“To be God the Father is first to be the Father of the Son, and just and only so to be God”

It was the center of the revelation to Israel that the Lord is a ferociously jealous God, that he brooks no almost-gods, no “next” powers “after” the Father of all. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one God,” is the first creed of the church also. In the Bible there is the Lord, the Creator of all things, and there are his creatures, and there is nothing in between; there is no ontological overlap, no pantheon of not-quite-gods or divine creatures.

So which is the Logos, Creator or creature? For such Bible-readers as were the ancient churchmen, the question could not be ignored, but it could be long suppressed. Until finally poor Arius pressed it so urgently that it had to be faced, whereupon the church blew apart.

The outcome is familiar. A few thinkers took up Arius’s challenge and faced the church with the stark alternative: either stop worshiping the Son, because he is a creature and Christians do not worship creatures, or acknowledge that the Son is Creator, God Almighty. For a time such radicals were a minority, yet with this stern biblical reasoning they eventually bullied the church, kicking and screaming, into the confession of Nicaea and Constantinople, that the Son who is from God is nevertheless, or rather just so, himself true God, that in the case of this God, being from God is not incompatible with being 100 percent God.

The thought was achieved that has since enabled all specifically Christian thought on any given subject: that to be God the Father is first to be the Father of the Son, and just and only so to be God; that to be God the Son is first to be the Son of this Father, and just and only so to be God, and that to be God the Spirit is first to be the Spirit of this Father resting on this Son, and just and only so to be God; so that only in their mutuality is there God at all. God—if I may use my own jargon—is what happens between Jesus and the one he called Father, as they are freed for each other by their Spirit.

So Jesus is the Son, who is of one being with the Father, either of whom can be called Lord and neither of whom can be called the Lord without the other. From A.D. 381 on that has been the dogma of the holy catholic church.

(Robert W. Jenson, “With No Qualifications: The Christological Maximalism of the Christian East,” in Ancient & Postmodern Christianity, pp. 16-17)

Advertisements
Quote | This entry was posted in Robert Jenson. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “To be God the Father is first to be the Father of the Son, and just and only so to be God”

  1. Jimi says:

    It seems to me that the theological position here espoused relies on an equivocation in the use of the term “God”.

    Take, for instance, the statement: ‘that the Son who is from God is nevertheless, or rather just so, himself true God”.

    God in the first refers to a WHO (the Father, I presume), but refers to a WHAT in the second instance (the divine essence). Correct me if I am wrong about this. But if true, it is an equivocation that runs throughout the article.

    So how really is the author using the term “God”? To designate a WHO? THREE WHOS? or a WHAT? (the divine essence).

    Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      It signifies a person who is divine, just like the person who which is signified by your name Jimi also signifies a human nature. In this particular case Jenson is referring to three persons and one essence.

      Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Jimi, in a sense you are right, Jimi, because once the Church rejected the notion of graded divinity and affirmed that the Father, Son, and Spirit each possess the same divine nature or divinity, then the usage of the word “God” expanded. “God” (meaning divine nature) could now be used as a predicate of each of the divine hypostases: the Father is God, the Son, is God, the Spirit is God, e.g. Of course, the older usage was retained in prayer and creed: “O God, come and save us.” When “God” is addressed simply as God, everyone know that it is the Father who is being addressed. But when the Nicaea and Constantinople made clear is that the Father is never without his Son and Spirit. The hypostases do not stand alone or independently of each other—which ultimately teases out to what Jenson wrote: “that to be God the Father is first to be the Father of the Son, and just and only so to be God; that to be God the Son is first to be the Son of this Father, and just and only so to be God, and that to be God the Spirit is first to be the Spirit of this Father resting on this Son, and just and only so to be God; so that only in their mutuality is there God at all.” It sounds confusing, I suppose, but all that is required is attention to context to figure out the meaning of “God” in sentences like these. It’s all part of the Trinitarian dialectic.

      Liked by 2 people

      • … once the Church rejected the notion of graded divinity and affirmed that the Father, Son, and Spirit each possess the same divine nature or divinity, then the usage of the word “God” expanded.

        Aidan,

        Have you ever seriously considered that, had it not been for Justin’s theos kai kurios eteros, holding deutera chōra, the notion of graded divinity would have not been introduced? 😦

        Like

  2. God … is what happens between Jesus and the one he called Father, as they are freed for each other by their Spirit.

    @ Aidan

    Marcellus, who was one of the “champions” of Nicea 325, affirmed that the logos/dabar is an essential, eternal attribute of God (the other one being the pneuma/ruach) and that Jesus, properly speaking, is the Son of God only inasmuch and since the logos became a human person (sarx egeneto) in him. Fr. Joseph Lienhard, the author of Contra Marcellum suggests that this could have been the way to solve the Arian controversy. Unfortunately the Cappadocians’s mysterian approach prevailed … 😦

    Like

  3. God … is what happens between Jesus and the one he called Father, as they are freed for each other by their Spirit.

    @ Aidan

    Marcellus, who was one of the “champions” of Nicea 325, affirmed that the logos/dabar is an essential, eternal attribute of God (the other one being the pneuma/ruach) and that Jesus, properly speaking, is the Son of God only inasmuch and since the logos became a human person (sarx egeneto) in him. Fr. Joseph Lienhard, the author of Contra Marcellum suggests that this could have been the way to solve the Arian controversy. Unfortunately the Cappadocians’s mysterian approach prevailed … 😦

    Like

Comments are closed.