Since the Son is begotten of the Father’s essence, there is “no partition, or withdrawing, or lessening, or efflux, or extension, or suffering of change, but the birth of living nature from living nature”; eternal generation is “One from One,” that is, “God going forth from God.”11 Or as the Nicene Creed says, the Son is “true God from true God.” The Son’s existence “did not take its beginning out of nothing, but went forth from the Eternal.” It is appropriate to still call it a birth (that is the meaning of begetting), but “it would be false to call it a beginning.”12 Birth, not beginning.
In our last adventure, we were introduced to the doctrine of eternal generation, a doctrine that takes us to the very heart of what it means for the Son to be a Son. From all eternity, the Father communicates the one, simple, undivided divine essence to the Son. We also stressed that divine, eternal generation must be distinguished from human, temporal generation. We must rid our minds of anything impure.
But what else might that include?
Nine Marks of an Unhealthy Generation
The Calvinist Baptist John Gill once listed nine marks of human generation that should not characterize divine generation. Actually, these are not original to Gill, but are voiced by the Great Tradition as well, as seen in men such as Gregory of Nyssa. These are the nine marks of an unhealthy generation:
1. Division of nature
2. Multiplication of essence
3. Priority and posteriority
8. Diminution [i.e., to lessen]
9. Cessation from operation1
We cannot touch on every one of these (for more, see Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit). But we can address a few that are especially dangerous.
No Multiplication, No Division
The Son’s generation involves no multiplication or division of nature. No multiplication of the divine essence is involved in the generation of the Son. When the Father begets, He communicates the one (simple) divine essence to His Son, but He does not multiply the divine essence. If He did, there would no longer be one, simple essence but two essences. Likewise, when we say the Son is begotten, we do not mean He receives from the Father the divine essence in part but that He receives it in whole.
Or think of it this way: God is “not triple (triplex) but trinitary (trinum).”2 The Father does not give to His Son what He previously received from His own Father. Generation works that way among created, finite fathers, but God the Father has no beginning; nor is He Himself generated. He is fathered by no one. He alone is unbegotten, without origin. “Human parents transmit what they have received,” but “God the Father alone gives to the Son and to the Holy Spirit what He has from no other person.”3 This does not involve a multiplication of the divine nature, which would result in three gods (tritheism). The Son is begotten of the Father by nature, so that the Son is a subsistence of that one divine nature, not the production of another, second nature.
Not only is the divine nature not multiplied, but it is not divided as a result of the Son’s generation either. In the fourth century, the Arians claimed it must be divided. They appealed to divine simplicity to argue against the Son’s eternal generation from the Father and coequality with the Father. As Athanasius reports, the Arians “deny that the Son is the proper offspring of the Father’s essence, on the ground that this must imply parts and divisions.”4 The Son cannot be from the Father’s essence, for then the Father must part with a portion of the essence to generate a Son.