Summary of “God Over All”: Chapter Two, “God: The Sole Ultimate Reality” Pt. 3 – Aseity According to the Church Fathers

In our previous post we looked at how the Apostle Paul thought about God being the sole ultimate reality. With this post we look beyond the New Testament and examine the understanding of the early Church Fathers. 

What Craig argues is that the early Church Fathers also considered God to be the sole ultimate reality. Citing the Nicene Creed, which granted credal status to this doctrine in 325 at the Council of Nicaea:

I believe in one God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, through whom all things came into being.

Craig points out the phrase “maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible” is derived from Paul, while the phrase “through whom all things came into being” finds it’s origin in John’s prologue. Thus, “the Council affirms that everything other than God was created by God through the Son, so that God alone is uncreated.” [1] Just like in dealing with the passages by John and Paul, for the Christian Platonist to be consistent, they will have to maintain that the domain of quantification for the terms “all things” must be restricted so as not to include abstract objects. 

The Sole Agenetos

What Craig goes on to demonstrate is that there is ample reasons to believe that the Church Fathers took the domain of quantification, once God was excluded, to be unrestricted. Here he begins to explain discussion over a theological controversy that led to the council. The debate was concerned with two pairs of theological terms, agenetos/genetos, and agennetos/gennetos. The difference between these two word pairs is the addition of a single “n” (or the letter “nu” (ν) in the Greek). 

The controversy regarding these word pairs involved the verbs from which they were derived. Agenetos/genetos derives from the verb ginomai, which means “to become” or “to come into being.” Agennetos/gennetos is derived from the verb gennao, which means “to beget.” I will lay these terms out clearly:

Agenetos/genetos — uncreated/created

Agennetos/gennetos — unbegotten/begotten

The debate at the Council of Nicaea then lead to the understanding that “Christ could be said to be uncreated (agenetos) but begotten (gennetos), in contrast to the Father, who is both uncreated (agenetos) and unbegotten (aggenetos).” [2] Craig takes this understanding and follows up with the history of Athanasius. 

Athansius believed that the Arians had borrowed the term agenetos from Greek philosophy and applied it exclusively to the Father (emphasis on “exclusively”). He noted that the relevant meaning of the word was “what exists but was neither originated nor had origin of being, but is everlasting and indestructible.” [3] Athanasius was frustrated and angered by the word games the Arians would use to confuse the uneducated. They would start by asking wether there is one uncreated being or two. The layman would answer that there is one, but then the Arians would respond “Then the Son is created!” and therefore a creature. 

Craig then quotes various Nicene and ante-Nicene Fathers to further illustrate his point. Here are a few of these quotes:

There is not a plurality of uncreated beings: for if there were some difference between them, you would not discover the cause of the difference, though you searched for it; but after letting the mind ever wander to infinity, you would at length, wearied out, stop at one uncreated being, and say that this is the Cause of al things. (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew 5)

For before all things God was alone, himself his own world and location and everything – alone, however, because there was thing external beside him. (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 5.13-15)

The Father is the one uncreated being (Epiphanius, Panarion 33.7.6)

Craig then concludes that the Church Fathers all accepted the following three principles. 

1. God alone is uncreated.

2. Nothing is co-eternal with God.

3. Eternality implies deity.

Properties and Numbers

After demonstrating the Church Fathers’ understanding of God being the sole uncreated being, Craig now aims to show that the Church Fathers were also familiar with abstract objects and articulated their understanding on the existence of these objects. 

First, Craig considers the study of properties. One Church Father, Athenagoras, while writing about how satan is opposed to God’s goodness, said: 

To the good that is in God, which belongs of necessity to Him and co-exists with Him, as colour with body, without which it has no existence (not as being part of it, but as an attendant property co-existing with it, united and blended, just as it is natural for fire to be yellow and the ether dark blue) – to the good tat is in God, I say, the spirit which is about matter… is opposed. (Plea 24; emphasis added)

Here, Athenagoras rejects the idea that properties have some sort of independent existence apart from concrete objects. Craig quotes other fathers to show that the believed abstract objects were not things that exist on their own. For instance, Origen believed the forms of worldly things existed only in the mind of the second person of the Trinity. Also, Methodius, in his dialogue On Free Will, refused to concede that even properties are uncreated by God. 

Conclusion

After looking at the history of Christian thought on the matter, by looking at the prologue of the Gospel of John, various passages by Paul, and the teaching of the Church Fathers. Craig establishes the orthodox view according to Scripture is that God is the sole ultimate reality, that He exists a se, and is the source of all things that are not Himself, and therefore, abstract objects cannot exist independently of God. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

[1] Craig, “God Over All.” 31.

[2] ibid. 32.

[3] ibid.

 

 

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