Systematic Theology – Paterology (9) – Aseity

SystematicAseity is another attribute which is not widely discussed or understood. Unlike divine simplicity, this attribute is instinctively understood by those who think about God.

 A Working Definition

Although there are various understandings of this doctrine, a basic definition goes like this:

God is not dependent on any person or thing who does not bear the divine nature, particularly for existence and identity.

It may be helpful to think of this in terms of non-contingecy and uncreatedness. The Father’s existence is not dependent on any other thing (remember, we’re not doing Doctrine of God, we’re doing Paterology). This term comes from the Latin phrase ens a se, meaning being from one’s self.

Aseity Excludes

The doctrine of aseity is particularly helpful to exclude certain kinds of sub-Christian theologies (some heretical, some heterdox, some cultish). The following list is certainly not exhaustive.

  • Open Theism – God’s knowledge is not entirely separate from his nature and identity (via divine simplicity). Thus, if God acquires knowledge externally his nature and identity are determined by something external
  • Process Theology – God does not change over time, and even if he did that change cannot be determined by something external to himself
  • Mormonism – God is not a creature because creatures must have creators and therefore are contingent
  • Panentheism / New Age – The created world is constantly changed and affected and is utterly independent on other things for its existence and identity
  • Word of Faith – God’s ability to act in your life is not dependent on (or restricted by) your faith or the words you say

Problems with Divine Aseity

As with divine simplicity, we will have to revisit this doctrine when we come to our Triadology section. Traditionally, divine aseity has held that God’s identity is not dependent on any person other than himself. This has led some traditions (Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism) to posit that the Son and Spirit are not a se, since the Son is generated by the Father (and gets his identity as the Son from the Father) and the Spirit is spirated by the Father (and Son in the West, and thus gets his identity as the Spirit by being breathed out by the Father [and Son]). Both traditions would limit aseity as a personal property to the Father. However, this does not account for the fact that the Father also is only the Father because he has a Son. Without the Son the Father would not be the Father, and thus if the Son cannot be said to be a se the Father also cannot.

For these reasons I prefer to think about aseity in terms of non-contingence (that is, an a se person exists necessarily and has an identity that is necessary), and uncreatedness (that is, an a se person was not created).

5 thoughts on “Systematic Theology – Paterology (9) – Aseity

  1. For a thorough discussion of the issue of the Aseity of the Son, I would look to the following books: 1) A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert L. Reymond (see the first and second edition – which clarifies his views) and 2) Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, and the Aseity of the Son by Brannon Ellis.
    I agree the divine procession. The procession of the Son from the Father but not the procession of the essence of the Son from the Father. The essence is complete and identical in the Son as it is in the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is not the same thing as Tritheism!
    To say that the Son proceeds from the Father in essence is a form of subordinationism and lessons the deity of the Son. The is in and of Himself Fully God! In the Incarnation He is Fully God and Fully Man however it is the Person of the Son, a se, that is present and not some fourth, this time, human person, who partakes of deity! In the Trinity there are Three Divine Persons!

    1. Richard,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I’m not sure exactly what you’re responding to in my post, because I wouldn’t affirm that the Son proceeds from the Father in essence… in fact I wouldn’t affirm that the Son proceeds from the Father at all.

      The Son is begotten of the Father in person, but his essence is not only qualitatively the same as his Father’s… it is numerically the same essence.

      The same is true of the Spirit (who does proceed from the Father).

      This is essentially Calvin’s solution of the Autotheos, which we will get to when we get to Christology (or Triadology, depends on where I feel like putting it).

  2. I am not responding to your statement directly but I simply wanted to be of help in suggesting Brannon Ellis’s book which also seeks to show that Calvin was not really against the procession of the Son but he wanted to advance the discussion to deal with the autothean issue when dealing with the procession of the Son and the language issues inherent in the idea of the Son’s being begotten of the Father. We are dealing with the limits of language as far as Latin and Greek and such words like essence and substance.

    1. To be clear you are not using the term “procession” in reference to the unique way the Spirit proceeds from the Father, but instead in terms of the unique relationships that the hypostatses have (collectively “processions”)

      Correct?

Comments are closed.