4.Whose minds the god of this world He intimates, that no account should be made of their perverse obstinacy. “They do not see,” says he, “the sun at mid-day, because the devil has blinded their understandings.” No one that judges rightly can have any doubt, that it is of Satan that the Apostle speaks. Hilary, as he had to do with Arians, who abused this passage, so as to make it a pretext for denying Christ’s true divinity, while they at the same time confessed him to be God, twists the text in this way — “God hath blinded the understandings of this world.” In this he was afterwards followed by Chrysostom, with the view of not conceding to the Manicheans their two first principles. (437) What influenced Ambrose does not appear. Augustine had the same reason as Chrysostom, having to contend with the Manicheans.
We see what the heat of controversy does in carrying on disputes. Had all those men calmly read Paul’s words, it would never have occurred to any one of them to twist them in this way into a forced meaning; but as they were harassed by their opponents, they were more concerned to refute them, than to investigate Paul’s meaning. But what occasion was there for this? For the subterfuge of the Arians was childish — that if the devil is called the god of this world, the name of God, as applied to Christ, does not express a true, eternal, and exclusive divinity. For Paul says elsewhere, many are called gods, (1 Corinthians 8:5;) but David, on the other hand, sings forth — the gods of the nations are demons. (438) (Psalms 96:5.) When, therefore, the devil is called the god of the wicked, on the ground of his having dominion over them, and being worshipped by them in the place of God, what tendency has this to detract from the honor of Christ? And as to the Manicheans, this appellation gives no more countenance to the Manicheans, than when he is called the prince of this world. (John 14:30.) (439)
There is, therefore, no reason for being afraid to interpret this passage as referring to the devil, there being no danger in doing so. For should the Arians come forward and contend, (440) that Christ’s divine essence is no more proved from his having the appellation God applied to him, than Satan’s is proved from its being applied to him, a cavil of this nature is easily refuted; for Christ is called God without any addition, (441) nay, he is called God blessed for ever. (Romans 9:5.) He is said to be that God who was
in the beginning, before the creation of the world.
The devil, on the other hand, is called thegod of this world, in no other way than as Baal is called the god of those that worship him, or as the dog is called the god of Egypt. (442) The Manicheans, as I have said, for maintaining their delusion, have recourse to other declarations of Scripture, as well as this, but there is no difficulty in refuting those also. They contend not so much respecting the term, as respecting the power. As the power of blinding is ascribed to Satan, and dominion over unbelievers, they conclude from this that he is, from his own resources, the author of all evil, so as not to be subject to God’s control — as if Scripture did not in various instances declare, that devils, no less than the angels of heaven, are servants of God, each of them severally in his own manner. For, as the latter dispense to us God’s benefits for our salvation, so the former execute his wrath. Hence good angels are called powers and principalities, (Ephesians 3:10,) but it is simply because they exercise the power given them by God. For the same reason Satan is the prince of this world, not as if he conferred dominion upon himself, or obtained it by his own right, or, in fine, exercised it at his own pleasure. On the contrary, he has only so much as the Lord allows him. Hence Scripture does not merely make mention of the good spirit of God, and good angels, but he also speaks of evil spirits of God. An evil spirit from God came upon Saul. (1 Samuel 16:14.) Again, chastisements through means of evil angels. (Psalms 78:49.)
With respect to the passage before us, the blinding is a work common to God and to Satan, for it is in many instances ascribed to God; but the power is not alike, nor is the manner the same. I shall not speak at present as to the manner. Scripture, however, teaches that Satan blinds men, (443) not merely with God’s permission, but even by his command, that he may execute his vengeance. Thus Ahab was deceived by Satan, (1 Kings 22:21,) but could Satan have done this of himself? By no means; but having offered to God his services for inflicting injury, he was sent to be a
lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.
(1 Kings 22:22.)
Nay more, the reason why God is said to blind men is, that after having deprived us of the right exercise of the understanding, and the light of his Spirit, he delivers us over to the devil, to be hurried forward by him to a reprobate mind, (Romans 1:28,) gives him the power of deception, and by this means inflicts just vengeance upon us by the minister of his wrath. Paul’s meaning, therefore, is, that all are possessed by the devil, who do not acknowledge his doctrine to be the sure truth of God. For it is more severe to call them slaves of the devil, (444) than to ascribe their blindness to the judgment of God. As, however, he had a little before adjudged such persons to destruction, (2 Corinthians 4:3,) he now adds that they perish, for no other reason than that they have drawn down ruin upon themselves, as the effect of their own unbelief.
Lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine upon them. This serves to confirm what he had said — that if any one rejected his gospel, it was his own blindness that prevented him from receiving it. “For nothing,” says he, “appears in it but Christ, and that not obscurely, but so as to shine forth clearly.” He adds, that Christ is the image of God, by which he intimates that they were utterly devoid of the knowledge of God, in accordance with that statement —
He that knoweth not me knoweth not my Father.
This then is the reason, why he pronounced so severe a sentence upon those that had doubts as to his Apostleship — because they did not behold Christ, who might there be distinctly beheld. It is doubtful whether he employed the expression, the gospel of the glory of Christ, as meaning the glorious gospel, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom; or whether he means by it — the gospel, in which Christ’s glory shone forth. The second of these meanings I rather prefer, as having in it more completeness.
When, however, Christ is called the image of the invisible God, this is not meant merely of his essence, as being the “co-essential of the Father,” as they speak, (445) but rather has a reference to us, because he represents the Father to us. The Father himself is represented as invisible, because he is in himself not apprehended by the human understanding. He exhibits himself, however, to us by his Son, and makes himself in a manner visible. (446) I state this, because the ancients, having been greatly incensed against the Arians, insisted more than was befitting on this point — how it is that the Son is inwardly the image of the Father by a secret unity of essence, while they passed over what is mainly for edification — in what respects he is the image of God to us, when he manifests to us what had otherwise been hid in him. Hence the term image has a reference to us, as we shall see again presently (447) The epithet invisible, though omitted in some Greek manuscripts, I have preferred to retain, as it is not superfluous. (448)