St John Damascene on What Can Be Known About God

Now, one who would speak or hear about God should
know beyond any doubt that in what concerns theology
and the Dispensation [the term commonly used for the
Incarnation by the Greek Fathers] not all things are inexpressible and
not all are capable of expression, and neither are all things
unknowable nor are they all knowable. That which can
be known is one thing, whereas that which can be said is
another, just as it is one thing to speak and another to know.
Furthermore, many of those things about God which are not
clearly perceived cannot be fittingly described, so that we
are obliged to express in human terms things which transcend
the human order. Thus, for example, in speaking about God
we attribute to Him sleep, anger, indifference, hands and
feet, and the alike.

Now, we both know and confess that God is without
beginning and without end, everlasting and eternal, uncreated,
unchangeable, inalterable, simple, uncompounded, incorpo-
real, invisible, impalpable, uncircumscribed, unlimited, incom-
prehensible, uncontained, unfathomable, good, just, the maker
of all created things, all-powerful, all-ruling, all-seeing, the
provider, the sovereign, and the judge of all. We furthermore
know and confess that God is one, that is to say, one sub-
stance, and that He is both understood to be and is in three
Persons I mean the Father and the Son and the Holy
Spirit and that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
are one in all things save in the being unbegotten, the being
begotten, and the procession. We also know and confess
that for our salvation the Word of God through the bowels
of His mercy, by the good pleasure of the Father and with
the co-operation of the All-Holy Spirit, was conceived with-
out seed and chastely begotten of the holy Virgin and
Mother of God, Mary, by the Holy Spirit and of her became
perfect man; and that He is perfect God and at the same
time perfect man, being of two natures, the divinity and
the humanity, and in two intellectual natures endowed
with will and operation and liberty or, to put it simply,
perfect in accordance with the definition and principle
befitting each, the divinity, I mean, and the humanity, but
with one compound hypostasis. And we know and confess
that He hungered and thirsted and was weary, and that He
was crucified, and that for three days He suffered death
and the tomb, and that He returned into heaven whence
He had come to us and whence He will come back to us at
a later time. To all this holy Scripture and all the company
of the saints bear witness.

But what the substance of God is, or how it is in all things,
or how the only-begotten Son, who was God, emptied Him-
self out and became man from a virgin’s blood, being formed
by another law that transcended nature, or how He walked
dry-shod upon the waters, we neither understand nor can
say. And so it is impossible either to say or fully to under-
stand anything about God beyond what has been divinely
proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred
declarations of the Old and New Testaments.

St. John Damascene, Chapter 2 of  An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith


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