Church Fathers: God is Immutable, Simple, & Outside of Time

God the Father is Immutable (Unchangeable) and Doesn’t Change His Mind

Aristides of Athens (fl. c. 140)

. . . God, who is incorruptible and unchangeable and invisible, but who sees all things and changes them and alters them as He wills. (Apology, 4; in JUR-1, 49)

St. Justin Martyr (100-165)
*

For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is herein, . . .

And the Sibyl and Hystaspes said that there should be a dissolution by God of things corruptible. And the philosophers called Stoics teach that even God Himself shall be resolved into fire, and they say that the world is to be formed anew by this revolution; but we understand that God, the Creator of all things, is superior to the things that are to be changed. (First Apology, 13 and 20; in ANF, vol. 1)

St. Irenaeus (130-202)
*

. . . to be without beginning and without end, to be truly and always the same, and to remain without change, belongs to God alone, who is Lord of all. (Against Heresies, 2, 34, 2; in JUR-1, 89)

God differs from man in this, that God makes, but man is made. Surely that which makes is always the same . . .  (Against Heresies, 4, 11, 2; in JUR-1, 94; cf. ANF, vol. 1)

Origen (c. 185 – c. 254)
*

. . . admitting within Himself no addition of any kind. (The Fundamental Doctrines, 1, 1, 6; in JUR-1, 193)

Then the world would not have been filled with opinions which either disallow or enfeeble the action of providence, or introduce a corrupt corporeal principle, according to which the god of the Stoics is a body, with respect to whom they are not afraid to say that he is capable of change, and may be altered and transformed in all his parts, and, generally, that he is capable of corruption, if there be any one to corrupt him, but that he has the good fortune to escape corruption, because there is none to corrupt. Whereas the doctrine of the Jews and Christians, which preserves the immutability and unalterableness of the divine nature, is stigmatized as impious, because it does not partake of the profanity of those whose notions of God are marked by impiety, but because it says in the supplication addressed to the Divinity, You are the same,it being, moreover, an article of faith that God has said, I change not.

For, continuing unchangeable in His essence, He condescends to human affairs by the economy of His providence. We show, accordingly, that the holy Scriptures represent God as unchangeable, both by such words as You are the same, and I change not; . . . (Contra Celsus, 1, 21 and 4, 14; ANF, vol. 4)

St. Athanasius (c. 297 – 373)
*

For neither is there an effluence from that which is incorporeal, nor is there anything flowing into Him from without, as in the case of men. (Letter Concerning the Decrees of the Council of Nicaea, 11; in JUR-1, 324)

For He is Offspring of the Father’s essence, so that one cannot doubt that after the resemblance of the unalterable Father, the Word also is unalterable. (Four Discourses Against the Arians, 1, 39; in NPNF 2, Vol. 4; cf. ECD, p. 245: “He is the offspring of His Father’s substance . . . in virtue of His likeness to His immutable Father the Word also is immutable”)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315 – 387)
*

. . . one God alone, unbegotten, without beginning, unchangeable and immovable . . . He . . . remains ever the same and unchanging.(Catechetical Lectures, 4, 4 and 4,5; in JUR-1, 349-350)

St. Gregory Nazianzen (c. 330 – c. 390)
*

. . . He has no beginning, does not change, and is not subject to any limitation . . . (Second Theological Oration, 28, 9; in JUR-2, 30)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 394)

We judge it proper, therefore, to believe that that alone is truly divine whose existence is found to be eternal and infinite, and in whom all that is contemplated is ever the same, neither increasing nor diminishing. (Against Eunomius, Bk. 3[8]: Jaeger, Vol. 2, p. 186; in JUR-2, 53)

St. Ambrose (c. 336 – 397)
*

Nothing can be added to Him; He has in His nature only what is divine: filling up everything, never Himself confused with anything; penetrating everything, never Himself being penetrated; everywhere complete, and present at the same time in heaven, on earth, and in the farthest reaches of the sea . . . (The Faith, 1, 16, 106; in JUR-2, 152)

St. Augustine (354-430)
*

Eternity itself is the substance of God, which has nothing that is changeable. (Explanations of the Psalms, 101, 2, 10; in JUR-3, 21)

Being is a name of unchangeableness. For everything that is changed ceases to be what it was and begins to be what it was not. Being is. True being, pure being, genuine being is had only by Him who does not change. (Sermons, 7, 7; in JUR-3, 25)

So, too, that which the Apostle says, Who only has immortality. Since the soul also both is said to be, and is, in a certain manner immortal, Scripture would not say only has, unless because true immortality is unchangeableness; which no creature can possess, since it belongs to the creator alone. So also James says, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. So also David, You shall change them, and they shall be changed; but You are the same.

