The Father is Greater Than I

St. Alexander of Alexandria died ca. 326

Concerning whom we thus believe, even as the Apostolic Church believes. In one Father unbegotten, who has from no one the cause of His being, who is unchangeable and immutable, who is always the same, and admits of no increase or diminution; who gave to us the Law, the prophets, and the Gospels; who is Lord of the patriarchs and apostles, and all the saints. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; not begotten of things which are not, but of Him who is the Father; not in a corporeal manner, by excision or division as Sabellius and Valentinus thought, but in a certain inexplicable and unspeakable manner, according to the words of the prophet cited above: Who shall declare His generation? (Isa. 53:8) Since that His subsistence no nature which is begotten can investigate, even as the Father can be investigated by none; because that the nature of rational beings cannot receive the knowledge of His divine generation by the Father. But men who are moved by the Spirit of truth, have no need to learn these things from me, for in our ears are sounding the words before uttered by Christ on this very thing, No man knows the Father, save the Son; and no man knows who the Son is, save the Father. (Mat. 11:27) That He is equally with the Father unchangeable and immutable, wanting in nothing, and the perfect Son, and like to the Father, we have learned; in this alone is He inferior to the Father, that He is not unbegotten. For He is the very exact image of the Father, and in nothing differing from Him. For it is clear that He is the image fully containing all things by which the greatest similitude is declared, as the Lord Himself has taught us, when He says, My Father is greater than I. (Jn. 14:28)

Therefore to the unbegotten Father, indeed, we ought to preserve His proper dignity, in confessing that no one is the cause of His being; but to the Son must be allotted His fitting honour, in assigning to Him, as we have said, a generation from the Father without beginning, and allotting adoration to Him, so as only piously and properly to use the words, He was, and always, and before all worlds, with respect to Him; by no means rejecting His Godhead, but ascribing to Him a similitude which exactly answers in every respect to the Image and Exemplar of the Father. But we must say that to the Father alone belongs the property of being unbegotten, for the Saviour Himself said, My Father is greater than I. (Epistles on Arianism and the Deposition of Arius: Epistle 1.12)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

And hence it is that the Son too says not, ‘My Father is better than I Jn. 14:28,’ lest we should conceive Him to be foreign to His Nature, but ‘greater,’ not indeed in greatness, nor in time, but because of His generation from the Father Himself , nay, in saying ‘greater’ He again shows that He is proper to His essence. (Orations Against the Arians Bk. 1.58)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

As your third point you count the Word Greater; and as your fourth, To My God and your God. And indeed, if He had been called greater, and the word equal had not occurred, this might perhaps have been a point in their favour. But if we find both words clearly used what will these gentlemen have to say? How will it strengthen their argument? How will they reconcile the irreconcilable? For that the same thing should be at once greater than and equal to the same thing is an impossibility; and the evident solution is that the Greater refers to origination, while the Equal belongs to the Nature; and this we acknowledge with much good will. But perhaps some one else will back up our attack on your argument, and assert, that That which is from such a Cause is not inferior to that which has no Cause; for it would share the glory of the Unoriginate, because it is from the Unoriginate. And there is, besides, the Generation, which is to all men a matter so marvellous and of such Majesty. For to say that he is greater than the Son considered as man, is true indeed, but is no great thing. For what marvel is it if God is greater than man? Surely that is enough to say in answer to their talk about Greater. (Oration 30.7)

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

Since the Son’s origin is from the Father, in this respect the Father is greater, as cause and origin. Wherefore also the Lord said thus, “My Father is greater than I,” clearly inasmuch as He is Father. Yea, what else does the word Father signify unless the being cause and origin of that which is begotten of Him? (Basil Against Eunomius)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

If any one say that the Father is greater, inasmuch as He is the cause of the Son, we will not contradict this. But this does not by any means make the Son to be of a different Essence. (Homily 75 On John)

St. Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

Although even God, who has no local bounds to His presence, may depart from the hearts of those who turn away from Him, not with their feet, but their moral character; just as He comes to such as turn to Him, not with their faces, but in faith, and approach Him in the spirit, and not in the flesh. But that they might understand that it was only in respect of His human nature that He said, I go and come to you, He went on to say, If you loved me, you would surely rejoice, because I go unto the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And so, then, in that very respect wherein the Son is not equal to the Father, in that was He to go to the Father, just as from Him is He hereafter to come to judge the quick and the dead: while in so far as the Only-begotten is equal to Him that begot, He never withdraws from the Father; but with Him is everywhere perfectly equal in that Godhead which knows of no local limitations. For being as He was in the form of God, as the apostle says, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God. For how could that nature be robbery, which was His, not by usurpation, but by birth? But He emptied Himself, taking upon Him the form of a servant; Phil. 2:6-7 and so, not losing the former, but assuming the latter, and emptying Himself in that very respect wherein He stood forth before us here in a humbler state than that wherein He still remained with the Father. For there was the accession of a servant-form, with no recession of the divine: in the assumption of the one there was no consumption of the other. In reference to the one He says, The Father is greater than I; but because of the other, I and my Father are one.” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 78.1) 

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

And He says that He is greater, not because He sat down on the right hand as God, but as He was still with us, that is, in human shape. For as He still wore the guise of a servant, and the time had not yet come that He should be reinstated, He calls God the Father greater. Moreover, when He endured the precious cross for us, the Jews brought Him vinegar and gall when He was athirst, and when He drank, He said, It is finished. For already the time of His humiliation was fulfilled, and He was crucified as man. He had overcome the power of death, not as man but rather as God, I say by the working of His power and the glory and might of His conquest, not according to the flesh. The Father then is greater since the Son was still a servant and in the world, as He says that He is God of Himself, and adds this attribute to His human form. For if we believe that He degraded and humbled Himself, will it not be obvious to all that He descended from superiority to an inferiority, and rather from equality with the Father to the reverse. The Father underwent nothing of this, and He abode where He was at the beginning. He is greater therefore than He that chose inferiority by His own dispensation, and remained in such a state until He was restored to His ancient condition, I mean His own and natural glory in which He was at the beginning. We may rightly judge that His equality with the Father, which while He might have had it uninterruptedly He did not consider robbery to take for our sake, is His own and natural position. (Commentary on the Gospel of John Bk. 10, Chap. 1)

St. Justinian the Emperor ca. 483-565

But inasmuch as The Lord also said in another Gospel passage, “My Father is greater than me,” (Jn. 14:28) do you think that some man said this of himself, and that it was not the Divine Logos become man who said these things? Is it not clear that He Who said, “My Father is greater than Me,” also said, “I and the Father are one”? (Jn. 10:30) Now in saying, “I and the Father are one,” He reveals the equality He has with the Father according to His divine nature; and in saying, “My Father is greater than Me,” He means that He has become inferior for our sakes according to the Economy. Both the equality and inferiority refer to one and the same [prosopon], our Lord and God Jesus Christ, the Divine Logos Incarnate. (A Letter on the Three Chapters)

 

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