What is Arianism?

Arianism is the belief that Jesus is not God. Instead, it argues that the Son is the first created being made by God through whom he created the world. This heresy is named after Arius who served as a pastor in Alexandria before being condemned at the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a modern form of this belief except that they also believe that Jesus is the archangel Michael. By making Jesus “a god” in their New World Translation of John 1:1, they commit the error of henotheism which is a form of polytheism with one chief God and multiple lesser gods. As Athanasius rightly observed, Arianism is polytheistic because it makes the Son a lesser deity than the Father (Four Discourses Against the Arians 3.25). Arianism also errs by denying that Jesus is God (John 1:1-3; 8:58; 20:28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:3-13), eternal (Isa 9:6; 1 John 1:2), unchangeable (Heb 13:8), omniscient (John 16:30), the object of prayer (1 Cor 1:2), and the object of worship (Rev 5:12-14).

As with every system of belief, to understand Arianism as it was historically understood, we must go back to the original sources and read Arius in his own words to understand his theology. He sets forth his beliefs concerning who Jesus is in his letter to Alexander of Alexandria:

“But, as we say, he was created by the will of God before times and ages, and he received life, being, and glories from the Father as the Father has shared them with him. For the Father, having given to him the inheritance of all, did not deprive himself of those things which he has in himself without generation, for he is the source of all. Thus there are three hypostases. God being the cause of all is without beginning, most alone; but the Son, begotten by the Father, created and founded before the ages, was not before he was begotten. Rather, the Son begotten timelessly before everything, alone was caused to subsist by the Father. For he is not everlasting or co-everlasting or unbegotten with the Father. Nor does he have being with the Father, as certain individuals mention things relatively and bring into the discussion two unbegotten causes. But God is thus before all as a monad and cause. Therefore, he is also before the Son, as we have learned from you when you preached throughout the midst of the church. Therefore, insofar as he has from God being, glories, and life, and all things have been handed over to him, thus God is his cause. For he, as his God and being before him, rules him. But if “from him” [Rom 11.36] and “from the womb” (Ps 110.3) and “I can from the Father and I come” [John 16.28] are thought by some to signify that he is a part of him and an emanation, the Father will be according to them compounded, divided, mutable and a body, and, as far as they are concerned, the incorporeal God suffers things suitable to the body.”

One of the common mistakes people make when discussing Arianism is assuming that Arius believed that the Son’s generation was temporal as opposed to eternal generation which teaches that it is timeless. But Arius believed that the Son’s begetting was without respect to time when he says that the Son was “begotten timelessly before everything.” People make this mistake because the Nicene Creed condemns the belief that “there was a time when he was not.” Hence, it is argued, Arianism must believe that this begetting was in time or else it would not have fallen under the condemnation of this anathema. But the Arians had a way of getting around this condemnation of their beliefs. What they actually believed was that this begetting was timeless so that there was never a time when the Son did not exist, but that there was a time before time existed when the Son did not exist. They also understood this begetting to be a creative act rather than something eternally occuring within the being of God since the Son does not share the Father’s nature. For Arius, it was timeless and creative, but not eternally ongoing.

The last part of his argument that there are some who believe “that he is a part of him and an emanation” is directed at Alexander’s belief in eternal generation. Following Origen, Alexander believed that the Son is eternally generated by the Father and derives his divine nature from him. Arius’ argument against this belief is that it would violate the immutability of God since that which is emanated reflects that which it emanates from. If the Son is an emanation of the Father and suffered on the cross, then the Father must likewise be capable of suffering if the Son shares the Father’s nature. Arius instead proposes that we should conceive of the Son as a created demiurge who mediates between God and the world and does not share the Father’s nature as an emanation would. Arius later composed the Thalia to express his doctrine in poetic form:

