Johannes Quasten, Patrology, vol. II: The Ante-Nicene Literature After Irenaeus (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1990) 326-327.
…Tertullian could not shake off entirely the influence of subordinationism. The old distinction between the Logos endiathetos and the Logos prophorikos, the Word internal or immanent in God and the Word emitted or uttered by God…made him regard the divine generation as taking place gradually. Although Wisdom and Word are identical names for the second person in the Trinity, Tertullian distinguishes between a prior birth as Wisdom before the creation, and a nativitas perfecta at the moment of creation, when the Logos was sent forth and Wisdom became the Word: ‘Hence it was then that the Word itself received its manifestation and its completion, namely sound and voice, when God said: Let there be light. This is the perfect birth of the Word, when it proceeds from God. It was first produced by Him for thought under the name of Wisdom, The Lord established me as the beginning of his ways (Prov. 8, 22). Then he is generated for action: When he made the heavens, I was near Him (Prov. 8, 27). Consequently, making the one of whom He is the Son to be His Father by his procession, He became the first-born, as generated before all, as only Son, as solely generated by God’ (Adv. Prax. 7). Thus the Son as such is not eternal (Hermog. 3 EP 321)…The Father is the whole substance…while the Son is only an outflow and a portion of the whole[,] as He Himself professes, Because my Father is greater than I (John 14, 28). The analogies by which Tertullian tries to explain the Godhead also indicate his subordinationist tendencies, especially when he states that the Son goes out from the Father as the beam from the sun…(Adv. Prax. 8 ANF).
Here’s how I read Quasten’s summary of Tertullian (ca.160 – ca.220 C.E.), and I welcome correction from those who are more familiar with Tertullian’s writings:
Before the creation of the world, Wisdom was born within God. But Wisdom became a “Word” (Greek, “logos”) when God said “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). This Word was generated from God at that point. He shared the same substance with God, and yet (in some sense) he was also a separate entity. The Word was like a ray extending from the sun, which represents God in Tertullian’s analogy. This is the Word who later became Jesus Christ. For Tertullian (as I understand him), the Word has been God since his generation, yet he is still inferior to God the Father.
Here are some thoughts:
1. Is Tertullian saying that the Word had an origin at a specific point in time? In the fourth century C.E., Arius claimed that the Word was a created being, and his slogan was “There was a time when the Word was not.” The church rejected his position as heretical, affirming instead that the Word was begotten, not made, and proceeded from the Father for all eternity. My understanding is that Arius did not believe that the Father and the Son shared the same substance, so he and Tertullian would disagree on that point. Unlike Arius (perhaps), Tertullian viewed the Word as God, for Tertullian was the first to use the term “trinitas,” plus he affirmed that Jesus Christ was both divine and human in his incarnation. But would Arius and Tertullian agree that “There was a time when the Word was not”?
2. When I was at DePauw University, I struggled with my faith, as undergraduates are expected to do, I guess. During that time, I had good conversations with my supervisor at a nursing home, where I did community service to receive a scholarship. She was an evangelical Christian who attended a mainline Protestant church. I once asked her how she viewed Genesis 1, having in my mind the theory of evolution. Her response was, “In light of John 1.”
Her point was that the creative “word” that God spoke in Genesis 1 was the Word of John 1 who became Jesus Christ. I often wondered about this. I knew that my supervisor was not an Arian, but didn’t the word of Genesis 1 have an origin? One moment, God was not speaking. The next moment, he said “Let there be light.” For Tertullian (if I am understanding him correctly), the Word came to exist as the Word once God said “Let there be light.” (Before then, he was wisdom inside of God.)
This logic may fall apart when we remember that God said a lot of other words after that point. Was God generating a new Logos-being each time he spoke? When God said “Let there be a firmament” et al., was God begetting Logos number 2? That may be why Garner Ted Armstrong translates “logos” in John 1:1 as “spokesman,” meaning that the Logos spoke for God at creation and was the one who said “Let there be light,” and God’s other words after that point.
3. In my post, Good Nimrod, Justin the Arian?, Projecting, I struggle with Proverbs 8:22-31, which states that God created or established wisdom at the beginning of his works. Arius supposedly alluded to this passage to argue that the Logos was a created being, since Arius equated the “wisdom” who was a “master worker” with God at creation with the Logos of John 1. I state in my post:
“What was God like before he made wisdom? Was he unwise? Or maybe Proverbs is saying that wisdom was an emanation from God, who already is wise. The rabbis [in Genesis Rabbah 1:1] treat wisdom as God’s plan for the universe: when an architect designs a house, he draws up a plan, and that’s what wisdom was for God. God was already wise when he drew up the plan, but the plan (wisdom) was a concrete expression of God’s intended order for the universe.”
The rabbis equated wisdom, God’s blueprint for the universe, with the Torah. Tertullian and other Christians, however, identify it as the Word who became Jesus Christ. I still wonder what the ramifications of that are. Was the Logos an expression of the order that came to underlie the universe? We know there are biblical passages (John 1; Colossians 1; Hebrews 1) affirming that Jesus was the creator of the heavens and the earth. Maybe Tertullian would say that God came up with a blueprint inside of himself for the universe, then God begot that blueprint as a divine being, the Word. The Word, an embodiment of the blueprint, then proceeded to create everything according to the rationality that was inside of him.
But would the Word always have that blueprint inside of him? Would John say that? A professor of mine once said that Jesus didn’t know calculus when he was a human being, so who knows?!