Begotten – What did the early Christians believe regarding Christ as the Son of God

3 min

Justin Martyr, c. 110-165
“God begat 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” Dialog with Trypho, chp. LXI

Tertullian, c. 200
“Thus does He make Him equal to Him: for by proceeding from Himself He became His first-begotten Son, because begotten before all things; and His only-begotten also, because alone begotten of God, in a way peculiar to Himself, from the womb of His own heart — even as the Father Himself testifies: “My heart,” says He, “has emitted my most excellent Word.” [Ps 45:1] “…the very Word Himself, who is spoken of under the name both of Wisdom and of Reason, and of the entire Divine Soul and Spirit. He became also the Son of God, and was begotten when He proceeded forth from Him.” Tertullian, Against Praxaes, Chp. 7

Novatian, c. 250
“Hence all things are placed under His feet, and delivered to Him who is God, and the Son acknowledges that all things are in subjection to Him as a gift from the Father; thus He refers back to the Father the entire authority of Godhead. The Father is shown to be the One God, true and eternal [John 17:3]; from Him alone this power of Divinity issues, and though it is transmitted to the Son and centered upon Him, it runs its course back to the Father, through their community of Substance.” Novatian c. 250, Treatise of Novatianus on the Trinity, translated by Herbert More, 1919; Ante-Nicene Christian Library vol. 13 edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, 1869, p. 297.

“The Son is shown to be God, since Divinity is manifestly delivered and granted to Him; yet none the less, the Father is proved to be the One God, while step by step that same Majesty and Divinity, like a billow returning upon itself, sent forth again from the Son Himself, returns and finds its way back to the Father Who gave it. Thus we see that the Father is the God of all things [1Cor 8:6], and also the source of the being of His Son, Whom He has begotten as Lord; and the Son is the God of all else, since the Father has appointed Him Whom He begat to be over all things.” Novatian c. 250, Treatise of Novatianus on the Trinity, translated by Herbert More, 1919, p. 139; Ante-Nicene Christian Library vol. 13 edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, 1869, p. 297.

“In dealing with this subject, inasmuch as He is the only begotten and the first begotten, of Him, Who, as having no origin, is alone the beginning and the fountain-head of all things, He thereby declared that God is One; Whom He has evinced to be not in subjection to any beginning or source of being, but rather Himself the source of being, and the beginning of all things.” Novatian, in “The Treatise of Novatian On the Trinity” translated by Herbert Moore, 1919, p. 137.

Hilary of Poitiers, c. 350
“The statement that „God sent his Son‟ means that Jesus was already the Son of God when he was sent; that is, Jesus is the Son of God in an eternal sense.” Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300-368), De Trinitate 3.3.

“If He were their Father, they would love Christ because He had gone forth from God. And now I must enquire the meaning of this going forth from God. His going forth is obviously different from His coming, for the two are mentioned side by side in this passage, I went forth from God and am come. In order to elucidate the separate meanings of I went forth from God and I am come, He immediately subjoins, Neither am I come of Myself, but He sent Me. He tells us that He is not the source of His own existence in the words, Neither am I come of Myself. In them He tells us that He has proceeded forth a second time from God, and has been sent by Him.” Early Church Fathers – Nicene/Post Nicene Part 2, volume 9: Hilary of Poitiers, “On the Trinity,” book 6, section 30.

“Went forth carries back our thoughts to the incorporeal birth, for it is by love of Christ, Who was born from Him, that we must gain the right of devoutly claiming God for our Father.” “For the one and only reason which He gives for loving the Son is His origin from the Father. The Son, therefore, is from the Father, not by His Advent, but by His birth; and love for the Father is only possible to those who believe that the Son is from Him.” ibid Athenasius, c. 356
“It has been shewn above, and must be believed as true, that the Word is from the Father, and the only Offspring proper to Him and natural. For whence may one conceive the Son to be, who is the Wisdom and the Word, in whom all things came to be, but from God Himself? However, the Scriptures also teach us this, since the Father says by David, „My heart uttered a good Word,‟ [Ps. 45:1] and, „From the womb before the morning star I begat Thee;‟ [Ps. 110:3] and the Son signifies to the Jews about Himself, „If God were your Father, ye would love Me; for I proceeded forth from the Father.‟ … Besides, what else does„in the bosom‟ intimate, but the Son‟s genuine generation from the Father?” Athenasius, De Decreitis (“Defense of the Nicene Definition”) Chp. 5, par. 21

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