Calvin the Nicene

Yet we teach from the Scriptures that God is one in essence, and hence that the essence both of the Son and of the Spirit is unbegotten, but inasmuch as the Father is first in order, and from himself begot his wisdom, as has just been said, he rightly deemed the beginning and fountainhead of the whole of divinity.  Thus God without particularization is unbegotten; and the Father also in respect to his person is unbegotten.  They also foolishly think they may conclude from our statement that we have set up a quaternity, for they falsely and calumniously ascribe this fiction of their own brain to us, as if we pretended that three persons came forth by derivation from one essence.  On the contrary, it is clear from our writings that we do not separate the persons from the essence, but we distinguish among them while they remain within it.

… For although the essence does not enter into the distinction as a part or a member of the Trinity, nevertheless the persons are not without it, or outside it; because the Father, unless he were God, could not have been the Father; and the Son could not have been the Son, unless he were God.  Therefore we say that deity in an absolute sense exists of itself; whence likewise we confess that the Son since he is God, exists of himself, but not in respect of his Person; indeed since he is the Son, we say that he exists from the Father.  Thus his essence is without beginning; while the beginning of his person is God himself. 

~ Institutes I. XIII. 25

This entry was posted in calvin, church history, trinity by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

5 thoughts on “Calvin the Nicene

  1. Hmm, I doubt if one could claim that “thus his essence is without beginning; while the beginning of his person is God himself” is a Nicene view, though I happen to sympathize with it.

  2. It depends. The Cappadocians were opposed to predicating “unbegottenness” of the essence due to their battles against Eunomianism, however, they did confess that the essence was eternal and infinite (and thus I would imagine “without cause”), and they were clear that the monarchia of the father applied to personal causation and not essential causation.

  3. Here is Patriarch John Zizioulas in his latest book, Communion and Otherness:

    “For the Cappadocians, ‘being’ is a notion we apply to God simultaneously in two senses. It denotes (a) the TI ESTIN (what he is) of God’s being, and this the Cappadocians call the ousia or substance or nature of God; and (b) it refers to the HO OPWS ESTIN (how he is), which they identify with his personhood. In both cases the verb is to be (ESTIN or EINAI), that is, being. Given the fact that, according to these Fathers, there is no ousia in the nude, that is, without hypostasis, to refer to God’s substance without referring simultaneously to his personhood, or to reserve the notion of being only to the substance, would amount to making a false ontological statement. Andy juxtaposition, therefore, of ‘one being’ to ‘three persons’ would not express faithfully the ontology of the Cappadocians. The three persons of the Trinity denote God’s being just as much as the term ‘substance’. In speaking of the divine persons we speak of God’s very being.” (125)

    Here continues:

    “Causal language is permissible, according to the Cappadocians, only at the level of personhood, not of substance; it refers to the how, not to the what of God.” (128)


    “We must distinguish between the level of nature or ousia and that of person or hypostasis in divine being. Both denote being, but the former refers to the what and the latter to the how of being. Giving existence or being (EINAI) to the Son by the Father is a matter not of nature, of the what God is, but of how God is.” (129)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s