Further, it is difficult to contemplate and fully know the substance of God; who fashions things changeable, yet without any change in Himself, . . . (On the Trinity, 1, 1, 2-3; in NPNF 1, Vol. 3)

God is . . . Container of all things, Himself without limit; wholly everywhere without spacial limitation . . . Maker of changeable things, who is Himself without any change; and in no way acted upon from without.

In God, however, certainly there is nothing that is said according to accident, because in Him there is nothing that is changeable . . .

For God is truly alone, because He is unchangeable . . . (On the Trinity, 5, 1, 2 and 5, 5, 6 and 7, 5, 10; in JUR-3, 75-77; cf. NPNF 1, Vol. 3)

He is, however, without doubt, a substance, or, if it be better so to call it, an essence, which the Greeks call οὐσία [ousia]. For as wisdom is so called from the being wise, and knowledge from knowing; so from being comes that which we call essence. And who is there that is, more than He who said to His servant Moses, I am that I am; and, Thus shall you say unto the children of Israel, He who is has sent me unto you? But other things that are called essences or substances admit of accidents, whereby a change, whether great or small, is produced in them. But there can be no accident of this kind in respect to God; and therefore He who is God is the only unchangeable substance or essence, to whom certainly being itself, whence comes the name of essence, most especially and most truly belongs. For that which is changed does not retain its own being; and that which can be changed, although it be not actually changed, is able not to be that which it had been; and hence that which not only is not changed, but also cannot at all be changed, alone falls most truly, without difficulty or hesitation, under the category of being.  (On the Trinity, 5, 2, 3; in NPNF 1, Vol. 3)

How then shall we make it good that relative terms themselves are not accidental, since nothing happens accidentally to God in time, because He is incapable of change, as we have argued in the beginning of this discussion? . . . nothing happens to His nature by which He may be changed, . . . that unchangeable substance of God . . . in Him there is no change. . . . When a righteous man begins to be a friend of God, he himself is changed; but far be it from us to say, that God loves any one in time with as it were a new love, which was not in Him before, with whom things gone by have not passed away and things future have been already done. (On the Trinity, 5, 16, 17; in NPNF 1, Vol. 3)

They have seen that whatever is changeable is not the most high God, and therefore they have transcended every soul and all changeable spirits in seeking the supreme. They have seen also that, in every changeable thing, the form which makes it that which it is, whatever be its mode or nature, can only be through Him who truly is, because He is unchangeable. (City of God, 8, 6; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

Accordingly we say that there is no unchangeable good but the one, true, blessed God; that the things which He made are indeed good because from Him, yet mutable because made not out of Him, but out of nothing. Although, therefore, they are not the supreme good, for God is a greater good, yet those mutable things which can adhere to the immutable good, and so be blessed, are very good; for so completely is He their good, that without Him they cannot but be wretched. And the other created things in the universe are not better on this account, that they cannot be miserable. For no one would say that the other members of the body are superior to the eyes, because they cannot be blind. But as the sentient nature, even when it feels pain, is superior to the stony, which can feel none, so the rational nature, even when wretched, is more excellent than that which lacks reason or feeling, and can therefore experience no misery. And since this is so, then in this nature which has been created so excellent, that though it be mutable itself, it can yet secure its blessedness by adhering to the immutable good, the supreme God; . . .

For since God is the supreme existence, that is to say, supremely is, and is therefore unchangeable, the things that He made He empowered to be, but not to be supremely like Himself. (City of God, 12, 1 and 2; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

For that which specially leads these men astray to refer their own circles to the straight path of truth, is, that they measure by their own human, changeable, and narrow intellect the divine mind, which is absolutely unchangeable, infinitely capacious, and without succession of thought, counting all things without number. So that saying of the apostle comes true of them, for, comparing themselves with themselves, they do not understand. For because they do, in virtue of a new purpose, whatever new thing has occurred to them to be done (their minds being changeable), they conclude it is so with God; and thus compare, not God—for they cannot conceive God, but think of one like themselves when they think of Him—not God, but themselves, and not with Him, but with themselves. For our part, we dare not believe that God is affected in one way when He works, in another when He rests. Indeed, to say that He is affected at all, is an abuse of language, since it implies that there comes to be something in His nature which was not there before. For he who is affected is acted upon, and whatever is acted upon is changeable. His leisure, therefore, is no laziness, indolence, inactivity; as in His work is no labor, effort, industry. (City of God, 12, 17; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

