Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A poor theological fragment

Begotten-ness in the Credo refers to the eternal relation of the Father and the Son. The Incarnation is something different, but not wholly unrelated. God is relational and begotten-ness partially describes the relation between the Father and the Son. The Incarnation of the Son, in whom "dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily", describes the relation, apart from creation itself, between God (Father, Son, and Spirit) and the world (Col 2,9).

Sören Kierkegaard, in the third chapter of his posthumously published Philosophical Fragments, called the Incarnation, when, in the Second Person of the Trinity, eternity stepped into time, the Absolute Paradox. How can God enter into a world of space and time without ceasing to be eternal? The first theological move to make is to point to the real distinction of the divine persons of the Trinity. So, there is no logical error here, just as there is no logical or mathematical error in the church's dogmatic articulation of the Trinity.

Nonetheless, we are confronted with a mystery, which is not something unknown and unknowable, but known because God has revealed it. Such beliefs are, properly speaking, beliefs of faith. In other words, they cannot be empirically proven or disproven because they are metaphysical. To believe them requires faith, which does not preclude doubt. Nonetheless, they cohere with reason. Grappling with faith, wrestling with questions, applying reason to faith, is a religious act in and of itself. We must always humbly acknowledge that our words, even in dogmatic proclamations, never entirely capture the mystery of the triune God.

This stepping into time does nothing to affect God's atemporality. Of course, during his mortal sojourn the Son was in time, but he did not cease to be God. This is what the hypostatic union (i.e., the uniting of two natures, one human and one divine- not half-and-half- wholly human AND wholly divine) seeks to explain. As far as God being utterly changeless, that is, apathetic (i.e., unaffected by pathos), I am not sure that is descriptive of God. God, who is a trinity of persons, is dynamic and relational.

To wit: Is God unaffected by God's creation, or by anything that happens in it, like the fall? Keep in mind that the fall was the result of human freedom, not something imposed by God, or foreordained. God was affected, deeply. So much was God affected that the Incarnation occurred, resulting in Christ's Paschal sacrifice. Did God remain unaffected by Christ's passion and death. precisely because, like our first parents, we preferred ourselves to God? Origen, the great church father, did not buy God's apathetic stance toward the world. In fact, only a classical metaphysics of substance, rooted in Aristotle's philosophy, which Heidegger made it his philosophical project to destroy, can argue for a static God. Thankfully, Heidegger's project, which sought to create a clearing in which the question of Being could once again be examined, has borne much theological fruit, particularly in the theology of Karl Rahner, among others.

The hermeneutical principle in play here is that questions, such as this one, cannot be viewed in isolation.


  1. Like most theology, this seems to me to be patch-work over the centuries. "Eternally-Begotten" is not in scripture and puts the Son on both sides on the ontological divide. He cannot be both eternally equal with the Father and entirely dependent on him.

  2. You are correct that the Son is not entirely dependent on the Father. This is so precisely because he is co-equal. While eternally begotten is not in scripture, the divinity of both the Son and the Father clearly is. The question, therefore, becomes How do we make sense of this datum of revelation?. The Creed and subsequent theology is the answer. You are correct insofar as it is a patchwork over the centuries, but it makes a beautiful tapestry of faith, is consistent with revelation and human reason. Plus, it leaves room for the infinite mystery of God.

  3. How can the Father and the Son be eternally equal when the Father is not eternally begotten of the Son? Also, shouldn't an unchanging god of the trinity be an "Eternally-being-begotten son?". I personally find no pragmatic meaning in the trinity. The Father is not a male, the Son is not a male, there is no begetting going on, begotten does not apply because it is past tense and can’t really describe a timeless god. So if you get pragmatic meaning from this phrase, you have to put what ever meaning you want into it. The words of the trinity are not useful to understand the trinity, yet if I don't believe it, I am condemned to hell.

  4. The comment section of a blog post is no place to hold a theology class. Therefore, if you're interested, I highly recommend Berard Marthaler's The Creed: The Apostolic Faith in Contemporary Theology.

    Beyond that, the Father doesn't have to be begotten by the Son for them to be equal. Are you equal, in terms of being human, to your own father? Did you beget him? It is also important to note that the act of begtting does not denote a sexual act. To wit: we beget what is like ourselves, like begets like. Human parents beget human children. A divine Father begets a divine Son. Hence, the distinction in the Creed when we say that the Son is "begotten, not made". We make what is not like ourselves. For example, a craftsman makes a chair. He begets a Son.

    The Son, at least since the Incarnation is certainly male. The doctrine of the Trinity has much practical value. God is relational, that is, a communion of divine persons. As human beings, made in the image of Triune God, we are made to be relational, to be a communion of persons reflecting the Trinity. Alas, we are a human, not divine, communion. The church exists in order to bring about communion of persons, to usher in God's kingdom.

    I have no idea where you get the idea that if you do not believe in the Trinity you are going to hell. God is love precisely because God is relational. God loves you and wants you to recognize that and respond in faith, which is to respond in love.


God's love for us is tireless

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34 No doubt you've heard the saying, "There's no rest for the wicked...