John Calvin and Reformed Theology
on the Doctrine of Eternal Generation
Jung S. Rhee
After the long and dark age called "medieval," a great movement of renewal and revival broke forth in the humanities and religion. Though the Renaissance and Reformation differed in their goals, they shared the common methodology of the age--"Back to the sources!" The Reformation reacted against the philosophical distortion of the biblical faith and the gradual secularization of the Christian gospel which the Roman Church had authoritatively committed during the previous centuries. With the double- edged sword of sola Scriptura and sola gratia(or sola fide), the Reformers aimed to recover the triune God of the Scriptures as the "personal" object of worship and piety, who had been considerably obscured and distorted by the philosophical theologians of the medieval church. Therefore, the purely biblical doctrine of the Trinity was very important to them. It is significant that the Reformers approached the doctrine of the Trinity from a strong soteriological motif; this was Nicene motif. Accordingly, they concentrated on the divinity and eternity of the Son, without which there would be no salvation. John Calvin, who is generally recognized to have been the best systematizer of Reformation theology among the Reformers, exhibits the Reformers's love for the biblical identification of the Lord as "the only-begotten Son." Calvin's belief in Christ's Sonship was real and natural, and therefore he vigorously rejected any metaphorical or philosophical distortion of His sonship which does not enable Him to be our Savior and Lord. He believed in the eternal generation of the Son with a renewed emphasis on its metaphysical significance.
However, B. B. Warfield, one of Calvin's
own followers, misrepresents him when he claims that Calvin did
not believe the doctrine of eternal generation. Even though it is
understandable that he did this to justify his own view in the
eternal generation of the Son, it is certainly unjust. In his
extensive article entitled "Calvin's Doctrine of the
Trinity," the only available discussion on the subject in
English, Warfield insisted on Calvin's "definite rejection
of the Nicene speculation of 'eternal generation'."1:
Although he taught that the Son was begotten of the Father, and of course begotten before all time, or as we say from all eternity, he seems to have drawn back from the doctrine of "eternal generation" as it was expounded by the Nicene Fathers...Calvin seems to have found this conception difficult, if not meaningless...he classes it among the speculations which impose unnecessary burdens on the mind.2
Nevertheless, Warfield's position may
seem plausible, because he holds that Calvin might have
understood the Nicene definition of "eternal
generation" as simply "ceaseless generation."3
He presents a basically correct summary of Calvin's position in
the doctrine of eternal generation: "His position is, in a
word, that of one who affirms the eternal generation of the Son,
but who rejects the speculations of the Nicene Fathers respecting
the nature of the act which they called 'eternal
generation'...the eternally generating act."4
However, this is not Warfield's final conclusion; it is but the
starting point for his sophisticated conclusion. Later, he not
only agreed with Dionysius Petavius, a Roman critic of Calvin,
that ", though he sometimes expresses himself in terms of
the doctrine of 'eternal generation', Calvin does not really
believe in it,"5 but he also argued that
Zacharius Ursinus had to "separate from his
preceptor[Calvin]" to keep the doctrine of the eternal
generation in its real sense.6 Finally, he presented
his final conclusion as follows:
The conception itself he found difficult, if not unthinkable; and although he admitted the facts of "generation" and "procession," he treated them as bare facts, and refused to make them constitutive of the doctrine of the Trinity.7
That is, he insisted that Calvin
believed the generation of the Son, but in its metaphorical
sense, rather than metaphysical and real sense, exactly as he
himself does. It is an embarrasing and selfish distortion of
Calvin, but it may be a rather mild one, because, in his own
times, Calvin had been accused even as an anti-trinitarian.
In 1537, John Calvin was accused of
Arianism, together with Farel, by Pierre Caroli, who was a
recently converted Reformed minister at Lausanne. T. H. L. Parker
explains its background as follows:
Pierre Caroli, since the days when he had been one of Briconnet's preachers at Meaux, had vacillated between Rome and the Evangelicals. He turned up as a Romanist in Geneva in 1534 and after a disputation professed himself again converted to the reformed faith. He was made minister first at Neuchatel and then at Lausanne. Reported by Viret to the Consistoire of Bern for advocating prayers for the dead, he retorted by accusing Farel and Calvin of Arianism, a charge which they asked to be debated at a special synod. There he challenged them to subscribe to the three [ecumenical] Creeds. "To this Calvin replied that we had subscribed to belief in one God and not to Athanasius, whose Creed no genuine Church had ever approved."8
After this synod, Caroli returned to the Roman Church, disappointed with Calvin and his fellow Reformers, because Calvin refused to subscribe to the three ecumenical creeds, that is, the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed, to which the orthodox churches would never be reluctant or resistant to subscribe. It was possible for Caroli to assume that Calvin's refusal to subscribe to the anti-Arian Creeds was clear evidence for his charge that Calvin is Arianistic.
Therefore, it is not easy to explain why Calvin refused to subscribe to the three ecumenical creeds to which we subscribe. Two explanation have been suggested. First, Calvin simply said that "No Reformed Church...had officially approved of it."9 Though the Bohemian Brethren Church had already approved the ecumenical creeds in their "Bohemian Confession" written in 1535, Calvin did not know that.10 However it does not explain why Calvin was so negative and violent on those universally accepted creeds with which his own theology fully agrees. Also, it does not seem accurate to suggest that Calvin excluded the early churches from the category of "genuine[true] church"(legitima ecclesia). The more popular explanation is that Calvin rejected the Roman idea that one's faith should be tested and measured by church-made confessional standard; to Calvin, this was contrary to the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura.11 This may reflect Calvin's underlying fundamental principle. It fails, however, to explain why Calvin himself wrote confessions and gave a great emphasis on the confessional faith and standard. Therefore, those two explanations are not sufficient possibly due to their attempt to provide a full justification of Calvin's violent and strange behavior.
Rather, it seems to me that it is a
simple failure to control his temper and calmly speak his
position, in the face of the unthinkable heretical charge against
him, while he viewed himself as doing his best to bring the
Church back to the confessional faith of the early churches.
Calvin's hot temper is well-known, and he was "very
sensitive" especially in the trinitarian heresy.12
Calvin's letter to Megander written just after this incident
shows that he had a great anger against Caroli, because Calvin
regarded him a hypocrite of "extreme malice and
dishonesty," and "immoral conduct."13
Therefore Calvin might have refused anything which he wanted
without any thoughtful consideration. Caroli's presence itself
was disgusting and repugnant to him. When Caroli returned again
to the Reformed Churches in 1539, Calvin totally failed to
control his temper. He confessed it in his letter to Farel as
There I sinned grievously through not keeping my temper. For so had the bile taken entire possession of my mind, that I poured out bitterness on all sides. There was of a certainty some cause for indignation....When I got home, I was seized with an extraordinary paroxysm and could not find no relief but in tears and sighs.14
Therefore, it does not represent
Calvin's objective opinion. In fact, Calvin wrote: "I
confessed, however, that I would not have spoken unless I had
been forced by his wickedness to do so."15 Under
the unforced situation, Calvin must have subscribed to those
three ecumenical creeds. Calvin recognized them "as beyond
controversy", in the following passage:
There was some little difficulty in cleaning ourselves as to the symbols; for it was certainly somewhat discreditable that we should have rejected those documents, which, since they have been received by the approving judgement of the whole Church, ought to be considered as beyond controversy...we had only refused our subscription, in order that Caroli might not thereby find occasion of triumph in his attacks.16
His theological works reflect his full
subscription to the ecumenical creeds. Moreover, in the French
Confession of Faith[Gallican Confession] written by him and his
pupil Autoine de Chandieu in 1559,17 he explicitly
expressed what he had ever believed: "we confess the three
creeds, to wit: the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian,
because they are in accordance with the Word of God."18
Calvin's Doctrine of
As William Shedd correctly described, Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity is "a very clear exhibition of the Nicene type of doctrine."19 From the time of Caroli's accusation in 1537 to Servetus' execution in 1553, Calvin's entire life was devoted to defend himself and the Reformed faith against the contemporary anti-trinitarianism. In this life-long debate, he consistently assumed the role of Athanasius in the Nicene era.20 Any deviation from the Nicene trinitarian formulation was strongly opposed by Calvin.21 It is reflected in the whole of his life and work. The basic structure and theological perspective is definitely trinitarian. And his doctrine of the Trinity is best found in three sources, specifically Institutes(1559 edition) I. xiii. 1-29, Defensio orthodoxae fidei de sacra trinitate contra prodigiosos errores Michaelis Serveti Hispani(1554), and Commentary on the Gospel of John(1553).
