“This [the Word] was His counsellor, the very way of His wisdom and knowledge. Of this He made all things, making them through It, and making them with It. When He prepared the heavens, so says (the Scripture ), I was present with Him; and when He strengthened above the winds the lofty clouds, and when He secured the fountains which are under the heaven, I was present, compacting these things along with Him. I was He in whom He took delight; moreover, I daily rejoiced in His presence: for He rejoiced when He had finished the world, and among the sons of men did He show forth His pleasure. Proverbs 8:27-31 Now, who would not rather approve of this as the fountain and origin of all things — of this as, in very deed, the Matter of all Matter, not liable to any end, not diverse in condition, not restless in motion, not ungraceful in form, but natural, and proper, and duly proportioned, and beautiful, such truly as even God might well have required, who requires His own and not another’s? Indeed, as soon as He perceived It to be necessary for His creation of the world, He immediately creates It, and generates It in Himself. The Lord, says the Scripture, possessed me, the beginning of His ways for the creation of His works. Before the worlds He founded me; before He made the earth, before the mountains were settled in their places; moreover, before the hills He generated me, and prior to the depths was I begotten. Let Hermogenes then confess that the very Wisdom of God is declared to be born and created, for the special reason that we should not suppose that there is any other being than God alone who is unbegotten and uncreated. For if that, which from its being inherent in the Lord was of Him and in Him, was yet not without a beginning — I mean His Wisdom, which was then born and created, when in the thought of God It began to assume motion for the arrangement of His creative works — how much more impossible is it that anything should have been without a beginning which was extrinsic to the Lord! But if this same Wisdom is the Word of God, in the capacity of Wisdom, and (as being He) without whom nothing was made, just as also (nothing) was set in order without Wisdom, how can it be that anything, except the Father, should be older, and on this account indeed nobler, than the Son of God, the only-begotten and first-begotten Word? Not to mention that what is unbegotten is stronger than that which is born, and what is not made more powerful than that which is made. Because that which did not require a Maker to give it existence, will be much more elevated in rank than that which had an author to bring it into being.” Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, Ch 18.
Such statements would as the above must be alarming to many, who are scandalized by the term ‘created’ being used of Christ. Tertullian is not alone among the ante-nicene fathers in calling the Son a creature; Origen, Novatian, Eusebius, Irenaeus, Methodius, and others, seemed willing to speak quite freely of the Son not only as being begotten by the Father before the world was, but as having been created by Him, and of the Father alone as being uncreated.
The question must be addressed: were these church fathers Arians before Arius? Does the fact that they used the term ‘create’ in reference to the Son’s generation from the Father mean that Arianism is the theology of the ante-nicene church? The answer, from the writings of these fathers themselves, is a clear ‘No’; for they not only have in common that they refer to the Son as a creature, and as having been made, but also that they specify this important point: that the Son is produced by the Father, not after the manner of other creatures, from nothing, but from the Father Himself. The Son is said by them to be ‘created’, not on account of being, like other creatures (and as Arius had taught), from nothing, but merely on account of His being caused; for according to the natural meaning of the terms, to ‘create’ is to ’cause’; the terms ‘create’ and ’cause’ are synonyms.
Since, then, the Father alone is uncaused, and the Son is caused by the Father as having been uniquely and atemporally begotten from Him before the ages, the Father alone can be called uncreated, and the Son may be accurately said to have been created by the Father. The Son’s mode of origination from the Father is totally unique, in being generated from the Father Himself. But since this means that the Son is caused, the word ‘Creature’ may still reasonably be applied to Him, on that account.