We are not permitted to believe that God is affected on one way when He rests and in another way when He works; for it ought not to be said that He is affected at all, as if there were something in His nature which previously was not there. (City of God, 12, 18[17], 2; in JUR-3, 101)

For that truly is which remains immutably. It is good, then, for me to cleave unto God, for if I remain not in Him, neither shall I in myself; but He, remaining in Himself, renews all things. (Confessions, 7, 11; in NPNF 1, Vol. 1)

. . . unchangeably eternal, that is, the truly eternal Creator of minds. (Confessions, 11, 31, in NPNF 1, Vol. 1)

For altogether as You are, Thou only know, Who art unchangeably, and know unchangeably, and willest unchangeably. And our Essence Knows and Wills unchangeably; and Your Knowledge Is, and Wills unchangeably; and Your Will Is, and Knows unchangeably. (Confessions, 13, 16; in NPNF 1, Vol. 1; cf. also, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 1, 8)

St. Fulgence of Ruspe (467-527)
*

. . . God . . . of whose nature it is to exist always and never able to be changed. (The Rule of Faith, 25; in JUR-3, 295-296)

Pope St. Gregory the Great (c. 540 – 604)
*

. . . He that is immutable changes what He willed, . . . what changes is a thing and not His counsel. (Moral Teachings From Job, 20, 32, 63; in JUR-3, 317)

 

God the Father is Simple (Not Composed of Composite Parts; No Distinction Between Will and Mind)

 

Athenagoras (fl. 180)

And indeed Socrates was compounded and divided into parts, just because he was created and perishable; but God is uncreated, and, impassible, and indivisible— does not, therefore, consist of parts. (A Plea For the Christians, 8; in ANF, vol. 2)

St. Irenaeus (130-202)

. . . God . . . as soon as He thinks, actually accomplishes what He has willed; and as soon as He wills, He also thinks that which He has willed. Therefore, thinking what He wills, and then willing what He thinks, He is all thought, all will, all mind, all light, all eye, all ear, all fountain of every good. (Against Heresies, 1, 12, 2; in JUR-1, 85; cf. ANF, vol. 1)

These things may properly be said to hold good in men, since they are compound by nature, and consist of a body and a soul. . . . He is a simple, uncompounded Being, without diverse members, and altogether like, and equal to himself, since He is wholly understanding, and wholly spirit, and wholly thought, and wholly intelligence, and wholly reason, and wholly hearing, and wholly seeing, and wholly light, and the whole source of all that is good . . . (Against Heresies, 2, 13, 3; in ANF, vol. 1)

. . . you form the idea of these from no other than a mere human experience; not understanding, as I said before, that it is possible, in the case of man, who is a compound being, to speak in this way of the mind of man and the thought of man; and to say that thought (ennœa) springs from mind (sensus), intention (enthymesis) again from thought, and word (logos) from intention (but which logos? for there is among the Greeks one logos which is the principle that thinks, and another which is the instrument by means of which thought is expressed); and [to say] that a man sometimes is at rest and silent, while at other times he speaks and is active. But since God is all mind, all reason, all active spirit, all light, and always exists one and the same, as it is both beneficial for us to think of God, and as we learn regarding Him from the Scriptures, such feelings and divisions [of operation] cannot fittingly be ascribed to Him.

But God being all Mind, and all Logos, both speaks exactly what He thinks, and thinks exactly what He speaks. For His thought is Logos, and Logos is Mind, and Mind comprehending all things is the Father Himself. He, therefore, who speaks of the mind of God, and ascribes to it a special origin of its own, declares Him a compound Being, as if God were one thing, and the original Mind another. (Against Heresies, 2, 28, 4-5; in ANF, vol. 1)

St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215)
*

Nor is it possible to predicate any parts of [God]. For what is one is indivisible, and thereby infinite . . . in regard to its being without dimensions and not having limits, for which reason it is without form and name. (Miscellanies [Stromateis], 5, 12, 81, 6; in JUR-1, 183)

Origen (c. 185 – c. 254)
*

God, therefore, is not to be thought of as being either a body or as existing in a body, but as a simple intellectual Being, . . . (The Fundamental Doctrines, 1, 1, 6; in JUR-1, 193)

For even the Stoics were unable distinctly to comprehend the natural idea of God, as of a being altogether incorruptible and simple, and uncompounded and indivisible. (Contra Celsus, 1, 21 and 4, 14; ANF, vol. 4)

St. Athanasius (c. 297 – 373)
*

. . . simple in nature . . .