As a systematic theologian, his interest in the doctrine of the Trinity is natural. As a Reformer, his major concern was to restore the true worship of the triune God and glorify exclusively the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Though he seems to have had no serious difficulty with the contemporary Roman doctrine of the Trinity itself, Calvin grieved over the Roman corruption and inability to practice the trinitarian faith. In his exhortation entitled "The Necessity of Reforming the Church," written for the emperor Charles V in 1544, Calvin cried out that "the whole Christian world is openly polluted with idolatry, men adore, instead of Him, their own fictions."22 Even though he did "know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word,"23 he simply could not remain silent. He says, "A dog, seeing any violence offered to his master, will instantly bark; could we, in silence, see the sacred name of God dishonoured so blasphemously?"24 His heartfelt desire was to bring "back the worship of the one God"25 as clearly prescribed in the Scripture and strongly emphasized by "all the writers of a purer age."26 Therefore, his emphasis on the triune God is essential and central in his life-long effort to fulfil his God-given task. As A. M. Hunter correctly pointed out, "Calvin's entire system is built upon his doctrine of God. His view on atonement, on the sacraments, and on matters ecclesiastical, are either derived from it or shaped and coloured by it."27 The trinitarian structure of his Institutes was intended to teach that there is no true knowledge apart from personal piety and obedience to the three persons of the Trinity.
There are three factors which shaped Calvin's format in presenting the doctrine of the Trinity. First, the Caroli affair must have worked as a long-lasting psychological leitmotif, creating an underlying desire for Calvin to clear himself in the doctrine of the Trinity. Because it happened in 1537, its effect may be found in the revised version of the Institutes in 1539, which was originally published in 1536. Though Caroli's name or a specific defense of his anti-Arian position on the Trinity does not appear in the 1539 Institutes, it seems not because it made no effect but because already in the original Institutes he had clearly expressed his anti-Arian position in II. 9.28 However, when we note his expanded and stronger criticism of Arianism, we may suppose that the Caroli affair may have influenced the revision of Institutes in 1539.29
Second, the Servetus affair had the most decisive and speciflc influence upon Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity. Michael Servetus was the most notorious anti-trinitarian in the age of John Calvin, and he was sentenced to death both by the Roman Catholic Inquistion and the Genevan Council. Finally, he was burned at the stake as a hetetic in 1553. Servetus wrote two anti-trinitarian writings, Seven Books on Errors about the Trinity(de trinitas erroribus libri septem, 1531) and Two Books of Dialogue on the Trinity(Dialogorum de Trinitate libri duo, 1532).30 From the beginning, Calvin personally tried to save his soul from this anti-trinitarian heresy until 1553, when Calvin himself ordered his arrest while he attended one of Calvin's sermon.31 After his execution, Calvin wrote an apologetical work entitled Defensio orthodoxae fidei de sacra trinitate contra prodigiosis errores Michaelis Serveti Hispani(1554). There Calvin discussed all the errors of Servetus in detail according to the order of his Seven Books on Errors on the Trinity.32 Also, the addition of sections 21-29 to I. xiii. in the 1559 Institutes is regarded as mostly due to the Servetus affair.
Third, the anti-trinitarian teachings in the Italian congregation in Geneva and the further disturbance of the Italian anti-trinitarians in Europe led Calvin to respond. In the treatise entitled "Calvin and the Italian Anti-trinitarians," Antonio Rotondo suggested a reappraisal of the accepted hypothesis that the addition of sections 21-29 to I. xiii was caused by the Servetus affair. He pointed out that "If it had been simply a matter of refuting Servetus, Calvin could have referred the reader to his Defensio, which as we have seen, he considered sufficient for the task."33 Emphasizing the difference between Servetus and Italian anti-trinitarians, he concluded that "in the face of this widespread agitation Calvin felt the need to refute systematically the anti-trinitarian doctrines of the Italians. The resulting nine sections added to Book I, Chapter xiii of the Institutes form the most thorough treatment up to that time."34 Whether or not Rotondo's distinction between Servetus and Italian antitrinitarians is "too simple and sharp,"35 the reason for the addition of the nine sections is controversial. However, it is not reasonable to deny that the Italian anti-trinitarian propaganda in Geneva after the execution of Servetus(1553-1559) received no consideration in the 1559 revision of the Institutes. As a matter of fact, Servetus was no longer alive in 1559. Rather, it was the Italian anti-trinitarians who were actively propagating anti-tranitarianism in Geneva, when Calvin prepared the final revision of the Institutes. Valentin Gentile, one of them, was even arrested and imprisoned in 1558. Later, he was executed.
Therefore, Ferdinand Christian Baur's understanding that Calvin had little or no interest in the doctrine of the Trinity36 is definitely wrong. Though it may be true that "the burning problem of the Reformation was a different one from that of the 4th century,"'37 Calvin's theological environment forced him to personally have a "burning interest" in the doctrine of the Trinity.38 Also, Leonard Hodgson's viewpoint that Calvin "himself has only aimed at refuting live errors" while commending the writings of Augustine for their comprehensive discussions39 may be too simple, for Calvin's discussion on the Trinity is quite comprehensive just as on the other doctrines.40 Due to the catechetical purpose of the Institutes, Calvin presented a well-balanced and comprehensive, though maybe not detailed, teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity in I. xiii, as we see in any other presentation of the Trinity doctrine.
Perhaps, this misconception may be
caused by Calvin's purely biblical approach to the doctrine of
the Trinity. He simply rejected any philosophical trinitarianism
as he brilliantly led the anti-scholastic spirit of the
Reformation.41 Away from human philosophies, and Back
to the Word of God! He declared: "I refuse to philosophize
beyond the grasp of my faith."42 Calvin's
principle of sola Scriptura is most carefully working here
in his doctrine of the Trinity, because it deals with the most
mysterious essence of God:
let us use great caution that neither our thought nor our speech go beyond the limits to which the Word of God itself extends. For how can the human mind measure off the measureless essence of God according to its own little measure, a mind as yet unable to establish for certain the nature of the sun's body, though men's eyes daily gaze upon it? Indeed, how can the mind by its own leading come to search out God's essence when it cannot even get to it own? Let us then willingly leave to God the knowledge of himself...And let us not take it into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than in his Sacred Word, or to think anything about him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word.43
Therefore, Calvin limited resources for his doctrine of the Trinity within the Holy Scriptures and thus presented simple statements of the Scripture.44 So, his doctrine of the Trinity is regarded as most pure and least afflicted by philosophical distortions.45 This characterizes Calvin's whole doctrine of the Trinity, which is realistic and fit to common sense.
Its typical example is found in his
rejection of ceaseless generation of the Son. To him, it does not
make sense that the Son is still being begotten. Against the
philosophical idea of ceaseless generation, Calvin severely
criticized as follows:
For what is the point in disputing whether the Father always beget(semper generat)? Indeed, it is foolish to imagine a continuous act of begetting(continuus actus generandi), since it is clear that three persons have subsisted in God from eternity.46
Thus, Calvin rejected the concept of ceaseless generation and understood the generation of the Son as "something which has occured once for all at some point of time in the past."
As discussed earlier, the idea of
ceaseless generation originated with Origen, and has repeatedly
appeared with the rise of philosophical or psychological
trinitarianism. In the days of Calvin, it was Servetus who took
this position. Servetus understood the Son not as a personal
being, but simply as "the utterance or voice of God."47
Therefore, he prefers the impersonal "Word" over the
traditional designation "the Son" for the second person
of the Trinity. "The Word was never the Son," he
insists, because the Word and the Son are different.48
The Word has three stages of being: (i) Before the creation of
the world, the Word "was formed beforehand in the divine
mind...in order that he might manifest himself to us,"49
for "wisdom is said to have been made before a man speaks, a
meditation of the mind is first required."50 In
this preparatory stage of being, the Word exists, but not as a
separate identity. (ii) "The Word, existing before creation,
was begotten when first uttered by God."51
Now, the Word is generated to function as a separate entity, but
not as a personal being. (iii) Finally in the incarnation, "the
Word became flesh, because a change was made from the Word
into flesh; a change was made from a Person into a being."52
Now, "the Word ceased to exist when it became flesh in
Christ."53 Therefore, the Word no longer exists,
"but now there is the Son, Jesus Christ."54
In these three stages, the generation of the Son[Word] happens in
the second stage, that is, in the creation of the world.