“God Himself then, in His own nature, is ineffable by all men. Equal or like Himself He alone has none, or one in glory. And Ingenerate we call Him, because of Him who is generate by nature. We praise Him as without beginning because of Him who has a beginning. And adore Him as everlasting, because of Him who in time has come to be. The Unbegun made the Son a beginning of things originated; and advanced Him as a Son to Himself by adoption. He has nothing proper to God in proper subsistence. For He is not equal, no, nor one in essence with Him. Wise is God, for He is the teacher of Wisdom. There is full proof that God is invisible to all beings; both to things which are through the Son, and to the Son He is invisible. I will say it expressly, how by the Son is seen the Invisible; by that power by which God sees, and in His own measure, the Son endures to see the Father, as is lawful. Thus there is a Triad, not in equal glories. Not intermingling with each other are their subsistences. One more glorious than the other in their glories unto immensity. Foreign from the Son in essence is the Father, for He is without beginning. Understand that the Monad was; but the Dyad was not, before it was in existence. It follows at once that, though the Son was not, the Father was God. Hence the Son, not being (for He existed at the will of the Father), is God Only-begotten, and He is alien from either. Wisdom existed as Wisdom by the will of the Wise God. Hence He is conceived in numberless conceptions: Spirit, Power, Wisdom, God’s glory, Truth, Image, and Word. Understand that He is conceived to be Radiance and Light. One equal to the Son, the Superior is able to beget; but one more excellent, or superior, or greater, He is not able. At God’s will the Son is what and whatsoever He is. And when and since He was, from that time He has subsisted from God. He, being a strong God, praises in His degree the Superior. To speak in brief, God is ineffable to His Son. For He is to Himself what He is, that is, unspeakable. So that nothing which is called comprehensible does the Son know to speak about; for it is impossible for Him to investigate the Father, who is by Himself. For the Son does not know His own essence. For, being Son, He really existed, at the will of the Father. What argument then allows, that He who is from the Father should know His own parent by comprehension? For it is plain that for that which hath a beginning to conceive how the Unbegun is, or to grasp the idea, is not possible.”

Arius found an early supporter in Eusebius of Caesarea who also wrote to Alexander of Alexandria defending his doctrine:

“Your letters have misrepresented them as though they were saying that since the Son came into being from nothing, he must therefore be just like the rest of creation. But they have brought forth their own document, which they have written for you, in which they explain their faith, confessing it with these very words: ‘The God of the Law and of the Prophets and of the New Testament begat an only begotten son before time began, through whom he also made the ages and all things, begetting him not in appearance but in reality, causing him to exist by his own will. He is unchanging and unchangeable, God’s perfect creation, but not a creation in the same way like one of God’s other creations.’ And so surely indeed their writings speak the truth, since these opinions are certainly held by you also when they confess that the son of God existed before time began, that God also made the ages through him, that he is unchanging, God’s perfect creation, but not like God’s other creations. But your letter surely misrepresents them as saying that the son is the same as the other created things. They are not saying this! But they clearly draw a distinction, saying that he is, ‘not like one of the created things.’ Take care, then, lest immediately again a pretext be found for arresting them and keeping them from moving about as much as they wish. Again, you accuse them of saying, ‘He-who-was begat he-who-was-not’? I would be astonished if someone were able to speak differently. For if there is only one who exists [eternally], it is clear that everything which exists has come into being from him, whatever indeed exists after him. If it were not he alone who exists eternally, but the son also exists eternally, how indeed could one who exists beget another who already exists? It would have to follow that there would actually be two who exist eternally.”

Robert A. Morey in his book The Trinity: Evidence and Issues outlines the four key tenets of Arianism:

  1. In the classic Platonic sense, God is the eternal, immutable, and indivisible Monas. He is not the Father from all eternity because there was a time when He did not have a son.
  2. Jesus Christ is called the Duas who was created by the Monas. This is why He is the demiurge-like creator and the mediator between Mind (God) and matter (the world). He was created by the Monas and thus there was a time when he was not.
  3. Since the Monas is indivisible, the Son and the Spirit cannot partake of his nature or attributes. Thus, the Trinity cannot be true by definition.
  4. The Holy Spirit was created by the Duas and is not God. This was later abandoned by most Arians and today they reduce the Spirit to a non-personal force.

One of the main arguments of the Arians is that God alone is unbegotten. Since the Son is begotten, he cannot be God. Only the Father is unbegotten or eternal. If Jesus is eternal and God by nature equal with the Father, then there would be two unbegottens and thus two Gods. In addition, there would be no way to distinguish between the Son and the Father. They would exist as twins or brothers rather than as Father and Son. But the Arians had to accommodate this belief with the biblical passages which teach that Jesus is God. Their solution to this problem was to make the Son a lesser God than the Father so that the divine essence is not divided. Jesus is only God in a qualified sense since his deity is less than the Father’s and it is a derived deity. The solution to the Arian argument about God alone being unbegotten is not to deny that the Son is unbegotten (Ignatius to the Ephesians 7:2), but to affirm that the one who is unbegotten exists as three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The one who is unbegotten is three.

The Arians argued on the basis of the created order that the Son must be subordinate to the Father because human sons are subordinate to their fathers. Just as human fathers exist before their sons, the Father must have existed before the Son. Because God is immortal and cannot die, Jesus could not have been God since he died for our sins. There is no concept of the two natures of Christ in Arianism. Those passages in Scripture which teach that Jesus is truly human are used against his deity because there is an a priori denial that God could become man in the incarnation.

