Friday, April 8, 2016

Describing the Indescribable

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for His steadfast love endures forever.  (Ps 136:10-12)

And although the heavenly Scripture often turns the divine appearance into a human form,—as when it says, “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous;” or when it says, “The Lord God smelled the smell of a good savor;” or when there are given to Moses the tables “written with the finger of God;” or when the people of the children of Israel are set free from the land of Egypt “with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm;” or when it says, “The mouth of the Lord has spoken these things;” or when the earth is set forth as “God’s footstool;” or when it says, “Incline your ear, and hear,”—we who say that the law is spiritual do not include within these features of our bodily nature any mode or figure of the divine majesty, but diffuse that character of unbounded magnitude over its plains without any limit.  For it is written, “If I shall ascend into heaven, You are there; if I shall descend into hell, You are there also; and if I shall take my wings, and go away across the sea, there Your hand shall lay hold of me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”  For we recognize the plan of the divine Scripture according to the proportion of its arrangement.  For the prophet then was still speaking about God in parables according to the period of the faith, not as God was, but as the people were able to receive Him.  And thus, that such things as these should be said about God, must be imputed not to God, but rather to the people.  Thus the people are permitted to erect a tabernacle, and yet God is not contained within the enclosure of a tabernacle.  Thus a temple is reared, and yet God is not at all bounded within the restraints of a temple.  It is not therefore God who is limited, but the perception of the people is limited; nor is God restricted, but the understanding of the reason of the people is held to be restricted.  Finally, in the Gospel the Lord said, “The hour shall come when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall you worship the Father;” and gave the reasons, saying, “God is a Spirit; and those therefore who worship, must worship in spirit and in truth.”  Thus the divine agencies are there exhibited by means of members; it is not the appearance of God nor the bodily features that are described.

Novation, On the Trinity VI

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