Therefore, Servetus denied the eternity of the Son's generation
in the sense of happening in the "eternally before".
Rather, the generation is the divine act of speaking-out, and
therefore ceaseless for "every event is thus a word of
God."55 Calvin rebuked Servetus' understanding of
the Son as an absurd and blasphemous innovation, for it is a
human specualtion which is not grounded upon the Scripture:
Certainly, when God's word is set before us in Scripture it would be the height of absurdity to imagine a merely fleeting and vanishing utterance, which, cast forth into the air, projects itself outside of God.56
Here some dogs bark out, who, while they dare not openly deprive him of his divinity, secretly filch away his eternity. For they say the Word for the first time to be when God opened his holy mouth in the creation of the universe.57
Soteriologically oriented, Calvin strongly defended the eternity of the Son which is necessary to confirm the perfect divinity of the Son. But, Servetus' understanding of the Son's generation at the creation contradicts the eternity of the Son. In the exegesis of John 1.1, i.e., "In the beginning was the Word," Calvin agreed with Augustine who commented that "the beginning mentioned here has in fact no beginning."58 Because the Son is God, he must be eternal and therefore his generation, that is, being the Son of God must have happened in the eternity in which there is not "a before or an after,"59 and which "transcends all times,"60 that is, "infinitely before the foundation of the world,"61 "before all ages,"62 "before time,"63 and "beyond the beginning of time."64
In this context, he made an excellent response to accusations of Arianism by criticizing the Arian conception of the Son's non-eternity. When he said, "I know well how this dog barks and what quibbles were once raised by the Arians,"65 Calvin found the working of the dead Arius in his contemporary Servetus. Therefore, his refutation of the Son's generation at the creation had a double impact to refute both Arianism and Servetus. While both of them connected the creation of the world with the generation of the Son, Calvin "clearly distinguished between the generation of the Son and the creation of the world."66 Thus, he rejected Cosmogonic Logos Christology which logically entails temporality and impersonality of the Son and thus reduces God the Son to a creature.67 Against the Arian conception of "a second god," Calvin counteroffered the biblical understanding of the Son as having "the whole fullness of divinity."68
And, Calvin concluded from his
theological experience that whoever questions the use of
traditional orthodox formula and terms in the discussion on the
Trinity tended to be heretical:
But I have long since and repeatedly been experiencing that all who persistently quarrel over words nurse a secret poison.69
He defended traditional orthodox
trinitarian terms like "Trinity", "consubstantial(homoousios)",
"person" and the like as inevitable, biblical and
useful. When the heretics insisted on limiting theological terms
to those "written syllable by syllable in Scripture"
rather than "foreign terms" which are "humanly
devised,"70 Calvin simply agreed with them, but
with a condition: "Indeed, I could wish they were buried, if
only among all men this faith were agreed on."71
But, because it is not agreed among all men, the use of those
terms is inevitable. Moreover, Calvin justified it by refering to
the legitimacy of interpretation of the Scripture, for if
only the very words of the Scripture should be used the
interpretation of the Scripture would be impossible.72
Calvin found no reason why we should not use "clearer
words" to explain the Scripture:
But what prevents us from explaining in clearer words those matters in Scripture which perplex and hinder our understanding, yet which conscientiously and faithfully serve the truth of Scripture itself, and are made use of sparingly and modestly and on due occasions?73
Moreover, they are "words that explain nothing else than what is attested and sealed by Scripture."74 Calvin's confirmation of traditional trinitarian formula and terms as biblical is regarded as a great contribution to the history of the Trinity doctrine.75
Especially, he defended the biblical character of the traditional term "person" with refering to Heb. 1.3, that "the Son is "the very image of the hypostasis of God."76 Here, Calvin understood hypostasis as "person", because it here refers to something which distinguishes the Son from the Father. Though Warfield raised a question on Calvin's exegesis and preferred to understand it as "the whole substantial entity we call God,"77 Calvin disagreed with such understanding: "to consider hypostasis equivalent to "essence"(as certain interpreters have done, as if Christ, like wax imprinted with a seal, represented in himself the substance of the Father) would be not only uncouth but also absurd."78 So understood, Calvin believed that "there are in God three hypostases."79
Most of all, Calvin was fond of using those traditional terms because they are very effective and useful in refuting trinitarian heretics.80 As Calvin correctly conceived, there are two directions of trinitarian heresies to resist, i.e., "to resist Arians on the one hand and Sabellians on the other."81 While the most effective instrumental word against Arians is "homoousios", that against Sabellians is "person".82 Calvin firmly convinced that "that mere word marked the distinction between Christians of pure faith and sacrilegious" heretics,83 and that if we hold fast those traditional orthodox terms "the gate will be closed not only to Arius and Sabellius but to other ancient authors of errors."84
As discussed earlier, Calvin was
confronted with some contemporary trinitarian heresies.85
Strongest of them was Michael Servetus whose view Calvin
summarized as follows:
This, indeed, was the sum of his speculations: God is assumed to be tripartite when three persons are said to reside in his essence; this is an imaginary triad, because it clashes with God's unity. Meanwhile, he would hold the persons to be certain external ideas which do not truely subsist in God's essence, but represent God to us in one manifestation or another.86
It is true that Servetus advocated modalism. Be falsely identified traditional understanding of the Trinity of "three persons (in one nature)" with tritheism, which "arose out of Greek philosophy,"87 and insisted that the understanding of the term "person" as "distinct being" is "wholly unscriptural."88
Calvin, on the other hand, believed that
there are "three full persons."89 It was a
direct refutation of Servetus who insisted that one being of God
has manifested in several forms. Plainly speaking, what he meant
by "three persons" are "three aspects,"90
"three visible forms,"91 or "three
roles"92 of one Person. When he says that
"God has manifested himself in three different Persons, or
dispositions,"93 he does not actually believe
three persons in the sense that a person is a distinct being,94
but only one Person in three forms. Therefore, what he understood
by the term "person" is simply "distinctions of
time."95 Over time, God manifested himself in
several forms. In fact, not only in three forms but in many
forms,96 God manifested himself. Servetus is even
pantheistic when he says that "God himself is the Essences
of all things and all things are in him."97
This conclusion is natural to any cosmogonic or economic
trinitarianism, because God and the world are inseparable. So,
the beginning and end of the Trinity is confined within the
history of this world:
I say therefore that neither God nor his Word existed before the world by any interval of time, nor does Scripture speaks of an eternity of the Word in the way that you imagine; for all eternity is in Hebrew, olam, which means nothing else than world, and the days of the age....Again, inasmuch as then all manner of ruling will cease, all authority and power will be abolished, all ministry of the Holy Spirit will cease, we shall need no advocate nor reconciler, but God will be all in all. And thus the dispensation of the Trinity will cease.98
Servetus' economic and modalistic trinitarianism was shattered by Calvin's clear ontological and personal trinitarianism, especially his traditional definition of "person": "'Person,' therefore, I call a 'subsistence' in God's essence, which, while related to others, is distinguished by an incommunicable quality."99 Three distinct personal beings could not be three dispositions of divine essence, "since the essence of God is simple and indivisible (simplex et individua)."100 The simplicity of divine essence functions as the most powerful remedy against psychological trinitarianism. And, the fact that three persons are not merely sequential manifestations, but three real persons of distinct subsistence is found most clearly in the incarnation.101
However, Calvin is very careful in
guarding his ontological distinctions of three persons from
tritheism. Here, the most crucial concept is the generation of
the Son as well as the procession of the Spirit which makes it
possible to overcome egalitarianism or tritheism. For if three
distinct persons each of whom we may call God have no genetic
relationship amon them, there is no other way to relate them
enough to be called "one God." Therefore, without
accepting the biblical concept of generation, its natural
conclusion is that there are three gods, among whom there are
some social unity of will and power. Of course, Calvin believed
the generation of the Son in the metaphysical sense of real
begottenness. There are several grounds to prove it. First,
Calvin was not a modalist. As shown, he firmly believed in three
distinct persons of the Trinity. As a natural consequence, a
modalist does not believe real generation because he rejects real
distinction. For example, Calvin's contemporary Servetus, being a
modalist, criticized "any real begetting" as "very
beastly and harmful."102 Also, Karl Barth,
tending to modalism, substituted eternal generation with
continuous perichoresis which refers to the eternally
continuous intercommunication among three persons after
generation and procession had completed.103 However,
because Calvin understood that there are three really distinct
