A scene from The Canterbury Psalter (12th century)

Distinction Between Creation and Generation

The Nicene Creed says the Son is “begotten, not made.” This contrast is one of the ways the creed clarifies its teaching about what begetting, or generation, is; by contrast with what it is not. It’s a statement of Christology, obviously.

But the same contrast also helps us in the other direction, as a statement about cosmology or the doctrine of creation. What’s creation? Not begetting, not generation, not the internal coming-forth of a necessary relation in the singular divine essence. In other words, when you learn to call the Son “begotten, not made,” you learn to call creation made by contrast to begotten. You’re on your way to affirming creation from nothing more clearly, even though all you were trying to do was be clear about Christology.

I like to think I could make that argument historically, showing that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo depends on trinitarianism for its clearest statement. I don’t mean that the Old Testament taught some other doctrine of creation, but I do think that the ex nihilo that it presupposed emerged into much greater clarity once there was an incarnate Son to account for.

But the point can also be made philosophically. Robert Sokolowski, the Roman Catholic phenomenological theologian, makes some strong claims about “the distinction” between God and the world. Here’s a key passage in which he shows how this distinction arises with special clarity in the light of the Trinity’s revelation in Christ:

God is initially revealed to us as creator, as the origin or cause of all things, the one who gives the world and each of us our being. But through the coming of Christ, God becomes also understood as an origin in a different way. He is God the Father, the source of the Eternal Word. He is not just the creator of the world, but the origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. This relationship is not like creation, and it needs to be distinguished specifically from creation. In the Trinity, God does not engender something less than himself, but expresses himself as spoken or imaged. In God’s life such an expression is not external to himself, as words and images are external to us. God’s expression of himself is the second person, the Son; the Son is not another God, but God again, God spoken or God imaged. A distinction, therefore, needs to be made between two kinds of origination, a distinction that Arius failed to make, as he considered the Son to be the first of creatures. The mystery of the Trinity is disclosed to us precisely in this contrast between God as creator and God the Father as the principle of the Holy Trinity. Through the revelation made in the New Testament, we come to know that God could not be except as Trinitarian. God does not choose to be three persons, as he chooses to create; he is that way, and this divine way of being has been revealed to us. We come to know that, without the Holy Trinity, our sense of God is truncated.

Robert Sokolowski, “The Theology of Disclosure, ” Nova et Vetera (English Edition) 14, no. 2 (2016):
409–23; at 421.


About This Blog

Fred Sanders is a theologian who tried to specialize in the doctrine of the Trinity, but found that everything in Christian life and thought is connected to the triune God.

Explore Blog Categories