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The Son: Begotten, Not Made

by Brant Pitre July 03, 2020 0 Comments



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Transcript:

What about the second reading for today?  Well this one is really important and I want to focus on it because it is Trinity Sunday.  In 2 Corinthians 3:11-13, we read these words — this is the ending of Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth:

Finally, brethren, farewell. Mend your ways, heed my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.   All the saints greet you.

Now pause there for just a second and notice what he just said: “the God of love and peace will greet you.”  So Paul is a Jew.  He is a monotheist.  He believes that there is one God.  He would've said over and over again as a Jew, several times a day, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6 ).  So he is talking about God in the singular here: “the God of love and peace will be with you.”  And then, however, yet in the next verse, verse 14, he says this:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Now these words should sound familiar to you, because this is one of the standard greetings of the priest in the liturgy of the Mass.  You might not have known this, but when the priest will come in and say those words, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion the Holy Spirit be with you all,” and we say “and with your spirit,” the priest is getting those words straight from Scripture.  Those are the inspired words of the Holy Spirit written down by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:14.  So why do we read this on Trinity Sunday?  Well it's one of the most explicitly Trinitarian of all of Paul's greetings.  Sometimes Paul will talk about the Father and the Son, he will talk about God the Father and the Lord Jesus in tandem with one another, but in this case he is very clear, after asserting that there is one God he then goes on to make a threefold distinction: “the grace [number one] of the Lord Jesus Christ,” “the love of God” [number two], and then “the communion [or fellowship] of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  So we take this reading as the second reading today because it shows us that although Paul was a monotheist, he is also trinitarian.  He recognizes the three persons of the one God: the Father, the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ), and of course the Holy Spirit as well.  And so he gives us this Trinitarian blessing that the Church continues to make her own in the Mass itself.

So finally, with all that in mind, we now turn to the Gospel, which might be one of the most famous verses in all of the New Testament.  It is one that is well known, especially in United States, John 3:16.  It is a famous verse.  We know it from bumper stickers, we also know it from sports players who put it on their helmets or they put it on that stuff that you put under your eyes — I don’t really know what it it is called, but you know what I am talking about.  And yet, despite the fact that it's a popular inspirational verse, this section of the New Testament is actually very important as well for the mystery of the Trinity.  And so that's why the Church gives it to us on this day.  So let's read that together and then I am going to break it down and try to open it up and then tie it to the Nicene Creed that we say every Sunday as an illustration of what we mean by this.  So it says in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Honestly, there is a lot we could say about those passages.  They're very, very rich, but I just want to make a couple of points.  First, when your English Bible there, although it says “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” the Greek there is actually a little more rich, a little more nuanced than the English.  So the Greek word there is “God gave his monogenēs son.”  Mono is the word for only.  Genēs comes from the verb gennaō and it means to bear or to beget.  So in the Greek it literally says “God gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him might not perish.”  One reason that is important is because it sets Jesus out as a unique kind of son.  So for example, if you look at the Old Testament — the book of Job for example, chapter 1 — angels are called sons of God.  But they are created sons of God, they are creatures, they have a beginning in time before which they didn't exist.  And also, too, if you look at the New Testament — Romans 8 or Galatians 3 — human beings are called sons of God.  In other words, Christians are called sons of God.  When Paul says “those of you who have been baptized into Christ have become sons.”  You now cry Abba, Father, because we been brought into the sonship of Christ, but we are adopted sons of God.  And then even today people will use the expression “all people are children of God,” and that's true but what they mean by that is that God is like a Father because he's the source of their life.  So just as a father gives life to his child, so too God gives life to all human beings, and they are, in a sense, his children. 

But that's not what we mean when we say that Jesus is the only begotten son of God.  By saying God sent his only begotten son into the world, what John is talking about here is the fact that Jesus is the eternal son of God.  So unlike the angels, the angels are created sons of God, Jesus is the uncreated son of God.  Angels have a beginning, human beings have a beginning, Jesus has no beginning as the eternal Son.  He's uncreated and he is eternally begotten of the Father.  He always was the Son of the Father, in other words, he is the Son and he always will be the divine Son of God; and you can see that in the final line there of John's Gospel when he says that “God sent the Son into the world.”  What does that mean that God sent his son?  Well it means that the Son had existence before he became a man.  You or I,  we didn't have existence before we were conceived in our mothers womb.  When we were conceived, we were created by God out of nothing, directly and immediately by him.  The same thing, the Angels, when they were created by God at the beginning of time, they were created out of nothing.  They had a beginning, but Jesus did not have a beginning.  As the Son, he was sent into the world in order to assume a human nature, which means that he is not just fully human, he is also fully divine.  He is the eternal, uncreated Son of God.