divine persons, generation from one to another must be a real
one. Second, Calvin believed that the Son's existence came from
the Father not by the way of creation but of generation. The Son
"comes forth(exsistere) from the Father(a Patre)."104
The Father is "the beginning of the Son."105
The Father, as "the beginning and origin, and the first
cause(causa sui) of all things,"106
"the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring
of all things,"107 "the fountainhead and
beginning of deity(fons et principium deitatis),108
"the beginning of divinity(principium divinitatis),"109
and "the beginning and fountainhead of the whole of
divinity,"110 begot his own Son. The Son
"was conceived(conceptum)" by the Father.111
Third, Calvin understood the revealed designations, "Father,
Son, and Spirit" as real and true. He regretted empty
understanding of those divine titles:
Indeed, the words "Father," "Son," annd "Spirit" imply a real distinction--let no one think that these titles... are empty.112
Even though his understanding of the
Trinity is significantly influenced by Augustine, he differs in
employing analogies for the Trinity.113 He seems to
agree rather with Hilary that "when he has set forth the natural
names--Father, Son, and Spirt... whatever is sought besides
these is beyond the meaning of language, above the reach of
sense, above the capacity of understanding."114
Calvin applied his so-called "accomodation theory" to
understand trinitarian relationships, especially between Father
Surely, his infinity ought make us afraid to try to measure him by our own senses....And yet as he is incomprehensible he also fills the earth itself....Thus, such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accomodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness.115
It is vain to attempt to explain the Trinity better by the use of analogy other than the revealed one. Though the revealed designations of the relationship between the First and Second Person of the Trinity, i.e., the Father and the Son, does not exactly describe it as we understand it in human relationships, it is the best communicable description available which the Holy Spirit inspired to select for that purpose and therefore there can be no better human word or concept to communicate it. Accordingly, it is Calvin's understanding that it is best for us to simply understand the relationship between the First and Second Person of the Trinity as Father and Son just as we understand human father-son relationship. To overcome this concept results in misunderstanding and sin of pride in which we think that we can express better than the Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Fourth, Calvin believed that the Son is the Only Son of God by nature, in contrast with us, who are sons of God by adoption and grace. Commenting on "his only begotten Son" in John 3.16, he distinguished two kinds of sonship: "Christ possesses this name by right, inasmuch as He is by nature the only Son of God. But He shares this honour with us by adoption when we are ingrafted into His body."116 By this distinction, Calvin made his understanding of the Son's generation in a real and metaphysical sense clear and definite. He is the only Son who has a real genetic relationship with the Father. Nevertheless, most Reformed theologians easily fail to understand Calvin in this matter. For example, while B. B. Warfield misunderstood Calvin's rejection of "ceaseless" generation as that of "eternal" generation,117 Carl F. H. Henry even more misunderstood Calvin when he confused Calvin's questioning of the medieval understanding of "eternal" as "continuous" with Calvin's questioning of the biblical concept of "generation" itself, which Calvin so firmly believed without any question.118 On the other hand, some social trinitarians are critical on Calvin's subordinationist motif in his acceptance of this doctrine. Leonard Hodgson criticized that here "a metaphysical assumption controls his thought" and "that relic of subordinationism, the doctrine of the principium of the Father, remains."119 And, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. agrees with him that "Calvin, too, falls victim to the temptation to preserve the oneness of this one God by positing the Father as principium."120 On the other hand, Warfield praised Calvin for his egalitarian trinitarianism.121
However, the zenith of Calvin's trinitarianism is found in the balanced inclusion of both concepts, that is, generation and aseity of the Son in a harmonious way.122 Unlike other one-sided trinitarians, Calvin saw no contradiction between those two concepts. It became an issue when Caroli condemned Calvin for calling the Son "Jehovah". Calvin seems to have done so intentionally to emphasize the equal divinity of the Son with the Father. In his successful defense before the synod of Lausanne,123 Calvin identified Jehovah of the Old Testament with God, one and only, and challenged why the Son could not be called Jehovah, that is, God. In the Institutes, he suggested Jer. 23.5-6, 33.16, Ezek. 48.35, Ex. 17.15, Judg. 13 and more for its proof passages.124 Though it has some difficulty with a common conception of the title "Jehovah" in the Christian community which usually refers to God the Father, and also with his exegesis of those proof passages, what Calvin attempted to teach with this unusual identification is very clear and agreeable.
Because Calvin firmly believed the Son's
full divinity, one attribute of which is aseity or
self-existence, he accepted aseity of the Son. On the other hand,
his belief in the real generation of the Son and the order of
three persons might negate aseity of the Son, because He came to
exist from the Father. This seeming contradiction was overcome by
distinguishing person and essence in the generation. According to
Calvin, what is generated is only person, not essence of
divinity. Therefore, as far as the divinity is concerned, God the
Son is self-existent as God the Father, while his personhood came
to exist from the Father.
...We confess that the Son since he is God, exists of himself, but not in respect of his Person; indeed, since he is the Son, we say that he exists from the Father. Thus his essence is without beginning; while the beginning of his person is God himself.125
In this regard, Calvin was disturbed by the concept of the Father as "essence-giver" or "deifier", as offered by Valentine Gentile.126 Calvin had two problems with this concept. First, it involves a kind of neo-Platonic emanationism and contradicts simplicity of divine essence. If the Son is "a derivation from the primal essence which is proper only to the Father,"127 "the divinity of the Son will be...a part derived from the whole."128 It "would basely tear apart the essence of God" with an assumption that the divinity is "divisible."129 Therefore, it is wrong, for the divine essence is simple and indivisible. Second, it denies full divinity of the Son. This "detestable invention"130 that the Son received some deity from the Father would "annihilate Christ's true deity"131 and make the Son as well as the Sipirit "a figurative God, a God in appearance and name only,"132 "nothing else but...two created things."133
However, the idea that only the Person, not the Essence, is generated is purely abstract and even dangerous, though it is a well-balanced theory. In a positive application, Calvin held that person and essence are inseparable: "we do not separate the person from the essence, but we distinguish among them while they remain within it."134 Calvin anticipated a misunderstanding that some might derive from the separate existence of Essence per se, apart from three concrete Persons and therefore "quaternity."135 Though the Son was begotten in respect of person, the Father was unbegotten even in respect of person.136 So, when the Father begets the Son's Person, the divine essence is naturally in the Son. As he says, "the Son could not have been the Son, unless he were God."137 That is the difference between begetting and giving, generation and emanation or creation. As a man begets a son, he begets a concrete person, not humanity per se. But, humanity naturally is in the son, only because he was begotten by a human being.
This pure, biblical, and traditional
doctrine of the Trinity was presented by John Calvin, with a
recovery of the Nicene doctrine of the Son's eternal generation
from a medieval philosophical distortion of the doctrine, and
thus handed down the Reformed heritage of ontological realism in
the Trinity. It was a divine gift when the Reformers returned
back to the Scripture alone and believed whatever the Scripture
says, including Jesus' real Sonship of God. Martin Luther too
recognized the importance of this doctrine and said that
"when the vital article of the eternal generation is lost,
the whole gospel becomes mere history."138
Calvin's doctrine of eternal generation of the Son was
transmitted through his immediate successors such as Theodore
Beza and Josiah Simler139 to the Reformed Christians.
And, it is clearly articulated in the Reformed Confessions.
The Reformed confessions are numerous due to Calvinistic freedom which allowed for the development of local confessions within the limit of the Word of God. Philip Schaff listed over 30 Reformed creeds which represent Calvinistic churches in Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Germany, Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, England and Scotland. According to him, "those which have been most widely accepted and are still most in use are the Heidelberg or Palatinate Catechism, the Thirty-nine Articles, and the Westminster Confession, the Second Helvetic Confession and the Canons of Dort."140
Accordingly, those five representative Reformed confessions will be examined to survey how the doctrine of eternal generation of the Son was confessed, with a substitution of the Belgic Confessions for the Canons of Dort because the latter does not deal with this matter. Except the Westminster Confession(1647), all those confessions were formulated in the 1560s: Belgic Confession in 1561, Thirty-Nine Articles in 1562, Heidelberg Catechism in 1563, and Second Helvetic Confesslon in 1566. Therefore, they are the works of the Reformation.
