“The Son is eternally begotten of the Father”

So reads WCF 2:3.  Again part of Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 10 reads “It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father”.  It would therefore appear that the doctrine of the eternal begottenness, or eternal generation, of the Son would be beyond controversy in Reformed theology.  However, this one settled doctrine is now being questioned.  The argument goes that to speak of the Son as “eternally begotten” of the Father is to deny his essential Divinity and to construct an inherently subordinationist view of the Trinity.  In working through Richard Muller’s fine Christ and the Decree he explains how some of the Reformed held together the Doctrine of the Son’s essential Divinity with his eternal generation by the Father.

For instance Muller notes that Jerome Zanchi made “the important systematic distinctions between the Son in his essential Godhead, [and] the Son as person in relation to the other persons of the Trinity…”   Bear that in mind in reading the following quote from Zanchi:

The Father alone is autotheon, in this sense, since he alone is from himself, and has nothing from another: the Son  however, both in what he is and in what he has, has all from the Father, and is God of God: because of which all things that he receives he bears to the Father: all this we easily allow.  But in turn this too is confessed, Christ is also autotheon in another sense: for surely insofar as he is God according to essence … which essence although it is communicated, is entirely without antecedent principle: and so in the Son it is from itself (seipsa) just as it is in the Father.

Muller can summarise Zanchi as follows, “even though the Son receives all from the Father insofar as he is generated or begotten, this Sonship implies no subordination: the Son is not a dependent essence.” 

Muller also outlines Ursinus’ views on the generation of the Son.  He comments: “Ursinus makes the distinction between essence and person, arguing the aseity [self existence] of the Son considered as to his essence but not as to his person.  For it is not as if a divine essence is generated … [Neverthless] The Son is begotten out of the Father, and, as begotten, receives the divine essence by communication…”  Muller quotes Ursinus’ words, “the essence, thus, of the three persons, because it is one and the same, exists of itself: even so the person of the Father is not from another or proceeding, but from itself: but the persons of the Son and the Holy Spirit are not from themselves: the Son, indeed, is from the Father, the Holy Spirit from the Father and from the Son, the essence of the Father being communicated to them.”

Again Muller shows Perkins held to a similar mode of thought sumamrising his views as follows: “insofar as he is the Son, he does not exist from himself but is begotten from the Father; yet insofar as he is God, the second person of the Trinity exists of himself…”

I hope that sheds some light on how we can confess that “the Son is eternally begotten of the Father” without making him somehow less than fully Divine.  I close this post with some word’s from A.A. Hodge on the spirit in which to meditate on these matters:

This we must do with bowed heads and reverent hearts, for the ground on which we stand is holy.  The subject is transcendently sacred: it is the infinitely righteous and majestic God.

3 Responses to ““The Son is eternally begotten of the Father””

  1. Early Reformed Orthodoxy on the Eternally Begotten Son « Heidelblog Says:

    […] December 20, 2008 in Christology, Classic Reformed Theology, Historical Theology | Tags: autotheos, Christology, eternally begotten, subordination, trinity Here’s a nice summary by Donald John MacLean. […]

  2. Weeping Black Angel Says:

    A begotten one is always dependent upon a begetter and thus as a dependent, can never be equal to the begetter.

    Whether one is eternally begotten, or not, does not change the dependence or position of inferiority.

  3. Donald John MacLean Says:

    But your point is answered perfectly by the Reformed theologians outlined above. This is the Catholic faith we are dealing with here:

    “In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.”
    WCoF 2:3

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