In several of my posts, I have argued that human language is incapable of propositionally communicating truth about the divine nature of the Godhead. The qualification of propositionally is important, I think, because on the one hand it acknowledges the severe break that exists between the human and divine in terms of ontology (and the comprehensibility of the same) while concomitantly avoiding the equally deficient perspective that human language is incapable of speaking of God en toto.

My conclusion to these discussions is that we must always be aware that in our speaking of the divine nature, our languagebeing defined and deployed through the paradigm of finitudeis entirely incapable of encapsulating the truth of the divine nature in a propositional way (that is, in such a way as to be able to definitively prove the truth or falsity of such proposition through some means of quantification). Rather, epistemological humility must not simply be given lip service, but a strategic place in the deployment of any human-speak about God.

With that said, let me begin again.

Last semester, I analyzed St. Athanasius defense of the Nicaean determinations concerning Christs relationship in divinity to the Father in his important work, De Decretis. For those unfamiliar with the context, the classic Arian position proceeded along the lines that Christ should rightly be counted amongst the creations of God, for, in the famous Arian dictum, there was a time when He was not, and similarly, the Father has not always been Father. Although the Arians held Christ to be foremost of the creations of God, in the eternality of Godhead they saw a distinct bifurcation between the nature of Christ and that of the Father. Although held to be truly divine, Christ was understood to be of a different substance than the Father (homoiousious), unequal in eternity and Godhead.

This teaching led to a virtual crisis in the fourth-century church, and the Council of Nicaea was convened to deal with the problem and to come to a determination that would solidify and unify the churchs understanding of Christs relationship to the Father. Although the politics and circumstances of the Council are intriguing in and of themselves, the final determination was that, contra Arianism, Christ was to be understood as homoousiousof the same substanceof the Father.

Although the Councils ruling was definitive, it was hardly nor immediately implemented across the bourgeoning Christendom. Arianism continued to exhibit extensive influence, and it was left to individuals like Athanasius to defend the Councils rulings and the orthodox belief of the Christian Church.

Again, the history of Athanasius relationship to Arianism is quite fascinating and complicated, far too much to be pursued here. However, the logic of Athanasius polemics against the Arians can be summarized briefly.

To Athanasius, the equation of the substance of the Father and Christ was of upmost importance. In many places, he simply argues that all that are not God require Gods grace in order to escape corruptibility. However, if Christ is one among the creatures of God (and therefore in need of grace), of what benefit can he be to creation, if Christ is himself naturally a part of this creation? In a similar way, he argues from the logic of baptism: If humans are baptized in the name of Christ, yet Christ is not of the same substance of God, how can baptism in the name of a creature be of salvific efficacy for the baptized ones?

However, the tour de force of Athanasius argument is found in the De Decretis. Here, he argues convincingly that the eternal nature and consubstantiality of Christ with the Father can be surmised from the language of the Godhead itself. For example, if God is eternal and unchanging in nature, then the identification of God as Father and Son necessarily requires the eternal identification of the Father and Son with these roles. To Athanasius, the Arian argument fails miserably precisely because it requires that God is not eternally Father, nor that Christ is eternally Son. Rather, it is the act of the creation of Christ that presages the identification of the Father and Son with their names. To Athanasius, this is height of absurdity for he cannot countenance the idea that God could be Father only in creative act; rather, per the biblical revelation, Athanasius asserts that God must be understood as being Father eternallywhich conclusion requires the full divinity and consubstantiality of Christ with the Father, for if Christ is not always Son, the Father cannot be Father in eternity.

Apparently, the force of Athanasius (and others, of course) logic per the Father and Son relationship was so convincing that the Arians utilized a new vocabulary for their theological understanding. Instead of Father, they used the term Unoriginate to refer to the eternality of the Godhead, and utilized Originate to refer to Christ (and all else that was created from nothing).

Now from a philosophical perspective, the language of Unoriginate was acceptable to Athanasius; obviously, the Godhead is unoriginate in relation to that which is created. However, Athanasius ultimately rejected it as suitable language to speak about God because, for one, it was unbiblical. However, the more intriguing reasonand that which is the point of this post in relation to my opening statementswas his rejection of the human paradigm of the language.

Let me explain a little more fully. Athanasius recognized that one could not take the biblical language of Father and Son too literally ormore appropriatelytoo humanly. After all, the biological relationship of fathers and sons cannot be applied to the point Athanasius was trying to make about the Father and Christs relationship. In fact, such an attempt to apply human paradigms of familial relationships to the Godhead would ultimately lead one to Arianisms conclusions. But this is exactly Athanasius point: the language of Father and Sonif taken apart from human paradigmsconveys the relationship which exists between the Father and Son in eternity. Since they do not measure their origins on the basis of their relationship to one another, obviously the reality of Father and Son must point to some other reality. Athanasius asserted that this other reality was the eternal relationship and consubstantial nature of their persons.
This, of course, is why Athanasius ultimately rejects the revised language of Arianism. After all, the concept of Unorigination is only comprehensible from the paradigms of origination. In this way, the eternal nature of God as Unoriginate can only be understood, and is in fact, explicated from the basis of that which is created. To Athanasius, this kind of bottom-up reasoning ultimately arrives at the same deficient point as literalistic reasoning based upon the relationship of Father and Son. To argue from the perspective of that which is created is ultimately to subordinate the eternal nature of God to that which is not eternal. To not allow the mystery of the eternality of Father and Son to be the controlling linguistic paradigm is to refashion the Godhead on the basis of human considerations of biological relationships. In short, to argue from these lines of reasoning is to posit a reality in which God cannot exist (or at least be understood to exist) apart from that which is contingent upon the creative power of this very God.

In this post, I have taken a very long way around the issue to get to my original point: human paradigms of knowledge cannot be taken without qualification to ascertain the eternal nature of God. In this regard, I think Athanasius and I would be in agreement. Human language be recognized as limited in its ability to convey ideas about God. Even in his preference for the familial language concerning God, Athanasius clearly eschews any wholesale equation between the reality which is being

represented and that which is encapsulated in the language. In a sense, language about God is a powerful tool not for propositionalization, but rather to focus our attentions on the mystery of Godhead, to point our understanding to be grounded and suffused in the infinite life of God.