. . . some persons regard God as being a compound . . . [he is expressing disapproval of this] (Letter Concerning the Decrees of the Council of Nicaea, 11 and 22; in JUR-1, 324)

He is not composed of parts, but being impassible and simple, He is impassibly and indivisibly Father of the Son. (Four Discourses Against the Arians, 1, 8, 28; in NPNF 2, Vol. 4)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315 – 387)
*

. . . God . . . who is all-powerful, and uniform in substance. (Catechetical Lectures, 6, 7; in JUR-1, 353)

St. Gregory Nazianzen (c. 330 – c. 390)

. . . absolutely simple and indivisible substance . . . indivisible and uniform and without parts . . . (Ep. 243 [ad Evag. Pont., PG 46, 1104 f.: sometimes attributed to Gregory of Nyssa; in Kelly, ECD, 268)

Evagrius of Pontus (345 – 399)
*

It is universally confessed, however, that God is simple and not composite. (Dogmatic Letter on the Most Blessed Trinity, Apud. Bas. Ep. 8, 2; in JUR-2, 2; cf. ECD, p. 269: “everyone recognizes that God is simple and incomposite”)

St. Basil the Great (c. 330 – 379)
*

The operations of God are various, but His essence is simple. (Letter to Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium, 234, 1; in JUR-2, 9)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 394)

But there neither is nor ever shall be such a dogma in the Church of God, that would prove the simple and incomposite to be not only manifold and variegated, but even constructed from opposites. (Against Eunomius, Bk. 1: Jaeger, Vol. 1, p. 222; in JUR-2, 52)

But let us still scrutinize his words. He declares each of these Beings, whom he has shadowedforth in his exposition, to be single and absolutely one. We believe that the most boorish and simple-minded would not deny that the Divine Nature, blessed and transcendent as it is, was ‘single.’ That which is viewless, formless, and sizeless, cannot be conceived of as multiform and composite. But it will be clear, upon the very slightest reflection, that this view of the supreme Being as ‘simple,’ however finely they may talk of it, is quite inconsistent with the system which they have elaborated. For who does not know that, to be exact, simplicity in the case of the Holy Trinity admits of no degrees. In this case there is no mixture or conflux of qualities to think of; we comprehend a potency without parts and composition; how then, and on what grounds, could any one perceive there any differences of less and more. For he who marks differences there must perforce think of an incidence of certain qualities in the subject. He must in fact have perceived differences in largeness and smallness therein, to have introduced this conception of quantity into the question: or he must posit abundance or diminution in the matter of goodness, strength, wisdom, or of anything else that can with reverence be associated with God: and neither way will he escape the idea of composition. Nothing which possesses wisdom or power or any other good, not as an external gift, but rooted in its nature, can suffer diminution in it; so that if any one says that he detects Beings greater and smaller in the Divine Nature, he is unconsciously establishing a composite and heterogeneous Deity, and thinking of the Subject as one thing, and the quality, to share in which constitutes as good that which was not so before, as another. If he had been thinking of a Being really single and absolutely one, identical with goodness rather than possessing it, he would not be able to count a greater and a less in it at all. It was said, moreover, above that good can be diminished by the presence of evil alone, and that where the nature is incapable of deteriorating, there is no limit conceived of to the goodness: the unlimited, in fact, is not such owing to any relation whatever, but, considered in itself, escapes limitation. It is, indeed, difficult to see how a reflecting mind can conceive one infinite to be greater or less than another infinite. So that if he acknowledges the supreme Being to be ‘single’ and homogenous, let him grant that it is bound up with this universal attribute of simplicity and infinitude. If, on the other hand, he divides and estranges the ‘Beings’ from each other, conceiving that of the Only-begotten as another than the Father’s, and that of the Spiritas another than the Only-begotten, with a ‘more’ and ‘less’ in each case, let him be exposed now as granting simplicity in appearance only to the Deity, but in reality proving the composite in Him.