We see this, for instance, in Tertullian’s quote above. The Word’s generation from the Father (or creation by the Father) is simply the Word’s coming forth from ‘within’ the Father Himself; this is contrasted with other creatures, which He describes ‘extrinsic’ to God; that is, they are not from God Himself, but are caused to exist by Him out of nothing. We see this same idea clearly highlighted by Hippolytus:
“The first and only (one God), both Creator and Lord of all, had nothing coeval with Himself; not infinite chaos, nor measureless water, nor solid earth, nor dense air, not warm fire, nor refined spirit, nor the azure canopy of the stupendous firmament. But He was One, alone in Himself. By an exercise of His will He created things that are, which antecedently had no existence, except that He willed to make them…. Therefore this solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos first; not the word in the sense of being articulated by voice, but as a ratiocination of the universe, conceived and residing in the divine mind. Him alone He produced from existing things; for the Father Himself constituted existence, and the being born from Him was the cause of all things that are produced. The Logos was in the Father Himself, bearing the will of His progenitor, and not being unacquainted with the mind of the Father. For simultaneously with His procession from His Progenitor, inasmuch as He is this Progenitor’s first-born, He has, as a voice in Himself, the ideas conceived in the Father. And so it was, that when the Father ordered the world to come into existence, the Logos one by one completed each object of creation, thus pleasing God…. For as many things as He willed, God made from time to time. These things He created through the Logos, it not being possible for things to be generated otherwise than as they were produced. But when, according as He willed, He also formed (objects), He called them by names, and thus notified His creative effort. And making these, He formed the ruler of all, and fashioned him out of all composite substances. The Creator did not wish to make him a god, and failed in His aim; nor an angel — be not deceived, — but a man. For if He had willed to make you a god, He could have done so. You have the example of the Logos [that is, He made the Logos a God]. His will, however, was, that you should be a man, and He has made you a man… The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God. Now the world was made from nothing; wherefore it is not God; as also because this world admits of dissolution whenever the Creator so wishes it.” (Refutation of All Heresies, 10)
Here we see, among other details, this distinction between the world, which was made “from nothing”, and the Son, Who the Father made from Himself; whereas the world was caused to exist where nothing had existed previously, the Son was made from the Father’s own substance; that is, He is made from what the Father Himself is, of the same ‘stuff’ as the Father, to put it crudely. And so the Word, or Son, is the only-begotten of the Father, as alone being generated immediately by the Father from His own person.
Justin Martyr gives two excellent analogies of the Son’s generation from the Father in this manner:
“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled. The Word of Wisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, and Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon the following:
If I shall declare to you what happens daily, I shall call to mind events from everlasting, and review them. The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 61)
According to Justin, the Son is generated from the Father, not as a part of the Father cut off from Him, or in any other way that would involve change in God, Who is unchanging, but as fire kindled from fire, the Son was generated, not from nothing, but from the Father Himself.
It is not then, distinctly Arian to say that the Son is created; but we may ask what is meant by the word, just as when we hear that the Son is caused, we may inquire into what way He was caused, or created: from nothing, which is the heresy of Arius, or from the Father Himself, which is the opinion of the fathers who spoke of the Son as a creature prior to the council of Nicea, as well as of many after.
For it is noteworthy that many Homoian fathers, while rejecting Arianism, and anathematizing the Arian doctrine that the Son is ‘from nothing’, and instead defining Him to have been genuinely begotten from the Father, freely spoke of Him as having been created by the Father. For example, Maximinus said during his debate with Augustine:
“Do you want to know how great is the wisdom of the Father? Look at the Son, and you will see the wisdom of the Father. For this reason Christ himself said, One who has seen me has also seen the Father (Jn 14:9). That is, in me he sees his wisdom; he praises his might; he glorifies the Father who, one and alone, has begotten me, one and alone, so great and so good before all ages. He did not look for material out of which to make him, nor did he take someone as an assistant. Rather, in the way he knew, he begot the Son by his power and his wisdom. We do not profess, as you say when you falsely accuse us, that, just as the rest of creation was made from nothing, so the Son was made from nothing like a creature. Listen to the authority of statement of the Synod; for our fathers in Ariminum said this among other things, ‘If anyone says that the Son is from nothing and not from God the Father, let him be anathema.’”
Yet these same Homoians who subscribed to this anathema against those who said, like Arius, that the Son was produced by the Father out of nothing, also spoke as follows:
“He never hesitated to preach … one sole true God the Father of Christ according to Christ’s own teaching, knowing that this sole true God is solely ingenerate… And when he was alone, not to create division or reduction of his Godhead but for the revelation of his goodness and power, by his will and power alone, impassibly himself impassible, indestructibly himself indestructible, and immovably himself unmoved, He created and begot, made and founded the Only-begotten God… and that the Father is the creator of the whole creator, but the Son the creator of the whole creation, and the Father is the God of the Lord, but the Son the God of the whole of creation.” (Auxentius’s Summary of Ulfilas’s Preaching)
Whereas one might here accuse Ulfilas of having preached Arianism, in light of the anathema of the Creed to which he subscribed, must this not be better, and more consistently, understood to mean nothing different than what the ante-nicene fathers meant, when they said that the Son was created by the Father? Indeed, it is most reasonable, in the case of both the former and the latter, to understand their language the same way: that the Son is created, and made, inasmuch as He is caused by the Father (that being all that is signified by these words), in having been begotten by Him; yet this creation is not from nothing, as Arius taught, but is immediate generation from the Father Himself, and so, totally unique from other creatures’ origin.