First of all, the Belgic Confession faithfully reflects Calvinistic emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity by devoting four articles(Vlll-XI) to it. And, by listing historical trinitarian heretics, "such as Marcion, Mani, Praxeas, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Arius and others like them, who were righty condemned by the holy fathers" and by accepting "the three ecumenical creeds--the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian--as well as what the ancient fathers decided in agreement with them"(IX),141 it definitely assumes the orthodox trinitarianism in the tradition of Nicea and Calvin. Especially, "plurality of persons(pluralite de personnes)"(IX) is strongly affirmed: "there are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties"(VIII). In this clear distinction is implied the belief in the eternal generation of the Son, for the distinction between the Father and the Son is eternal. Moreover, the Father is confessed as "the cause, origin, and source of all things, visible as well as invisible"(VIII). Though it "seems to be meant economically here,"142 the inclusion of "invisible" as well as its seeming quotation from Calvin supports the possibility of a reference to the generation of the Son. In spite of its apparent description of economic Trinity,143 its confession of ontological Trinity is firm and clear. It is strange that the Son's begottenness is not mentioned while the Spirit's procession is mentioned in Art. VIII.144 However, it is not a negation of the Son's generation, for it is confessed in Art. X: "We believe that Jesus Christ...is the only Son of God--eternally begotten(eternellement engendre)." Here, "eternal" does not mean
"continuous". Quoting Micah 5.2, it clarifies the time of the Son's generation as follows: "his origin is from ancient times, from eternity, (son issue est des les jours d'eternite)". Furthermore, the equation of generation with incarnation is rejected: "He is the Son of God not only from the time he assumed our nature but from all eternity(mais de toute eternite)"(X).
Next, the Thirty-Nine Articles of England, written in 1562 in Latin, and later its English edition published(1571), "are evangelical and moderately Calvinistic."145 At least, it is true in the doctrine of the Trinity: "in unitie of this Godhead there be three persons(in Unitate huius divinae naturae tres sunt Personae), of one substance, power, and eternitie, the father, the sonne, and the holy ghost"(I). The Latin text is clearer on its real distinction of three persons, for it confesses oneness of "divinae naturae," not of person. And, its confession in the eternal generation of the Son is definitely Nicene and Calvinistic: "The Sonne is...begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God(ab aeterno a Patre genitus verus et aeternus Deus)"(II). Thus, it rejects both ceaseless and metaphorical generation.
Now, the Heidelberg Catechism genuinely reflects the piety and simplicity of Calvin's theology. It was "certainly a team project,"146 but the team was composed of Calvinists and Zacharius Ursinus, who was greatly influenced by Calvin's theology,147 led the team.148 Due to its practical nature, the Catechism does not deal with the doctrine of the Trinity in detail, but it clearly confesses the traditional formula: "these three distinct persons are one, true, eternal God."(25) And, its trinitarian understanding and division of the Apostles' Creed(24) reflects a Calvinistic trinitarian perspective. Though the doctrine of eternal generation of the Son is not literally stated, the description of His Sonship is real and personal. QA 26 says that "the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...is my God and Father because of Christ his Son." And, QA 33 distinguishes adopted children of God by grace from "the eternal, natural Son of God." Thus, Ursinus, in his commentary on the Catechism, had no problem explaining the Father-Son relationship in the same sense as the human relationship.149 Of course, some differences were pointed out. This real and metaphysical concept of generation in the Catechism may have contributed to form a strong ontological trinitarianism in the Reformed Churches.
However, its lact of verbal description of "eternal" generation caused a confusion in the meaning of "eternal". Though the eternity of the Son is definitely affirmed, it does not say anything about its meaning except the eternity of the Son's divine essence. Of course, most commentators of the Catechism, being Calvinists, assumed it to mean "from eternity," "before creation," "before the beginning of time," "from everlasting,"150 some of a philosophical bent interpreted it to mean "ceaseless" generation. For example, Jan Karel van Baalen understood "eternal" as "from eternity to eternity,"151 following Augustine's concept of eternity.152 This misunderstanding of the Catechism dominates when it comes to the modern Reformed theology, as we shall see later.
The Second Helvetic Confession, written by Henry Bullinger, "as to theological merit, occupies the first rank among the Reformed Confessions."153 Its description of the Trinity is superior and perfect. It reworded the Athanasian Creed. Affirming "a manifest distinction of persons,"(III. 4)154 it clearly defines the meaning of "that they are one God" as that "the divine nature is common to" them(III. 3). Concerning the eternal generation of the Son, it states very clearly: "as the Father has begotten the Son from eternity, the Son is begotten by an ineffable generation(ita ut pater ab aeterno Filium generarit, Filius generatione ineffabili genitus sit)"(III. 3). Further, it clarifies the meaning of "eternal" later in the distinction between adopted sonship and natural sonship: "before all eternity(ante omnen aeternitatem)."(XI. 1)
Finally, we come to the Westminster
Confession, which is the least Calvinistic in the doctrine of
eternal generation of the Son.155 Its ambiguity in the
doctrine of the Trinity lies in its attributing personality and
activities to the "only one living and true God," which
necessarily causes a confusion, while all the other Reformed
confessions limited oneness only to the divine nature. Most of
Chapter II is devoted to the description of "one living
God," and then "three persons" is simply and
shortly stated. This unbalanced and ambiguous description of
three persons later fostered the development of a metaphorical
understanding of the Son's generation in the Presbyterian
Churches. Moreover, its statement of the eternal generation that
"the Son is eternally begotten of the
Father"(II. 3) has been unanimously interpreted to mean
"ceaseless" generation.156 Therefore, B. B.
Warfield insisted that Calvin rejected this doctrine.
In contrast to the view of B. B.
Warfield, Louis Berkhof does not understand Calvin to have
rejected the doctrine of eternal generation:
It is sometimes said that Calvin denied the eternal generation of the Son....But this statement can hardly be intended as a denial of the eternal generation of the Son, since he teaches this explicitly in other passages. It is more likely that it is simply an expression of disagreement with the Nicene speculation about eternal generation as a perpetual movement, always complete, and yet never completed.157
This difference between Warfield and Berkhof represents the apparent disagreement between Princeton Theology and Reformed Theology in the understanding of eternal generation. As a general rule, Reformed Theology follows John Calvin in his view of generation as metaphysical derivation, but not in his conception of eternity. This position is uniformly taken by three representative theologians of the modern Reformed churches: Herman Bavinck, Louis Berkhof, and G. C. Berkouwer.
According to Herman Bavinck, the father of modern Reformed theology, "he[Jesus] is Son of God in a metaphysical sense: by nature and from eternity."158 As clearly stated, to be metaphysical means to be ontological. In as much as the term "metaphysical" is repeatedly emphasized, Reformed Theology tends toward the ontological Trinity. Thus, the concept of derivation is essential to the doctrine of eternal generation. "To be sure," Bavinck emphasizes, "God generates. The beautiful idea of the divine fecundity is emphasized and repeated over and over by the church-fathers."159 Though imperfect, "human generation is an analogy and reflection of that divine act by means of which the Father 'gives unto the Son to have life in himself'."160 The difference between human and divine generations is a matter of perfection in mode and degree, but the essentials supposed by the term "generation" are common to both. This realistic understanding of eternal generation is the hallmark of Reformed Theology following its founder John Calvin.
Nevertheless, Bavinck did not follow
Calvin's rejection of perpetual generation, but rather criticized
him for the more traditional view:
Accordingly, we must conceive of divine generation as eternal in the true sense of that word. It is not to be regarded as having been completed once for all in the past, but it is an act eternal and immutable, eternally finished, yet continueing forevermore.161
It is strange that he, an admirer of John Calvin, accepted what Calvin had rejected. More strange, however, is Bavinck's logic of time. When he recognized that "The Father is the first in the order of existence,"162 certainly he is following Calvin, who carefully suggested some necessity to talk about the before and after order of existence, not in the Arian sense, but only because of human limitation of understanding: "the Father is thought as first, then from him the Son, and finally from both the Spirit."163 If so, the Son had to exist already, before the Spirit, who is eternal, began to exist. And then, it is clear that the Father's generation of the Son must be done eternally before. In spite of this logical consistency, the reason why "eternal" generation has to be conceived as "eternally continuous" generation is not so plausible. Against the Arian axiom, he reasons, "If the Son is not eternal, neither can God be Father eternally: In that case God became Father in course of time....Accordingly, we must conceive of divine generation as eternal in the true sense of that word."164 So far, he is all right, but what is that "in the true sense of that word"? Here is a point of departure between Calvin and Bavinck.