Now why is that important for understanding the mystery of the Trinity?  Well, because it helps us to understand that from all eternity there was more than one person in the one God.  Now you might be thinking that “Dr. Pitre is getting to complicated here, now you are getting into the mystery of the Trinity.”  It is true.  It is a mystery that transcends our understanding, but we need to at least grasp the basic meaning of it, so that we can profess the faith with understanding.  So in order to illustrate this, what I would like to do is tie John 3:16 to what we say in the Creed, because if we understand what John is saying in John 3:16-18, it will help us have a better understanding of the Creed.  So what is John saying in John  3:16-18?  That Jesus is the only begotten Son and that he's the preexistent son, that he was sent into the world from heaven.  If you look at the language of the Nicene Creed that we say on Sundays — almost every Sunday of the year — you will understand a little bit more about what is going on here.  So think about the words of the Nicene Creed.  This was formulated in the wake of the Council of Nicaea, which took place in 325 A.D.  It was a council that was defending the divinity of Jesus and the mystery of the Trinity, and this is what we profess as Catholics, let's read it together and then I'll break it down:

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven…

and then finally the Creed goes on to say:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life…

Alright, now we could do a whole video just on the Creed — actually a whole series — but for now just notice the implications of this for the Trinity.  Number one, look at what it says, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty.”  So as Christians we are monotheists.  We believe that there is only one God, however we also believe that there are three persons of that one God:  God the Father, God the Son (our Lord Jesus Christ) and then God the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life).  So that in essence is the mystery of the Trinity.  Now you might say “well how am I supposed to understand that?”  Sometimes people will try to use all kinds of analogies like the clover I mentioned with St. Patrick, or they will try use analogies from nature to explain the Trinity.  These can be helpful, but they can also be dangerous, because they can lead you astray.  What I try to do to help my students understand the mystery of the Trinity is to make a distinction between what theologians refer to as nature and person.  This might sound complicated, but it is actually not that complicated.  Nature, when we say nature, it answers the question what.  So if you ask “what am I?”  I am a human being.  But person answers the question who.  So if you say “who am I?” I am Brant Pitre.  So if you ask what, I'm a human being.  That’s the kind of thing I am, that is the substance of who I am, that is my nature.  I have a human nature.  I am a human.  But if you answer the question who, well that's different.  I am Brant Pitre.  And those are two distinct things.  We understand that for people, but when we apply it to God, what the Trinity is telling us is there is one divine what.  There is one divine nature.  There is one God, but there are three who’s, who share that one divine nature: the Father (the first person), the Son (the second person), and the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity); and that's really the essence of the mystery of the Trinity.  How does that all hang together?  Well that transcends our ability to to comprehend it fully.  It's a supernatural mystery that God has revealed to us through the Scriptures, through the incarnation, through Pentecost; but that's the essence of it.

So with that in mind, look at the Creed, look at what we are professing on this feast day of the Trinity:

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth

So we are monotheists.

[but] I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.

What does that mean?  He is begotten from all eternity.  When we say he's the Son, we don't mean he's a creature.  He is the uncreated, eternal Son.  He always has been Son, he is Son, and he always will be Son; which means that he is God.  He has no beginning and he has no end as Son.

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made…

Now you know why that's in the Creed.  I don’t know if you have ever wondered about that.  Why are we saying “not made”?  It's because that's critical, because if Jesus was made then he was a creature, and we shouldn’t worship him.  But if he's not made, he's divine, and he is worthy of our worship.

consubstantial with the Father;

A lot of people asks me, “why did they change that?”  We used to say “one in being with Father.”  What does consubstantial mean?  It means that Jesus is of the same substance, or nature, as the Father.  He is the same what, he's divine, he has a divine nature.  You and I, we have human natures.  We were created.  He has a divine nature and is uncreated.  And finally:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord…

So who is the Lord?  The Father is the Lord, the Son is the Lord, and the Holy Spirit is the Lord; and that really is the essence of the mystery of the Trinity.  That's why we profess the Creed every Sunday.  We are reaffirming the central mystery of the Christian faith.  As the catechism says, it's the mystery of the Holy Trinity.



Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre

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