This He said, therefore: has given life to the Son, that He might have it in Himself. Just as if He were to say, The Father, who is life in Himself, begot the Son, who should be life in Himself. Indeed, He would have this dedit (has given) to be understood for the same thing as genuit (has begotten). It is like as if we said to a person, God has given you being. To whom? If to some one already existing, then He gave him not being, because he who could receive existed before it was given him. When, therefore, you hear it said, He gave you being, you were not in being to receive, but you received, that you should be by coming into existence. The builder gave to this house that it should be. But what did he give to it? He gave it to be a house. To what did he give? To this house. Gave it what? To be a house. How could he give to a house that it should be a house? For if the house was, to what did he give to be a house, when the house existed already? What, then, does that mean, gave it to be a house? It means, he brought to pass that it should be a house. Well, then, what gave He to the Son? Gave Him to be the Son, begot Him to be life — that is, gave Him to have life in Himself that He should be the life not needing life, that He may not be understood as having life by participation. For if He had life by participation, He might, by losing, be without life. Do not take, nor think, nor believe this to be possible respecting the Son. Wherefore the Father continues the life, the Son continues the life: the Father, life in Himself, not from the Son; the Son, life in Himself, but from the Father. Begotten of the Father, that He might live in Himself; but the Father, not begotten, life in Himself. Nor did He beget the Son less than Himself to become equal by growth. For surely He BY WHOM, being perfect, THE TIMES WERE CREATED, was not assisted by time towards His own perfection. BEFORE ALL TIME, HE IS CO-ETERNAL WITH THE FATHER. For the Father has never been without the Son; but the Father is eternal, therefore also the Son co-eternal. Soul, what of you? You were dead, lost life; hear then the Father through the Son. Arise, take to you life, that in Him who has life in Himself you may receive the life which is not in you. He that gives you life, then, is the Father and the Son; and the first resurrection is accomplished when you rise to partake of the life which you are not yourself, and by partaking art made living. Rise from your death to your life, which is your God, and pass from death to eternal life. For the Father has eternal life in Himself; and unless He had begotten such a Son as had life in Himself, it could not be that as the Father raises up the dead, and quickens them, so also the Son should quicken whom He will. (Tractate 19. John 5:19-30)

ON JOHN 8:56-58

  1. Your father Abrahamrejoiced to see my day; and he saw, and was glad. Abraham’s seed, Abraham’s Creator, bears a great testimony to AbrahamAbraham rejoiced, He says, to see my day. He did not fear, but rejoiced to see it. For in him there was the love that casts out fear1 John 4:18 He says not, rejoiced because he saw; but rejoiced that he might see. Believing, at all events, he rejoiced in hope to see with the understanding. And he saw. And what more could the Lord Jesus Christ say, or what more ought He to have said? And he saw, He says, and was glad. Who can unfold this joy, my brethren? If those rejoiced whose bodily eyes were opened by the Lord, what joy was his who saw with the eyes of his soul the light ineffable, the abiding Word, the brilliance that dazzles the minds of the pious, the unfailing Wisdom, God abiding with the Father, and at some time come in the flesh and yet not to withdraw from the bosom of the Father? All this did Abraham see. For in saying my day, it may be uncertain of what He spoke; whether the day of the Lord in time, when He should come the flesh, or that day of the Lord which knows not a dawn, and knows no decline. But for my part I doubt not that father Abraham knew it all. And where shall I find it out? Ought the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ to satisfy us? Let us suppose that we cannot find it out, for perhaps it is difficult to say in what sense it is clear that Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ, and saw it, and was glad. And though we find it not, can the Truth have lied? Let us believe the Truth, and cherish no doubt of Abraham’s merited rewards. Yet listen to one passage that occurs to me meanwhile. When father Abraham sent his servant to seek a wife for his son Isaac, he bound him by this oath, to fulfill faithfully what he was commanded, and know also for himself what to do. For it was a great matter that was in hand when marriage was sought for Abraham’s seed. But that the servant might apprehend what Abraham knewthat it was not offspring after the flesh he desired, nor anything of a carnal kind concerning his race that was referred to, he said to the servant whom he sent, Put your hand under my thigh, and swear by the God of heaven. Genesis 24:2-4 What connection has the God of heaven with Abraham’s thigh? Already you understand the mystery: by thigh is meant race. And what was that swearing, but the signifying that of Abraham’s race would the God of heaven come in the flesh? Fools find fault with Abraham because he said, Put your hand under my thigh. Those who find fault with Christ’s flesh find fault with Abraham’s conduct. But let us, brethren, if we acknowledge the flesh of Christ as worthy of veneration, despise not that thigh, but receive it as spoken of prophetically. For a prophet also was Abraham. Whose prophet? Of his own seed, and of his Lord. To his own seed he pointed in saying, Put your hand under my thigh. To his Lord he pointed in adding, and swear by the God of heaven.
  2. The angryJewsreplied, You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham? And the Lord: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was made, I am. Weigh the words, and get a knowledge of the mysteryBefore Abraham was made. Understand, that was made refers to human formation; but am to the Divine essenceHe was made, because Abraham was a creature. He did not say, Before Abraham was, I was; but, Before Abraham was made, who was not made save by me, I am. Nor did He say this, Before Abraham was made I was made; for In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth; Genesis 1:1 and in the beginning was the Word. Before Abraham was made, I am. Recognize the Creator — distinguish the creature. He who spoke was made the seed of Abraham; and that Abraham might be made, He Himself was before Abraham. (Tractate 43. John 8:48-59)