While many cultists argue against the doctrine of the Trinity by claiming that it comes from Greek philosophy rather than the Bible, the Arians and other heretics in the early church were just as influenced by Greek philosophy as the orthodox were. Arguments based on the influence of Greek philosophy are a double-edged sword because of the variegated nature of philosophy and its universal influence. God in Arianism is an indivisible monad and therefore by definition God cannot share his divine nature among more than one person. They argue that if the Son shares the divine nature or attributes of God equally with the Father, then there would be a division in God’s essence. For God to be simple and not made up of parts, they argued that God must be unitarian in person. If God exists as more than one person, then he could not be simple or indivisible.

Arianism reminds us of the danger of allowing fallen human reasoning to distinguish truth from error rather than relying solely on the revelation of God in Scripture. Arguing from the created order back to God makes creation definitional for what is true of God rather than trusting in the words of the creator.


Sunday Meditation – The Humble Soul

“The humble soul will bless God under misery as well as under mercy, when God frowns as when he smiles, when He takes as when He gives, under crosses and losses as under blessings and mercies. The humble believer looks through all secondary causes, and sees the hand of God. He lays his hand upon his heart and sweetly sings ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ The language of the humble soul is: ‘If it is your will that I should be in darkness, I will bless you; and if it is your will that I should be again in light, I will bless you; if you comfort me, I will bless you; and if you afflict, I will bless; if you make me poor, I will bless; if you make me rich, I will bless.’ The humble soul sees the rod in his Father’s hand; but also the honey on the top of every twig. He sees sugar at the bottom of the bitterest cup, and knows that God’s house of correction is a school of instruction. The humble soul knows that the design of God in all things is his instruction, reformation, and salvation.”

Thomas Brooks

What Is Eternal Generation?

The post-apostolic church fathers fall into two camps regarding who Jesus is: Logos Christology and eternal generation. Eternal generation is the belief that the Father eternally generates the person of the Son, and in doing so, eternally communicates the divine nature to him so that the Father is the fons divinitatis or fountain of divinity from whom the Son derives his divine nature making the Father the eternal origin and fontal source of the Son who is his eternal product. Richard Muller defines eternal generation as “the eternal and changeless activity in the Godhead by which the Father produces the Son without division of essence and by which the Second Person of the Trinity is identified as an individual subsistence or modus subsistendi, mode of subsistence, of the divine essence” (Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, 127).

To understand eternal generation as it was historically understood, we must go back to the original sources to the time when it was first articulated. Origen was the first person in the history of the church to teach eternal generation and therefore we must consult his writings to accurately define the doctrine. Origen says concerning this generation:

“We recognize that God was always the Father of his only-begotten Son, who was indeed born of him and draws his being from him, but is yet without any beginning” (On First Principles 1.2.2).

“This is an eternal and everlasting begetting, as brightness is begotten from light; for he does not become Son in an external manner, through the adoption of the Spirit, but is Son by nature” (On First Principles 1.2.4).

“The existence of the Son is derived from the Father but not in time, nor from any other beginning, except, as we have said, from God Himself” (On First Principles 1.2.11).

“For in the exercise of His will He employs no other way than that which is made known by the counsel of His will. And thus also the existence of the Son is generated by Him” (On First Principles 1.2.6).

“Each fills the place of a fountain – the Father is the fountain of divinity, the Son of reason” (Commentary on John 2.3).

But in Origen’s theology, it is not just the Son who is eternally begotten, but everyone who believes in him:

“The Savior is eternally begotten by the Father, so also, if you possess the ‘Spirit of adoption’ (Rom 8:15) God eternally begets you in him according to each of your works, each of your thoughts. And being begotten you thereby become an eternally begotten son of God in Christ Jesus” (Homilies on Jeremiah 9.5).

Origen taught a doctrine of deification where those who are in Christ are lesser gods:

“And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him. . . . It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is ‘The God,’ and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype” (Commentary on John 2.2).

Origen subordinated the Son to the Father and created a hierarchy within the Trinity:

“The God and Father, who holds the universe together, is superior to every being that exists, for he imparts to each one from his own existence that which each one is; the Son, being less than the Father, is superior to rational creatures alone (for he is second to the Father); the Holy Spirit is still less, and dwells within the saints alone. So that in this way the power of the Father is greater than that of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that of the Son is more than that of the Holy Spirit” (On First Principles 1.3.5).

