Monday, February 8, 2010

My View on Eternal Generation

Steve Hays responded to my posts on the Trinity. (link) My response is long, so I will break it into four parts, Steve’s view and my view on Consubstantiality and Steve’s view and my view on Eternal Generation.

ii) As Gerald Bray points out (The Doctrine of God, 168-69), Nicene subordination goes back to the Plotinian model of divine emanation:


Nicene subordination adapts that paradigm the Trinity:


If Dan regards Plotinian Neoplatonism as the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy, that’s his business. I’d rather keep my theology squared with something called the Bible.

Well some folks disagree with that assessment and point to Monotheism in Jewish thought instead.1  And for good reason: the Platonic concept of emanations was altered by the Church Fathers from the idea of a God to creation emintation to the idea of an emination internal to God.2

It’s true that pre-Athanasian fathers from time to time say things I don’t like, although they look to me like overreactions to various heresies like Unitarianism or Gnosticism. In fact, when Tertullian opposed both at the same time, we get some of the clearest statements about the Trinity from the pre-Athanasian fathers.3 Perhaps Tertullian was inconsistent with this view at times, but he used Neo-Platonism language in a different sense than his Neo-Platonian opponent Valentinus.4

There’s a difference between expressing Christian doctrine in terms of a given philosophy and imposing a philosophy on Christian doctrine. By the time we get to Augustine, we have the opposite going on. Augustine goes to great lengths to read Christian doctrine back into pagan Platonic philosophers. With regard to the Trinity, the Church Fathers made a sharp and vital distinction between their views and Neo-Platonic philosophers with regard to the equality of the Father and Son.5

You’re not discussing logical orders. If you say the Father is the source of the Son’s deity, then that’s a causal relationship.

Logical relationships are often discussed in causal and temporal language, simply because we have no other way of expressing them.

One of your problems seems to be your assumption that if you can simply eliminate temporality from a relation, you thereby eliminate causality.

If we strip causality of time, change, motion and action, what’s left sure looks like a logical relationship. What’s left are things like if X, then Y (which is a logical relationship.)

If we want to call what’s left ‘causality’, OK, but it’s a different type of causality than the one we experience and if we call it ‘causal’ is should be qualified.

The Church Fathers did say the relationship was causal, but they also said that due to God’s eternity and removal of all imperfects we suffer under, our language is inadequate to fully explain generation.6

But even if the absence of temporality were inconsistent with causality, that doesn’t mean you’re not working with causal categories. Rather, it just means that you’re inconsistent. You have a half-baked model.

If you take the language as causal in the way we experience causality, I can understand why you might think that.

If you’re going to say, both that Jesus is divine, and also that he received his divinity from the Father, then you make God (=Jesus) a creature. … Moreover, to just repeat your mantra about how the divine essence is numerically one does nothing to salvage the implications of your position regarding the creaturehood of the Son (and Spirit) in relation to the Father.

To be God and to be a creature are mutually exclusive conditions. So it does not and cannot follow that if Christ receives His divinity from the Father, He is a creature.

It seems as if you are asking me to prove a negative; that generation does not imply creaturehood. Meanwhile, you reject my explanation of generation and time. I think rather the burden is on you to demonstrate that, given my view of generation and time, generation implies creaturehood.

You haven’t shown, either exegetically or philosophically, that generation and procession are necessary…

Actions are in time and the first action initiates time. The relations of the persons in the Trinity are part of who they are, not what they do, hence the relations are atemporal, eternal, and necessary. If generation was a choice, it would be an action and therefore inceptive of time.

Both God’s nature and His actions must be understood in a logical order, rather than a temporal order. God’s decree is His first act and its effect is creation and the inception of time. His decree is one and simple in and of itself, but understood by us in a logical order based on its effects in time.

To say that Father’s nature necessitates generation and procession makes him the effect of a generic nature which subsists over and above the property instance of the Father. So you now have a quaternity rather than a Trinity:


According to you, the Father takes his marching orders from a prior nature.

It’s easier to see the distinction between the persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit than to see the distinction between each person and the divine nature. The difference is real, but we don’t and can’t fully explain it; about all we can do is ascribe a logical order to it. Each person doesn’t have a separate nature; they all share one simple divine nature that defines the relationships between the persons. Thus the nature is broader than the persons and the logical foundation for the persons. But the divine nature is not a person, but rather each person has the whole divine nature. Hence there are not four persons, but three.

Me: “I didn't parce the Trinity into three different parts; the Son and Spirit possess the whole essence.”

