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Son of God

… the only-begotten Son of God…

Jesus is one with God as His only-begot­ten Son. This is the gospel procla­ma­tion for­mu­lat­ed by the holy fathers of the Nicene Coun­cil in the fol­low­ing way:

… and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begot­ten Son of God, begot­ten of the Father before all ages: Light of Light. True God of True God. Begot­ten not made. Of one essence with the Father. Through whom all things were made…

These lines speak about the Son of God, also called the Word or Logos of God, before his birth in human flesh from the Vir­gin Mary in Beth­le­hem.

There is but one eter­nal Son of God. He is called the Only-begot­ten, which means the only one born of God the Father. Begot­ten as a word sim­ply means born or gen­er­at­ed.

The Son of God is born from the Father “before all ages”; that is, before cre­ation, before the com­mence­ment of time. Time has its begin­ning in cre­ation. God exists before time, in an eter­nal­ly time­less exis­tence with­out begin­ning or end.

Eter­ni­ty as a word does not mean end­less time. It means the con­di­tion of no time at all—no past or future, just a con­stant present. For God there is no past or future. For God, all is now.

In the eter­nal “now” of God, before the cre­ation of the world, God the Father gave birth to his only-begot­ten Son in what can only be termed an eter­nal, time­less, always present­ly-exist­ing gen­er­a­tion. This means that although the Son is “begot­ten of the Father” and comes forth from the Father, his com­ing forth is eter­nal. Thus, there nev­er was a “time” when there was no Son of God. This is specif­i­cal­ly what the heretic Arius taught. It is the doc­trine for­mal­ly con­demned by the first ecu­meni­cal coun­cil.

Although born of the Father and hav­ing his ori­gin in Him, the only-begot­ten Son always exist­ed, or rather more accu­rate­ly always “exists” as uncre­at­ed, eter­nal and divine. Thus, the Gospel of St. John says:

In the begin­ning was the Word [the Logos-Son], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn 1:1)

As the eter­nal­ly-born of God and always exist­ing with the Father in the “time­less gen­er­a­tion,” the Son is tru­ly “Light of Light, True God of True God.” For God is Light and what is born of Him must be Light. And God is True God, and what is born of Him must be True God.

We know from the cre­at­ed order of things that what is born must be essen­tial­ly the same as what gives birth. If one comes from the very being of anoth­er, one must be the very same thing. He can­not be essen­tial­ly dif­fer­ent. Thus, men give birth to men, and birds to birds, fish to fish, flow­ers to flow­ers.

If God, then, in the super-abun­dant full­ness and per­fec­tion of His divine being gives birth to a Son, the Son must be the same as the Father in all things—except, of course, in the fact of his being the Son.

Thus, if the Father is divine­ly and eter­nal­ly per­fect, true, wise, good, lov­ing, and all of the things that we know God is: “inef­fa­ble, incon­ceiv­able, invis­i­ble, ever-exist­ing and eter­nal­ly the same” (to quote this text of the Litur­gy once more), then the Son must be all of these things as well. To think that what is born of God must be less than God, says one saint of the Church, is to dis­hon­or to God.

The Son is “begot­ten not made, of one essence with the Father.” “Begot­ten not made” may also be put “born and not cre­at­ed.” Every­thing which exists besides God is cre­at­ed by Him: all things vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble. But the Son of God is not a crea­ture. He was not cre­at­ed by God or made by Him. He was born, begot­ten, gen­er­at­ed from the very being and nature of the Father. It belongs to the very nature of God-to God as God—according to divine rev­e­la­tion as under­stood by the Ortho­dox, that God is an eter­nal Father by nature, and that He should always have with Him his eter­nal, uncre­at­ed Son.

It belongs to the very nature of God that He should be such a being if He is tru­ly and per­fect­ly divine. It belongs to God’s very divine nature that He should not be eter­nal­ly alone in his divin­i­ty, but that His very being as Love and Good­ness should nat­u­ral­ly “over­flow itself” and “repro­duce itself” in the gen­er­a­tion of a divine Son: the “Son of His Love” as the Apos­tle Paul has called him (Col 1:13, inac­cu­rate­ly trans­lat­ed in Eng­lish).

Thus, there is an abyss drawn between the cre­at­ed and the uncre­at­ed, between God and every­thing else which God has made out of noth­ing. The Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, is not cre­at­ed. He was not made out of noth­ing. He was eter­nal­ly begot­ten from the divine being of the Father. He belongs “on the side of God.”

Hav­ing been born and not made, the Son of God is what God is. The expres­sion of one essence sim­ply means this: what God the Father is, so also—is the Son of God. Essence is from the Latin word esse which means to be. The essence of a thing answers the ques­tion What is it? What the Father is, the Son is. The Father is divine, the Son is divine. The Father is eter­nal, the Son is eter­nal. The Father is uncre­at­ed, the Son is uncre­at­ed. The Father is God and the Son is God. This is what men con­fess when they say “the only-begot­ten Son of God… of one essence with the Father.”

Being always with the Father, the Son is also one life, one will, one pow­er and one action with Him. What­ev­er the Father is, the Son is; and so what­ev­er the Father does, the Son does as well. The orig­i­nal act of God out­side of His divine exis­tence is the act of cre­ation. The Father is cre­ator of heav­en and earth, of all things vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble. And in the act of cre­ation, as—we con­fess in the Sym­bol of Faith, the Son is the one by whom all things were made.