“The Father exceeds the Saviour himself and the Holy Spirit as much (or even more) as the Saviour himself and the Holy Spirit exceed the rest. . . . For he is an image of the goodness and brightness, not of God, but of God’s glory and of his eternal light, and he is a vapour, not of the Father, but of his power” (Commentary on John 13.151-53).

Like Eusebius of Caesarea, Origen believed that the Holy Spirit was a created being:

“We therefore, as the more pious and the truer course, admit that all things were made by the Logos, and that the Holy Spirit is the most excellent and the first in order of all that was made by the Father through Christ” (Commentary on John 2.6).

To support his belief in eternal generation, the main texts he drew from were Proverbs 8:22-36 and Wisdom 7:24-26. The apocryphal text from Wisdom says: “For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.” Since Christ is the wisdom of God, and wisdom is an emanation from God, this created a kind of emanation Christology where Christ is eternally proceeding from God in an always ongoing yet never completed action. Muller even calls generation and procession active emanations in the Trinity (Dictionary, 309-10). The passage calls Wisdom “a reflection of eternal light” which became the basis for the saying that Christ is “light of light.”

Origen had called the Son a “creature” (On First Principles 4.4.1), “another god” (Dialogue with Heraclides 2), a “second god” (Against Celsus 5.39; 5.61), and even said “the Son is other than the Father in being and essence” (On Prayer 10). He believed that prayer in its fullest sense should only be given to the Father (On Prayer 10). The Arians were able to use Origen’s theology to defend their own because of Origen’s subordinationist tendencies even though he believed that there was never a time when the Son did not exist because of eternal generation. But Origen did not just believe that there was never a time when the Son did not exist, he also believed this to be true when it came to the created order. He believed created beings must exist eternally as well or else God could not be eternally sovereign (On First Principles 1.2.10). Therefore, he affirmed a belief in the pre-existence of the soul (Commentary on John 2.24). For Origen, Jesus is a pre-existent human soul who became the Logos because he alone did not fall away from God as the other souls did (On First Principles 2.6.5; Against Celsus 5.39; Commentary on John 2.2). Before the Logos became man in the incarnation, the soul of Jesus had to be united with the Logos.

Origen was deeply influenced by Greek philosophy having been trained by the philosopher Ammonius Saccas (John Dillon, The Middle Platonists, 362-69, 381-82, 396). He had a penchant for allegorical interpretation: literalizing verses that were meant to be understood metaphorically and spiritualizing verses meant to be understood literally. He even castrated himself based on his literalizing of Matthew 5:28-30. Origen, together with Gregory of Nyssa, affirmed a belief in universal salvation where eventually all created beings will be reconciled to God (On First Principles 3.6.6). Origen’s theology is the reason why those who are Eastern Orthodox believe in deification and a large number of them are universalists believing that it is possible that in the end all will be saved. Out of all the early church fathers, Origen is one of the most influential. As Gregory the Theologian once said, “Origen is the whetstone of us all.”

In spite of the unbiblical theology of Origen, Athanasius was able to use Origen’s doctrine of eternal generation as a means to combat the arguments of Arianism. To give one example of this, the Arians argued that since Colossians 1:15 says that Christ is the “firstborn” of all creation, he must have come into existence. But the orthodox responded by arguing that Christ is eternally born from the Father and therefore there was never a time when he could have come into existence. All of the verses used to argue that Christ had a beginning became eternalized into never-ending timeless actions. But the proper way to interpret this verse is to understand the Old Testament background of what it means to be a firstborn son and the rights that come with it known as primogeniture (Ps 89:27). To say that Christ is the firstborn over all creation is to say that he is exalted and supreme over his Father’s creation analogous to how a firstborn son has the rights over his father’s estate.

Hilary of Poitiers continues Origen’s legacy of teaching that the Son derives his divine nature from the Father:

“Is not the meaning here of the word homoousion that the Son is produced of the Father’s nature, the essence of the Son having no other origin, and that both, therefore, have one unvarying essence? As the Son’s essence has no other origin, we may rightly believe that both are of one essence, since the Son could be begotten with no substance but that derived from the Father’s nature which was its source” (On the Councils 84).

“And lastly, when the Son said, I went forth from the Father and have come, did He leave it doubtful whether His Divinity were, or were not, derived from the Father? He went out from the Father; that is, He had a birth, and the Father, and no other, gave Him that birth. He bears witness that He, from Whom He declares that He came forth, is the Author of His being” (On the Trinity 6.16).

