The Nicene Creed specifies that the Son of God is “begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made”. The distinction between “begetting” and “creating”, then, can be seen to have been a matter of great importance to the fathers of the Nicene Council.
But for some contemporary Christians, any talk of the Son being caused at all sounds unorthodox; usually because in the thinking of such persons, a subject which is caused is by definition a creature, and thus, not divine. Since the Son is divine with the same divine nature as the Father, such a statement is repugnant to the truth, they reason.
This line of reasoning is shown to be flawed when we observe that a subject being caused does not make it a creature. It is because of such arguments being made by the Arians, in order to argue that the Son was a creature, that the orthodox fathers recognized a need to articulate clearly between two different sorts of causality: creating, and begetting.
Begetting, after all, just as much implies causality as creating does; yet scripture frequently speaks of the divine Son of God as “only-begotten” (see: Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures). In doing so scripture reveals that the Son is indeed caused- while at the same time holding this truth in congruence with the fact that the Son is of the same divine nature as the Father. How can that be?
The answer lies in the distinction between these two different types of causality: begetting, and creating. Begetting involves the causing of one individual from another, in such a way that the caused individual and the original are distinct persons of the same nature; the begotten individual has its person and essence from the begetter, and thus, has the same essence. With God, to create, on the other hand, is not simply as man does -a reforming and reshaping of what already exists- but causing subjects to exist from, or out of, nothing.
This distinction can be seen in human affairs as well. A man makes a house, or a car, or a statue. But he begets a son. The things he makes are never of the same nature as he; but that which he begets will always be of the same nature as he. So in the case of the Son of God, the fact that He is begotten of the Father means He is necessarily of the same divine nature as the Father; such is implied in sonship by generation itself.
That the Son of God, then, is caused by the Father, ought not make anyone think that it is possible that He be less than truly God in nature. And thus we see highlighted the important historical distinction between begetting and creating.