The Nicene anathema against those who call the Son a creature, then, remains to be addressed: and on the basis of the ante-nicene fathers, the best post-nicene fathers (namely, the Homoians), the bare meaning of the terms, sound reasoning, and the language of scripture, we must conclude that these anathemas, while being well intended to eradicate the heresy of Arius, are in error; for the term ‘create’, merely being, according to its natural meaning, a synonym of the term ’cause’, bears no inherently Arian meaning, but rather, when understood in this sense, may be very rightly applied to the Son, on account of His generation from the Father before the ages. For to say that the Son was begotten by God, and then deny that He is caused by God, is the greatest absurdity; refuted by the most basic logic, the testimony of the fathers, and most importantly, by the scriptures themselves. For the Word declared “I live because of the Father”; and from this alone it may be clearly understood that He has the Father as the Cause of His life and existence (see here for more detail on this point).
If then, the Father is the Cause of the Son, then He is the Creator of the Son; not from nothing, but from Himself. And so the Son is the only-begotten Son of God, as alone being begotten, alone generated directly and immediately from the Father Himself, rather than from nothing.
Such passages of scripture then, as these, will seem to bear a much clearer and less convoluted meaning than those committed to the Nicene definition will allow them to bear, which seem to speak of the Son as a creature:
“The Lord created me the beginning of his ways for his works. He established me before time in the beginning, before he made the earth: even before he made the depths; before the fountains of water came forth: before the mountains were settled, and before all hills, he begets me.” (Proverbs 8:22-25 LXX)
“He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15 NASB)
“He was faithful to the one Who made Him, as Moses was in all His house.” (Hebrews 3:2)
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness [Christ], the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:” (Revelation 3:14 NASB)
Finally, I leave the reader with several other relevant quotes from other church fathers mentioned above:
“We consider, therefore, that there are three hypostases, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and at the same time we believe nothing to be uncreated but the Father. We admit, as more pious and as true, that the Holy Spirit is the most honored of all things made through the Word, and that he is [first] in rank of all the things which have been made by the Father through Christ. Perhaps this is the reason the Spirit too is not called son of God, since the only begotten alone is by nature a son from the beginning. The Holy Spirit seems to have need of the Son ministering to his hypostasis, not only for it to exist, but also for it to be wise, and rational, and just, and whatever other thing we ought to understand it to be by participation in the aspects of Christ which we mentioned previously.” (Origen, Commentary on John)
“For the Son of God, the First-born of all creation, although He seemed recently to have become incarnate, is not by any means on that account recent. For the holy Scriptures know Him to be the most ancient of all the works of creation; for it was to Him that God said regarding the creation of man, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”” (Origen, Against Celsus, Book 5 Ch 37)
“Well, then, I do not suppose you are ignorant that it is impossible for two uncreated things to exist together, although you seem to have expressed nearly as much as this in an earlier part of the conversation. Assuredly we must of necessity say one of two things: either that God is separate from matter, or, on the other hand, that He is inseparable from it. If, then, one would say that they are united, he will say that that which is uncreated is one only, for each of the things spoken of will be a part of the other; and as they are parts of each other, there will not be two uncreated things, but one composed of different elements. For we do not, because a man has different members, break him up into many beings. But, as the demands of reason require, we say that a single being, man, of many parts, has been created by God. So it is necessary, if God be not separate from matter, to say that that which is uncreated is one only; but if one shall say that He is separate, there must necessarily be something intermediate between the two, which makes their separation evident. For it is impossible to estimate the distance of one thing from another, unless there be something else with which the distance between them may be compared. And this holds good, not only as far as the instance before us, but also to any number of others. For the argument which we advanced in the case of two uncreated things would of necessity be of equal force, were the uncreated things granted to be three in number. For I should ask also respecting them, whether they are separate from each other, or, on the other hand, are united each to its neighbour. For if any one resolve to say that they are united, he will be told the same as before; if, again, that they are separate, he will not escape the necessary existence of that which separates them.” (Methodius, On Free Will 5)