The eternal generation of the Son became a way to explain those verses which appear to subordinate the Son to the Father as Basil of Caesarea explains John 14:28 by arguing from the created order back to God:

“Since the Son’s origin is from the Father, in this respect the Father is greater, as cause and origin. Wherefore also the Lord said thus, ‘My Father is greater than I,’ clearly inasmuch as He is Father. Yea, what else does the word Father signify unless the being cause and origin of that which is begotten of Him?” (Against Eunomius 1.25).

But this raises the question, if the Son derives his eternal origin and divine nature from the Father, then is the divine nature communicated from the Father alone to the Spirit or from the Father and the Son? That is, is the ability to communicate deity itself communicated in the communication of the divine nature from the Father to the Son or is the ability to communicate deity only a personal property of the Father which distinguishes him from the Son and the Holy Spirit? This is what the debate over the filioque is about. The Western church added “from the Son” to the Nicene-Constantinople Creed at the Third Council of Toledo in 589 arguing that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. The Eastern Church rejects this and argues that doing so would result in two gods since there would be two fountains of divinity instead of one. They argue that the fountain of divinity must be located in the Father alone because it is located in the Father’s person rather than his nature. Since it exists in the Father’s person and not his nature, the Son cannot act as a fountain of divinity because he does not share the Father’s person, only his nature. Since he does not participate in the fountain of divinity, he cannot communicate divinity to the Holy Spirit as the Father does. If the fountain of divinity is located in the Father’s nature rather than his person, then there would be three fountains of divinity since all three persons share the one divine nature so even the Holy Spirit would have the ability to communicate divinity because a nature cannot exist in a naked state by itself apart from a supposit to dwell in. This would result in more than one God since there would be more than one self-existent, uncaused, unoriginated subsistence (Laurent A. Cleenewerck, His Broken Body, 317-44). As Paul Owen notes, the East and West have a long history of misunderstanding and anathematizing each other:

“The Eastern Church charges the West with subordinating the person of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son; and furthermore suspects that the Western tradition leaves an open door to the heresy of modalism. The Western Church charges the East with subordinating the Son to the Father; and furthermore suspects that the Eastern tradition leaves an open door to the heresy of tritheism.”

This is the result when you abandon the exegesis of the text of Scripture and engage in speculative theology concerning fountains of divinity. When this happens, human reasoning and the authority of man usurp the place of the Word of God which makes no mention of such things. The debate over the filioque is a reductio ad absurdum which God foreordained to show us how ridiculous these conceptions of generation and procession are just as the debate over the pretribulational rapture versus the midtribulational rapture demonstrates how silly it is to interpret 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:4 as something distinct from the second coming of Christ. The entire question of whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or the Father and the Son is based on a misunderstanding of John 15:26. This verse is talking about the missio Dei of the Spirit, not his ontological origin. The Spirit proceeds or goes forth from the Father to carry out the Father’s mission of bringing salvation to the elect by pointing them to Christ. “Proceeds” is in the present tense because the Spirit’s work in the world did not begin at Pentecost, but has been ongoing from the beginning of creation (Ps 104:30).

I do not believe Origen’s concept of eternal generation can be supported from Scripture. It is better to say that the Son is autotheos or God of himself rather than saying he derives his divine nature from the Father. If this makes me a heretic, then John Calvin was also a heretic because he did not accept eternal generation’s teaching that the Son’s divine nature is derived or communicated from the Father. While many theologians have tried to reconcile Calvin’s doctrine of Christ as autotheos with eternal generation, they must redefine how eternal generation was historically understood. Communication or derivation of essence from the fons divinitatis is essential to eternal generation. Origen explicitly denied that the Son is autotheos. He does not possess the divine nature of himself:

“To such persons we have to say that God on the one hand is Very God (Autotheos, God of Himself) . . . But the archetypal image, again, of all these images is the Word of God, who was in the beginning, and who by being with God is at all times God, not possessing that of Himself, but by His being with the Father” (Commentary on John 2.2).

This is what the Nicene Creed means when it says that the Son is “true God from true God.” His deity comes from God the Father who is the fountain of being. The Son does not exist of himself as the Father does, but he owes his personal existence and divine nature to the Father who “continually gives existence to him” (Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah 9.4). The belief that the Son owes his hypostatic existence to the Father was shared by the proponents of Logos Christology except that they believed this generation occurred before the foundation of the world rather than being an eternally ongoing action within the being of God. Eternal generation is an evolution of Logos Christology which took its place because eternal generation was able to be reconciled with the immutability of God and answer the arguments of Arianism. But ironically, it is the mistaken assumption that the Son owes his existence to the Father that led to the rise of Arianism to begin with.