ON JOHN 14:27-28

  1. We have just heard, brethren, these words of the Lord, which He addressed to His disciples: Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard how I said to you, I go away, and come unto you: if you loved me, you would surely rejoice, because I go unto the Father; for the Father is greater than I. Their hearts might have become filled with trouble and fear, simply because of His going away from them, even though intending to return; lest, possibly, in the very interval of the shepherd’s absence, the wolf should make an onset on the flock. But as God, He abandoned not those from whom He departed as man: and Christ Himself is at once both manand God. And so He both went away in respect of His visible humanity, and remained as regards His Godhead: He went away as regards the nature which is subject to local limitations, and remained in respect of that which is ubiquitous. Why, then, should their heart be troubled and afraid, when His quitting their eyesight was of such a kind as to leave unaltered His presence in their heart? Although even God, who has no local bounds to His presence, may depart from the hearts of those who turn away from Him, not with their feet, but their moral character; just as He comes to such as turn to Him, not with their faces, but in faith, and approach Him in the spirit, and not in the flesh. But that they might understand that it was only in respect of His humannature that He said, I go and come to you, He went on to say, If you loved me, you would surely rejoice, because I go unto the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And so, then, in that very respect wherein the Son is not equal to the Father, in that was He to go to the Father, just as from Him is He hereafter to come to judge the quick and the dead: while in so far as the Only-begotten is equal to Him that begot, He never withdraws from the Father; but with Him is everywhere perfectly equal in that Godhead which knows of no local limitationsFor being as He was in the form of God, as the apostle says, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God. For how could that nature be robbery, which was His, not by usurpation, but by birth? But He emptied Himself, taking upon Him the form of a servant; Philippians 2:6-7 and so, not losing the former, but assuming the latter, and emptying Himself in that very respect wherein He stood forth before us here in a humbler state than that wherein He still remained with the Father. For there was the accession of a servant-form, with no recession of the divine: in the assumption of the one there was no consumption of the other. In reference to the one He says, The Father is greater than I; but because of the other, I and my Father are one. (Tractate 78. John 14:27-28)

ON JOHN 17:3

  1. And this, He adds, is eternallife, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. The proper order of the words is, That they may know You and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent, as the only true God. Consequently, therefore, the Holy Spirit is also understood, because He is the Spirit of the Father and Son, as the substantial and consubstantial love of both. For the Father and Son are not two Gods, nor are the Father and Son and Holy Spirit three Gods; but the Trinity itself is the one only true God. And yet the Father is not the same as the Son, nor the Son the same as the Father, nor the Holy Spirit the same as the Father and the Son; for the Father and Son and Holy Spirit are three [persons], yet the Trinity itself is one God. If, then, the Son glorifies You in the same manner as You have given Him power over all flesh, and hast so given, that He should give eternal life to all that You have given Him, and this is life eternal, that they may know You; in this way, therefore, the Son glorifies You, that He makes You known to all whom You have given Him. Accordingly, if the knowledge of God is eternal life, we are making the greater advances to life, in proportion as we are enlarging our growth in such a knowledge. And we shall not die in the life eternal; for then, when there shall be no death, the knowledge of God shall be perfected. Then will be effected the full effulgence of God, because then the completed glory, as expressed in Greek by δόξα. For from it we have the word δόξασον, that is used here, and which some Latins have interpreted by clarifica (make effulgent), and some by glorifica (glorify). But by the ancients, glory, from which men are styled glorious, is thus defined: Glory is the widely-spread fame of any one accompanied with praise. But if a man is praised when the fame regarding him is believed, how will God be praised when He Himself shall be seen? Hence it is said in Scripture, Blessed are they that dwell in Your house; they will be praising You for ever and ever. There will God’s praise continue without end, where there shall be the full knowledge of God; and because the full knowledge, therefore also the complete effulgence or glorification. (Tractate 105. John 17:1-5)

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