“God thus determining all things beforehand for the bringing of man to perfection, for his edification, and for the revelation of His dispensations, that goodness may both be made apparent, and righteousness perfected, and that the Church may be fashioned after the image of His Son, and that man may finally be brought to maturity at some future time, becoming ripe through such privileges to see and comprehend God… If, however, any one say, What then? Could not God have exhibited man as perfect from beginning? let him know that, inasmuch as God is indeed always the same and unbegotten as respects Himself, all things are possible to Him. But created things must be inferior to Him who created them, from the very fact of their later origin; for it was not possible for things recently created to have been uncreated. But inasmuch as they are not uncreated, for this very reason do they come short of the perfect. Because, as these things are of later date, so are they infantile; so are they unaccustomed to, and unexercised in, perfect discipline… With God there are simultaneously exhibited power, wisdom, and goodness. His power and goodness [appear] in this, that of His own will He called into being and fashioned things having no previous existence; His wisdom [is shown] in His having made created things parts of one harmonious and consistent whole; and those things which, through His super-eminent kindness, receive growth and a long period of existence, do reflect the glory of the uncreated One, of that God who bestows what is good ungrudgingly. For from the very fact of these things having been created, [it follows] that they are not uncreated; but by their continuing in being throughout a long course of ages, they shall receive a faculty of the Uncreated, through the gratuitous bestowal of eternal existence upon them by God. And thus in all things God has the pre-eminence, who alone is uncreated, the first of all things, and the primary cause of the existence of all, while all other things remain under God’s subjection [It is clear here from the context, that the one signified here by “God” is none other than the Father]. But being in subjection to God is continuance in immortality, and immortality is the glory of the uncreated One. By this arrangement, therefore, and these harmonies, and a sequence of this nature, man, a created and organized being, is rendered after the image and likeness of the uncreated God — the Father planning everything well and giving His commands, the Son carrying these into execution and performing the work of creating, and the Spirit nourishing and increasing [what is made], but man making progress day by day, and ascending towards the perfect, that is, approximating to the uncreated One. For the Uncreated is perfect, that is, God. Now it was necessary that man should in the first instance be created; and having been created, should receive growth; and having received growth, should be strengthened; and having been strengthened, should abound; and having abounded, should recover [from the disease of sin]; and having recovered, should be glorified; and being glorified, should see his Lord. For God is He who is yet to be seen, and the beholding of God is productive of immortality, but immortality renders one near unto God.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.38.2-3)
“Thus making Himself obedient to His Father in all things, although He also is God, yet He shows the one God the Father by His obedience, from whom also He drew His beginning. And thus He could not make two Gods, because He did not make two beginnings, seeing that from Him who has no beginning He received the source of His nativity before all time. For since that is the beginning to other creatures [see, the Son is reckoned by him among creatures] which is unborn — which God the Father only is, being beyond a beginning of whom He is who was born — while He who is born of Him reasonably comes from Him who has no beginning, proving that to be the beginning from which He Himself is, even although He is God who is born, yet He shows Him to be one God whom He who was born proved to be without a beginning.” (Novatian of Rome, Ch 31)
“God was in the beginning; but the beginning, we have been taught, is the power of the Logos. For the Lord of the universe, who is Himself the necessary ground (ὑπόστασις) of all being, inasmuch as no creature was yet in existence, was alone; but inasmuch as He was all power, Himself the necessary ground of things visible and invisible, with Him were all things; with Him, by Logos-power (διὰ λογικῆς δυνάμεως), the Logos Himself also, who was in Him, subsists. And by His simple will the Logos springs forth; and the Logos, not coming forth in vain, becomes the first-begotten work of the Father. Him (the Logos) we know to be the beginning of the world. But He came into being by participation, not by abscission; for what is cut off is separated from the original substance, but that which comes by participation, making its choice of function, does not render him deficient from whom it is taken. For just as from one torch many fires are lighted, but the light of the first torch is not lessened by the kindling of many torches, so the Logos, coming forth from the Logos-power of the Father, has not divested of the Logos-power Him who begot Him. I myself, for instance, talk, and you hear; yet, certainly, I who converse do not become destitute of speech (λόγος) by the transmission of speech, but by the utterance of my voice I endeavour to reduce to order the unarranged matter in your minds. And as the Logos, begotten in the beginning, begot in turn our world, having first created for Himself the necessary matter, so also I, in imitation of the Logos, being begotten again, and having become possessed of the truth, am trying to reduce to order the confused matter which is kindred with myself. For matter is not, like God, without beginning, nor, as having no beginning, is of equal power with God; it is begotten, and not produced by any other being, but brought into existence by the Framer of all things alone.” (Tatian, Address to the Greeks)