My study of the early church fathers has only reinforced my belief that we must make Scripture alone our starting point for doing Christian theology and treat every piece of writing outside of Scripture with caution lest we derive our theology from man instead of God. Otherwise, we are simply condemned to the beliefs of our tradition. The theology of Origen is a rotten foundation on which to do Christian theology. That he was the first person to teach eternal generation should immediately raise a red flag and send us back to the Scriptures.

Sunday Meditation – Farewell Sweet Light

“Sin has a spreading, infectious, deceitful, and bewitching nature. Sin is a child of Satan’s own begetting. It will kiss the soul, yet betray the soul forever. It gives Satan a power over us, and an advantage to accuse us. It bewitches the soul to call evil good, and good evil. A soul bewitched with sin will hold out against God. Let God strike and wound, and cut to the very bone, yet that soul cares not and fears not, but holds on to a course of wickedness. Sin kills secretly, insensibly, and eternally, yet the bewitched soul will not cease from sin. When the physicians told Theotimus that except he abstain from drunkenness he would lose his eyes, he answered, ‘Farewell sweet light’, for he would rather lose his eyes than leave his sin. The story of the Italian, who made his enemy deny God, and then stabbed him, to murder both body and soul, declares the perfect malignity of sin. Stand at a distance from sin!”

Thomas Brooks

What Is Logos Christology?

Logos Christology is the best kept secret in church history. It is the belief that the Son or Logos existed eternally in the mind of God, but not as a distinct person from him until he was begotten by the Father before the foundation of the world. Logos Christology fell out of favor in Christianity because it conflicted with the immutability of God and was replaced by eternal generation. In Logos Christology, God changes from being unitarian in person to being trinitarian or binitarian. Therefore, this generation either had to be eternal (as in eternal generation) or the Son’s nature must be distinct from that of the Father so there is no movement or change in God’s essence (as in Arianism). The Arians exposed the inconsistency of Logos Christology by arguing that since eternality is an attribute of God, if the person of the Son is not eternal as the Father is, then the Son is not God in the same sense the Father is. The transition from Logos Christology to eternal generation during the Arian controversy is the background of the Council of Nicaea. This belief was prevalent among the second century Christian apologists and Justin Martyr appears to be the first to teach it. He says concerning the Logos:

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, a certain rational power from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos” (Dialogue with Trypho 61).

“And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word, who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him” (Second Apology 6).

This begetting is an act of the Father’s will rather than a necessary act as in eternal generation:

“This power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same” (Dialogue with Trypho 128).

“As He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God. . . . The Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit” (Dialogue with Trypho 129).

The apologist Athenagoras was of the same opinion. Notice his use of Proverbs 8 and the metaphor of sunlight:

“He is the first product of the Father, not as having been brought into existence, for from the beginning, God, who is the eternal mind, had the Logos in Himself, being from eternity instinct with Logos; but inasmuch as He came forth to be the idea and energizing power of all material things, which lay like a nature without attributes, and an inactive earth, the grosser particles being mixed up with the lighter. The prophetic Spirit also agrees with our statements. ‘The Lord,’ it says, ‘made me, the beginning of His ways to His works.’ The Holy Spirit Himself also, which operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun” (A Plea for the Christians 10).

Another second century writer, Tatian, held to the same view. Pay attention to his language of derivation and communication:

“With him, also, by virtue of his rational power, existed the Logos himself, who was in him. But by his will, the Logos leaped forth from his simple being; and not going into an empty sound, he became the first born work of the Father. This we know to be the beginning of the world. He became by communication, not by abscission; for what is abscinded, is separated from that whence it is abscinded. But that which is derived by communication does not diminish that from which it is taken. From one torch we may light many torches, and still the light of the first torch is not diminished. So when the Logos proceeded from the power of the Father, it did not deprive him who begat the Logos of reason” (Oration Against the Greeks 5).

In his view, the Logos is a kind of emanation from the Father:

“For the heavenly Logos, a spirit emanating from the Father and a Logos from the Logos-power, in imitation of the Father who begat Him made man an image of immortality” (Oration Against the Greeks 7).

This tradition is also expressed by Theophilus of Antioch:

“God, then, having his Logos immanent in his own bowels, begat him with his own wisdom, emitting him before all things” (To Autolycus 2.10).

