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From a Trinitarian perspective, does the term 'only begotten Son' make sense outside of the concept of the incarnation? If so, how? If not, why not?

The Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed states (in part):

We believe...in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds... (emphasis added)

My question in extended form: Is the 'begotten-ness' eternal if and only if the incarnation is viewed from an eternal perspective as well (our sense of what begotten means would consequentially be inextricably linked to the incarnation) or is there some logic in conceiving that somehow a temporal locus of the incarnation imparts a distinction between it and 'eternally begotten'?

I imagine this is the sort of issue Thomas Aquinas would have considered - if so can someone direct me to how he addresses the issue.

I am also interested in the views of any other relevant trinitarian theologians as well.

This question: Is there any proof from the Bible that the second Person of the Trinity was the Only-begotten Son of the Father before His incarnation? is related but distinct.

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That's an interesting question. We know that Jesus has always been "I am". He an un-created being. To me, that creed is using worlds in the plural which is odd to me. unless they mean planets? In the old testament there is always "The Angel of the Lord" that appears, and also "Malchiezedek" who had no beginning of days. Those are two interesting things to look up, neither are mentioned in the NT after Jesus comes. –  JREAM Jul 17 at 19:15
    
"Worlds" is (for odd historical reasons) an alternate translation for the Latin "saecula" (as in "secular"), which is more typically translated "age" (as in "age of the world"). The translation used in the Catholic Church's revised Roman Missal says "born of the Father before all ages". –  Matt Gutting Jul 17 at 19:22
    
@JREAM Actually, Melchizedek is referred to more in the NT than in the OT: biblegateway.com/quicksearch/… –  bruised reed Jul 17 at 19:23
    
There are at least two (edit - at least FOUR OR FIVE!!! - questions in the Summa which seem to apply; I'm trying to put them together into an answer but it's getting very long (especially since Thomas is so wordy). –  Matt Gutting Jul 17 at 19:50

2 Answers 2

Aquinas addresses the question from different angles a number of places in the Summa Theologica, in various parts of the "Treatise on the Most Holy Trinity" (First Part, Questions 27–43).

The fundamental question is answered more or less directly in Question 27, "The Procession of the Divine Persons". Article 2 of this question, "Whether any procession in God can be called generation?", talks about what it might mean to say that the Son "is begotten by" the Father. Thomas' answer is:

... We must observe that generation has a twofold meaning: one common to everything subject to generation and corruption; in which sense generation is nothing but change from non-existence to existence. In another sense it is proper and belongs to living things; in which sense it signifies the origin of a living being from a conjoined living principle; and this is properly called birth.

Not everything of that kind, however, is called begotten; but, strictly speaking, only what proceeds by way of similitude. ... the procession of the Word in God is generation; for He proceeds by way of intelligible action, which is a vital operation:—from a conjoined principle (as above described):—by way of similitude, inasmuch as the concept of the intellect is a likeness of the object conceived:—and exists in the same nature, because in God the act of understanding and His existence are the same, as shown above. Hence the procession of the Word in God is called generation; and the Word Himself proceeding is called the Son.

The Son, in other words, is "begotten" not in virtue of the Incarnation, but because the Son is the Word of God proceeding from, and in that sense "begotten by" (one could say "generated by"), the Father.

There are a few other places where Aquinas discusses different aspects of the question (such as "Is it appropriate to call the Father 'unbegotten'?"), but this is the clearest exposition of Aquinas' actual position, and it appears from his discussions as a whole to be a standard Trinitarian answer.

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Long time no speak. Provide the link First Part (Prima Pars) for the access to Summa Theologica, in various parts of the "Treatise on the Most Holy Trinity" (First Part, Questions 27–43)? –  FMS Jul 17 at 23:35
    
Thanks! seen it and acted. Thanks for a new source for material. –  FMS Jul 18 at 0:17
    
This is in the ball-park, but I don't think you've hit a home run with it (maybe about 2nd base?) - the quote doesn't explicitly reference the incarnation (and there is neither an implication of distinction between incarnation and an eternal begotten-ness), so I think your line is "The Son, in other words, is "begotten" not in virtue of the Incarnation etc." is over-reach if not non-sequitur. Maybe he just doesn't address the issue explicitly enough after all to definitively answer my question. –  bruised reed Jul 18 at 16:02
    
When he talks about the distinction between the Father and the Son, and talks about "generation" (the Latin equivalent for being "begotten"; the same word), he doesn't talk about incarnation at all. That is, he addresses the issue of being "begotten", but he doesn't mention the Incarnation at all in his discussion (not here, or in any part of his discussion of the Trinity). He phrases his discussion as if the Son would have been "begotten" of the Father even if the Incarnation had not taken place at all. –  Matt Gutting Jul 18 at 16:28
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Although it would be tackling the argument at one remove, of particular relevance would be Thomas's view on the nature of time and how it relates to God's eternity. –  bruised reed Jul 18 at 17:28

The Old Roman Creed hints of a perspective that might address your question:

I BELIEVE in God almighty, the Father almighty and in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our Lord who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried and the third day rose from the dead who ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of the Father whence he cometh to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit, the holy church, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, the life everlasting.

Notice that Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit and Mary, the Son of God (only begotten) born of the Holy Spirit and the Son of Man born of Mary.

The Moravians & Count Zinzendorf prior to the Reformation held that the Holy Spirit was God the Mother. In this the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from God the Father bearing His eternal will. The manifest will of the Father born by the Holy Spirit then is Eternally Begotten. Jesus Christ then is the manifest will of God the Father born of the Holy Spirit. This in extension would also hold that the Holy Spirit bear's out Christ in the believer’s life.

A differentiation between the Holy Spirit’s procession from the Father and the Son’s sending of the Holy Spirit must be made. The sending by the son is as a result of His finished work on the cross.

In this case Jesus is the Eternally Begotten!

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Your claim that Jesus Christ is then manifest will of the Father born by the Holy Spirit is confirmed by Father Zakaria[youtube: Father Zakaria, Message of Grace (7) Father Zakaria's Mission(23 min. 23 sec.)] that Jesus is "mind of God". Also: word(gr. logos) was made flesh(john.1:14). So here "word", who is Jesus means divine reason/mind or reason/mind of God. logos: Heraclitus used the term Logos around 600 B.C. to designate the divine reason or plan[Thayer's Greek Lexicon, 3056(Strongs code) -> raamattu.uskonkirjat.net/servlet/…. –  laovultai Aug 31 at 18:57

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