The Son acts in cre­ation as the one who accom­plish­es the Father’s will. The divine act of cre­ation-and, indeed, every action toward the world in rev­e­la­tion, sal­va­tion, and glorification—is willed by the Father and accom­plished by the Son (we will speak of the Holy Spir­it below) in one iden­ti­cal divine action. Thus, we have the Gen­e­sis account of God cre­at­ing through His divine word (“God said…”), and in the Gospel of St. John the fol­low­ing spe­cif­ic rev­e­la­tion:

He [the Word-Son] was in the begin­ning with God [the Father]; all things were made through [or by] him and with­out him was not any­thing made that was made” (Jn 1:2–3).

This is the exact doc­trine of the Apos­tle Paul as well:

… in him [the Son] all things were cre­at­ed, in heav­en and on earth, vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble, whether thrones or domin­ions or prin­ci­pal­i­ties or pow­ers-all things were cre­at­ed through him and for him. He is before an things and in him all things hold togeth­er (Col 1:16–17).

Thus, the eter­nal Son of God is con­fessed as the one “by whom all things were made.” (Heb 1: 2; 2:10; Rom I 1 : 36 )

The Sym­bol of Faith con­tin­ues:… Who for us men and for our sal­va­tion came down from heav­en and was incar­nate of the Holy Spir­it and the Vir­gin Mary and became man…

The divine Son of God was born in human flesh for the sal­va­tion of the world. This is the cen­tral doc­trine of the Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian Faith; the entire life of Chris­tians is built upon this fact.

The Sym­bol of Faith stress­es that it is “for us men and for our sal­va­tion” that the Son of God has come. This is the most crit­i­cal bib­li­cal doc­trine, that “God so loved the world that He gave his only-begot­ten Son that who­ev­er believes in Him should not per­ish but have ever­last­ing life” (Jn 3:16, quot­ed at each Divine Litur­gy of St. John Chrysos­tom at the cen­ter of the eucharis­tic prayer).

Because of his per­fect love, God sent forth his Son into the world. God knew in the very act of cre­ation that to have a world at all would require the incar­na­tion of his Son in human flesh. Incar­na­tion as a word means “enflesh­ment” in the sense of tak­ing on the whole­ness of human nature, body and soul.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glo­ry, glo­ry as the only-begot­ten Son of the Father. And from his full­ness have we all received grace upon grace” (Jn 1:14–16).

… came down from heav­en…

The affir­ma­tion that the Son has “come down from heav­en and was incar­nate” does not mean that the Son is locat­ed some­where “up there” in the uni­verse and then descend­ed onto the plan­et earth. That He came “down from heav­en” is the Bib­li­cal way of say­ing that the Son of God came from the total­ly “oth­er” divine exis­tence of God, out­side the bounds and lim­its of all space and time locat­ed with­in the cre­at­ed, phys­i­cal uni­verse. In gen­er­al we must remem­ber again the sym­bol­i­cal char­ac­ter of all of our words and affir­ma­tions about God.

The affir­ma­tion that the Son came “down from heav­en” also should not be inter­pret­ed in the sense that before the incar­na­tion the Son of God was total­ly absent from the world. The Son was always “in the world” for the “world was made through Him” (Jn 1:10). He was always present in the world for He is per­son­al­ly the life and the light of man (1 Jn 4).

As “cre­at­ed in the image and like­ness of God,” every man—just by being a man—is already a reflec­tion of the divine Son, who is Him­self the uncre­at­ed image of God (Col 1:15 ; Heb 1:3). Thus, the Son, or Word, or Image, or Radi­ance of God, as He is called in Scrip­tures, was always “in the world” by being always present in every of his “cre­at­ed images,” not only as their cre­ator, but also as the one whose very being all crea­tures are made to share and to reflect. Thus, in his incar­na­tion, the Son comes per­son­al­ly to the world and becomes Him­self a man. But even before the incar­na­tion He was always in the world by the pres­ence and pow­er of his cre­ative actions in his crea­tures, par­tic­u­lar­ly in man.

In addi­tion to this, it is also Ortho­dox doc­trine that the man­i­fes­ta­tion of God to the saints of the Old Tes­ta­ment, the so-called theo­pha­nies (which means divine man­i­fes­ta­tions), were man­i­fes­ta­tions of the Father, by, through and in his Son or Logos. Thus, for exam­ple, the man­i­fes­ta­tions to Moses, Elias or Isa­iah are medi­at­ed by God’s divine and uncre­at­ed Son.

It is the Ortho­dox teach­ing as well that the Word of God which came to the Old Tes­ta­ment prophets and saints, and the very words of the Old Tes­ta­ment Law of Moses, which are called in Hebrew the “words” and not as we say in Eng­lish, the “com­mand­ments”, are also rev­e­la­tions of God by his Son, the Divine Word. Thus, for exam­ple, we have Old Tes­ta­men­tal wit­ness to the rev­e­la­tion of God’s Word, such as that of the Prophet Isa­iah, in almost the same per­son­al­is­tic form as is found in the Chris­t­ian gospel:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heav­en, and return not thith­er but water the earth, mak­ing it bring forth and sprout, giv­ing seed to the sow­er and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me emp­ty, but it shall accom­plish that which I pro­pose, and pros­per in the thing for which I sent it (Isa 55:10–11).

Thus, before His per­son­al birth of the Vir­gin Mary as the man Jesus, the divine Son and Word of God was in the world by His pres­ence and action in cre­ation, par­tic­u­lar­ly in man. He was present and active; also in the theo­pha­nies to the Old Tes­ta­ment saints; and in the words of the law and the prophets, both oral and scrip­tur­al.