ST. AMBROSE ON THE TIMELESS BEGETTING OF THE SON

I share this nugget from the church father St. Ambrose who expose the futility of thinking that the Father precedes the Son in time:

59. “I do not say,” answerest thou, “that the Son existed not before time; but when I call Him “Son,” I declare that His Father existed before Him, for, as you say, father exists before son.”1785 But what means this? Thou deniest that time was before the Son, and yet thou wilt have it that something preceded the existence of the Son—some creature of time,—and thou showest certain stages of generation intervening, whereby thou dost give us to understand that the generation from the Father was a process in time. For if He began to be a Father, then, in the first instance, He was God, and afterwards He became a Father. How, then, is God unchangeable?1786 For if He was first God, and then the Father, surely He has undergone change by reason of the added and later act of generation.

 

60. But may God preserve us from this madness; for it was but to confute the impiety of the heretics that we brought in this question. The devout spirit affirms a generation that is not in time, and so declares Father and Son to be co-eternal, and does not maintain that God has ever suffered change.

1785 The Arians fell into the popular error of supposing that a father, as a father, existed before his son. They also required men to apply to Divine Persons, what only holds good of human beings—to impose on the Being of God those limits to which human existences (as objective facts) are subjected. The existence of the Divine Father and the Divine Son is without, beyond, above time—with the Godhead there is neither past nor future, but an everlasting present. But with man, time-categories are necessary forms of thought—everything is seen as past, present, or to come—and to the human consciousness all objects are presented in time, though the spiritual principle in man which perceives objects as related in succession, is itself supra-temporal, beholding succession, but not itself in succession.

Now it can hardly be denied with any show of reason that a man is not a father until his son begins to exist, is born, though the father, as a person distinct from his son, is in existence before the latter. Again, father and son must be of the same nature—they must both possess the elementary, essential attributes of humanity. Otherwise there is no fatherhood, no sonship, properly speaking.


God has revealed Himself as a Father—even in the pagan mythologies we see the idea of Fatherhood implicit in Godhead. If the gods of the heathen did not beget after their kind, they begat heroes and demigods. But created existences cannot claim to be the first and proper object of the Divine Father’s love. They are for a time only, and with them Eternal Love could not be satisfied. If God be a true Father, then, He must beget His Like—His Son must be equal to Him in nature, that is, what is true of the Father, what is essential in the Father, as God, must be true or essential in the Son also. Therefore the son must be divine, eternal. But the generation (γέννησις) of the Son is not an event in time. It is a fact, a truth, out of, beyond time, belonging to the divine and eternal and spiritual, not to the temporal and created, order. “To whom amongst the angels does He ever say, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee? and again, I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me? when, again, He brings His first-begotten into the world” (i.e., reveals Him to the created universe as its King), He says: “And let all God’s angels worship Him” (Heb. i. 5–6). Since the Divine Son, then, is eternal, even as the Divine Father, the one cannot be before or after the other; the two Persons are co-existent, co-eternal, co-equal. And the mysterious genesis, also, is not an event that happened once, taking place in a series of events, it is ever happening, it is always and for ever

1786 i.e., how do you deal with such Scriptures as “Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”—“I am the Lord: I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”—“The Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (Ambrose: Select Works and Letters, in Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second series translated into English with Prolegomena and Explanatory Notes, Edited by

Philip Schaff & Henry Wace [T&T Clark, Edinburgh/WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI] Volume X. Exposition of the Christian Faith. , Book I, Chapter IX; bold emphasis mine)

FURTHER READING

THE EARLY CHURCH ON THE ETERNAL BEGETTING OF THE SON

AUGUSTINE ON CHRIST’S ETERNAL GENERATION

DID TERTULLIAN DENY THE ETERNAL NATURE OF CHRIST?

JOHN OF DAMASCUS ON THE HOLY TRINITY AND HYPOSTATIC UNION

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