BEGOTTEN AND MADE
It can be presumed that the most famous verse in the New Testament is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God created the world; He made man; He begat Christ. The significance of Christ being the “only begotten Son” lies at the very foundation of the Christian faith.
The Nicene Creed contains the following:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
It is an interesting point to make, that Christ was begotten, not made, and not only was he begotten, but eternally begotten. C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity puts it this way:
We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set—or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is a clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.
Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God, just as what man creates is not man.
When the Nicene Creed was created, the opposition was Arianism, which denied that Christ was fully God. Arius was an elder in Alexandria in Egypt, in the early 300s. His teachings stated that God the Father first created the Son, and together, they created the world. This would make Christ a created being, and thus not God in nature. The church eventually summoned Arias and questioned him about his beliefs, which he refused to recant. He was excommunicated, and continued to argue to any bishops willing to listen. In 325, Emperor Constantine convened a council of Bishops in Nicaea, and by a decided majority, repudiated Arius and produced the first draft of what is now called the Nicene Creed. The chief proponent for the full deity of Christ was Athanasius, deacon of Alexandria.
Athanasians believed light streams continuously from the sun. In the fourth century, it was believed light was instantaneous, with no accounting for the speed of light. Therefore, a ray of light would leave the sun and strike the earth instantaneously. Light derives from the sun, but the sun does not derive from the rays of light. However, from the creation of the sun, and its emission of light, it can be said that the sun and the light have always existed simultaneously. They are co-eternal. By the same argument, the Son exists because the Father exists, but there was never a time before the Father produced the Son. This analogy carries further, because everything known about the sun is through the rays that it emits. Hence, to see the sunlight is to see the sun. And Christ says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
This brings to mind two things: mankind was made. Now, man was “made in God’s image”, but still, made. We are adopted as children of God, made part of the family through Christ’s sacrifice, but we are not begotten by God. So when we were “made in God’s image” – the concept that it is our soul that is in the image of God, and not the human body which is rather ephemeral by nature – is a question. That which is made can be unmade, whereas, the soul is eternal.
Secondly, looking at the Manifestations of God as outlined by the Baha’is (Moses, Zoroaster, Christ, Mohammad, the Bab, Baha’u’llah, Krishna, Buddha, etc.) God is made manifest here on Earth to teach mankind, the same spiritual lessons, but different social teachings, fit for the place and time in which the Manifestation appears. But Christ is the only begotten Manifestation. All others would fall into the category of made. That would speak to the inherent superiority of Christianity, if one believes that being begotten is inherently better than being made. It does speak more to the divinity of Christ, as being begotten of the Father makes one of the same being and substance as the Father. Does it, however, discount or limit through human eyes what God can do? Is that which God makes inherently less or simply inherently different from what He begets? That may be a question for another time.
Focusing on a later line in the Creed – “was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man”, Christ was begotten by God, being that God can only begat God; while Jesus was made man through Mary.
The question then arises: was Mary simply a surrogate – carrying a child not of her body? Is this the reason that Mary is so revered by Catholics, that God provided only half of what begat Christ, and Mary provided the human half? If, as the Nicene Creed would indicate, Christ is begotten, He would not actually have been considered “human” per se, but rather went through the human experience without actually being human.
And yet, we know that Jesus was both fully human and fully God. The Definition of Chalcedon (451) answers the myriad of questions that were raised in the post-Nicene years: – as God the Holy Trinity is one divine Nature in three distinct Persons, so Christ is one Person in two Natures, fully human and fully God:
In carefully balanced phrases the Definition establishes that “one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ” is “at once truly God and truly man (Latin vere deus, vere homo), homoousios (of one substance) “with the Father as regards his Godhead” (against Arianism) and “with us regards his humanity” (against Apollinarianism), in two natures – “without confusion, without change” (against Eutychianism), “without separation, without division” (against Nestorianism). Mary is recognized as theotokos, the God-bearer.
The Definition was adopted in response to two extreme positions: the Docetist position, which was that Christ was basically an avatar, not really human but only seeming to be; and the Adoptionist position, that Christ was in fact a human being “adopted” by God to be His Son. Chalcedon affirmed that, no, he really is both fully human and fully God; the two natures, Divine and human, subsisting within one Person without division or confusion: because he was fully man, he truly lived and died as one of us, yet without sin; because he was also fully God, he sanctified and redeemed that humanness that he experienced – including death, but, again, excluding sin.
For us, accepting the Trinity on faith will also allow us to accept the duality of the nature of Christ in the same manner. If we use the universal language of math, the duality of the nature of Christ, or even the nature of the Trinity, becomes easy to explain to anyone: multiplication shows that 1x1x1=1. Three separate numbers, yet only one whole. Or in science, the states of being of H2O – steam, water and ice – three states, one substance.
While the question regarding the nature of Christ has been settled as being both fully Divine and fully human, both begotten and made, the concept itself is a mystery upon which many hours of meditation and prayer can be spent, attempting with our human minds to understand and catch that glimpse of Divine knowledge. The explanation may be simple, but understanding is a matter of lifelong pursuit.
Barry, W. (1907). Arius. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved August 4, 2015 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01718a.htm.
Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer with the Additions and Deviations Proposed in 1928. Cambridge: University Press, 1960.
Clifford, C. (1907). St. Athanasius. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved August 4, 2015 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02035a.htm
An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: a User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians, Armentrout and Slocum, Eds., New York: Church Publishing, Inc., 2000
King James Bible, Public Domain, 1987.
 King James Bible, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+3%3A16&version=KJV
 Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer with the Additions and Deviations Proposed in 1928. Cambridge: University Press, 1960, p. 358.
 Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan, 1960.
 King James Bible, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+14%3A9&version=KJV.
 An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: a User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians, Armentrout and Slocum, Eds., New York: Church Publishing, Inc., 2000.