Unus Deus – Tertullian on the generation of the Son

Here is an interesting quote I found this morning. One has to remember that Tertullian can be credited with creation of the word ‘Trinity’ and with the heavy use of the holy spirit in the Trinity. My thoughts are interspersed.

Chapter V.—The Evolution of the Son or Word of God from the Father by a Divine Procession. Illustrated by the Operation of the Human Thought and Consciousness.

But since they will have the Two to be but One, so that the Father shall be deemed to be the same as the Son, it is only right that the whole question respecting the Son should be examined, as to whether He exists, and who He is and the mode of His existence.

What we have to understand is that Tertullian is describing for us his view of the doctrine taught by Praxeas; we do not have any of Praxeas’ work extent. It would be more proper to say that the Son is the same as the Father, as a Word is the same as the Speaker.

Thus shall the truth itself secure its own sanction from the Scriptures, and the interpretations which guard them. There are some who allege that even Genesis opens thus in Hebrew: “In the beginning God made for Himself a Son.”

As far as I know, their is no textual variant in any textform that alludes to this. I would think that Tertullian is placing this thought here to add a foundation to his argument, although he agrees that there is no ‘ground for this’ variant. Tertullian is a master debater and like any debater, his main goal is to place questions and doubts in the audience’s mind about the other’s position.

As there is no ground for this, I am led to other arguments derived from God’s own dispensation, in which He existed before the creation of the world, up to the generation of the Son. For before all things God was alone—being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. Yet even not then was He alone; for He had with Him that which He possessed in Himself, that is to say, His own Reason.

Here, Tertullian and I would agree. God was alone, as attested in numerous scriptures from the Prophets. He did not share His glory, even with the angels or Adam nor would He. The issue arises as to what level of distinctness did the Reason/Logos/Wisdom have from God. I would say none, for if you insist on separating God from His Reason/Logos/Wisdom then you are left with a unreasoning, unspeaking, and unwise God. Not to be coy here or speak in oneness cliches, but the issue is quite simple; it would be impossible to have an eternal distinction.

For God is rational, and Reason was first in Him; and so all things were from Himself. This Reason is His own Thought (or Consciousness) which the Greeks call λόγος, by which term we also designate Word or Discourse and therefore it is now usual with our people, owing to the mere simple interpretation of the term, to say that the Word was in the beginning with God;

Here again, an issue arises that does lead to misunderstanding. Tertullian admits that the usual interpretation is applied. That is usually the case, however, theology is dangerously built with drawn from mere interpretations. One has to remember that Tertullian was a Latin philosopher, and that his mind was active in Latin (and rightly called the Father of Latin Theology, or the first Latin Father).

although it would be more suitable to regard Reason as the more ancient; because God had not Word from the beginning, but He had Reason even before the beginning; because also Word itself consists of Reason, which it thus proves to have been the prior existence as being its own substance.

Tertullian begins to separate Reason and Word, but yet we do have an eternal quartet. He also says that Reason had its own substance. A common mini-creed for the Trinitarians is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is of one substance, yet here Tertullian admits that their existed another substance apart from the substance of God.

Not that this distinction is of any practical moment. For although God had not yet sent out His Word, He still had Him within Himself, both in company with and included within His very Reason, as He silently planned and arranged within Himself everything which He was afterwards about to utter through His Word.

I don’t disagree with Tertullian here, that God communicated with Himself, planning with Himself what He would utter through His Word. I would also agree that that some point, God did send out His Word from Himself. What Tertullian is slowing proving is that the Son is a created being, and that the Trinity was not from eternity.

Now, whilst He was thus planning and arranging with His own Reason, He was actually causing that to become Word which He was dealing with in the way of Word or Discourse. And that you may the more readily understand this, consider first of all, from your own self, who are made “in the image and likeness of God,”for what purpose it is that you also possess reason in yourself, who are a rational creature, as being not only made by a rational Artificer, but actually animated out of His substance. Observe, then, that when you are silently conversing with yourself, this very process is carried on within you by your reason, which meets you with a word at every movement of your thought, at every impulse of your conception. Whatever you think, there is a word; whatever you conceive, there is reason. You must needs speak it in your mind; and while you are speaking, you admit speech as an interlocutor with you, involved in which there is this very reason, whereby, while in thought you are holding converse with your word, you are (by reciprocal action) producing thought by means of that converse with your word.