Thee quoting me: You said: “In natural generation, while the whole nature isn't transferred, a part is. And that part is numerically one with the generator. So the metaphor of passing nature or essence does preserve the unity of the Trinity.”

Thee: If you now say the Son and Spirit possess the whole essence, then you have to go back and change your supporting argument.

In my statement (in the fuller context) I was specifically distinguishing between natural generation and eternal generation to isolate the point of comparison, which is the passing of nature from one to another. I believe the point stands.

If you say the Son and Spirit receive their divinity from the Father, then that’s a modalistic paradigm of the Trinity. You reduce the Son and Spirit to modes of the Father’s subsistence.

They are modes of subsistence of the Divine Nature, not the Father.

Me: “Also we have passages saying the Father is the Son’s God: John 20:17; Revelation 3:12; Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 1:3.”

Thee: i) Now you’re reasoning like a Jehovah’s Witness.

I am reasoning like the Church Fathers who based eternal generation on these texts. Just because Arians, then and now, abuse these texts does not mean we can pay these passages no mind.7

I have asked you three times to comment on the passages, but to date you haven’t done so. I noticed Bauckham didn’t either on his commentary on John. But again, I see no reason why we should not use the fact that the Father is Christ’s God to shape our understanding of ‘generation’.

The question at issue is what the sonship of Christ signifies in NT usage. That varies. But where it functions as a divine title, it has about three basic connotations: intrinsic divinity, heavenly preexistence, and commonality (i.e. like father/like son).

While I agree with those three connotations, I certainly would not limit sonship to them. In fact, those three connotations seem isolated to what sonship tells us about Christ simpliciter, rather than the Father/Son relationship.

Father/Son relationships have many aspects, but one of them is authority. If the Father/Son relationship doesn’t imply authority, why not just call them heavenly brothers? Even if you confine the authority of the Father over the Son to economic matters, you still have an authority relationship of Father over Son. The Fathers declaration that “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” is one of the many texts on the Sonship of Christ that implies the Father’s authority over Him.


1"If we wish to find a source for Trinitarian subordinationism, we do not need to invoke Hellenic influence: nearer to home is the inheritance from Jewish monotheism, as applied in such sayings of our Lord in the Gospels as "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone" (Mk 10:18), or, "My father is Greater than I" (Jn 14:28), or in the Angel Christology of Judaeo-Christianity." ("Hellenization" and Logos Doctrine in Justin Martyr. R. M. Price. Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Mar., 1988), pp. 18-23. Published by: BRILL.)

2"At first, this seems similar to the neo-Platonic descriptions of "emanations" that flow forth from God, forming a great chain of Being in which all beings participate to a greater or lesser degree (depending on their distance from God). But that picture is decisively altered in the Christian tradition, in that the divine emanations do not fow forth and animate the created order; rather they are described as wholly internal to God." (Cunningham. These Three Are One. 1998. p.59)

3"As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God" (Turtullian. Against Praxeas. Chapter 2)

4"Was the Word of God put forth or not? Here take your stand with me, and flinch not. If He was put forth, then acknowledge that the true doctrine has a prolation; and never mind heresy, when in any point it mimics the truth. The question now is, in what sense each side uses a given thing and the word which expresses it. Valentinus divides and separates his prolations from their Author, and places them at so great a distance from Him, that the Æon does not know the Father: he longs, indeed, to know Him, but cannot; nay, he is almost swallowed up and dissolved into the rest of matter. With us, however, the Son alone knows the Father, Matthew 11:27 and has Himself unfolded the Father's bosom." (Turtullian. Against Praxeas. Chapter 8)

5We are familiar with the remarkably close parallelism with Plotinus in some points of his contemporary Origen's doctrine of the Word and with the determination with which St. Augustine reads orthodox Trinitarian doctrine into the Neo-Platonic philosophers. We know too how clearly St. Athanasius and St. Gregory of Nyssa see that one of the most fundamental differences between pagan Greek and Christian thought lies in the orthodox Christian rejection of the principle underlying Plotinus's third axiom, that there can be degrees of divinity, that it is possible to be more or less God. As the result of this rejection Nicene and post-Nicene Trinitarian thought proceeds on precisely the opposite assumption to that of Plotinus, namely that in the Divine and eternal spiritual generation the Product is equal, not inferior to the Producer. (The Plotinian Doctrine of ΝΟΥΣ in Patristic Theology. A. H. Armstrong. Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Oct., 1954), pp. 234-238. Published by: BRILL)

6When did these come into being? They are above all “When.” But, if I am to speak with something more of boldness,—when the Father did. And when did the Father come into being. There never was a time when He was not. And the same thing is true of the Son and the Holy Ghost. Ask me again, and again I will answer you, When was the Son begotten? When the Father was not begotten. And when did the Holy Ghost proceed? When the Son was, not proceeding but, begotten—beyond the sphere of time, and above the grasp of reason; although we cannot set forth that which is above time, if we avoid as we desire any expression which conveys the idea of time. For such expressions as “when” and “before” and “after” and “from the beginning” are not timeless, however much we may force them; unless indeed we were to take the Æon, that interval which is coextensive with the eternal things, and is not divided or measured by any motion, or by the revolution of the sun, as time is measured.

