Reading: Novatian on The Trinity

Novatian was a leader in the church at Rome whose teachings were greatly respected. Here we have a section of the Book by Novatian on the Trinity. This is a chapter specifically devoted to the appearance of the angel of God to Jacob. See

Chapter 19. Argument.—That God Also Appeared to Jacob as an Angel; Namely, the Son of God.

What if in another place also we read in like manner that God was described as an angel? For when, to his wives Leah and Rachel, Jacob complained of the injustice of their father, and when he told them that he desired now to go and return into his own land, he moreover interposed the authority of his dream; and at this time he says that the angel of God had said to him in a dream, “Jacob, Jacob. And I said,” says he, “What is it? Lift up thine eyes, said He, and see, the he-goats and the rams leaping upon the sheep, and the she-goats are black and white, and many-colored, and grizzled, and speckled: for I have seen all that Laban hath done to thee. I am God, who appeared to thee in the place of God, where you anointed for me there the standing stone, and there vowed a vow unto me: now therefore arise, and go forth from this land, and go unto the land of your nativity, and I will be with you.” If the Angel of God speaks thus to Jacob, and the Angel himself mentions and says, “I am God, who appeared to you in the house of God,” we see without any hesitation that this is declared to be not only an angel, but God also; because He speaks of the vow directed to Himself by Jacob in the place of God, and He does not say, in my place. It is then the place of God, and He also is God.  Moreover, it is written simply in the place of God, for it is not said in the place of the angel and God, but only of God; and He who promises those things is manifested to be both God and Angel, so that reasonably there must be a distinction between Him who is called God only, and Him who is declared to be not God simply, but Angel also. Whence if so great an authority cannot here be regarded as belonging to any other angel, that He should also avow Himself to be God, and should bear witness that a vow was made to Him, except to Christ alone, to whom not as angel only, but as to God, a vow can be vowed; it is manifest that it is not to be received as the Father, but as the Son, God and Angel.  Moreover, if this is Christ, as it is, he is in terrible risk who says that Christ is either man or angel alone, withholding from Him the power of the divine name,—an authority which He has constantly received on the faith of the heavenly Scriptures, which continually say that He is both Angel and God. To all these things, moreover, is added this, that in like manner as the divine Scripture has frequently declared Him both Angel and God, so the same divine Scripture declares Him also both man and God, expressing thereby what He should be, and depicting even then in figure what He was to be in the truth of His substance. “For,” it says, “Jacob remained alone; and there wrestled with him a man even till daybreak. And He saw that He did not prevail against him; and He touched the broad part of Jacob’s thigh while He was wrestling with him and he with Him, and said to him, Let me go, for the morning has dawned. And he said, I will not let you go, except you bless me. And He said, What is your name? And he said, Jacob. And He said to him, your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name; because you have prevailed with God, and you are powerful with men.” And it adds, moreover: “And Jacob called the name of that place the Vision of God: for I have seen the Lord face to face, and my soul has been made safe. And the sun arose upon him.  Afterwards he crossed over the Vision of God, but he halted upon his thigh.” A man, it says, wrestled with Jacob. If this was a mere man, who is he? Whence is he? Wherefore does he contend and wrestle with Jacob? What had intervened? What had happened?  What was the cause of so great a dispute as that, and so great a struggle? Why, moreover, is Jacob, who is found to be strong enough to hold the man with whom he is wrestling, and asks for a blessing from Him whom he is holding, asserted to have asked therefore, except because this struggle was prefigured as that which should be between Christ and the sons of Jacob, which is said to be completed in the Gospel? For against this man Jacob’s people struggled, in which struggle Jacob’s people was found to be the more powerful, because against Christ it gained the victory of its iniquity: at which time, on account of the crime that it committed, hesitating and giving way, it began most sorely to halt in the walk of its own faith and salvation; and although it was found the stronger, in respect of the condemnation of Christ, it still needs His mercy, still needs His blessing. But, moreover, the man who wrestled with Jacob says, “Moreover, thy name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name;” and if Israel is the man who sees God, the Lord was beautifully showing that it was not only a man who was then wrestling with Jacob, but God also. Certainly Jacob saw God, with whom he wrestled, although he was holding the man in his own struggle. And in order that there might still be no hesitation, He Himself laid down the interpretation by saying, “Because thou hast prevailed with God, and art powerful with men.” For which reason the same Jacob, perceiving already the force of the Mystery, and apprehending the authority of Him with whom he had wrestled, called the name of that place in which he had wrestled, the Vision of God. He, moreover, superadded the reason for his interpretation being offered of the Vision of God:  “For I have seen,” said he, “God face to face, and my soul has been saved.” Moreover, he saw God, with whom he wrestled as with a man; but still indeed he held the man as a conqueror, though as an inferior he asked a blessing as from God.  Thus he wrestled with God and with man; and thus truly was that struggle prefigured, and in the Gospel was fulfilled, between Christ and the people of Jacob, wherein, although the people had the mastery, yet it proved to be inferior by being shown to be guilty. Who will hesitate to acknowledge that Christ, in whom this type of a wrestling was fulfilled, was not man only, but God also, since even that very type of a wrestling seems to have proved Him man and God? And yet, even after this, the same divine Scripture justly does not cease to call the Angel God, and to pronounce God the Angel. For when this very Jacob was about to bless Manasseh and Ephraim, the sons of Joseph, with his hands placed across on the heads of the lads, he said, “The God which fed me from my youth even unto this day, the Angel who delivered me from all evils, bless these lads.” Even to such a point does he affirm the same Being to be an Angel, whom he had called God, as in the end of his discourse, to express the person of whom he was speaking as one, when he said “bless these lads.” For if he had meant the one to be understood as God, and the other as an angel, he would have comprised the two persons in the plural number; but now he defined the singular number of one person in the blessing, whence he meant it to be understood that the same person is God and Angel. But yet He cannot be received as God the Father; but as God and Angel, as Christ He can be received. And Him, as the author of this blessing, Jacob also signified by placing his hands crossed upon the lads, as if their father was Christ, and showing, from thus placing his hands, the figure and future form of the passion. Let no one, therefore, who does not shrink from speaking of Christ as an Angel, thus shrink from pronouncing Him God also, when he perceives that He Himself was invoked in the blessing of these lads, by the sacrament of the passion, intimated in the type of the crossed hands, as both God and Angel.

Last modified: Thursday, August 9, 2018, 1:11 PM