Tertullian begins good, by drawing attention to the fact that we have Words and Reason within us, but then he goes on to say

Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second person within you, through which in thinking you utter speech, and through which also, (by reciprocity of process,) in uttering speech you generate thought.

Which is a bit of a stretch. When as a man ever been separate from his Reason or his Word? Would it be possible to extract a man’s Reason or Word and have three of the man’s substance? And if it were possible to do such a thing, to what extent is a man a man without reason or word?

The word is itself a different thing from yourself. Now how much more fully is all this transacted in God, whose image and likeness even you are regarded as being, inasmuch as He has reason within Himself even while He is silent, and involved in that Reason His Word! I may therefore without rashness first lay this down (as a fixed principle) that even then before the creation of the universe God was not alone, since He had within Himself both Reason, and, inherent in Reason, His Word, which He made second to Himself by agitating it within Himself.

At which point Tertullian, trying to disprove Praxeas, looses all accountability with his ability to outsource his logic. What he has done, however, is to prove that early Trinitarian thought included the idea that the Son was generated at some point by God; he has proved that at some point God was alone and generated the Son into existence.

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0 Replies to “Unus Deus – Tertullian on the generation of the Son”

  1. You are so wrong with your reason and logic. It is obvious that your own presuppositions, rather than truth, reason and logic prevail. Not to mention you have no historical support that is not already heterodox! With your doctrine and logic we should all become Muslim, since God is so transcendent, and not able to be immanent (with them).

  2. I understand that your comments are not personal attacks; however, they are hardly discourse or rational debate. I fully understand that you are Trinitarian, but your refutation is filled only with the idea that I am wrong. If I am ‘so wrong’ then instead of telling me that I am wrong, prove it to me. Where is the historical support for that Apostolic doctrine of the Trinity? None. It is a doctrine developed over time. I have already shown that Modalism existed before Trinitarianism, and unless you can show me that such important doctrines as the nature of the Godhead are allowed to develop, then Trinitarianism is itself unorthodox.

    With that said, however, I am more than willing to post (if you do not have a blog) any evidence of an apostolic belief in the doctrine of the Trinity or any apostolic belief that a doctrine such as this should be developed overtime.

  3. I have already “quote proved” it! The historic Creeds of Nicene/Nicaea and Chalcendon! Which by the way, are not Roman, though they certainly and most correctly followed them. They are in reality eastern creeds. And so in truth the Eastern (so-called) Orthodox Church! All confessional, reformational Churches also follow these established, and conventional (Oecumenical) creeds and statements about both the proper nature of Christ as both God & Man, and the Triune nature and blessed Trinity of God! So, when you depart from this, you are showing that you are certainly heterodox – in mere opinion (hetero + doxa)…departing from the established doctrines of the whole Church, Catholic & Reformed.

    As to Scripture, I could write pages and exegete verses, but you would simply twist them as 2 Peter 3: 16 says…and if not repented of and stopped, to “twist to their own destruction”.

    Again the whole Bible, and most especially the NT is permeated with the doctrine and reality of the Triune God!

    “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 Cor. 13:14) This one verse would be enough for anyone, but I could quote so many more Eph. 2: 18…St. John 14/15/16, etc.,etc. And it is not ontologically possible to a modalist idea. This came from a form of Monarchianism (3rd century). And also Sabellius, etc. The idea of modes or actions in a one God rather than eternal and essential distinctions within the divine nature itself, is as I said not biblical, ontological and just not the fulness of the truth itself, as to the grand nature of God, who is both three and one (triune). The Father is the cause or origin of the Godhead, from whom the Son is begotten eternally and also from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally (St. John 15:26). The Holy Trinity is three, distinct, divine persons (hypostases), without overlap or modality among them, who share one divine essence (ousia) – uncreated, immaterial and eternal.

    Finally, when discussing God’s relationship to his creation, Orthodoxy used the concept of a distinction between God’s eternal essence which is totally transcendent and his “uncreated energies” which is how he reaches us. It is also necessary to understand that this is an artifical distinction, not a real one. The God who is transcendent and the God who touches us are one and the same. This profound and wonderful God is indeed a divine mystery! We can but bow and worship our God Triune! AMEN!

