In this series of posts, I’ve been discussing the view of Arius that the Son is created from nothing, and the view of Athanasius that the Father begets the Son. All of this illustrates two basic issues that any classical account of the Trinity has to face when it tries to explain how one divine person produces another.
First, we need to think carefully before we identify God with any one divine person. As the old saying goes, that would ‘confound the essence with the persons’. If we do identify God with any one divine person, then we need to explain how the other persons inherit divine properties, and as I hope is clear by now, that’s not necessarily an easy task.
One way to avoid this whole problem is just to say that the Godhood is an ingredient that all three persons share, but which is not identical to any of them. Of course, this entails saying that the Father is not simple, and that he does have a distinct ingredient within himself, namely the Godhood. But I see no problem with this. If it’s okay to say that the Godhood is an ingredient in the Son (as Athanasius claims), then surely it’s okay to say that the Godhood is an ingredient in the Father too.
However, some theologians find this idea worrisome. As they see it, if we say that the Godhood is some distinct ingredient that is not identical to any of the persons, then it looks as if there are four things there, namely the Father, Son, and Spirit, plus the Godhood itself. And that, in turn, makes the persons look irrelevant. After all, all the really good stuff (like omnipotence and omniscience) belongs to the Godhood, so what’s the need for the persons?
The second issue is this: how do we distinguish between producing a divine person and creating something out of nothing? The Creeds are emphatically clear that the Son is not created out of nothing, and so any account of the Son’s production that aims to be faithful to the Creeds must show how the Son is not created.
This is an important question for so-called ‘social views’ of the Trinity. For instance, Richard Swinburne believes that the three divine persons are entirely distinct individuals; they do not share any ‘ingredients’, and they each exemplify the divine properties separately (that is, divine properties are instantiated three times — once in the Father, once in the Son, and once in the Spirit). On this view, it looks as if the Father produces the Son without any ‘pre-existing ingredients’ (in my sense of the word), and by my definition of creation, that would mean that the Son is created from nothing.
One might object that for Swinburne, the Son is necessarily produced eternally, and since the Son is necessary and doesn’t begin to exist at some point in time, he’s not created. However, I’m not convinced that creation can’t be necessary and eternal. As I said earlier, many philosophers throughout history have believed that creation is, in fact, necessary and eternal, so why isn’t Swinburne’s account of the Son’s production a similar case?
To wrap up this whole series, let me just say that although I’ve only discussed what Arius and Athanasius have to say about how the Son is produced, they are not the only theologians with interesting theories about this. Theologians before, during, and after them deserve attention too, and such attention would, I think, enrich our own discussions today.
Indeed, so much of our own philosophical theology focuses its attention on the identity and distinction of the divine persons. While this is certainly an important topic, it is not the only problematic aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity. I hope that my discussion here makes it clear that divine production is another topic that could stand the scrutiny of more sharp minds.