Friday, July 5, 2013

James Arminius on the Aseity of the Son

I recently was reading a book that accused James Arminius of a Trinitarian heresy:  denying Christ’s aseity (self existence).  This relates to the “auto-theos” controversy in which Arminius denied a specific sense in which Christ is God “from Himself”.  (Works of James Arminius.  Apology Article 21)  That is to say, Arminius defended the doctrine in the Nicene creed: ”And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds , Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father”. In short, Arminius defended the Father’s eternal generation of the Son.  In this post, I will briefly provide the biblical basis for eternal generation and then defend it from a specific charge: that affirming the eternal generation of the Son implicitly denies the aseity of the Son.

1 John 5:18 says “ We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

The “he who was born of God” is Christ.  The Son truly is a Son in relation to the Father, in that in some sense the Son is born of the Father.  This is not to say the Father/Son relationship is in every respect like a human Father/Son relationship since they are Divine and perfect and we are not.   So the Son was eternally generated – there was never a time when He was not. 

Likewise, John 6:57 says “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.

Since the Father eternally generated the Son, the Son lives because of the Father. 

We also have passages saying the Father is the Son’s God: John 20:17, Revelation 3:12, Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 1:17, Colossians 1:3.  This is a non-reciprocal relationship.  The bible never says the Father was born of or lives because of the Son or the Son is the Father’s God.

Arminius strongly establish this is how the Early Church Father explained the scriptures by quoting Basil The Great, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Augustine, and  Hilary in his letter to Hippolytus (Works of James Arminius.  Volume 2.  Letter to Hyppolytus).

Now none of this detracts from the ideas that Christ is God and one with the Father (Matthew 1:23, John 1:1, John 5:17-18, John 10:30-33, John 14:9-11, John 20:28, Philippians 2:5-7, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:8-9).  And this is because the Son eternally receives the Father’s divine essence.  This is what the Nicene creed means by “being of one substance with the Father”.

More to our purpose, the Son’s divine nature has aseity, as He claims explicitly:

John 8:58 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

This is so because the Son’s divine nature is not derived from anything outside itself.  This was Arminius assertion of the Son’s aseity as well, when he said: "Because the essence of the Father and of the Son is one, and because it has its origin from no one, therefore, in this respect, the Son is correctly denominated Autoqeon that is, God from himself."  (Works of James Arminius.  Volume 2.  Letter to Hyppolytus).  Mysterious as it may be; God is one in nature and three in persons.  Indeed, were we to deny this and affirm three divine natures each with their own aseity, we have arrived at tri-theism. 

In the end, I fear Arminius was collateral damage in the battle for feminism.  Some deny eternal generation, because they believe submission in roles implies inferiority in nature.  The Son had to be able to choose not to submit to the Father, so wives can choose not to submit to their husbands.  But the argument is completely unsound - eternal generation is the very basis of the Son’s aseity rather than being contrary to it.  


SLW said...

I submit that "eternally generated" is inheritently contradictory. There must be a better term that explains the concept.

Godismyjudge said...


Why? Because generated (born) has to be within time? Then what do you do with passages like 1 John 5:18 or Psalms 2 that say the Son was begotten or born of God? Only an Arian would say there was a time when He was not.

Consider these comments from Gregory:

When 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

To put in more contemporary lingo: eternal generation isn't a contradiction because "eternal" is a temporal term and generation speaks of a logical rather than a temporal order.

God be with you,

SLW said...

Generated speaks to a distinct beginning. There is no way in my mind to circumvent that reality even when blunting its meaning by reference to eternity. If something has a beginning it is not eternally self-existent.

I suggest that the Son of God is more emanated than he is generated (Hebrews 1:3). He is the very nature of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) rather than an ancillary being infused with divine nature. Of course, the Son of Man did have a very distinct beginning, which makes the subject all the more difficult to untangle.

Godismyjudge said...


I hear you but since "gennaō" is the biblical term, so we can't just dump "generate".

God be with you,

SLW said...

Well, maybe we can.

Jesus, in describing his own sense of relatedness to the Father, says he came out from him (e.g John 8:42; 13:3). It leads me to to question in what way gennao is meant to be used in regard to Christ. It seems to me the divine Son is an emanation from the Father and was generated in Mary in the flesh. "Begotten", I think, does not contradict the concept of emanation, but "generation" makes me cringe just a little. I know its just semantics, but it connotes creation to me. I can see eternal emanation, but I stumble at eternal generation.

I understand the reluctance to attribute aseity individually to the members of Trinity, but I think the Nicene formulation pressed too far would be just as much an affront to Deuteronomy 6:4 as individual aseity would be.

Godismyjudge said...

1 John 5:18 and Psalm 2 say Christ was born of the Father (not just Mary).

The English word "generate" seems to come from the Greek gennaō.

God be with you,

SLW said...

Psalm 2 is prophetic, speaking of an eschatological reality that has not happened even yet. We could conclude from this passage that Jesus will not be decreed as the begotten Son of God until that prophesied day occurs. I don't see it anachronistically referring to a day lost in the eternal past in which Jesus was decreed the Son. How does such a declaration truly answer anything about his genesis?

I John 5:18 is debatable in reference to Christ. It could just as well not refer to Christ at all as begotten. As I see it, it is a reiteration of 1 John 3:9.