Louis Berkhof(1873-1957), an American
representative of the Reformed Theology, respected and generally
followed Herman Bavinck and his theology.165 It is
true even in the doctrine of eternal generation, for Berkhof also
understood generation "in a metaphysical sense."
Concerning the name "Son" or "Son of God", he
sharply rejected the adoptionistic view, as applied to Him
"as an honorary title conferred upon Him."166
If He were the Son of God "in an official or in an ethical
sense", He would not be called the "only-begotten"
Son of God or of the Father.167 His sure confidence in
the concept of derivation is found also in the following
The use of the appelatives "only-begotten" and "firstborn" imply that the relation between the Father and the Son, while unique, can nevertheless be represented approximately as one of generation and birth.168
Moreover, when he understood the title, the Son of God, "irrespective of His position and work as Mediator",169 no doubt Berkhof is a strong ontological trinitarian just like Herman Bavinck. Also, he preferred to follow Bavinck and tradition rather than suspicious Calvin, in the conception of eternity. So, "it is a timeless act, the act of an eternal present, an act always continuing and yet ever completed."170 However, his explanation is more logical and plausible than that of Bavinck. He suggested the divine immutability as the reason to be eternally continuous. "If the generation of the Son is a necessary act of the Father," he insists, "it is impossible to conceive of Him as not generating."171 If there ever be any difference between the incomplete state and the completed state of the Son in the process of generation, certainly it must be a devastating threat to the true immutable deity of the Son. However, still it reflects the static view of divine immutability, which cannot truely conceive Jesus' divinity in the state of humiliation, and seems to presuppose the temporality and extensive process of generation.
G. C. Berkouwer, the successor of
Hermann Bavinck at the Free University of Amsterdam, faithfully
but progressively follows his predecessor. Likewise, he is
another strong ontological trinitarian, who believes the eternal
generation of the Son in the metaphysical sense.172
His criticism on the cynical liberals, that the ontological
Trinity is a speculation, is very sharp and strong:
In all such utterances Christ points to the mystery of his origin; and certain theology is in bad form when, in discussing them, it reaches for such depreciatory words as "speculation" and "ontology". For in order to eclipse this origin, this miraculous being, this gracious reality, it has set aside the whole gospel....This is a matter of revelation, not of distorted ontology.173
pre-existence is said to be a rationalization of the mystery of Christ but fail to see it rest upon the revelation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a revelation which excludes speculation.174
The revealedness of Jesus' Sonship excludes all arbitrary speculations and terminates all human curiosities. If God had not revealed the origin of Christ as the only-begotten Son of the Father, how many monstrous speculations could be invented? Even now, some persons speculate about it apart from the clear revelation. Certainly, the eternal generation of the Son is "a revelation which excludes speculation". Berkouwer does not present a clear statement of his concept of eternity, but, when he criticized Rudolf Bultmann's "time-bound thinking",175 he seems to sharply distinguish the category of time and eternity and therefore simply presupposes eternity as timelessness. If that is right, Berkouwer does not break with the views of Bavinck and Berkhof and the old traditions.
As a whole, the modern Reformed theologians critically follow Calvin's doctrine of eternal generation in reflection of older traditions. They are distinguished from the Princeton theologians in being faithful to the orthodox tradition of the eternal generation of the Son without any rationalistic reduction, as Calvin was. But, they failed to develop further Calvin's reasonable doubt of the perpetuality of generation. In this consesus, German Reformed Theology is also no exception. In his Reformed Dogmatics, Heinrich Heppe concludes that "Generatio is thus (1) aeterna et perpetua, (2) hyperphysica, non physica, and (3) propria, non metaphorica."176
Recently, some theologians within the
Reformed churches began to depart from this strong ontological
trinitarianism of the traditional Reformed theology. Hendrikus
Berkhof represents this deviation. He regards the term persona as
"a source of embarrasment and confusion for many
centuries,"177 and boldly proposed the
termination of the traditional formula "the three persons of
the Trinity."178 Later, he explained why and how
he was able to discard the orthodox formula of the Trinity so
easily. He believes neither the Triune God, nor the true deity of
Jesus, nor the pre-existence of Jesus, nor the personality of the
Holy Spirit. Influenced by Modernism and Neo-Orthodoxy, he became
a kind of unitarian, who believes in a one-person God, the
eschatological man Jesus, and the impersonal Bond of love between
God and Jesus. His so-called "Covenant of Tri-unity" is
not made between three divine persons, but between the divine
partner and human representative:
So the combination of the three names of Father-Son-Spirit, or, with equal validity, of Father-Spirit-Son, proves to be the summarizing description of the covenantal event, both as to its historical and its existential aspect. The Father is the divine partner, the Son the human representative, the Spirit the bond between them....Can we say then that we have here "one essence in three persons"? No.179
Jesus is a man, and therefore his
pre-existence is a myth180 and a later enrichment of
the tradition.181 Of course, the Scripture relates him
to the event of creation, but only in the sense that "the
world was created in view of Jesus Christ."182
The covenant with a man Jesus as the human representative was the
final purpose of creation.183 Therefore, he considered
"regrettable" that the virgin birth received so central
a place in the traditional confessions.184 As H.
Berkhof denies the personhood of the Holy spirit, Lewis B.
Smedes, in America, is not willing to give personhood to the
Spirit, in its full sense.185 This reductionistic
tendency in the Reformed churches, reflects the modalistic
tendency at large in twentieth century trinitarian discussions.
1 Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity," p. 248.
2 Ibid., p. 247.
3 Ibid. "They were accustomed to explain 'eternal generation'(in accordance with its very nature as 'eternal'), not as something which has occured once for all at some point of time in the past--however far back in the past--but as something which is always occuring, a perpetual movement of the divine essence from the first Person to the second, always complete, never completed."
4 Ibid., pp. 249-250.
5 Ibid., p. 256.
6 Ibid., p. 262. n. 101.
7 Ibid., p. 257.
8 T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography (Philadelphia: The Westiminster Press, 1975), p. 65. He quoted the last sentence from a Ietter written by the pastors of Geneva to the pastors of Berne, on February 20, 1537, to explain the nature of the controversy.
9 Stephen M. Reynolds, "Calvin's View of the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds," Westminster Theological Journal 23(1960/61): 34-35.
10 Ibid., p. 35.
11 Jean-Philippe A. Bujard, "Calvin's Use of Patristic Sources in His Doctrine of The Trinity: Two Case Studies," (Th. M. Thesis, Princeton Theoiogical Seminary, 1983), pp. 15-16; Reynolds, "Ca1vin's view of the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds," p. 37. "for the Christian liberty from slavery to words".
12 Antonio Rotondo, Calvin and the Italian Anti-Trinitarians, tr. John and Anne Tedeschi, Reformation Essays & Studies 2 (St. Louis: Foundation for Reformation Research, 1968), p. 14.
13 John Calvin, "Letter To Megander"[February 1537], in his Selected Works of John Calvin, 7 vols., ed. by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet, tr. by Henry Beveridge and David Constable (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 4: 47-50.
14 John Calvin, "Letter To Farel" [October 8, 1539], Ibid., pp, 154-155.
15 Ibid., p. 153.
16 Ibid., pp. 152-153.
17 Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877), 1: 493. "The Gallican Confession is the work of John Calvin who prepared the first draft, and of his pupil, Antoine de la Roche Chandieu."
18 Ibid., 3: 362.
19 Shedd, A History of Christian Doctrine, 1: 380,
20 Rotondo, Calvin and the Italian Anti-Trinitarians, p, l4. "it is c1ear that his reactions to the contemporary anti-trinitarian debate were consistently maintained within the heretical context of the pre-Nicene period."
21 Ibid.; Fortman, The Triune God, pp.242.. "That Calvin was strongly attached to the traditional trinitarian doctrine and strongly opposed anyone who contravened it is quite obvious""
22 John Calvin, "The Necessity of Reforming the Church," tr. Henry Beveridge. Selected Works of John Calvin, 1:232.
23 Ibid., p. 128.
24 Ibid., p. 189.
25 Ibid., p. 149.
26 Ibid. "besides the clear testimonies which are everywhere met within Scripture, we are also supported by the authority of the ancient church. All the writers of a purer age..."
27 A. Mitchell Hunter, The Teaching of Calvin (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1950), p. 49.
28 John Calvin, Institution of the Christian Religion (1536 edition), tr. Ford Lewis Battles (Atlanta: John Knox Press, l975), p. 64.