Whereas uncreate intelligible nature is far removed from such distinctions: it does not possess the good by acquisition, or participate only in the goodness of some good which lies above it: in its own essence it is good, and is conceived as such: it is a source of good, it is simple, uniform, incomposite, even by the confession of our adversaries. (Against Eunomius, 1, 19 and 22; in NPNF 2, Vol. 5)

Didymus the Blind (c. 313 – c. 398)
*

God is simple and of an incomposite and spiritual nature, having neither ears nor organs of speech. A solitary essence and illimitable, He is composed of no numbers and parts. (The Holy Spirit, 35; in JUR-2, 60-61)

St. John Chrysostom (c. 345 – 407)
*

For God is simple and non-composite and without shape . . . (Against the Anomoians, 4, 3; in JUR-2, 92)

St. Ambrose (c. 336 – 397)
*

God is of a simple nature, not conjoined nor composite. (The Faith, 1, 16, 106; in JUR-2, 152)

St. Augustine (354-430)

With the human soul, to be is not the same as to be strong, or prudent, or righteous, or temperate; for the soul is able to exist while having none of these virtues. With God, however, to be is to be strong, to be righteous, to be wise, and to be whatever else you can say of that simple multiplicity or multiple simplicity by which His substance is signified.

His greatness is the same as His wisdom, for He is great not in bulk but in power; and His goodness is the same as His wisdom and greatness, and His truth is the same as all of these qualities; and in Him it is not one thing to be blessed, and another to be great, or wise, or true, or good, or to be all that He is.

But it is wrong to say . . . that God Himself is not His own goodness, but that His goodness is in Him as in a subject.

But the knowledge that God has is also His wisdom; and His wisdom is His essence or substance; for in the wonderful simplicity of His nature, to be wise is not something else than to be; rather, to be wise is the same as to be. (The Trinity, 6, 4, 6 and 6, 7, 8 and 7, 5, 10 and 15, 13, 22; in JUR-3, 76-77, 79)

For to Him it is not one thing to be, and another to live, as though He could be, not living; nor is it to Him one thing to live, and another thing to understand, as though He could live, not understanding; nor is it to Him one thing to understand, another thing to be blessed, as though He could understand and not be blessed. But to Him to live, to understand, to be blessed, are to be. They have understood, from this unchangeableness and this simplicity, that all things must have been made by Him, and that He could Himself have been made by none. (City of God, 8, 6; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

There is, accordingly, a good which is alone simple, and therefore alone unchangeable, and this is God. By this Good have all others been created, but not simple, and therefore not unchangeable. Created, I say—that is, made, not begotten. For that which is begotten of the simple Good is simple as itself, and the same as itself. These two we call the Father and the Son; and both together with the Holy Spirit are one God; and to this Spirit the epithet Holy is in Scripture, as it were, appropriated. And He is another than the Father and the Son, for He is neither the Father nor the Son. I say another, not another thing, because He is equally with them the simple Good, unchangeable and co-eternal. And this Trinity is one God; and none the less simple because a Trinity. For we do not say that the nature of the good is simple, because the Father alone possesses it, or the Son alone, or the Holy Ghost alone; nor do we say, with the Sabellian heretics, that it is only nominally a Trinity, and has no real distinction of persons; but we say it is simple, because it is what it has, with the exception of the relation of the persons to one another. For, in regard to this relation, it is true that the Father has a Son, and yet is not Himself the Son; and the Son has a Father, and is not Himself the Father. But, as regards Himself, irrespective of relation to the other, each is what He has; thus, He is in Himself living, for He has life, and is Himself the Life which He has. (City of God, 11, 10; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376 – 444)
*

If it is your opinion that God is composite because of His having nature and choice or will, look at it this way: It belongs to the Father by nature to beget, and it belongs to Him to create by agency through the Son, and there is not on this account a composite, because what is produced is fruit of one nature.

The nature of the Godhead, which is simple and not composite . . . (Treasury of the Holy Trinity, Thesis 7 and Thesis 11; in JUR-3, 210)

We are not by nature simple; but the divine nature, perfectly simple and incomposite, has in itself the abundance of all perfection and is in need of nothing. (Dialogues on the Holy Trinity, 1; in JUR-3, 214)
*

God the Father is Outside of Time, and Created Time (God’s Eternality or Atemporality)

 

St. Ignatius of Antioch (50 – c. 110)

Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes . . . (Epistle to Polycarp; 3, 2; ANF, vol. 1)

St. Justin Martyr (100-165)
*

So that what we say about future events being foretold, we do not say it as if they came about by a fatal necessity; but God foreknowing all that shall be done by all men, and it being His decree that the future actions of men shall all be recompensed according to their several value, He foretells by the Spirit of prophecy that He will bestow meet rewards according to the merit of the actions race to effort and recollection, showing that He cares and provides for men. (First Apology, 44; in ANF, vol. 1)