  4. Creeds, formulated 300 or 400 years after the Apostles carry very little water. Does the New Testament writings present Doctrine as developing or organic in any way?

    Although you say “Again the whole Bible, and most especially the NT is permeated with the doctrine and reality of the Triune God!” you fail to provide scriptural evidence to prove your case.

    When referring to the creeds, you say “All confessional, reformational Churches also follow these established, and conventional (Oecumenical) creeds and statements about both the proper nature of Christ as both God & Man, and the Triune nature and blessed Trinity of God!” yet we are never command to follow creeds and statements formulated by men. We are commanded to follow what God has breathed for us, that of the writings of the Apostles.

    You mention 2nd Cor 13:14, however Paul does not have distinction. You have to leave your creeds and man made theology behind when you read the Bible and the Bible create for you doctrine. For everyone verse that you quote (which is not many of them) there are those verses that clearly point a God without divisions or a God of one Person.

    Monarchism existed before the Trinitarian system, however Modalism (as people call it) existed before both of them. Monarchism is not Modalism. Christ did not become God, but was God. Don’t confuse the two.

    You said,

    “The Father is the cause or origin of the Godhead, from whom the Son is begotten eternally and also from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally (St. John 15:26).”

    But then you go on to contradict yourself by saying,

    “The Holy Trinity is three, distinct, divine persons (hypostases), without overlap or modality among them, who share one divine essence (ousia) – uncreated, immaterial and eternal.”

    If the Father is first, and the Son and Spirit is begotten, and yet they are all uncreated. Do you see the contradiction here?

  5. I gave both historical evidence and scriptural evidence! You simply will not give (or have given) any for your own opinions. I too would be fearful to “wrest” or twist the Scriptures…2 Peter 3: 16! But you must to stand against the Trinity in Holy Sripture! Not to mention Holy Tradition!

    By the way, have you read St. Ignatius letter to St. Polycarp?

  6. There is no real contradiction at all, but plenty of mystery!

    My friend, I can say no more really, I cannot argue you into truth and God, no that must come from God In Christ..Incarnation, and the Spirit of God…yes amen God Triune! +++

    Fr. Robert

  7. PS..Oh yes, the development of the NT was real and by the Apostolic Church. And the organic nature of the Triune God was always prevalent.

  8. Your fast retreat reveals that you know very little about your doctrine, which is a shame. I have taken my time to present the facts as I can, with interpretation not from man, but from the original languages. No such thing as elemental Trinitarianism existed in the Church. Again, show me where doctrine was allowed to developed past the Apostles?

    I have no problem standing against ‘Holy Tradition’ especially when Peter, James and John would not have recognized it as descending from them.

    One of the dividing points in this discussion is the level at which Tradition plays. Tradition develops, and rightly so, but is Tradition sanctioned by God? Did not Christ speak to this very fact when He taught against the many traditions that had voided the command of God?

    I would rather stand with Paul than with Tradition and Creeds.

  9. Friend, this is no “retreat”, I just realize as scripture says..Titus 3:10-11. That you and I are not in a dialog at all. No, you (like so many) that think the Bible alone (without creed or tradition) can lead them by their own private interpretations, and then try and “pontificate” or use your supposed knowledge of Greek, etc.

    As I have shown, there are many scriptures that support a proper “tradition” (2 Thess. 2:15, Acts 2:42, etc.) Yes, as Our Lord spoke there is good and bad traditions. But even fundmentalism like yours has become (and long ago too) Tradition! It is always the question of the kind of life and spirit that is produced, by our traditions and authority. Is it the spirit and life of Christ? Does it stand on real historical and incarnational authority? And the incarnation is still alive and well in the real Church of Christ! Both Christ above on the throne of God, and Christ in His Body and members! (And I have written on your other blog about this also).

  10. I stand with the Apostles, sir, not with traditions that are liable to change, albeit through a process. The early tradition was that the Son was generated. Yet, modern tradition contends that the Son was from eternity as well.

    Paul spoke of a tradition handed down the the Apostles. Were the creeds? Were the many councils of Rome and Constantinople related in any way to the Apostles or did the councils meet to decide Tradition?

    The Incarnation is still alive and well? Care to explain that one?

  11. You must get theology correct: The Son is eternally generated from the Father. As the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father alone. As I said, the Father is the cause or origin of the Godhead.

