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“Theodore of Mopsuestia On The Incarnation - Greek Text with English translation”

De Incarnatione, 7

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Click here to read at in the original Greek (with dictionary lookup links). The English translation below is from H. B. Swete, Minor Epistles of St Paul (Cambridge, 1880-2).

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If we can discover how the indwelling is effected, then we shall know both the mode in which it is effected and also what makes for differentiation within that mode. Some people have asserted that the indwelling was a matter of essence, others that it was a matter of activity. Let us consider whether either of these is correct. First we must ask whether the indwelling is universal or not. Obviously the answer is ‘No’. It is promised by God as something special for the saints or, in general terms, for those whom he wills to devote themselves to him. What would be the point of his promise, ‘I will dwell among them and will walk among them and will be their God and they shall be my people’, which implies some kind of special favour to them, if that is something enjoyed by all men in the ordinary run of things? If indwelling then is not universal (and clearly it is not) even for men let alone for all existents, then we need to be able to define some special meaning of ‘indwelling’ according to which he is present only to those whom he is said to indwell. This makes it quite out of the question to say that indwelling is a matter of essence. For then either we would have to find God’s essence only in those whom he is said to indwell and he would be outside everything else, which is absurd since he is of a boundless nature that is everywhere present and not spatially circumscribed at all; or else, if we say that in his essence God is everywhere present, then he must give a share also of his indwelling to everything — not only to all men but also to the irrational and even to the inanimate creation; this would be a necessary corollary of claiming that God’s indwelling was a matter of essence. But both these are obviously out of the question. For to say that God indwells everything has been agreed to be the height of absurdity, and to circumscribe his essence is out of the question. So it would be naive in the extreme to say that the indwelling was a matter of essence.

Precisely the same reasoning applies in the case of activity. Either one has to confine it to these particular cases only — and then how could we go on talking about God’s foreknowledge of everything, his governing everything, and his acting appropriately in everything? Or else if one allows that his activity is universal in its scope —and that is clearly appropriate and logical since it is by him that everything is empowered with its individual existence and with its own way of functioning — then one will have to say that his indwelling is universal. So God’s indwelling cannot be a matter of essence or of activity. What remains? What other concept can we use which will not destroy its particular character as applying to certain particular people? It is obviously appropriate to speak of indwelling being a matter of good pleasure. ‘Good pleasure’ is the name for that very good and excellent will of God which he exercises because pleased with those who are earnestly devoted to him; the word is derived from his ‘good’ and excellent ‘pleasure’ in them. Scripture frequently speaks of God being thus disposed. So the blessed David says, ‘He will not base his will on the strength of a horse nor will he find his good pleasure in the legs of a man. The Lord has good pleasure in those who fear him and in those who hope in his mercy’. This implies that he does not plan to work with or choose to cooperate with anyone other than those who fear him; they are the ones he values, they are the ones he chooses to cooperate with and to assist. This therefore is the appropriate way to define indwelling. For being of an infinite and uncircumscribed nature he is present to everyone; but in his good pleasure he is far from some and near to others. That is the meaning of these two texts: ‘The Lord is near to the broken in heart and will save the bumble in spirit’ and ‘Do not cast me away from thy presence and do not take thy Spirit from me’. He comes near in disposition to those who are worthy of such nearness and he goes far away from sinners. It is not a matter of being separated or coming nearer in actual nature; in both cases what happens is a question of attitude of mind. The argument as we have developed it so far shows why we use the phrase ‘good pleasure’, and we have discussed the meaning of the term in full detail in order to establish this. We are now in a position to say that just as it is in his good pleasure that God can be both near and far, so too it is in his good pleasure that his indwelling operates. He does not circumscribe his essence or his activity by being present in certain people only and being separated from everyone else; he is present universally in his essence, but he is separated from the unworthy in his attitude and disposition. In this way the uncircumscribed character of his being is fully preserved; it can be seen that he is not in this respect subject to any external necessity. If on the other hand he were universally present in his good pleasure, this again would make him in a different way subject to external necessity. In that case he would not be determining his presence by choice of will; it would be a matter of his uncircumscribed nature and his will would be simply consequent on that. But as it is he is universally present in nature and separated from those he chooses in will; the unworthy are not benefited by the presence of God which they do have, while the truth is preserved intact of the uncircumscribed character of his nature.

