Monday, March 10, 2008

Arianism and the Only-Begotten

1. Arianism. The heresy of Arianism asserts that the Son of God, the pre-existent Logos or Word of God, Who became incarnate in the flesh as Jesus Christ, is the holiest, greatest and chiefest of all created beings, but is Himself a creature, made, created, by God the Father before all other created things or beings. The Arian Christ is the beginning of the created order, created before all angels or the supernatural world, but is still a creature. The creed of Arian theology is indeed: 'there was when He was not,' a clear statement that Arians believe there was a point of existence before which the Son of God existed. Because of this doctrine, Arians hold that the term homoousios, 'of one substance' with the Father, is incorrect - they also fought against the dogmatic decree of the Council of Nicea because they correctly observed (but with wrong conclusions) that the term homoousios is not found in Holy Scripture. The Holy Catholic Church employed a non-biblical word in the Nicene Creed in order to make absolutely certain and clear, using the most precise language possible, that the Arian heresy was false doctrine. The soteriological implications of Arianism for the Church, for our doctrine of how man is saved, are explicit and profound. If Jesus Christ is not God, is not of one essence or substance with the Father, and is not a true divine Person sharing the divine life and communion of the Father by nature, then God Himself did not assume human nature in the Incarnation and thus man has not been redeemed or saved. The Fathers of the Church teach that 'only that which is assumed can be redeemed.' The Arian Christ is, therefore, incapable of bringing about atonement and the salvation of mankind, for He is not God Who assumes all that pertains to human nature, body, mind and soul, but is only a created being who partakes of divine nature by grace. The Arian Christ is, in fact, what the Church calls an orthodox Saint, a created being who becomes God by grace and adoption, and who becomes by grace what God is by nature. In Arianism, Our Lord is a creature made perfect by grace, united to God by grace, and made to share God's life, energy, power, characteristics and attributes by grace only. That definition of Christ actually applies to us, to redeemed human beings who are united to Christ and 'made partakers of the divine nature' (II St Peter 1.4). So Arianism is the heresy that denies that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Godhead and 'One of the Holy Trinity.' It is a direct assault on the revealed dogma of the Trinitarian nature and communion of God, Three Persons (hypostases) in One Essence (ousia), one and undivided. Each of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity is distinguished from the others by the eternal relationship (relatio) of the One to the other Two, but They are never separated from each other and all Three are perfectly and totally God. The Three Persons of the Trinity are distinguished by Their relationships to the Father: the Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father alone and the Holy Ghost eternally proceeds from the Father alone, and is sent through the Son and rests in the Son. Arianism refuses to allow the Lord Jesus His proper identity and mission, in that it denies that the Word of God, the Logos, Who became Man in the Incarnation is, in truth, the Most High God. The Arian heretics believe in the incarnation of a pre-existent Logos who was merely a creature embraced by the Father as His Son in grace and power - but Who is not held to be God in His very nature or being.

2. Monogennes. This leads to the next point, which is that the New Testament describes Our Lord as monogennes in Greek, 'only-begotten.' This term designates the mysterious and eternal relationship of the Son to the Father within the communion of the Trinity. It does not mean that Our Lord was created by the Father, but rather, that the Son has for all eternity come out from the Father and derives His eternal existence, His generation, from the Father, the sole Origin, Source, Beginning, and Fountain of the Trinitarian life. The words of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed purposely utilise the language of the New Testament regarding the Person of Our Lord and declare that the Lord Jesus Christ is 'one Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by Whom all things were made...' All of this language, with the exception of the term homoousios, is either explicit or implicit in the theological expressions of the New Testament. A tour of the New Testament reveals immediately that Our Lord's Deity and His communion with His Father are expressed directly by Jesus Himself, Who uses the term 'only-begotten' of Himself. The inspired writers of the New Testament follow His lead...

Saint John 1.14,18: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

Saint John 3.16,18: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

I St John 4.9: In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

1 St John 5.1: Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.

The term genneo, 'begotten,' is also used in the New Testament, in the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Acts of the Apostles, as they apply Psalm 2 to the relationship of the Father to the Son...

Hebrews 1.5: For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?

Hebrews 5.5: So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.