How then are They not alike unoriginate, if They are coeternal? Because They are from Him, though not after Him. For that which is unoriginate is eternal, but that which is eternal is not necessarily unoriginate, so long as it may be referred to the Father as its origin. Therefore in respect of Cause They are not unoriginate; but it is evident that the Cause is not necessarily prior to its effects, for the sun is not prior to its light. And yet They are in some sense unoriginate, in respect of time, even though you would scare simple minds with your quibbles, for the Sources of Time are not subject to time. - Gregory Nazianzen

Also see Ambrose. Exposition on the Christian Faith, Book 1. Chapters 10-13

7Such statements [are meant] as the following: “For the Father is greater than I;” John xiv. 28 and, “The head of the woman is the man, the Head of the man is Christ, and the Head of Christ is God;”1 Cor. xi. 3 and, “Then shall He Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him;”1 Cor. xv. 28 and, “I go to my Father and your Father, my God and your God,”John xx. 17 together with some others of like tenor. Now all these have had a place given them, [certainly] not with the object of signifying an inequality of nature and substance; for to take them so would be to falsify a different class of statements, such as, “I and my Father are one” (unum);John x. 30 and, “He that hath seen me hath seen my Father also;”John xiv. 9 and, “The Word was God,”John i. 1 for He was not made, inasmuch as “all things were made by Him;”John i. 3 and, “He thought it not robbery to be equal with God:”Phil. ii. 9. [See R.V.] together with all the other passages of a similar order. But these statements have had a place given them, partly with a view to that administration of His assumption of human nature (administrationem suscepti hominis), in accordance with which it is said that “He emptied Himself:” not that that Wisdom was changed, since it is absolutely unchangeable; but that it was His will to make Himself known in such humble fashion to men. Partly then, I repeat, it is with a view to this administration that those things have been thus written which the heretics make the ground of their false allegations; and partly it was with a view to the consideration that the Son owes to the Father that which He is, Or it may be = that the Son owes it to the Father that He is.—thereby also certainly owing this in particular to the Father, to wit, that He is equal to the same Father, or that He is His Peer (eidem Patri æqualis aut par est), whereas the Father owes whatsoever He is to no one. (Augustine)

Nor again, in confessing three realities and three Persons, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, do we therefore make Gods three; since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only Cf. §28, end., the God and Father (Joh. xx. 17) of the Only-begotten, who alone hath being from Himself, and alone vouchsafes this to all others bountifully.  (Athanasius)

But the Father having begotten the Son, remained the Father and is not changed. He begat Wisdom, yet lost not wisdom Himself; and begat Power, yet became not weak: He begat God, but lost not His own Godhead: and neither did He lose anything Himself by diminution or change; nor has He who was begotten any thing wanting. Perfect is He who begat, Perfect that which was begotten: God was He who begat, God He who was begotten; God of all Himself, yet entitling the Father His own God. For He is not ashamed to say, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God  John xx. 17..

But lest thou shouldest think that He is in a like sense Father of the Son and of the creatures, Christ drew a distinction in what follows. For He said not, “I ascend to our Father,” lest the creatures should be made fellows of the Only-begotten; but He said, My Father and your Father; in one way Mine, by nature; in another yours, by adoption. And again, to my God and your God, in one way Mine, as His true and Only-begotten Son, and in another way yours, as His workmanship (Gregory Nazianzen)

The Father, having begotten the Son remiainded the Father and is not changed. He begat Wisdom yet did not lose wisdom himself. He begat power yet did not become weak. He begat God but did not lose his own Godhead. Neither did he lous anything himself by diminution or change. He who was begotten does not lack anything either. Perfect is he who begat, perfect is that which was begotten: God was he wou begat, God is he whou was begotten; God of all himself, yet giving the Father the title as his own God. For he is not ashamed to say, "I acend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." Cyril of Jeruselam Catechetical Lectures 11.18-19 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Volume IVb. p. 354)

No comments: