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I'm trying to understand the importance the repetition of "begotten" in the Nicene creed. It states (emphasis mine):

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.

I understand the purpose of this: that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is wholly divine, and not a separate entity from the Father, but I'm not fully clear on the purpose of emphasizing the difference between begetting and making after stating it once already.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the emphasis to combat early heresy that Jesus's divinity was adopted, not inherent:

But already in the third century, the Church in a council at Antioch had to affirm against Paul of Samosata that Jesus Christ is Son of God by nature and not by adoption. The first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 confessed in its Creed that the Son of God is "begotten, not made, of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father", and condemned Arius, who had affirmed that the Son of God "came to be from things that were not" and that he was "from another substance" than that of the Father.

Based on this, I read the emphasis merely as a way to ensure people know that Jesus is one with the Father: "we really mean the same entity, not someone or something else."

But, C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity puts it thusly:

We don't use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set—or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is a clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.

Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God, just as what man creates is not man.

I read that as a limitation of God's power: that He is incapable of creating something that is of Himself, He must beget it.

How should it be read? That it's merely a linguistic tool to emphasize Jesus is one with the Father, a limitation on God's power to create, or something else?

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I'd say that it's putting emphasis on Jesus' relationship with His Father. –  El'endia Starman Aug 26 '11 at 3:28

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The Arians were very good at using the same (Biblical) language as orthodox Christians, but meaning entirely different things by them. The language in the Creed had to be so specific that it removes all wiggle room. I think I can hear, in the creed, the frustration of someone so upset with Arian double-speak that they pound orthodoxy home with some conceptual overlap.

Nevertheless, the two statements do affirm different things about Jesus:

eternally begotten of the Father

That is, the Son is eternal. He was not begotten at some point in time, and there was not a time when he did not exist. But this does not mean, by itself, that Jesus was the same type of being as God.

begotten, not made

Here I think your C.S. Lewis quote applies. Jesus is not a creature, he is not part of the creation. Contra the Arians, begotten does not mean created. The other clauses (true God from true God, one in Being with the Father, etc.) explain what it means to be begotten as distinct from created.

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Thank you for directly answering my question: this is exactly what I was looking for. –  user72 Sep 9 '11 at 3:02
    
"But this does not mean, by itself, that Jesus was the same type of being as God." If Jesus was begotten by the Father (John 3:16), then that is exactly what it means. God begets God. That is, a father who is God in nature will beget a son who is also God in nature. A father and son share the same ousia, or "nature." It's a natural law of the universe. Every father is the same nature as its offspring. Monkeys beget monkeys, dolphins beget dolphins, humans beget humans, and finally, God begets God. "The only-begotten son of God" is one of the greatest claims of Jesus' deity in the Bible. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Dec 2 '12 at 0:29
    
@H3br3wHamm3r81 from an orthodox perspective, sure. But Arius disagreed, and that is why Nicea is so specific. –  gmoothart Dec 3 '12 at 18:47
    
The lexical word for begotten means something, but the Trinitarian understanding has changed the meaning of the word to mean something like beginning-less, or maybe even begottenless. The end result is the word and meaning has been changed to adapt to the nicean understanding. –  user1361315 Mar 3 at 16:52

I heard this on Relevant Radio on the 'Go ask your father' show a few days ago, so I can't reference it much more than that, although the good Reverend Know It All may have written an essay about it.

Begotten is a word to confer inheritance. In Jewish culture, this would only be done between Father's and their progeny. That's why there's all those 'Begats' in the genealogies in the Gospels come from (and how 27 begats might equal 42 begats).

Jesus was 'Born' of the Virgin Mary, but 'Begotten' of the Father.

I know that's not your question, but I just wanted to get it out of the way because Jesus wasn't Born of the Father in any natural way.

The Theology of the Body, often refers to the Transmission of Love between God the Father and God the Son as the Holy Spirit. That's the part that is important, it's a Trinitarian sort of creation (and a mystery). The only thing we can say about the Trinity is that the Father proceeds the Son and the Son proceeds the Holy Spirit - but together are One God.

The word proceed in this context does not mean 'came before' because God exists outside of time. That might be why 'eternally begotten' can't really be understood in any human context. Jesus, the new Adam, wasn't made in the image and likeness of God. He's the 'Us' who the original man was made like!

Sorry I couldn't answer the question totally, hopefully we get some priests on here who can answer questions in a more concise way.

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The Doctrine of Eternal Sonship via eternal Generation should not be taken literally but metaphorically as we can see in the Nicene Creed:

The Word/ was birthed /by God/ before time means

the Word /is the Son/ of the Father/ in eternity

The Royal Son of Psalm 2:7 LXX was shown to be the birthed Son in the New testament(Romans 1:4, Heb. 1:5,5:5, Acts 13:35)

The Divine Wisdom of Proverbs 8:25 LXX was shown to be the Son in the New testament(1 Corinthians 1:24, Hebrews 1:3).

The Messiah of Psalm 110:3 LXX was shown to be the birthed Son in the New Testament(Jn 1:18)

The Mesiah Logos of Psalm 45:5 LXX was shown to be the only birthed Son in the New Testament ( John 1:1,14,18,3:16,18,1 John 4:9).

One who is conceived and birthed by someone is a son, homoousios with the parent and one who is before creation is eternal. The genetic anthropomorphism of "birthed" only denotes " homoousiousness " of the Father and the Son just as one who is born of a human parent is human.

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Frank Sheed gives the singularly best treatise on the Trinity that I have ever read in "Theology and Sanity". I highly recommend this book.

In his book he states:

We have seen the definition of sonship, the origin of a living thing from another living thing by communication of substance unto likeness of nature. Where you have that, you have the relation of father and son. In all this there is no question of a lapse of time between coming into existence and generating a son. That lapse of time arises not for the nature of sonship but from the finitude of man, specifically from the fact that he does not come into existence in full possession of all his powers, but has to grow slowly.

But there is no question of God's needing a little eternity before he is able to generate a son; there is no such thing as a little eternity - eternity is one indivisible thing; God simply is, and in the one act of being is all that he is, and simply by being himself is father of his son. ... It is true that the Son receives his nature from the Father, but not as a result of a decision which the Father might just as well not have made. By the same infinite necessity the Father both is and is Father: that is to say, by the same infinite necessity, the Father is and the Son is. ... There is a second person, equal in all things to the first, God as he is God, infinite as he is infinite.

The same line of reasoning is applied to the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The key in understanding the Trinity (to the limited extent that we can understand what is a mystery) is to understand that God is one nature and three persons.

Yet here we come up against an apparently enormous difficulty; ... we seem to have established two gods, two infinities; ... The trouble is that the concept of human sonship brings us to likeness of nature, but not oneness of nature; a father and son are like in nature: both are human, but each has his own separate equipment as a man, his own separate human nature.

Jesus is described by John in scripture to be the Word of God:

It is clear that if God has a word, it will not be a vocal word, a thing out of thin air, shaped by lungs and throat and tongue and teeth. God is not like that. God is a pure spirit, and his word must be a word in the mind, verbum mentale; in other words, a thought or idea. ... But if God does, as we know from himself that he does, conceive and idea of himself, this idea must be totally adequate, in no way less that the being of which it is the idea, lacking nothing that the being has. The idea must contain all the perfection of the being of which it is the idea. ... otherwise the thinker would be thinking of himself inadequately, which is impossible for the infinite.

Thus it is that God conceives of the idea of himself in eternity, where time as we experience it does not apply, which begets a son in all ways equal to God, and together they express love in eternity from which proceeds the Holy Spirit in eternity. Three persons, sharing one infinite and eternal nature, for all eternity.

It's a mystery to our small minds.

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+1 for acknowledging mystery. Thanks. –  user116 Aug 28 '11 at 1:09

The Bible is delightfully free of all this amazing exercise in word-games! Luke and Matthew tell us meticulously when and how the Son of God was begotten=procreated=brought into existence (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35). Ps. 2:7 had spoken of the begetting of the Son "today" not in eternity.The so-called church fathers had to dissolve the meaning of these easy words and wound up with a non-biblical "church speak" which contradicted Scripture. An example, the Nicean creed forces on the public the contradictory idea "begotten not made"! But begetting is always a form of making and producing and in Isa. 45: 11, 12 making and begetting and creating are all synonymous activities of God, and they happen in time. "Eternal begetting" has no sense, if language is allowed to speak.

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So, not to bust your bubble here, but there really were contentious issues that Nicea was dealing with. Gnosticism and the innate evilness of matter is not something you and struggle with today, but what about inerrancy? My point is that you are really belittling serious issues. –  Affable Geek Jun 25 '13 at 17:26
    
Not to mention the Gospel of John is part of the Bible too. When you get a chance, check out the tour page and what makes us different. –  Ryan Frame Jun 25 '13 at 18:37

I think I might see it a little differently. To beget is not merely to copy oneself. A father is not the same as a son and yet a creator has the power to manipulate their creation to perfection, they are inscribed in it, just as God is inscribed in man. Controversially it indicates that the problems of man originated in God, and so the solution must originate outside of God.

What is created/made is 'of the creator' perhaps more than a son is 'of the father', just as the nest is a representation of what the bird wishes to create. However a child is independent. Although a child comes from us, we can not, try as we may, predict or control exactly who they become. They have the capacity to disobey our law. Whereas a nest can only be a nest and men can not defy gravity.

In this sense, for Jesus to have been begotten indicates him as God, not merely an agent of a God above, but something beyond what God had been, beyond only God's own plan and therefore a transformation in the power and nature of God.

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