St. Irenaeus (130-202)
*

Our God, one and the same, is also their God, who knows hidden things, who knows all things before they can come to pass; . . . (Against Heresies, 4, 21, 2; in ANF, vol. 1)

St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215)

The First Cause, therefore, is not located in a place, but is above place and time and name and conception. (Miscellanies [Stromateis], 5, 11, 71, 3; in JUR-1, 183)

God knows all things, not only those that are, but those also that shall be, and how each shall be . . . He possesses from eternity the conception of each thing individually . . . In one glance He views all things together and each thing by itself. (Miscellanies [Stromateis], 6, 17, 156, 5; in JUR-1, 184)

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225)
*

Eternity has no time. It is itself all time. . . . God, moreover, is as independent of beginning and end as He is of time, which is only the arbiter and measurer of a beginning and an end. (Against Marcion [semi-Montanist period], 1, 8; in ANF, vol. 3)

Origen (c. 185 – c. 254)
*

When God undertook in the beginning to create the world, — for nothing that comes to be is without a cause, — each of the things that would ever exist was presented to His mind, He saw what else would result when such a thing were produced; and if such a result were accomplished, what else would accompany; and what else would be the result even of this when it would come about. And so on to the conclusion of the sequence of events. He knew what would be, without being altogether the cause of the coming to be of each of the things which He knew would happen. (Commentaries on Genesis, 3, 6; in JUR-1, 200)

Novatian (c. 200 – 258)
*

He that exists before all time must be said to have been in the Father always; for He that exists before all time cannot be spoken of in relation to time. (The Trinity, 31; in JUR-1, 248)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315 – 387)
*

. . . who neither began to live in time nor will ever cease to be . . .

He knows beforehand the things that shall be . . . He is not subject to the consequences of events, neither to astrological geniture, nor to chance, nor to fate. (Catechetical Lectures, 4, 4 and 4,5; in JUR-1, 349-350)

St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315 – 368)
*

He possesses the actuality of His being. He is infinite because He Himself is not contained in something else, and all else is within Him. He is always beyond location, because He is not contained; always before the ages, because time comes from Him . . . God, however, is present everywhere; and everywhere He is totally present. (The Trinity, 2, 6; in JUR-1, 374)

St. Gregory Nazianzen (c. 330 – c. 390)
*

God always was, and is, and will be; or better, He always is. Was and will be are portions of time as we reckon it, and are of a changing nature . . . He gathers in Himself the whole of being . . . He is like some great sea of Being, limitless and unbounded, transcending every conception of time and nature. (Second Oration on Easter, 45, 3; in JUR-2, 38)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 394)

. . . God, who knows the future just as well as the past . . . (On the Untimely Deaths of Infants, Migne, PG 46, col. 184; in JUR-2, 57)

On the one hand, because the existence of the Son is not marked by any intervals of time, and the infinitude of His life flows back before the ages and onward beyond them in an all-pervading tide, He is properly addressed with the title of Eternal . . . Extensions in time find no admittance in the Eternal Life; so that, when we have removed the thought of cause, the Holy Trinity in no single way exhibits discord with itself; and to It is glory due. (Against Eunomius, 1, 42; in NPNF 2, Vol. 5)

St. Jerome (c. 343 – 420)
*

God, who always is, has no beginning from outside Himself, and He is His own origin and the cause of His own substance; nor can He be understood as having anything that supports Him from without. (Commentaries on Ephesians, 2, 3, 14; in JUR-2, 193)

St. Augustine (354-430)
*

Eternity itself is the substance of God, which has nothing that is changeable. There is nothing there that is past, as if it were no longer; nothing there is future, as if it not yet were. There is nothing except “is”. (Explanations of the Psalms, 101, 2, 10; in JUR-3, 21)

. . . God; who . . . creates things temporal, yet without any temporal movement in Himself. (On the Trinity, 1, 1, 3; in NPNF 1, Vol. 3)

God is . . . eternal without time.

. . . in Him, for whom past ages are not past and future ages already exist . . . (On the Trinity, 5, 16, 17; in JUR-3, 76)

. . . in the Eternal nothing passes away, but that the whole is present; but no time is wholly present; and let him see that all time past is forced on by the future, and that all the future follows from the past, and that all, both past and future, is created and issues from that which is always present . . .

