Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: The Eternal Begetting of the Son

This paper was due to be given by Prof John Webster (Aberdeen). Unfortunately, Prof Webster was unable to attend and so Prof Bruce McCormack (Princeton) read the paper to the conference (and a fine job he did too). The main points, briefly, and IMHO:
  • Generation is the personal act of God the Father, who alone is a nemine. His unbegotteness picks out his identity in relation to the Son, not elevation over the Son.
  • Asking what kind of act generation is immediately poses problems. Firmly in the realm of the ectypal, this question can only be approached at a certain risk; we need clear spiritual and intellectual protocols. Above all, we need strategies to deal with the animality of the metaphor of generation. Although other metaphors exist (intellectual procession, emanation), generation retains the personal character that others do not.
  • Generation does not involve an ontological hiatus: it is not 'maker' and 'made'. It is an eternal act; not adventitious, but intrinsic. It is a mode of perfection; an enactment of God's own life.
  • It is a work of the Father's nature and only in a carefully specified sense can it be described as an act of his will, since it is intrinsic.
  • Recently, there has been hesitation as to whether the doctrine of generation can do full justice to the temporal reality of the Son, since it places the Christological centre of gravity in eternity and fails to reflect metaphysical revisions demanded by the incarnation. However, this risks: turning the temporal priority of revelation into an ontological priority; and losing sight of the Son's unity with the Father.
  • Responses that posit that 'creaturely circumstances are involved in what it means for God to be God' (Robert Jenson), or that eternal begetting takes place in God's economy (Catherine Lacugna) only succeed in collapsing theology into an economy which is no economy because 'it has no ground; it is simply temporal surface.'
Phew! I'm still trying to think out that last quote from Webster's paper! What's interesting is that Bruce McCormack's later paper posited just such a view (post on this soon). Anyway, Webster finished with five final points:

  • We need an evangelically-determined theology of God's perfection (there are options other than materially-unspecific perfect-being theology or neo-Hegelian presentations of God's career in time).
  • Contemporary trinitarian theology is often insecure in its grasp of the first person of the Trinity, affecting theology proper, soteriology and ecclesiology.
  • The metaphysics of God a se and in se is important and cannot be set aside in efforts to explore a 'relational' God.
  • Talk of relations of origin is not just abstraction from the economy. It is 'a way of articulating the infinite depth within the being of God, that ocean whose tide is the missions of Son and Spirit by which lost creatures are redeemed and perfected.'
Great stuff! The final point on historical Jesus can be found on Mike Bird's blog, Euangelion.