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.