The Logos only existed in God’s mind until he was begotten which means God was alone until he begot his Word:

“The Logos . . . was always immanent in the heart of God. Before any thing was made, he had him for a counsellor, who was his understanding and his reason. But when God desired to make what he had purposed to make, he begat this Logos the first born of all creation. Not that the Father deprived himself of reason; but having begotten the Logos, he converses always with his Logos. And hence the holy writings teach us, and all the spirit-bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,’ showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him. . . . The Word, then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills, He sends Him to any place; and He, coming, is both heard and seen, being sent by Him, and is found in a place” (To Autolycus 2.22).

Tertullian takes Logos Christology and argues from it that there was a time when the Son did not exist, anticipating Arianism:

“For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son, nor a Judge previous to sin. There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son; the former of which was to constitute the Lord a Judge, and the latter a Father. In this way He was not Lord previous to those things of which He was to be the Lord. But He was only to become Lord at some future time: just as He became the Father by the Son, and a Judge by sin” (Against Hermogenes 3).

The substance or nature of the Son is derived from the Father:

“The Father is the whole substance, whereas the Son is something derived from it. . . . Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son, in as much as he who begets is one, and he who is begotten is another” (Against Praxeas 9).

Hippolytus of Rome describes this begetting as an act of reflection drawing the Logos out of the mind of the Father:

“Therefore this solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos first; not the word in the sense of being articulated by voice, but as a ratiocination of the universe, conceived and residing in the divine mind. Him alone He produced from existing things; for the Father Himself constituted existence, and the being born from Him was the cause of all things that are produced. The Logos was in the Father Himself, bearing the will of His progenitor, and not being unacquainted with the mind of the Father. For simultaneously with His procession from His Progenitor, inasmuch as He is this Progenitor’s first-born” (Refutation of All Heresies 10.29).

Novatian, in his work on the Trinity, subordinates the Son to the Father foreshadowing the arguments of Arius:

“The Father also precedes Him, in a certain sense, since it is necessary – in some degree – that He should be before He is Father. Because it is essential that He who knows no beginning must go before Him who has a beginning. . . . He has a beginning in that He is born, inasmuch as He is born of that Father who alone has no beginning. He, then, when the Father willed it, proceeded from the Father. . . . Assuredly God proceeding from God, causing a person second to the Father as being the Son, but not taking from the Father that characteristic that He is one God. . . . Since an equality would have appeared in both, He would have constituted a second unborn, and thus two Gods” (On the Trinity 31.3-4, 6-11).

Eusebius of Caesarea expresses the same belief right before the Arian controversy broke out:

“But the Father precedes the Son and has preceded him in existence, inasmuch as he alone is unbegotten. The One, perfect in himself and first in order as Father and the cause of the Son’s existence. . . . Receiving from the Father both his being and the character of his being. . . . Unthinkably brought into being from all time, or rather before all times, by the Father’s transcendent and inconceivable will and power” (Demonstratio Evangelica 4.3).

“Perhaps one might say that the Son originated like a perfume and ray of a light from the Father’s unoriginated nature and ineffable substance infinite ages ago, or rather before all ages, and that once he had come into existence he has eternal being and existence along with the Father. . . . He has his own substance and existence and has not co-existed unoriginatedly with the Father. . . . And anyone would allow that a father exists before a son” (Demonstratio Evangelica 5.1).

“Again, you accuse them of saying, ‘He-who-was begat he-who-was-not’? I would be astonished if someone were able to speak differently. For if there is only one who exists [eternally], it is clear that everything which exists has come into being from him, whatever indeed exists after him. If it were not he alone who exists eternally, but the son also exists eternally, how indeed could one who exists beget another who already exists? It would have to follow that there would actually be two who exist eternally” (Letter to Alexander of Alexandria defending Arius).

Eusebius subordinates the Spirit to the Son who is subordinate to the Father. Notice his use of the concept of a fountain of divinity by which deity is communicated:

“But this Spirit, holding a third rank, supplies those beneath out of the superior powers in Himself, notwithstanding that He also receives from another, that is from the higher and stronger, who, as we said, is second to the most high and unbegotten nature of God the King of all: from whom indeed God the Word is Himself supplied, and drawing as it were from an ever-flowing fountain which pours forth Deity, imparts copiously and ungrudgingly of the radiance of His own light to all, and especially to the Holy Spirit Himself, who is closer to Him than all and very near; and then to the intelligent and divine powers after Him. But the Unoriginate Beginning of the whole, which is the fountain of all good, and cause of Deity and life as well as of light and every virtue, being also first of the first and beginning of all beginnings, or rather far beyond any beginning and any first and every thought that can be expressed or conceived, communicates wholly whatsoever is comprehended in His ineffable powers to His First-begotten alone, as being alone able to contain and receive that abundance of the Father’s perfections which by the rest can neither be reached nor contained” (Praeparatio Evangelica 7.15).

