January 24, 2021

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

There are some of my friends that appeal to John Calvin’s reformulation of eternal generation. I think Calvin’s formulation fails for several reasons. Dr. John Frame wrote:

Certainly, creation ex nihilo is inappropriate within the Godhead, as the church insisted over against the Arians. But then what is it that eternal generation generates? If eternal generation does not confer existence on the Son, what does it confer? Some have claimed that by it, the Father communicates the divine nature to the Son. Zacharias Ursinus wrote, “The Son is the second person, because the Deity is communicated to him of the Father by eternal generation.”47 Calvin, however, attacked that position, arguing that “whosoever says that the Son has been given his essence from the Father denies that he has being from himself.”4” If the Son’s deity is derived,49 then, says Calvin, the Son is not a se. But if he is not a se, autotheos, God in himself, he cannot he divine. But then what is it that the Father confers upon the Son in eternal generation? According to Calvin, what the Son receives from the Father is not his divine essence, but his personhood: Therefore we say that deity in an absolute sense exists of itself; whence likewise we confess that the Son since he is God, exists of himself, but not in relation to his Person; indeed, since he is the Son, we say that he exists from the Father.50 Calvin is apparently saying that the Son receives his sonship from the Father, but neither his existence nor his divine nature. He is the Son because the Father has made him the Son. But what does that mean? It could be taken to mean merely that Father and Son are reciprocal terms. A person cannot be a son unless he has a father. And since the reverse is also true, we could say that just as the Son receives his sonship from the Father, so the Father receives his fatherhood from the Son. That would be a clear understanding of the relationship, and rather obvious, but trivial. Certainly it does not suggest anything closely analogous to human begetting. But Calvin and others in the Reformed tradition seem to have a more unidirectional concept in mind: the Father is the origin of the Father-Son relationship, in some way that the Son is not. But what does it mean to be the originator or creator of a relationship in which one stands necessarily and eternally? Certainly we should not imagine that a unitarian God, by executing some eternal process, became triune. Nor should we imagine that the Father, existing eternally with two other unnamed beings, somehow acted to make them his Son and his Spirit, respectively.

John M. Frame. Doctrine of God, The (A Theology of Lordship) (Kindle Locations 12129-12149). Kindle Edition.

I take that Jimmy Stephens sums up the difference between Calvin and the Early Church Fathers:

Instead of His divinity, the Son receives his personhood from the Father. On patristic EG, the Son is caused wholesale. On Calvin’s EG, the divine essence is caused (to gain hypostases).To say x is self-existent is to say x is a sufficient explanation of why x exists. The problem with Calvin’s view is that it makes the Father and Son participate in different essences, if taken to its logical end. Obviously I don’t think Calvin believed that, but that’s what I see as the entailment.

In this view, God isn’t inherently personal. He becomes personal through acts of generation. This seems to me to cut against the notion that God is inherently a personal being. That God is both plural and one seems to not be the case. God starts as an abstract impersonal essence from which persons are formed.