29 Cf. Albert Clarke Dean, "The Institutes of 1539 and the Letter To the Romans" (Th. M. Thesis: Union Theological Seminary, Richmond Virginia, 1953), pp, 80-100. He pointed out three influences of shaping the Institutes of 1539, that is, Melanchthon's Loci, Calvin's study of Augustine, and, most of all, Calvin's intensive study of the Romans which resulted in the publication of its commentary. In addition to those, he listed some other "minor influences". It is not conceivable that he did not notice any influence of the Caroli affair upon it, even as a "minor influence".
30 They were translated into English: Michael Servetus, The Two Treatises of Servetus on the Trinity, tr. Earl Morse Wilbur, Harvard Theological Studies XVI (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932).
31 Concerning the relationship between Calvin and Servetus, see Parker, John Calvin, pp. 117-123.
32 It is not translated into English, but found only in Ioannis Calvini, Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia, 59 vols., eds. Guilielmus Baum, Eduardus Cunitz, et Eduardus Reuss, Corpus Reformatorum, 29-87 (Brunsvigae: C. A. Schwetschke et Filium, 1863-1900), 8 (1870): 453-644. This document was subscribed by 15 pastors of the Genevan Council including Calvin himself.
33 Rotondo, Calvin and the Italian Anti-Trinitarians, p. 16.
34 Ibid., pp. 16-17.
35 E. David Willis, "Calvin and the Italian Anti-Trinitarians," Archive for Reformation History 62 (1971): 280.
36 Cf. Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity," p. 192.
37 Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/I: 419; Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity," pp. 192-193. "Ferdinand Christian Baur, for example, points out that the distinctive mark of the Reformation, in contrast with Scholasticism with its prevailing dialectic or intellectualistic tendency, was that it was a deeply religious movement....the consequence that even such doctrines as that of the Trinity were no longer able to maintain the preponderating significance which they possessed in the old system."
38 Ibid., p. 417. "...the author[Calvin] hardly has a burning interest in the matter."
39 Leonard Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944), p. 165.
40 Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity," pp. 218-219. "It is indeed astonishing how complete a statement of the doctrine of the Trinity itself was already incorporated into this earliest edition of the Institutes, and how clearly in that statement all the characteristic features of Calvin's treatment of the doctrine already appear. The discussion was no doubt greatly expanded in its passage from the first to the last edition."
41 Ibid., pp. 195-197. "The Reformation movement was, of course, at bottom a great revival of religion....its revolt from Scholasticism was...from the formalism and intellectualism of the treatment of these doctrines at the hands of the Scholastic theologians...In no one is the general attitude of the Reformers to the doctrine of the Trinity more clearly illustrated than in Calvin."
42 John Calvin, Calvin's Commentary on the Gospel according to St. John 1-10, tr. T. H. L. Parker, ed. David W. and Thomas P. Torrance, Calvin's Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1959), p. 7.
43 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.21.
44 Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority; Vol, 5, God Who Stands and Stays, Part one (Waco, TX.: Word Books, 1982), pp. 206-207. "Both Luther and Calvin preferred to abide by the simple statements of the Bible. In fact, because Calvin refrained from speculative statements about the ontological Trinity, he was suspected of both Sabellianism and Arianism, suspicions that were wholly unfounded."; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1: 466-467.
45 R. S. Franks, The Doctrine of the Trinity (London: Gerald Duckworth And Co., Ltd., 1953), p. 189. "Calvin suffers least from attempted rationalization, because he keeps closest to Scripture and avoids philosophical problems."; Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity, p. 175. "Of the three[Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin]..., Caivin has suffered least."; Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity," p. 206. "It was the purity of his Protestantism...which governed Calvin's dealing with this doctrine."
46 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.29.
47 Michael Servetus, The Two Treatises of Servetus on the Trinity, tr. Earl Morse Wilbur, Harvard Theologicai Studies XVI (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932), pp. 70, 75.
48 Ibid., p. 105.
49 Ibid., p. 171.
50 Ibid., p. 76.
51 Ibid., p. 105.
52 Ibid., p. 143.
53 Ibid., p. 131.
54 Ibid., p. 143.
55 Ibid., p. 170.
56 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.7.
57 Ibid., I.xiii.8.
58 John Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John 1-10, tr. H. L. Parker, ed. David W. and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvins's Cmmentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1961), p. 8.; Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.8 "Yet if anyone should inquire how long before, he will find no beginning."
59 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.18.
60 Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John 1-10, p. 8.
62 Ibid., p. 9.
63 Calvin, Institutes, I.xlli.7.
64 Ibid., I.xiii.8.
65 Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John 1-10, p. 8.
66 Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity, p. 166.
67 Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John 1-10, p. 8.
68 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.11, 13.
69 Ibid., I.xiii.5; Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity," p. 217.
He praised this word of Calvin as follows; "Golden words! How often since
CaIvin has the Church had bitter cause to repeat them!"
70 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.2-3.
71 Ibid., I.xiii.5.
72 Ibid., I.xiii.3. "If they call a foreign word one that cannot be shown to stand within syllable by syllable in Scripture, they are indeed imposing upon us an unjust law which condemns all interpretation not patched together out of the fabric of Scripture."
73 Ibid., I.xiii.3. "...since he is finding fault only with what renders the truth plain and clear?"
74 Ibid.; Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John 1-10, p. 9. "...they could not in any other way defend true and pure doctrine against the ambiguous quibbles of the heretics, they were forced to coin certain words which yet said nothing but what is taught in the Scriptures in another way."
75 Fortmann, The Triune God, pp. 241-242; Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity, pp. 167, 169.
76 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.2.
77 Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity," p. 214.
78 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.2.
80 Ibid., I.xiii.4. "...especially useful when the truth is to be asserted against false accusers." Calvin appreciated the Nicene Fathers who articulated such clear terms in the experiences of fighting against heretical views of the Trinity, "lest they leave any devious shift to the impious, who cloaked their errors in layers of verbiage."
81 Ibid., I.xiii.5.
82 Ibid., I.xiii.4.
84 Ibid., I.xiii.22.
85 Ibid. "Presently, indeed, from a few men there have boiled up several sects, which partly tore asunder God's essence, partly confused the distinction that exists between the persons."
87 Servetus, The Two Treatises on the Trinity, p. 3. "They take great pride in Platonizing, by multiplying separate being," pp. 75-76.
88 Ibid., p. 5.
89 Plantinga, "The Hodgson-Welch Debate," p. 64; Calvin, Selected Works, 2: 39. "there is no absurdity in holding that these three persons are in one Godhead," in "Catechism of the Church of Geneva" (1536).
90 Ibid., p. 159.
91 Ibid., p. 170.
92 Ibid., p. 189.
93 Ibid., p. 131.
94 Cf. Ibid., p. 71. "There is one Godhead in three Persons, but not in three beings."
95 Ibid., p. 105.
96 Ibid., pp. 142-143, 189, 195.
97 Ibid., p. 158; Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.22.
98 Servetus, The Two Treatises on the Trinity, p. 126.
99 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.6; cf. Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity, p. 168. "But Calvin takes a definition step forward when he tries to expound the content of the distinctions."
100 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.2.
101 Ibid., I.xiii.16.
102 Servetus, The Two Treatises on the Trinity, p. 145.
103 Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/1: 428.
104 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.18.
105 Ibid., I.xiii.19.
106 Calvin, Selected Works, 2: 39.
107 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.18.
108 Ibid., I.xiii.23.
109 Ibid., I.xiii.24.
110 Ibid., I.xiii.25.
111 Ibid., I.xiii.8.
112 Ibid., I.xiii.17.
113 Ibid., I.xiii.8; Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity, p, 169. "Inspite of his commendation of St. Augustine, he differs from him markedly in one respect. St. Augustine had searched widely for analogies which should help towards intelligent faith in the Trinity. Calvin looks for no help in that direction."
114 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.5.
115 Ibid., I.xiii.1.
116 Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John 1-10, p. 74; Calvin, Selected Works, 2: 43. "That we are the sons of God we have not from nature but from adoption and grace only...but the Lord Jesus who was begotten of the substance of the Father, and is of one essence with the Father, is by the best title called the only Son of God, because he alone is his Son by nature."
117 Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity," p. 247. Warfield seems to understand Calvin's position in this doctrine correctly, but confused the meaning of "eternal". If we suppose that the medieval understanding of "eternal" is "continuous" or "perpetual," Calvin certainly rejected it. However, the Nicene understanding of "eternal" was certainly not that, but "eternally before" or "in the timeless eternity." Warfield failed to distinguish them.
