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.