    As to the Apostles doctrine and teaching, this is handed down historically and spiritually. And it did develop thru/to the first seven Councils. The faith of the Orthodox Church is based primarily upon the dogmatic defintions of the seven Oecumenical Councils. And the Orthodox do not recognize as Oecumenical any Council held since the Second of Nicaea in 787. There were later local councils that have influence, but not at that level. Orthodox teaching on many points has never been explicitly forlulated by any Council, but is found embodied in luturgical texts used by the Church in worship. The Orthodox Church is very mystical, but always Christological…Christ Risen, and from here His death is proclaimed!

  12. You say, “You must get theology correct: The Son is eternally generated from the Father. As the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father alone. As I said, the Father is the cause or origin of the Godhead.” Okay, so the Son is generated for the Father, indicating that the Son is not eternal. I agree.

    You say, “As to the Apostles doctrine and teaching, this is handed down historically and spiritually. And it did develop thru/to the first seven Councils.” This is a contradictory statement. If it is the Apostles’ doctrine, then why did it take 7 Councils (even more now) and 300-400 years to develop? Was Peter and Paul there?

    In Acts 2, we read that those baptized on the Day of Pentecost continued in the Apostles’ Doctrine. If the Apostle’s Doctrine was set on that day, then who choose to further develop it? Did it need further development, especially by 7 councils some 300 years or so removed from the very Apostles?

    Are you Anglican or Orthodox? And since when is the true Church mystical?

  13. First, I am an Anglican auxiliary bishop, but also very close to Orthodoxy. I belonged to a society that was for Anglican-Orthodox dialogue. I would consider myself in almost total agreement with the Orthodox. They are the “Orthodox Catholic Communion”. The authentic and original Christian Church established by Jesus Christ and his Apostles.

    This is not the place to write a small book on the nature of the episcopacy. If you really care you can look this up on the web itself.

    Here is the deal, you guys just don’t either accept, nor perhaps really understand the nature and mystery of both the Church, and the Trinity of God. Again, I cannot write a book here, and especially with people who will, and would not believe even if I did. I told you, I cannot make you believe, that is up to God, and you? And I am not really a hard blogger, with nothing else to do, but play around on here, etc. I use the blog, but mainly for those who are true seekers, or those who already believe, but run into people like you who are heterodox, and confuse the true sheep. And if you learn anything about the Orthodox, they do not spend too much time on so-called western apologetics.
    Finally, the true Church is always mystical and really the BODY of Christ in both heaven & earth!

    Peace of Christ,
    Fr. Robert
    D.Phil.,Th.D.

    PS I am not going to re-state what I have already said about the truth to the doctrine of Christ’s eternal Sonship, and his eternal generation from the Father!

  14. Fr. Robert, I understand that you do not wish to right a ‘small book’ however, you haven’t even attempted to write a summary. You point to the creeds, but in reality, they two are nothing but man-made doctrinal formulas finalized after centuries of development.

    The Councils hold no doctrinal weight with me, nor does anything else proceeding from anyone but the Apostles.

    God has revealed to me the Deity, complete and one, but then again, anyone can say that (although not rightly).

  15. Polycarp. It has been interesting going back and forth some. I can see that you are a blogger. At least that is your perception. I am not a hard blogger. I have written many things in my adult life both philosophical, or from that point. My D.Phil. was on the ontology of the Cross. And not to mention much in theology, my Th.D. was over St. Paul’s Romans Chap. 7. But since I am well over 50 (I hope a young 58? lol), the blog came really after my time. As I said I use it for mostly pastoral use, etc.

    I could really not write anything better than what you could pull up on the Web about both Orthodoxy, nor the Oecumenical Councils. But, it is obvious to me that the creedal statements and authority could not be written till Christianity had settled itself both in a place of peace (without persecution), and time to think. And this simply did not come about until right about the time we have the creeds written and given.

