In the Church,* the Nicene Creed refers to a son begotten of a father. Now, as I understand it, this creed is referring to what it believes to be God in both instances. But here’s what I don’t get: the creed’s authors and adherents apparently claim to be monotheists who revere and worship only the creative force and origin of all things. What’s up with that? Their creed states rather clearly that they revere and worship (or at least believe in) a minimum two separate, distinct, and unequal entities – there may be a third too, but anything more than one is enough to contradict the claim of monotheism.
The Nicene Creed makes a point of going on about the son being “begotten not made,” and there was significant thought that went into that distinction. As I understand it, the point is to emphasize the similarity between the son and the father. Indeed, the Creed underscores that similarity by suggesting that the son and father are one being. And while that distinction should not be ignored, it does not solve the problematic inconsistencies and contradictions with the unity necessarily expressed by monotheists raised in the Creed by this issue of begetting. The problem is that the difference between begetting and making in no way eliminates the presence of a source or cause or origin for that which was either begotten or made. The fact that something that is begotten is of the same stuff as its source does not also imply that that which is begotten is the same entity as its source. All that is implied is that there is most definitely a source. I think it was C.S. Lewis who, in an explanation of the importance of the concept of begetting as opposed to making or creating in this creed, likened this to a human father and son. I think that’s a great comparison. Sure, I’m of the same stuff as my father. But I’m not my father. And the fact that I am begotten of my father neither makes me my father nor precisely the same as my father. Rather, it makes my father (and mother, she played a big role too!) my source, and me his result or product or consequence. Even if my father and I are completely equal in all other ways, he is still my source. He begot me. I cannot beget him. A result, product, or consequence cannot be its own source. Therefore, even though the difference is apparently minor, it renders us fully unequal.
So, if the question is about God, and it is a question about the God of origin, doesn’t it make sense to focus completely on that concept of origin? And because origin, source, and cause are functional equivalents, shouldn’t a focus on the God of origin be only on that thing which has no source precisely because only something that has no source can ever truly be The Origin. Clearly, the son of the Nicene Creed has a source, as that son is begotten; he is begotten of the father, who then is the source. But is there another entity in the Creed that has no source and can thus be the true origin of all things? Well, it doesn’t appear from the Creed that the father has a source, so this father could be the true origin of all things. So why then, is the father not the supreme focus of followers of the Nicene Creed? Does it not seem that these followers, by focusing on something other than the origin of all things, are focusing on a second tier of sorts? Does it not make the most sense to focus on the source or power itself and not on the products or consequences of that power? The Nicene Creed appears to recognize the existence of an entity without any other source. But for some reason, the creed and its adherents afford reverence and worship to not only that sourceless entity but also its products. And it appears from practice that that reverence and worship is meant to be equal despite the fact that the creed itself states, by giving a source and products, that those things that are revered are not equal, because a product cannot also be the source of its source. This is odd indeed.
And finally, I must be sure no one is offended that the third god mentioned in the Nicene Creed is left out. This spirit is said to proceed from the father and son discussed above. Of course, in order to proceed the thing that is doing the proceeding must have at least a starting point, but, given the context, this spirit must have a source, or origin, or cause from which “to arise, originate, or result.” The verb “proceed” is of course enough on its own to make this clear, but the preposition “from” also points to this spirit’s dependence on its source. In contrast to the begetting done by the father of the son, here the Creed leaves fully unobscured, temporally or otherwise, the clear distinctions between this spirit and the other two gods that arise (that is, proceed) from the proceeding of the spirit from those two gods.
So, even if one is convinced from this creed that the father and son are not two distinct gods made up of one source god and another one distinct and dependent god, but two gods that are one god, one must still recognize the third distinct and dependent god who is not said to be one being with the first and second gods who are two gods that are one god. That is, when finally including the (nearly forgotten) spirit, the Nicene Creed leaves us with at least two gods in the form of two gods that are one god plus one god that is one god. Or, if one is not fully convinced that the first two gods that are one god are actually the same being (that is, two gods that are one god) because one of the two gods is the source of the other one of the two gods and therefore they cannot be two gods that are one god, the Nicene Creed leaves us with three gods in the form of one god that is the source of the second god which, together with the first god is the source of the third god. In sum, the text of the Nicene Creed describes two gods that are one god plus another one god for a total of two gods, or it describes three gods. But this creed most certainly does not describe one god. So, are the authors and adherents of the Nicene Creed not monotheists? Or are they monotheists who could stand to consider a new creed?
Now, I’m not suggesting unequivocally that a god who is one and two (or three or four or five or six or seven or eight or thirty-seven or six hundred fifty-nine or π, etc.) simultaneously is a complete impossibility. It’s just quite strange that the adherents to the Nicene Creed – who, as I understand it, generally do believe that their tri-part god is three and one in simultaneous, perfect equality so as to be equally revered and worshipped – are adherents to a creed that itself renders unequal the three parts of the tri-part god to which it refers.
(I recently read an explanation of the Christian Trinity that did a better job of explaining how it doesn’t work than how it does.)
*I capitalize “Church” and not “the” in an attempt to allow any Christian readers to either include or exclude themselves from “this” Church that uses the Nicene or similar Creed while also trying to not to suggest that such a church constitutes The (as in the true) Church. Mostly though I just want to avoid the vapid “well my church doesn’t believe that!” sort of comment.