Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V/Novatian/A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity/Part 2
Chapter II. Argument.—God is Above All Things, Himself Containing All Things, Immense, Eternal, Transcending the Mind of Man; Inexplicable in Discourse, Loftier Than All Sublimity.
And over all these things He Himself, containing all things, having nothing vacant beyond Himself, has left room for no superior God, such as some people conceive. Since, indeed, He Himself has included all things in the bosom of perfect greatness and power, He is always intent upon His own work, and pervading all things, and moving all things, and quickening all things, and beholding all things, and so linking together discordant materials into the concord of all elements, that out of these unlike principles one world is so established by a conspiring union, that it can by no force be dissolved, save when He alone who made it commands it to be dissolved, for the purpose of bestowing other and greater things upon us. For we read that He contains all things, and therefore that there could have been nothing beyond Himself. Because, since He has not any beginning, so consequently He is not conscious of an ending; unless perchance—and far from us be the thought—He at some time began to be, and is not above all things, but as He began to be after something else, He would be beneath that which was before Himself, and would so be found to be of less power, in that He is designated as subsequent even in time itself. For this reason, therefore, He is always unbounded, because nothing is greater than He; always eternal, because nothing is more ancient than He. For that which is without beginning can be preceded by none, in that He has no time. He is on that account immortal, that He does not come to an end by any ending of His completeness. And since everything that is without beginning is without law, He excludes the mode of time by feeling Himself debtor to none. Concerning Him, therefore, and concerning those things which are of Himself, and are in Him, neither can the mind of man worthily conceive what they are, how great they are, and what they are like; nor does the eloquence of human discourse set forth a power that approaches the level of His majesty. For to conceive and to speak of His majesty, as well all eloquence is with reason mute, as all mind poor. For He is greater than mind itself; nor can it be conceived how great He is, seeing that, if He could be conceived, He would be smaller than the human mind wherein He could be conceived. He is greater, moreover, than all discourse, nor can He be declared; for if He could be declared, He would be less than human discourse, whereby being declared, He can both be encompassed and contained. For whatever could be thought concerning Him must be less than Himself; and whatever could be declared must be less than He, when compared in respect of Himself. Moreover, we can in some degree be conscious of Him in silence, but we cannot in discourse unfold Him as He is. For should you call Him Light, you would be speaking of His creature rather than of Himself—you would not declare Him; or should you call Him Strength, you would rather be speaking of and bringing out His power than speaking of Himself; or should you call Him Majesty, you would rather be describing His honour than Himself. And why should I make a long business of going through His attributes one by one? I will at once unfold the whole. Whatever in any respect you might declare of Him, you would rather be unfolding some condition and power of His than Himself. For what can you fittingly either say or think concerning Him who is greater than all discourses and thoughts? Except that in one manner—and how can we do this? how can we by possibility conceive how we may grasp these very things?—we shall mentally grasp what God is, if we shall consider that He is that which cannot be understood either in quality or quantity, nor, indeed, can come even into the thought itself. For if the keenness of our eyes grows dull on looking at the sun, so that the gaze, overcome by the brightness of the rays that meet it, cannot look upon the orb itself, the keenness of our mental perception suffers the same thing in all our thinking about God, and in proportion as we give our endeavours more directly to consider God, so much the more the mind itself is blinded by the light of its own thought. For—to repeat once more—what can you worthily say of Him, who is loftier than all sublimity, and higher than all height, and deeper than all depth, and clearer than all light, and brighter than all brightness, more brilliant than all splendour, stronger than all strength, more powerful than all power, and more mighty than all might, and greater than all majesty, and more potent than all potency, and richer than all riches, more wise than all wisdom, and more benignant than all kindness, better than all goodness, juster than all justice, more merciful than all clemency? For all kinds of virtues must needs be less than Himself, who is both. God and Parent of all virtues, so that it may truly be said that God is that, which is such that nothing can be compared to Him. For He is above all that can be said. For He is a certain Mind generating and filling all things, which, without any beginning or end of time, controls, by the highest and most perfect reason, the naturally linked causes of things, so as to result in benefit to all.
- Viritior. [See Robert Hall on French Atheism.]