So then in his good pleasure he is present to some and separated from others, just as if he were actually in his essence with the one group and separate from the rest. Moreover, just as the indwelling is a matter of good pleasure, so also in precisely the same way the good pleasure varies the mode of indwelling. That which effects God’s indwelling and explains how the one who is universally present in his essence can indwell only some — indeed only a very small proportion — of the whole of mankind is, as I have said, good pleasure; and this good pleasure also qualifies the particular mode of indwelling in every case. Just as God is described as present to all in his essence yet not indwelling all but only those to whom he is present in his good pleasure, so similarly when he is spoken of as indwelling it is not always an identical indwelling but the particular mode of indwelling will depend on the good pleasure. Thus when he is said to indwell the apostles, or more generally the righteous, then it is an indwelling as being well pleased with the righteous, according to the mode of the pleasure he has in the virtuous. But we would never describe the indwelling in his [i.e. Christ’s] case as of that kind — that would be sheer madness; in his case it is as in a son; that is the form of good pleasure by which the indwelling took place.

What is the significance of this ‘as in a son’? It is an indwelling in which he united the one who was being assumed wholly to himself and prepared him to share all the honour which he, the indweller, who is a son by nature, shares. Thereby he has constituted a single person by union with him and has made him a partner in all his authority. So everything he does he does in him, effecting even the ultimate testing and judgement through him and through his coming. The difference of course [i.e. between the Word and the man] is one that we can recognise by the distinguishing characteristics of each nature.

Although it is in the future that we shall be perfectly controlled in body and soul by the Spirit, yet even now we have a partial foretaste of this in that we are so assisted by the Spirit that we are not forced to succumb to the reasonings of the soul. In the same way although it was in the end that the Lord had God the Word working in him so perfectly and completely that they were inseparably joined in every action, yet even before that he had the Word bringing to perfection in him to the highest possible degree all that he must do; in that period before the cross he was being given free room because of the necessity to achieve virtue on our behalf by his own will, though even then he was being stirred on by the Word and was being strengthened for the perfect fulfilment of what needed to be done. He had received union with him right from the start at the moment of his formation in the womb. Then at the age when men normally begin to be able to distinguish between good and bad, indeed even before that age, he demonstrated far more rapidly and quickly than other people this power of discrimination. This ability to discriminate does not arise in the same way and at the same moment for each person. Some with greater insight achieve the goal more quickly; others acquire it with the help of training over a longer period. He was exceptional in comparison with all others and it came to him at an earlier age than is normal; this is not surprising since even at the human level he was bound to have something extra by virtue of the fact that even his birth was not by the normal method of intercourse between a man and a woman but he was formed by the divine working of the Spirit.

Thanks to his union with God the Word, which by foreknowledge he was deemed worthy to receive when God the Word from above united him to himself, he had an outstanding inclination to the good. For all these reasons, as soon as he was in a position to discriminate, he had a great antipathy to evil and attached himself to the good with unqualified affection. In this he received the cooperative help of God the Word proportionate to his own native will and so remained thereafter unaffected by any change to the worse. On the one hand this was the set of his own mind, but it was also a matter of this purpose of his being preserved by the cooperative help of God the Word. So he proceeded with the utmost ease to the highest peak of virtue, whether it were a matter of keeping the law before his baptism or of living the life of grace after it; in doing so he provided a type of that life for us also, becoming a path to that goal for us. Then in the end after his resurrection and assumption into heaven, he showed himself worthy of the union even on the basis of his own will, though he had received the union even before this by the good pleasure of his Maker at the time of his very creation. Thus finally he provides a perfect demonstration of the union; he has no activity separate or cut off from God the Word, but he has God the Word as the effective agent of all his actions by virtue of the Word’s union with him.



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Theodorus Mopsuestenis
On the Incarnation
Antiochene Christology
De Incarnatione
Union of Good Pleasure
Antiochene School
Migne Latin
Migne Greek
Patrologiae Latinae Cursus Completus
Patrologiae Graecae Cursus Completus
Patrologia Latina
Patrologia Graeca


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