Acts 13.33: God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

In short, the whole potential confusion lies with the definition, the meaning, of the term 'begotten.' The Arians indeed wanted to say that the term monogennes meant 'created' or 'made' - in manifest opposition to the mystical meaning of the word used in the New Testament. The Arians prove overwhelmingly the falsehood of the doctrine of sola Scriptura, the 'Bible alone.' They were really the first protestants, proto-protestants if you will, for they claimed they were only being faithful to the literal words and text of Scripture when they denied the Lord's Divinity. But they employed a twisted and perverse interpretation of the text and imposed their own false interpretation on the language of the Bible. They commited eisegesis, reading into the Bible doctrines they wanted to see there, rather than engaging in exegesis, which the reading out of Scripture what the text actually says and means. Holy Tradition must always interpret Scripture, for it fulfils and clarifies Scripture. The Arians show us the danger of an extra-ecclesiastical or non-Traditional hermeneutic of the Bible. The Constantinopolitan Creed forever and finally clarifies the meaning of the term monogennes: 'Begotten, not made.'

Begotten does not mean 'made' but means 'eternally coming out from the Father', eternal derivation from the Father's nature or essence. From all eternity the Son derives His eternal existence, being, glory and majesty from the Father. He is eternally born of the Father, co-equal, co-eternal. Hence, the Church formulated her precise and careful terminology concerning the Trinity to elucidate and explain the mystery as far as human language and concepts will allow. Begotten means 'from God forever,' eternal generation from the Father, not a created status.


Ken said...

What do you say of the teaching of Alexander Campbell, the 19th American Restorationist, that the Word of God became the Son of God when Jesus was conceived?

Basically he denies that the Son was "eternally begotten". Instead the Father, Son, Holy Spirit is a temporal relationship of the pre-existing God, Word, Spirit.



The Right Reverend Chandler Holder Jones, SSC said...

Dear Ken,

Thank you for your fascinating note. It appears Campbell uses some questionable language to distinguish the Eternal Trinity, God in His eternal being, essence and communion, from the Economic Trinity, God as He relates to His created order. If Campbell in fact denies the eternal generation of the Son or Word from the Father, he then affirms the ancient heresy of monarchical Modalism or Sabellianism - which teaches that God is One Person and One Substance who relates to mankind in salvation history as three different 'masks' or 'modes'. Modalism asserts that God telescopes or shows up in history in three different modes of operation or self-projections: in the Old Testament He is Father, in the life of Our Lord He is Son and in the Church age He is Holy Ghost. But Modalism denies three eternal subsistent and distinct Persons in the Godhead. I would have to study Campbell more closely to discern his actual position, but his language does sound troubling. God bless you!

Ken said...

You should be able to find his "magesterial" tome, The Christian System on the internet. IIRC, his teaching on God the Son may be found in Chapter 2. I don't think it is modalism or a form thereof.

Campbell rejected talk of "being" or "essense" as the vain philosophies of men. Sometimes I wonder if he was a rank materialist.

Levi said...

Alexander Campbell also said, "I have endeavored to come to the Scriptures and read them as if no one had ever read them before."

Considering that statement alone, his lack of familiarity with the Church Fathers (read his debate with Roman Catholic Bishop Purcell), and his arrogant individualist attitude; it is no surprise that he was not only ignorant of the significance of the philosophical terms employed, but readily adopted some of the positions those terms were meant to refute.

I spent a lengthy amount of time in a campbellite church, and was educated in one of their colleges for two years. And once heard a professor call "eternally-begotten" a questionable term; which I assume he was reverberating Campbell.

Barton Stone, another restoration movement father, struggled with the doctrine of the trinity and eventually rejected it for subordinationism; which is basically sabellianism.

But honestly, should be surprised? It didn't start with them. Protestants generally seem to have a weak triadology and Christology.

Though I think Campbell, or at least his followers, tend to convey a nominalism even Luther would feel uncomfortable with.

Wes said...


I am interested in what primary source your following statement comes from:

“In Arianism, Our Lord is a creature made perfect by grace, united to God by grace, and made to share God's life, energy, power, characteristics and attributes by grace only”

I’m trying to figure out how Arius, himself, taught salvation. Do you know?

M Harold Page said...

Hello. Pardon me for reviving an old thread, but I was wondering if you could enlarge on the ethical implications of Arianism?

I'm researching the Migration era, and of course most of the barbarian tribes were Arian Christians. Theology aside, what would this mean for the way they lived and acted? Would Arianism hold them to a lower standard of behaviour? Make it easier to be absolved? I'd be grateful for any help.

Cheers and thanks