Lactantius, in his work on Christian theology, sets forth his own view of the Son’s generation which resulted in his existence as an angelic or spiritual being:

“God, in the beginning, before He made the world, from the fountain of His own eternity, and from the divine and everlasting Spirit, begat for Himself a Son incorruptible, faithful, corresponding to His Father’s excellence and majesty. He is virtue, He is reason, He is the word of God, He is wisdom. With this artificer, as Hermes says, and counselor, as the Sibyl says, He contrived the excellent and wondrous fabric of this world. In fine, of all the angels, whom the same God formed from His own breath, He alone was admitted into a participation of His supreme power, He alone was called God. For all things were through Him, and nothing was without Him. In fine, Plato, not altogether as a philosopher, but as a seer, spoke concerning the first and second God, perhaps following Trismegistus in this, whose words I have translated from the Greek, and subjoined: ‘The Lord and Maker of all things, whom we have thought to be called God, created a second God.’ . . . For He was twice born: first of God, in the spirit, before the origin of the world; afterwards in the flesh of man, in the reign of Augustus. . . . Therefore He was born a second time as man, of a virgin, without a father, that, as in His first spiritual birth, being born of God alone, He was made a sacred spirit, so in His second and fleshly birth, being born of a mother only, He might become holy flesh” (The Epitome of the Divine Institutes 42-43).

Methodius, bishop of Olympus, was in agreement with this view when he called Jesus “the most ancient of aeons, and the first of Archangels” (As cited in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 1:257). Marcellus of Ancyra took Logos Christology and argued from it that the Son would one day cease to exist when God returned to being unitarian in person as he had been in eternity past.

While it might be easier to believe that there is a “unanimous consent of the fathers” when it comes to Christian doctrine, the reality is that there is a great diversity of theological views in the writings of the early church, even when it comes to who Jesus is. The only church fathers we can trust are the ones who wrote the New Testament.

Sunday Meditation – Preparing for Eternity

“In worldly concerns, men discern their opportunities, and are careful to improve them before they are past. The farmer is careful to plough his ground and sow his seed in the proper season. When the harvest is come, he will not sleep away the time, or the crop will soon be lost. How careful and eagle-eye is the merchant to improve opportunities to enrich himself! How apt are men to be alarmed at the appearance of danger to their worldly estate! O how they stir themselves in such a case to avoid the threatened calamity! But if we consider how men generally conduct themselves in things on which their wellbeing infinitely depends, how vast is the difference. In these things, how cold, lifeless, and negligent most are. How few among the multitudes are wise! What a need there is for a constant repetition of admonition and counsel, to keep the heart from falling asleep! How many objections are made! O how difficulties are magnified, and how soon is the mind discouraged! How unaware men are of the need to improve their time for their spiritual interest, and their welfare in another world! How hardly convinced are men of the uncertainty of life and its enjoyments! We have abundant instructions to lead and conduct us in the paths of righteousness. They are abundantly set before us in the Word of God. Scripture is adapted to the faculties of mankind, to greatly enlighten the mind. We have far greater means to assist us to be wise in eternal things as real, it cannot be for lack of sufficient evidence of their truth. It is an uncaring attitude of the importance of truth which is manifested by the clearest evidence.”

Jonathan Edwards

Sunday Meditation – True Doctrine

“Every error pretends to derive itself from him; but as Christ was holy, humble, heavenly, meek, peaceful, plain and simple, and in all things alien, yes, contrary to the wisdom of the world, the gratifications of the flesh, such are the truths which he teaches. They have his character and image engraved on them. Would you know then whether this or that doctrine be from the Spirit of Christ or no? Examine the doctrine itself by this rule. And whatever doctrine you find to encourage and countenance sin, to exalt self, to be accommodated to earthly designs and interests, to wrap and bend to the humors and lusts of men; in a word, what doctrine soever directly, and as a proper cause makes them that profess it carnal, turbulent, proud, sensual, etc. you may safely reject it, and conclude this never came from Jesus Christ. The doctrine of Christ is after godliness; his truth sanctifies. There is a spiritual taste, by which those that have their senses exercised, can distinguish things that differ. . . . Swallow nothing that has not some relish of Christ and holiness in it. Be sure, Christ never revealed anything to men, that derogates from his own glory, or prejudices and obstructs the ends of his own death.”

John Flavel