In the early formative period of Christian doctrine prior to nicaea i (325) ἀγέννητος was a Greek adjective employed to signify the self-existence or uncreatureliness of the Godhead. And ἀγέννητος (spelled with two ν's) was indeed a term used in the philosophy of the day to designate God's self-existence. Etymologically, however, the adjective with the two ν's would not have meant self-existence or uncreatureliness—as ἀγένητος (spelled with one ν)—but ungenerateness.
Now if, regardless of etymology, the sense is to be uncreated, ἀγέννητος must be said of both Father and Son. But if, on the other hand, etymology is restored and the sense is ungenerated, then ἀγέννητος can be said only of the Father. For obviously, the Son, precisely as Son, is generated from the Father. arianism, however, almost systematically blurred this difference: first, by using the term in the etymological sense of ungenerated; but then, by taking ungenerated to mean the same thing as uncreated. But the Son was generated, not ungenerated; hence, the Son was a creature.
In its rejection of Arianism, the nicene creed clarified the problem (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 125–126). The Son is generated (γεννηθέντα); by implication, ἀγέννητος in this context can be said only of the Father. Yet, if the Son is "begotten," the Son is nevertheless "not made" (ο[symbol omitted]ποιηθέντα); again by implication, ἀγέννητος in this further context, that of creation, characterizes not only the Father but the entire Godhead as such.
See Also: aseity; god the father; paternity, divine; properties, divine personal; generation; generation of the word; logos; god (son); trinity, holy; trinity, holy, articles on; word, the.
Bibliography: m. schmaus, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 1:187–188. j. n. d. kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (2d ed. New York 1960) 226–237. g. w. h. lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (New York 1961–).
[r. l. richard]