“I hate wearing this stupid hat.
They didn’t make me a bishop anyways.
At least the cape’s pretty cool.
It’s got St. George’s Cross going on.”
In my last post, I gave some basic definitions for the ‘derivation view’ and the ‘generic view’ of the Trinity, and I said that the historical background for the ‘derivation view’ rests in the Nicene Creed’s claim that
(Q) The Son is begotten from the substance of the Father.
Of course, the meaning of ‘from the substance of the Father’ is not exactly clear, not in a philosophical sense anyways. What exactly is Q supposed to mean? In this post, I want to explain what one interpreter, namely Athanasius, felt was at stake with Q.
As I said in my previous post, it’s very hard to know just what the authors of the Creed actually meant by Q. Not surprisingly, nobody in the 4th century seemed to know either. Everybody who wrote about Nicea over the next forty years expressed different opinions. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that there was no ‘standard’ interpretation of Q at the time.
Nevertheless, one very loud voice in the mid-4th century was that of Athanasius. For whatever reasons, at same point in history (like a few centuries later) his view came to be seen as the ‘orthodox’ interpretation of Q. Whether or not it actually was is debatable, but hey, we’re stuck with tradition, so we’re stuck with him.
One of the things Athanasius took Q to mean — though many disagreed — was this: Arius was wrong. Arius was a presbyter who taught and wrote in Alexandria during the early decades of the 4th century. He claimed that the Son was created from nothing (ex nihilo).
What does it mean to say something is created from nothing? It means that something is produced without any pre-existing ingredients (i.e., ‘parts’ or ‘constituents’). We make things with pre-existing ingredients all the time. A mason, for example, makes brick walls out of bricks. But this is not a creation. A wall would be created only if the mason caused the whole wall, and all of its parts, to pop into existence. Here’s a working definition for creation:
(CRT) For any x and y, x creates y =df iff (i) x causes y to exist,
and (ii) for any part or constituent z of y, x causes z to exist.
So why did Arius say the Son was created without any pre-existing ingredients? His logic is fairly straightforward. Arius felt that there could only be one uncaused cause; there couldn’t be two. The Father is obviously an uncaused cause, so that means there can’t be any others — and that includes the Son. Arius thus concluded that the Son had to have a cause, namely the Father.
So which ingredients did the Father use to make the Son? The Bible says that the Son was the ‘firstborn of all creation’. Arius took that to mean that the Father produced the Son before anything else, so when the Father produced the Son, nothing was lying around to use as an ingredient.
Well, there was the Father himself, but Arius maintained that the Father is a simple monad — he is not divisible into pieces and he is not made up of parts, so the Father couldn’t break off a chunk of himself and use it as an ingredient in the Son. Thus, Arius concludes that the Son had to be made without any pre-existing ingredients whatsoever (he was made from nothing).
For Arius then, to say that the Son is created from nothing means that the Son is not made with any pre-existing ingredients. But, as I said above, Athanasius thinks Q entails that Arius is wrong. As Athanasius sees it, Q entails that the Son is, in fact, made from at least one pre-existing ingredient, namely the substance of the Father.
Athanasius thus seems to take ‘the substance of the Father’ as an ingredient that goes into the Son. And since it’s the substance of the Father, it’s clearly something that’s in the Father too. But what exactly is it? Is it a part or constituent? Is it just the Father himself? For that, we’ll have to wait until the next post.