Why isn’t the phrase “eternally begotten” a contradiction?

The Nicene Creed has more to say about the nature of the Trinity besides just that Jesus was eternally begotten. As well as that, I understand that the term “begotten” has a history going back to ancient Egypt in which it was a reference to Kingship, and that the term may still carry some of that meaning with it.

Aside from those things, the phrase still seems contradictory. I know that there are limitations when an idea needs to be expressed in words, hence the clarity of the Nicene Creed. Maybe this is just part of the mystery of the Trinity.

However, most of my question has to do with the apologetics that I’ve heard which describe a proof of sorts regarding God as a First Cause. If God is the first cause and the Son is eternal, to me, there is a seeming conflict. Is there a first cause before the Son was begotten? If so, how can the Son be eternal?

This is how I understand eternally begotten.

God is a community of persons. All three persons are involved in the act of creation. The Word is the cognisance of God. The Father knows Himself and that knowing is begotten eternally and is the Son. God loves the Son The Son returns love and that eternally spirates the Holy Spirit.

The only means I was able to reconcile the seeming contradiction is through pondering the generation of the logical plan to create the greatest creation as the Creator of Everything.

A couple of important points in regards to your questions to recognize are that:

  1. Prior to physically creating anything, the Creator of Everything is the only thing to exist, and in addition time does not exist. Time is created by the Creator of Everything upon the creation of the first physical creation.
  2. As the Father is fully the Creator of Everything, both the Son and the Holy Spirit are also each fully and individually the Creator of Everything. The distinction is that the Son is the Creator of Everything by eternal generation/begotten, and the Holy Spirit is the Creator of Everything by eternal procession/spiration. Since the Son is the Creator of Everything, and the Creator of Everything is not caused/created, the Son is not caused/created.

Therefore, the Son is eternal because His generation occurs prior to beginning of time and remains unchanging through the end of time.

The metaphor I read was…

Imagine somebody standing on the beach, and their foot imprints in the sand.
Then imagine that the foot and the imprint had been there for all eternity.
The imprint is a “result “ of the foot, but they are co-eternal.

(And yes, I realize all metaphors fall short, but I find this visualization helpful)

The Trinity is outside of time. In that context, it has always been eternal. First cause, to me, is in the context of creation of the universe, which occurs within time. Granted, in the end, this is a great mystery.


“Begotten” is the past participle of “beget”, which is an English word with Germanic roots, and establishes the relationship between the Father and the Son (or any father and son).

It makes little sense to use words like “first” and “before” when speaking of eternal realities, and IMHO can lead to misunderstandings. :two: :copyright: :copyright:

I can understand that, but what is the alternative? I mean, the word “before” can be found in the Nicene Creed. Should they have phrased it differently?

What about the word “from”? God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God… “From” implies something about order, doesn’t it? It seems like it to me.

I guess that would work as reason for it not being a contradiction to a “first cause” argument.

But what gets me about it is that the first cause argument is a metaphysical argument. So if there is a flaw in the way we express the Trinity then how can a metaphysical argument hold water?

Before all creation GOD was and so it was for the Son and the Holy Spirit.
They are the First cause because the whole Universe and Time itself are their creation.


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Hmmm…I don’t understand how it is a metaphysical argument. Would you please explain why you perceive it is a metaphysical argument?

Another connection I perceive is based on Dogma #29:
God loves himself of necessity.

I recognize that one could interpret this as Love “caused” the Holy Trinity, yet I would perceive this interpretation as metaphysical because Love without personhood is nothing, and nothing can’t cause something. Therefore, the first cause would be the first act of creation of the Creator of Everything.

The difficulty lies in the fact that we use the language of aristotelian metaphysics to describe the Trinity.

When we say the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, this is not a statement about temporal ordering, but is rather a statement about the relationship between the Father and Son. In this case “eternally begotten” is not about an act, but the unchanged relationship between two of the three persons of the Trinity. In particular it speaks to both Paternity (the Father’s relationship to the Son) and Filliation (the Son’s relationship to the Father). These are 2 of the 4 processions (or relationships) in the Trinity.

Religious truths are often expressed in contradictions as in the “do without doing” of the Tao Te Ching. The contradiction reinforces the teaching that action should arise from one’s nature rather than from contrived goals.

As I understand the Christian tradition, Jesus had a temporal beginning and existence as a human but his begetting is considered to have commenced outside of time. While it’s certainly a contradiction if we stand either inside or outside of time, because it’s a contradiction it reinforces the transitional viewpoint necessary to see a physical being as an aspect of an eternal god.

It has a harmony that can be appreciated even if one does not share your faith.

I’ve read the Word ‘origin’ used for the Father’s role in the Trinity but that still seems too related to time.

I think what is different with all the terms used to describe the three divine persons is that they are applied according to the state of what is described. Begotten in the temporal is an event at a particular time and if used to describe an eternal reality it is not a particular event but something that is, always was and always will be.

The Word begotten if used to describe an eternal reality may be better understood as begetting.

Just a guess.

There seems to be posters more educated responding to your question.

Begetting (or “generation”) comes through the character of “likeness” in procession. God knows Himself through a perfect imitation (Word) of Himself, eternally.

Here is Thomas on it:

The ‘first cause‘ proof of God is a fairly simple cause and effect argument. I thought that those types of cause and effect arguments are described as metaphysical arguments. I suppose that they are based in philosophical thinking as well. And so, I would think that precision matters when words and ideas are formed into philosophical concepts, at the same time though, accepting that there are limitations to doing so.

I can see where the phrase “eternally begotten” could be a form of the word “begetting”. As in, the procession of the Son from the Father is a constant…always has been and always will be.

I suppose this ^ is part of my curiosity. Why then, is the language not changed?

If the language isn’t serving the Trinity well, why not make new words to serve the Trinity? It is certainly possible to make new words, and it has been done before. I’m sure the CDF could come up with a new combination of prefixes, suffixes, and root words to express the tension that exists between procession and oneness.

Is there an Aquinas for dummies on the internet?

The key is begotten not made.

Nicene Creed

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God,] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;

Nicene-Constantinople Creed

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;

I don’t think that it’s the word itself that doesn’t serve the Trinity, but that we’ve lost the full meaning of ‘beget’. I’m not sure what you mean by tention between the procession and oneness of God as I see harmony without tention.

I guess we could always use the original Greek word, monogenes, as it is used throughout the Bible to mean unique or one of a kind. Given how many balked at changing the English translation from ‘one in being’ to ‘consubstantial’ that could be a non starter.

The reality is that people hear begotten and use it as a shorthand for offspring which only applies to created beings, which the Creed implicitly states is not the case (begotten not made). It seems the words are less an issue than that many people do not take the time to fully read those word in a contextual whole. Even if a new word was created to express the filia relationship it won’t make it so people understand that relationship without learning what it means, it’s essentially the same problem with just a new word.

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