How are we supposed to explain (rationally and Scripturally) three Persons who are self-existent in se? Do we not have three gods in this situation? Is it not contradictory to speak of tres personae una in substantia sui generis? Trinitarian scholar Robert Knopp demonstrates the problems with viewing the Godhead as three self-existent centers of consciousness. As we read the Biblical testimony, we must acknowledge that Jesus is said to be self-existent. Yet what is the ground of his self-existence? Is Jesus in his very being capable of functioning as his own Autopator? Does he need (logically or ontologically) a distinct Autopator to account for his aseity?
Knopp endeavors to handle these difficulties when exegeting John 5:26, where we are told that the Father has given the Son "self-existence" (Amplified Bible). He offers these remarks: "It is obviously contradictory to say that the Father gives the Son life in himself . . . How then can the Son have life in himself if he has been given it by the Father? John is trying to make human language do what it cannot do--express the infinite--and of course his human language breaks down in the attempt, as must all theological language that tries to express divine mystery" (Knopp 274).
It is obvious at this point that Knopp is trapped in a cognitive labyrinth from which he tries to extricate himself via linguistic acrobatics. Knopp is hard pressed to explain how Jesus can be God and be self-existent while looking to his Father to supply aseity. He appeals to the failure of language to adequately express John's thoughts. Such invocations--although possibly well-intentioned--are factually erroneous. Knopp therefore concludes: "[John] is saying that by generation the Son derives his life from the Father and that, nevertheless, this divinely generated life is
the very life of God, the very being of God, absolute equality with the Father" (Knopp 274). While seemingly, the writer has successfully delivered himself from the pit of contradiction, he has done nothing more than stay the inevitable. Furthermore, some trinitarians would take exception to Knopp's idea of divine generation.
For example, Spiros Zodhiates writes that there is no evidence in the Bible for such a phenomenon as divine begettal (Cf. Zodhiates' comments on Col. 1:15 in his word study). Leonard Hodgson also notes that such theological positing could be the result of pagan philosophy that has not "fully assimilated the Christian revelation." As noted by these scholars, the concept of derived divinity raises many seemingly insoluble problems. The problems associated with the divine generation concept have caused some theologians to contend that each individual Personage in the Godhead does not enjoy a se esse independently. Rather, the Godhead as a whole is self-existent. Therefore, the Father cannot exist without the Son (or the Holy Spirit) and the Son cannot exist without the Father (or the Holy Spirit), and the Holy Spirit cannot exist without the Father or the Son (because a se esse is a collective experience).
By resorting to this explanation, however, even more difficult questions are raised. How is it possible for a persona in the Godhead to enjoy deity in the fullest sense, yet not exemplify personal aseity? Where in the Bible is it ever intimated that the Father needs the Son or Holy Spirit to exist? Where are we ever told that the Holy Spirit is dependent upon the Son for existence? Truly, examining the issue of aseity in relation to the Trinity raises many dilemmas for those who propagate this confusing doctrine. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the idea of the Father being dependent upon the Son or the Holy Spirit has normally been viewed with repugnance. Orthodox theologians generally have viewed the Father as the pele [source], the arche [principle], and the aitia [cause] of the Godhead.