But if the roving thought of any one should wander through the images of bygone time, and wonder that You, the God Almighty, and All-creating, and All-sustaining, the Architect of heaven and earth, for innumerable ages refrained from so great a work before You would make it, let him awake and consider that he wonders at false things. For whence could innumerable ages pass by which You did not make, since You are the Author and Creator of all ages? Or what times should those be which were not made by You? Or how should they pass by if they had not been? Since, therefore, You are the Creator of all times, if any time was before You made heavenand earth, why is it said that You refrained from working? For that very time You made, nor could times pass by before You made times. But if before heaven and earth there was no time, why is it asked, What were You doing then? For there was no then when time was not. Nor dost Thou by time precede time; else wouldest not Thou precede all times. But in the excellency of an ever-present eternity, Thou precedest all times past, and survivest all future times, because they are future, and when they have come they will be past; but You are the same, and Your years shall have no end. Your years neither go nor come; but ours both go and come, that all may come. All Your years stand at once since they do stand; nor were they when departing excluded by coming years, because they pass not away; but all these of ours shall be when all shall cease to be. Your years are one day, and Your day is not daily, but today; because Your today yields not with tomorrow, for neither does it follow yesterday. Your today is eternity; therefore You begat the Co-eternal, to whom You said, This day have I begotten You. You have made all time; and before all times You are, nor in any time was there not time.

Let them therefore see that there could be no time without a created being, and let them cease to speak that vanity. Let them also be extended unto those things which are before, [Philippians 3:13] and understand that you, the eternal Creator of all times, art before all times, and that no times are co-eternal with You, nor any creature, even if there be any creature beyond all times.

Surely, if there be a mind, so greatly abounding in knowledge and foreknowledge, to which all things past and future are so known as one psalm is well known to me, that mind is exceedingly wonderful, and very astonishing; because whatever is so past, and whatever is to come of after ages, is no more concealed from Him than was it hidden from me when singing that psalm, . . . (Confessions, Book 11, chapters 11 and 13 and 30 and 31; in NPNF 1, Vol. 1)

He knows unchangeably all things which shall be, and all things which He will do. (City of God, 5, 9; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

It is not as if the knowledge of God were of various kinds, knowing in different ways things which as yet are not, things which are, and things which have been. For not in our fashion does He look forward to what is future, nor at what is present, nor back upon what is past; but in a manner quite different and far and profoundly remote from our way of thinking. For He does not pass from this to that by transition of thought, but beholds all things with absoluteunchangeableness; so that of those things which emerge in time , the future, indeed, are not yet, and the present are now, and the past no longer are; but all of these are by Him comprehended in His stable and eternal presence. Neither does He see in one fashion by the eye, in another by the mind, for He is not composed of mind and body; nor does His present knowledge differ from that which it ever was or shall be, for those variations of time, past, present, and future, though they alter our knowledge, do not affect His, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17 Neither is there any growth from thought to thought in the conceptions of Him in whose spiritual vision all things which He knows are at once embraced. For as without any movement that time can measure, He Himself moves all temporal things, so He knows all times with a knowledge that time cannot measure. (City of God, 11, 21; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

Pope St. Gregory the Great (c. 540 – 604)
*

And because He sees those things that are future to us, but which to Him are always present, He is called foreknowing, although He in no way foresees a future; for what He sees is present. Moreover, whatever things are, are not seen in His eternity because they are; rather, they are, because they are seen. (Moral Teachings From Job, 20, 32, 63; in JUR-3, 317)

Exceptions to the Patristic Consensus
*

Tertullian appears to posit a change of mind in God, in his work, Against Marcion, from his semi-Montanist period (Book II, chapter 24; ANF, vol. 3):

For although man repents most frequently on the recollection of a sin, and occasionally even from the unpleasantness of some good action, this is never the case with God. For, inasmuch as God neither commits sin nor condemns a good action, in so far is there no room in Him for repentance of either a good or an evil deed. . . . the divine repentance takes in all cases a different form from that of man, in that it is never regarded as the result of improvidence or of fickleness, or of any condemnation of a good or an evil work. What, then, will be the mode of God’s repentance? It is already quite clear, if you avoid referring it to human conditions. For it will have no other meaning than a simple change of a prior purpose; and this is admissible without any blame even in a man, much more in God, whose every purpose is faultless. Now in Greek the word for repentance (μετάνοια) is formed, not from the confession of a sin, but from a change of mind, which in God we have shown to be regulated by the occurrence of varying circumstances.