118 Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 5/1:206. "Calvin noted the apparent confusion introduced into the Christian doctrine of God by the themes of generation and procession."
119 Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity, p. 171.
120 Plantinga, "The Hodgson-Welch Debate," p. 64.
121 Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity," pp. 229-230. "...the principle of his construction of the Trinitarian distinctions is equalization rather than subordination."
122 Ibid., p. 284. "...the contribution he made to the right understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. That contribution is summed up in his clear, firm and unwavering assertion of the autotheotes of the Son. By this assertion the homoousios of the Nicene Fathers at last come to its full right, and become in its fullest sense the hinge of the doctrine."
123 Shedd, A History of Christian Doctrine, p. 382.
124 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.9-10.
125 Ibid., I.xiii.25.
126 Cf. Ibid., I.xiii.23. n. 51.
127 Ibid., I.xiii.23.
130 Ibid., I.xiii.24.
131 Ibid., I.xiii.23.
133 Ibid., I.xiii.25.
138 Ian D. Kingston Siggins, Martin Luther's Doctrine of Christ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), p. 197.
139 Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity,", pp. 274-275.
140 Philip Schaff The Creeds of Christendom with A History and Critical Notes, 3 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1881), 1: 357. This comment was made a century ago, but it seems to be true even today.
141 Cf, The text of the Belgic Confession is used from Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, Volume 3, and its translation from Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions (Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Church Publications 1987). And, the Roman numeral in parenthesis refers to the Article number of the Confession.
142 Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., A Place To Stand: A Reformed Study of Creeds and Confessions, Teacher's Manual (Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Church Publications, 1979), p. 49.
143 Cornelius Plantlnga, Jr., A Place To Stand: A Reformed Study of Creeds and Confessions (Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Pubiications, 1979), pp. 58-59.
144 Cf. Plantinga, A Place To Stand: Teacher's Manual, p. 49.
145 Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 1: 599 Schaff classified this English creed as a Reformed confession due to its theological similarity with Reformed theology especially in the points where Reformed differs from Lutheran(see 81. The Interpretation of the Articles, 1: 622-650). Also, "Continental historians, both Protestant and Catholic, rank the Church of England among the Reformed Churches as distinct from the Lutheran and her Articles are found in every collection of Reformed Confessions," p. 622.
146 Fred H. Klooster, "The Heidelberg Catechism: Origin and History" (Syllabus, Calvin Theological Seminary, 1981), p. 162.
147 Ibid., pp. 120, 122, 126.
148 Ibid., p. 161. "he[Ursinus] was very likely the leading person!"; "Ursinus may have had the leading role in drafting the Catechism," p. 171.
149 Zacharius Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharius Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, tr. G. W. Williard (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956), pp. 130-131, 136, 181, for example.
150 Ibid., pp. 181-182; Otto Thelemann, An Aid To The Heidelberg Catechism, tr. M. Peters (Reading, PA: James I. Good, D. D, Publisher, 1896), pp. 93, 131; George W. Bethune, Expository Lectures on the Heidelberg Catechism, 2 vols. (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1866), 1: 209.
151 Jan Karel Van Baalen, The Heritage of the Fathers: A Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948), p. 117.
152 Ibid., p. 126. "The eternity of God cannot be adequately defined in human language nor understood by the human mind, because man is capable only of thinking in the terminology of time....God is above time, as He is above space....God's day is an eternal Today....His eternal Today is the Today of His Fatherhood."
153 Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 1: 395.
154 The translation is from The Book of Confessions (Philadelphia: The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, 1970).
155 Cf. Non-Calvinistic influence on the Westminster Confession has been pointed out. For example, see Holmes Rolston III, John Calvin versus The Westminster Confession (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1972), and R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism To 1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).
156 Edward D Morris, Theology of The Westminster Symbols: A Commentary (Columbus: Champlin, 1900), pp. 167-168. "....this mysterious process going on within the divine nature, theologically called generation."; Archibald Alexander Hodge, A Commentary on The Confession of Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1932), pp. 88-89. "It must express his eternal personal relation to the other divine Persons."; George S. Hendry, The Westminster Confession for Today: A Contemporary Interpretation (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1960), p. 45. "...both the begetting(or "generation") and the procession were said to be eternal, i.e., they do not involve succession...but are more like the generation of light from a flame, or water from a spring."; Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity: Several Lectures on the Assembly's Larger Catechism, ed. James P. Wilson (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1814), I: 258, 262. He simply ignored the significance of this doctrine. "...whether the eternal generation is one single act, or an act continued....I shall entirely pass over, as apprehending that this doctrine receives no advantage by such disquisitions."
157 Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines, pp. 95-96.
158 Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, tr. William Hendriksen (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), p. 270.
159 Ibid., p. 308.
160 Ibid., p. 307. "Of course, when we discuss the relation between Father and Son, we must need to express ourselves in human and therefore imperfect language; mindful of this we shall use all caution. Nevertheless, it is proper for us to speak of the Son's generation"; p. 308. "Among men generation is imcomplete and imperfect: a man needs a woman in order to bring forth a son. No man is able fully to reflect his own image in a child, not even in several children. A man becomes father in course of time; afterward he ceases to be father, and the child soon becomes entirely independent of the father. But with god this is not the case."
161 Ibid., p. 309.
162 Ibid., p. 267.
163 Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.18. "we must not seek in eternity a before or an after, nevertheless the observance of an order is not meaningless or superfluous."
164 Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, p. 309.
165 Henry Zwaanstra, "Louis Berkhof", in Reformed Theology in America, p. 167, "Nevertheless Berkhof's theology was essentially the theology of Herman Bavinck...Berkhof was, however, pervasively dependent on Bavinck, often to the point of literally reproducing Bavinck's words and phrases."
166 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Co., 1939), p. 91.
168 Ibid., p. 92.
169 Ibid., p. 91.
170 Ibid., p. 93.
172 G. C. Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, tr. John Vriend, Studies in Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), p. 186. "In our day too Liberals have made an appeal to this text and spoken 'enormous danger' inherent in the virtual neglect of what John 14:28 says: the Father is greater than I. On the basis of this text people have stressed the Messianic significance of the expression 'Son of God' and denied the so-called metaphysical significance."
173 Ibid., pp. 165, 167.
174 Ibid., p. 184.
175 Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, p. 166. "Bultmann emasculates this text by counting it among speculative theories of pre-existence, because, says he, Christ is here viewed under 'the category of time'. But the contrary is true: the statement 'Before Abraham was born, I am' rather breaks through the categories of time-bound thinking which imagines it can interpret Christ in terms of our existence and that without mystery."
176 Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, rev. and ed. Ernst Bizer, tr. G. T. Thomson (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 123.
177 Hendrikus Berkhof, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1964), p. 111.
178 Ibid., p. 115. "Nevertheless, the confused and confusing phrase 'the three persons of the Trinity' is still used. It is no use to maintain it any longer, especially since this formula from the very beginning has functioned not as a power of unity but as a source of confusion."
179 Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Study of the Faith, tr. Sierd Woudstra (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), p. 331. So, he criticized the traditional view of the Trinity, for it concerns only "the one covenant partner, God".
180 Ibid., p. 292. "In this mythical form(of pre-existence at creation) was expressed what we with our Western thinking would call an 'ideal pre-existence': God's first and dominant thought in his plan of creation was Jesus the Son."
181 H. Berkhof, Christian Faith, p. 293.
182 Ibid., p. 167.
183 Ibid., p. 166.
184 Ibid., p. 293. "It is therefore regrettable that in many later summaries of the Kerygma, among others in the Apostle's Creed, the virgin birth did receive a central place, thereby making its acceptance until today a touchstone of orthodoxy."
185 Lewis B. Smedes, Union with Christ: a Biblical View of the New Life in Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Berdmans Publishing Co., 1983), p. 53. "Is the Spirit not to be thought of as a person in His own right? He must be thought of as a person, but not in His own right....So if we called the Spirit a person in His own right, we would be inclined to think of Him as an individual, thinking and acting independently."
A History of the Doctrine of Eternal Generation of the Son and Its Significance in the Trinitarianism: Introduction
The Doctrine of the eternal generation in opposition to the hellenistic logos doctrine in the early church
the triumph of ontological realism and eternal generation in the nicene creed
The Significance of the Eternal Generation Doctrine in the Contemporary Trinitarian Trends
Karl Rahner's Philosophical Understanding of the Trinity