    The life of the Church in the earlier Byzantine period is dominated by the seven general councils. First, they clarified and articulated the visible organization of the Church, crystallizing the position of the five great sees or Patriarchates, as they came to be known. Secondly, and more important the councils defined once and for all the Church’s teaching upon the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith – the Trinity and the Incarnation. All proper Christians agree in regarding these things as ‘mysteries’ (St. Paul 1 Cor.4:1), which lie beyond human understanding and language. The bishops when they drew up definitions at the councils, did not imagine that they had explained the mystery, they merely sought to exclude certain false ways of speaking and thinking about it. To prevent people from deviating into error and heresy, they drew a fense around the mystery, that was all. But that was/is very important!
    Your poistion, is simply not orthodox, in the fullest meaning! And as you even say anyone can say what “they” may think, but is it Catholic (Universal), Apostolic (righty so), and Orthodox? Here with the Oecumenical Councils, we have (as thought and drawn from Scripture) the standard of the Christian Faith! And many Christian groups agree, for the Orthodox, R. Catholic, to many Reformed and so called Evangelical Christians. Yes, indeed the majority of the whole of Christendom has believed and stood upon this authority! And as I said, to leave it, is most certainly heterodoxy!

  16. First, you are beginning with a false presupposition. These are not just created by men! But, men who are within the early creedal and apostolic authority. Just because it came after the so-called physical death of the last apostles does not mean at all that God does not still speak in apostolic form and manner. This is the nature of the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church! And in the Orthodox Church, we simply have the “Orthodox Catholic Communion.”Here we have the Mystery Of Christ! This Church proves itself by its own nature –
    The preservers of the teachings and traditions given to the early Christians by the Apostles; the developers of the conciliar interpretations which expand and illuminate the original teachings.
    The preservers of Truth who compare all newer theological ideas to the already established beliefs and practices of the Church; accepting ideas that clarify and correctly teach, while rejecting ideas that are theologically incompatible with the original teachings.
    The preservers and compliers of the NT whose texts were written to members of the Churches in ancient times and expressed AN ALREADY ESTABLISHED DOCTRINE.

  17. Like when Christ came as incarnate, He did not argue about who He was/is! He simply stated it! “Jesus said to them..before Abraham was, I AM”. And with His Church, it is His not really by argument, but by the nature and spiritual reality of its character…for the true Church produces “Christ in you, the hope of glory (glorification).” (Col.1:27)

  18. I guess ya ran the white flag up? I mean where is the great Oneness church and history? And Monarchianism (late second and 3rd century), and also “patripassian”. Has been given its death blow with Arius judgment, also the excommunication of Theodotus…to Paul of Samosata, Sabellius, etc. All of it was given the Anathema by the 4th century! And those like yourself that turn back to it, have nothing but the hand of the Churches Anathema sit! Again, this is heterodoxy, we can call it nothing else! I am not making this a personal thing, but it is certainly theological.

  19. Okay, First, there is no such thing as ‘creedal authority’. Second, the Apostles did actually die. It is recognized that the reason the canon was settled is that that the Apostles, or their surrogates, didn’t write anymore books. So, yes, God did cease to speak in Apostolic form and fashion.

    Trinity, even by your own admission, was not an established doctrine in the days of the Apostles, yet you hold to established doctrine. Not much sense there.

    No white flag here; I had more important things to do than to discuss something with you when all you can do is simply say ‘You are wrong, but I can’t show you how, because it is a mystery.’

    Only the victors determined later understanding of Patripassianism. It was misunderstanding of their doctrine, most likely.

    You seem bent on declaring that this is not a personal thing. Good for you, but it was a theological thing for you, then you would provide ample support for your false doctrine.

  20. Polycarp. The problem with you is simple, you just cannot understand the reality of both the true Apostolic Church and its authoity, and the doctrine of God therein, which is fully and soundly Trinitarian!

    I have given you good and sound arguments, they are just not the fully western type, that you are so used to. I have done so on much purpose. Maybe you can learn something? But I doubt it, you must learn to think some outside the box…something you (right now) don’t seem able to do?

    As to the death of the Apostles… this of course finished their “individual” written ministry, but not their power and authority as to the “whole” Apostles Doctrine…Acts 2:42. And by the way, I have given some scripture authority, I don’t believe you have given one verse?

    I know you are frustrated because you cannot “prove” yourself and your position. Again, in reality the biblical truth and its Apostolic Church are not so much proven with argument and data alone, as they are faithfully experienced, and then expressed in heart & mind. And this is certainly intellectually and spiritually given, but not in just western mental ways. I pray you find “spirit and truth”!

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