Thomas Ridgley On The Eternal Generation Of The Son

As to the eternal generation of the Son, it is generally explained in this manner. The Father is called by some, ‘the fountain of the Godhead,’ an expression taken from some of the fathers who defended the Nicene faith. But others, of late, have rather chosen to call the Father the fountain of the Trinity; and he is said to be of himself, or unbegotten. This they state as his personal character, distinct from that of the Son. On the other hand, the Son, as to his personality, is generally described as being from the Father. Many choose to express themselves about this mystery in these terms,—‘the Father communicated the divine essence to the Son.’ This is the most common mode of speaking; though others think it safer to say, that he communicated the divine personality to him. I cannot tell, however, which is least exceptionable. But when I find others using the phrase, ‘the Father gave the divine essence to the Son,’ their mode of speaking being founded, as they apprehend, on that scripture, ‘As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself,’ I cannot but think it is an unguarded expression, and foreign to the design of the Holy Ghost in that scripture, as will be hereafter considered. The Arians are ready to insult us upon such modes of speaking, and suppose us to conclude that the Son receives his divine perfections, and therefore cannot be God equal with the Father. None of those, however, who use such expressions, suppose that the Son’s deity is founded on the arbitrary will of the Father; for they all assert that the divine nature is communicated necessarily, and from all eternity, as the sun communicates its rays necessarily, which are of equal duration with it. Hence, while they make use of a word which, according to its most known acceptation, seems subversive of the truth, they happily, for truth’s sake, explain away the proper sense of it; so that all they can be blamed for by the adversary, is an impropriety of expression. Again, others speak a little more exceptionably, when, explaining the eternal generation of the Son, they say that the Father produced him. But this idea they also happily explain away; saying that the production of which they speak, is not such as in the case of the cause producing the effect. Some of the fathers, indeed, who have been in the Trinitarian scheme, have unwarily called the Father the cause of the Son. Yet our modern divines seldom or never use that expression; or, if they speak of an eternal production, they suppose it to differ vastly from the production of creatures, or from production in that sense in which the Arians suppose the Son to be produced. The expression, however, had certainly better be laid aside, lest it should be thought that we conclude the Son not equally necessary, and, from all eternity, co-existent with the Father; which our divines, how unwarily soever in other respects they may express themselves, are very far from denying,

Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 1.157.

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  1. We hear much of what the eternal generation and “only begotten” are not, but could someone please tell us what they are?

    Another point: I recll reading something in J.O. Buswell that the _monogenes_ was misunderstood and should be understood as “unique” or something like that. My feeling at the time, which remains, is that I would not wish to try to teach Greek to Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Caesarea.

    • Peter,

      Yes, I didn’t know that Buswell had argued this but it’s been relatively commonplace since the 70s to flatten out μονογενὴς (monogenes) to mean “unique” as if the only thing it could mean in the NT is what it meant in the LXX re Isaac. Just yesterday I was reading G. Vos who gave a thorough consideration to all the issues and concluded that the ontological sense could be ruled out of John 1. This discussion, thus pre-dates Buswell and the more recent evangelicals. For my part I am convinced that there is no sound way to read the first chapter of John without recognizing the ontological implications of μονογενὴς θεὸς (monogenes theos; only begotten God) in v. 18.

      Some responses:

      HC 33 (1)

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