Tertullian’s peculiar theology of God (though he accepted God the Father’s timelessness and impassibility) took an even stranger turn in his Montanist-period work, Against Praxeas, where he promulgates the rank heresy of God the Father having a body (!!) of some sort; arguing in ways similar to present-day Jehovah’s Witnesses:

How could it be, that He Himself is nothing, without whom nothing was made? How could He who is empty have made things which are solid, and He who is void have made things which are full, and He who is incorporeal have made things which have body? For although a thing may sometimes be made different from him by whom it is made, yet nothing can be made by that which is a void and empty thing. Is that Word of God, then, a void and empty thing, which is called the Son, who Himself is designated God? The Word was with God, and the Word was God. [John 1:1] It is written, You shall not take God’s name in vain.[Exodus 20:7] This for certain is He who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. [Philippians 2:6] In what form of God? Of course he means in some form, not in none. For who will deny that God is a body, although God is a Spirit? [John 4:24] For Spirit has a bodily substance of its own kind, in its own form. Now, even if invisible things, whatsoever they be, have both their substance and their form in God, whereby they are visible to God alone, how much more shall that which has been sent forth from His substance not be without substance! (Against Praxeas, 7; in ANF, vol. 3)

Lactantius (c. 240 – c. 320) attributes emotions to God (thus denying His impassibility), and in so doing, denies God’s simplicity, too, in differentiating between God’s supposed emotional “anger” from His will, which, he says, regulates the divine anger:

Thus, he who is not subject to anger is plainly uninfluenced by kindness, which is the opposite feeling to anger. Now, if there is neither anger nor kindness in Him, it is manifest that there is neither fear, nor joy, nor grief, nor pity. For all the affections have one system, one motion, which cannot be the case with God. But if there is no affection in God, because whatever is subject to affections is weak, it follows that there is in Him neither the care of anything, nor providence.

Therefore the arguments are found to be empty and false, either of those who, when they will not admit that God is angry, will have it that He shows kindness, because this, indeed, cannot take place without anger; or of those who think that there is no emotion of the mind in God. And because there are some affections to which God is not liable, as desire, fear, avarice, grief, and envy, they have said that He is entirely free from all affection. For He is not liable to these, because they are vicious affections; but as to those which belong to virtue—that is, anger towards the wicked, regard towards the good, pity towards the afflicted—inasmuch as they are worthy of the divine power, He has affections of His own, both just and true.

But because I had said that the anger of God is not for a time only, as is the case with man, who becomes inflamed with an immediate excitement, and on account of his frailty is unable easily to govern himself, we ought to understand that because God is eternal, His anger also remains to eternity; but, on the other hand, that because He is endued with the greatest excellence, He controls His anger, and is not ruled by it, but that He regulates it according to His will. And it is plain that this is not opposed to that which has just been said. For if His anger had been altogether immortal, there would be no place after a fault for satisfaction or kind feeling, though He Himself commands men to be reconciled before the setting of the sun. But the divine anger remains for ever against those who ever sin. Therefore God is appeased not by incense or a victim, not by costly offerings, which things are all corruptible, but by a reformation of the morals: and he who ceases to sin renders the anger of God mortal. For this reason He does not immediately punish every one who is guilty, that man may have the opportunity of coming to a right mind, and correcting himself. (Treatise on the Anger of God Addressed to Donatus, 4 and 16 and 21, ANF, vol. 7)

Patristic Sources
*

William A. Jurgens (translator and editor), The Faith of the Early Fathers, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, three volumes, 1970 (I), and 1979 (II, III). Abbreviated as “JUR-1”, “JUR-2,” and “JUR-3.”

J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [“ECD”], San Francisco: Harper Collins, revised 1978 edition.

Alexander Roberts & Sir James Donaldson, editors, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (“ANF”), ten volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1867, available online.

Philip Schaff, editor, Early Church Fathers: Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers Series 1 (“NPNF 1”), 14 volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1889, available online.

Philip Schaff & Henry Wace, editors, Early Church Fathers: Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers Series 2 (“NPNF 2”), 14 volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1900, available online.

***

(originally 1-18-09)

Photo credit: Image by geralt (6-15-15) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]

***

"I know it varies by bishop, but think the lack of someone able to have ..."

Early Development of the Papacy: Random ..."
"Of course it's radically off-topic here, but I will reply and construct a new dialogue, ..."

“Biblical Evidence” from the Catholic Point ..."
"I saw this comment on the other thread, but then went on vacation. The one ..."

Atheist Botched Biblical Exegesis: Example #4,974
"Hi Dave, thought I would drop in here with the comments I promised a couple ..."

“Biblical Evidence” from the Catholic Point ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment