Samuel Clarke’s ‘The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity’

Samuel Clarke was an eighteenth century Anglican clergyman and philosopher, and a friend of Sir Isaac Newton. He participated in the trinitarian debates following the Reformation, and authored his book The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity to sum up, prove, and defend his views on the Trinity.

The book is divided into three parts, proceeded by an introduction, in which he lays out the principle of sola scriptura as necessary for a right understanding of Christian doctrine, and qualifies certain aspects of the following work. In the first part of the book, he endeavors to extensively categorize all New Testament texts which refer to the Trinity or some aspect of it. In the second part, he gives a series of theses or propositions, in which he states his views. He grounds these propositions in the texts listed in the first section. In the third section, he compares his views, which he believes to be none other than what scripture teaches regarding the Trinity, with the liturgy and doctrinal standards of the church of England, wherein he shows firstly the many areas of agreement, and then treats those which appear to disagree.

Samuel Clarke’s book on the Trinity is one of the best written in the last millennium, in the opinion of this author. He is careful in his examination of scripture, precise in his articulation and argumentation, and is generally correct on nearly all the points he contends for.

One severe shortcoming of the work is Clarke’s hesitancy to treat the issue of essence, and the divine nature. He maintains that God’s metaphysical essence, as beyond our comprehension, is not safely made a point of dogma. He may perhaps be blamed on this point more for overcautiousness than unorthodoxy; scripture does speak of God’s incomprehensibility and infinitude, and this should cause us to approach such high topics as God’s divine nature with humility and caution. But scripture does speak of the divine nature in abstract, and give us the revelation needed to be able to speak with certainty and clarity on the fact that the Son is of the very same divinity, or divine nature, as the Father. So while we should exercise more caution than many, such as the scholastics, exercised when speaking of God’s essence, we ought to speak of what we can deduce clearly as proven from the holy scriptures.

Clarke insists on limiting the discussion to the persons and Their attributes, roles, and properties. As this is the way scripture usully speaks of the Trinity, this is helpful. Although his lack of treatment of the issue of God’s essence leaves a feeling of incompleteness, it stems perhaps from an understandable overreaction to the trend to emphasized God’s divine nature considered in itself, and treated as a person, over everything else. Clarke’s avoidance of this makes his book unique in its approach to the Trinity, reminiscent of pre-nicene treatments of the subject.

Here are some highlights from Clarke’s 55 propositions:

I. There is one Supreme Cause and Original of Things; One simple, uncompounded, undivided, intelligent Being, or Person; who is the Author of all Being, and the Fountain of all Power.

II. With This First and Supreme Cause or Father of all Things, there has existed from the Beginning, a Second divine Person, which is his Word or Son.

III. With the Father and the Son, there has existed from the Beginning, a Third divine Person, which is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

IV. What the proper Metaphysical Nature, Essence, or Substance of any of these divine Persons is, the scripture has no where at all declared; but describes and distinguishes then always, by their Personal Characters, Offices, Powers and Attributes.

V. The Father (or First Person) Alone is Self-existent, Underived, Unoriginated, Independent; made of None, begotten of None, Proceeding from None.

VI. The Father (or First Person) is the Sole Origin of all Power and Authority, and is the Author and Principle of whatsoever is done by the Son or by the Spirit.

VII. The Father (or first person) Alone, is in the highest, strict, and proper sense, absolutely Supreme over All.

VIII. The Father (or First Person) is absolutely speaking, the God of the Universe; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Israel; of Moses, of the Prophets and Apostles; and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

IX. The scripture, when it mentions the One God, or the Only God, always means the Supreme Person of the Father.

X. Whenever the Word, God, is mentioned in Scripture, with any High Epithet, Title, or Attribute annex’d to it; it generally (if not always) means the Person of the Father.

XI. The Scripture, when it mentions GOD, absolutely and by way of Eminence, always means the Person of the Father.

XII. The Son (or second Person) is not self-existent, but derives his Being or Essence, and all his Attributes, from the Father, as from the Supreme Cause.

XIII. In what particular Metaphysical Manner, the Son derives his Being or Essence from the Father, the Scripture has no where distinctly declared; and therefore men ought not to presume to be able to define.

XIV. They are therefore equally worthy of Censure, who either on the one hand presume to affirm, that the Son was made out of Nothing; or, on the other hand, that He is the Self-existent Substance.

XV. The Scripture, in declaring the Son’s Derivation from the Father, never makes mention of any Limitation of Time; but always supposes and affirms him to have existed with the Father from the Beginning, and before All Worlds.

XVI. They therefore have also justly been censured, who pretending to be wise above what is written, and intruding into things which they have not seen; have presumed to affirm that there was a time when he Son was not.

XVII. Whether the Son derives his Being from the Father, by Necessity of Nature, or by the Power of his Will, the Scripture hath no where expressly declared.

XVIII. The Word or Son of the Father, sent into the World to assume our Flesh, and die for the Sins of Mankind; was not the internal Reason or Wisdom of God, an Attribute or Power of the Father; but a real Person, the same who from the Beginning had been the Word, or Revealer of the Will, of the Father to World.

XIX. The Holy Spirit (or Third Person,) is not Self-existent, but derives his Being or Essence from the Father, (by the Son,) as from the Supreme Cause.

XX. The Scripture, speaking of the Spirit of God, never mentions any Limitation of Time, when he derived his Being or Essence from the Father; but supposes him to have existed with the Father from the Beginning.

XXI. In what particular metaphysical Manner the Holy Spirit derives his Being from the Father, the Scripture hath no where at all defined, and therefore men ought not to presume to be able to explain.

XXII. The Holy Spirit of God does not in scripture generlly signify a mere Power or Operation of the Father, but a real Person.

XXIII. They who are not careful to maintain these personal characters and distinctions, but while they are solicitous (on the one hand) to avoid the errours of the Arians, affirm (in the contrary extreme) the Son and Holy Spirit to be (individually with the Father) the Self-existent Being: These, seeming in the Words to magnify the Name of the Son and Holy Spirit, in reality take away their very Existence; and so fall unawares into Sabellianism, (which is the same with Socinianism.)

XXIV. The Word, God, in the New Testament, sometimes signifies the Person of the Son.

XXXIII. The Word, God, in Scripture, never signifies a complex Notion of more persons than One; but always means One person only, viz. either the person of the Father singly, or the person of the Son singly.

XXXIV. The Son, whatever his metaphysical Essence or Substance be, and whatever divine Greatness and Dignity is ascribed to him in Scripture; yet in This He is evidently Subordinate to the Father, that He derives his Being and Attributes from the Father, the Father Nothing from Him.

XXXV. Every Action of the Son, both in making the World, and in all other his Operations; is only thr Exercise of the Father’s Power, communicated to him after an ineffable manner.

XXXVI. The Son, whatever his metaphysical Nature or Essence be; yet, in this while Dispensation, in the Creation and Redemption of the Worl, acts in all things according to the Wil, and by the Mission or Authority of the Father.

XXXVII. The Son, how great soever the metaphysical Dignity of his Nature was, yet in the whole Dispensation entirely directed all his Actions to the Glory of the Father.

XXXIX. The reason why the Scripture, though it styles the Father God, and also stiles the Son God, yet at the same time always declares there is but one God; is because in the Monarchy of the Universe, there is but One Authority, original in the Father, derivative in the Son: The Power of the Son being, not Another Power opposite to That of the Father, nor Another Power co-ordinate to That of the Father; but it self The Power and Authority of the Father, communicated to, manifested in, and exercised by the Son.

XLIII. Upon These Grounds, absolutely Supreme Honour is due to the Person of the Father singly, as being Alone the Supreme Author of all Being and Power.

Self-Caused Vs Uncaused

John Calvin gained quite a bit of attention in regards to his trinitarianism (or lack thereof) during his lifetime due to his innovative assertion that the person of the Son is “autotheos”. “Autotheos” is a Greek term that means ‘God of Himself’, and indicates self-causality. Historically, this term had been applied to the person of the Father exclusively, and denied to the other persons of the Trinity, on the basis of Their being not ‘of themselves’ or ‘self-originated’ rather ‘of the Father’, as He is the cause of Their existence, of the Son by eternal generation and of the Holy Spirit by eternal procession.

Being “autotheos” has sometimes historically been distinguished from the attribute of aseity, which refers to self-existence, on the basis that while the scriptures teach that the Father alone is without Cause and is the Cause of His Son and Spirit, the Son and Spirit, in having the same divine nature as the Father, have self-sustained existence, just as He does.

That much at least can be shown from scripture, as it teaches on the one hand that the existence of all creation is perpetually upheld and sustained through the Son: “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:” (Hebrews 1:3 KJV) while the Son, on the other hand, does not have His existence upheld by the Father, but rather has “life in Himself” just as the Father does: “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;” (John 5:26 KJV).

So the Son, like the Father, has self-sustained existence; at the same time, the same verse from which we see this point of doctrine proved also proves that the Son does not have this self-sustained existence original to Himself, but from the Father. He has ‘life in Himself’, but not ‘life of Himself’, but rather of the Father in His eternal generation.

Along these same lines of thinking then, from the patristic era onward, theologians have acknowledged both the Son and Father to each have “life in Himself”, and yet have acknowledged that he Son has life “of the Father”- both of which are biblical assertions. They have also historically gone a step beyond this by saying that while the Son has life not ‘of Himself’, but rather ‘of the Father’ that the Father does have life ‘of Himself’. He, they have asserted, is God of Himself, ‘autotheos’. And since the Son is from Him as His cause, it is absurd to say that the Son is autotheos.

While I would agree that it is wrong to call the Son autotheos, I believe it is actually a mistake to ascribe this to the Father either. First lets briefly examine the Son: He is begotten of the Father, and has His being and essence from the Father. He is not self-caused, but caused by the Father. Therefore, it is false and clearly contrary to scripture to assert that the Son is autotheos, as it ultimately amounts to a denial of eternal generation and tries make the Son equal to the Father not only in respect to His divine nature, but also His ‘personal properties’, the incommunicable properties that belong to the Father alone, and thus effectively makes the Son out to be a second God.

While I stand in agreement with nearly all Christian thought on this matter prior to Calvin in respect to the Son being ‘autotheos’, I would stand at odds with the same in respect to my denial that the Father is autotheos. My reason: I believe there is a significant conceptual difference between being ‘uncaused’ and being ‘self-caused’, and that these two ideas have usually been blended together and treated as equivalent in Christian theology, at least much of what I have seen.

There is however, and significant difference to be drawn between these two ideas. To be uncaused, involves having no origin, source, beginning, or cause whatsoever. It is to be unbegotten, uncreated, unproceeding, and otherwise entirely unoriginate. There is much attestation to the scriptural truth that the person of the Father is all these things in the early church fathers. And scripture attests to same: see Why There is Only One God: One Supreme Cause  for more on this.

However, where does scripture ever speak of God as self-caused? There is no place I am aware of. The closest thing to that would be the assertion that all things are from Him in 1 Corinthians 8:6; yet by the same logic that would allow us to say that although all things are “through” the Son, the Son Himself is excluded, we can understand that this is not meant in such an absolute way as to indicate self-causality. Rather, God simply “is” without cause, while He Himself is the cause of all else, even of His Son and Holy Spirit eternally, through Whom He created all things.

There is a value in distinguishing between self-causality and uncausality, however, not just for sake of understanding this distinction itself, and that the Father is uncaused, not self-caused, but also for sake of its implications to the rest of theology, which I would suggest are actually quite vast. This is because self-causality is a positive property, while uncausality is a negative property. When we say God is uncaused, we say something about what He is not. But when someone says God is self-caused, they are saying something about what he is.

Why is this difference important? Because we understand from scripture that God is simple in His nature: He is what He is. His attributes aren’t just something external to Himself which he possesses- they are what He is. God is the very definition of all He is. Thus we say, with scripture, not merely that God is loving, but that God is love, because He is what He is, and so is in His nature the very definition of all His attributes.

These attributes, however, which are in view when we speak of simplicity do not include relative attributes such as being Father, nor being uncaused. This is because these things are not the “what” of Who God is. In a similar way, Adam was unbegotten, yet He is the same thing, that is, has the same nature, as His Son Seth who was born of Him. It is not proper to Adam’s essence to be unbegotten, nor to be a father, or else we would say that his human nature was altered when he had children. So we view these relative relational properties among the persons of the Trinity, such as being unbegotten and uncaused in the case of the Father, and begotten in the case of the Son, as relative personal properties which must be distinguished from what God and His Son are in Their nature. For this reason, we can say that although the Son is not unbegotten like the Father, He is still God in that He has the same divine nature as the Father. Since being uncausality is not an essential attribute, the Son lacking this property does not in any was cause a difference in the nature of the Son from that of the Father, but rather the divinity of the Son is exactly identical to that of the Father.

But self-causality, on the other hand, as a positive attribute describing what God is, would indeed be an essential attribute, in light of the simplicity of the divine nature. God being what He is, He would be self-existence. The problem: the Son and Holy Spirit do not possess the attribute of self-causality, as They are caused by the Father. This would then logically lead to the Son and Spirit not having the same divine nature as the Father. They would ultimately be excluded from the Father’s divinity.

The Son and Holy Spirit however, as we have noted, have the same divine nature as the Father, and with that, all the same essential attributes as the Father. Therefore, either the Son and Spirit must also be self-caused with the Father, or else the Father is not self-caused. If the Son and Spirit were self-caused, then They are not truly either Son nor Spirit, and They would constitute two additional Gods alongside the Father, as there would then be three equal ultimate causes. This obviously is not the case. It is proven then, that the Father is not self-caused.

The difference then between the Father being uncaused or self-caused, when each is carried out consistently to its logical implications, is the difference between homoousian trinitarianism and arianism.

Why Are We Monotheists?

Christianity is a monotheistic religion, meaning we believe in only one God. Scripture is clear on teaching this important point of doctrine. It is also clear in proclaiming Who this one God is, the person of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5 NAS)

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NAS)

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS)

Yet many Christians today want to ground their monotheism on the unity of the divine nature. They argue that although there are three persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there is one God because there is only one divine nature shared by the three persons. This, however, is an unbiblical way to answer the question of why there is only one God.

While it is true that there is one divine nature shared by the three persons, scripture never once grounds monotheism in a shared nature or essence considered in abstract; rather, the one God, as we have seen above, according to the scriptures is a person, the person of the Father. The Bible’s answer to why there is one God is to point to the person of the Father as that one God; on the other hand, many theologians prefer to skip this and ground their monotheism in the common divine nature.

Ignoring the Bible’s explanation of monotheism cannot end well. Indeed, it has not. The argument that although there are three distinct persons, there is only one God because They all share one divine nature falls woefully short when held up to scrutiny. Three men, for example, all share one human nature; yet they are not one man because of their singular nature, but three men. We can say the same about horses, angels, and all sorts of creatures- a common nature shared by multiple persons does not prevent them from being plural horses or plural angels. So if our explanation of why the three persons of the Trinity do not constitute more than one God is that They have a common divine nature, we run into the obvious logical problem that on that basis it would still be legitimate to call Them three Gods. That is not monotheism anymore.

The Bible, however, never grounds our belief in one God in a common divine nature or metaphysical essence, but always in the person of the Father. He is the one the Lord Jesus Christ called “the only true God”. He is the one Paul the apostle, under the inspiration of the Spirit, says is our “one God”. If we want to be monotheists in the way scripture teaches us to be, then our monotheism must be grounded in the person of the Father as the one God we believe in.

And in what way is the Father the one God? Not on account of His divine nature, for the persons of the Son and Holy Spirit also have that same divine nature. Rather, the Father is the one God, biblically, on account of two things that are peculiar to Him which the Son and Holy Spirit do not share: that He is the uncaused Cause of all, and that He is the Supreme Authority over all. His Son and Spirit are also causes of creation, as God created all things through Them, and likewise His Son and Spirit have headship over creation. But even the Son and Holy Spirit are subject to the Father as Their Authority and Head, and are from Him by eternal generation and procession, as Their Cause. The Father alone is then the uncaused Cause of all, and the one Supreme Authority over all. Thus, as there is only one uncaused Cause of all, and one Supreme Authority, there is only one God, the Father Almighty.

“The Father Almighty”?

Over the course of this blog, a significant amount of attention has already been given to examining the first clause of the Nicene Creed, which reads “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” I have mostly focused on the Creed’s identification of the “one God” with the person of the “Father” in particular- a teaching that is foreign to the formal theology of most Christians today, yet as I have attempted to show, is not only proven from scripture (see Demonstration From Scripture that the One God is the Father in Particular), but was also the ecumenical teaching of the early church for the first few centuries (see I believe in one God, the Father Almighty).

In both the case of scripture and the teaching of the early church, the title “one God” is not applied exclusively to the person of the Father in order to deny the true divinity of the Son and Holy Spirit, Who each have the same divine nature as the Father, as They are eternally from the Father, the Son by His eternal generation, and the Spirit by eternal procession from the Father (see Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures, and Does teaching the Father is the one God undermine the divinity of Christ?). Rather, scripture, and the early church fathers, styled the Father alone the “one God” because He alone is the supreme uncaused Cause of all, and the supreme Authority and head over all- even over His Son and Spirit (see Why There is Only One God: One Supreme Cause, and Why There is Only One God: Headship).

I have often wondered, however, at the inclusion of the word “Almighty” in the first clause of the Nicene Creed. Why say “Almighty” instead of any other of a host of attributes and perfections we could speak of in relation to God? Why not include His perfection, holiness, justice, goodness, and love? Compared to other systematic treatments of God’s attributes, both prior to and since the Council of Nicea, this would be an extremely abridged treatment of the attributes of God. So why “Almighty” in particular, and why, also, is it included specifically in conjunction with the person of the Father, and not the Son and Holy Spirit?

One answer I recently encountered to these questions comes from Samuel Clarke’s excellent book on the Trinity On the Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity. He suggests that rather than understand the Greek word used for “Almighty” in scripture and the Creed as referring to the essential attribute of God’s unlimited power and ability (an attribute which, as it is proper to God’s divinity, is shared by His Son and Spirit Who have the same divinity), that it is better understood as referring to ‘supreme authority’.

If this reading is legitimate, it makes sense of the Nicene Creed’s language in particularly associating “Almighty” with the person of the Father. “Almighty” understood in terms of supreme authority would not be an essential attribute proper to the divine nature, but would rather refer to God’s role as supreme head over all things, even over His own beloved and only-begotten Son, and His Holy Spirit. If the word refers not to an attribute of the divine nature, but to the Father’s role as Supreme Authority over all, then it makes perfect sense why it would be included in the first clause of the Nicene Creed as a descriptor of the Father only, and also makes much sense of its usage in scripture.

The New Testament, for example, uses the term “Almighty” nine times, always for the person of the Father in particular. It is never used of the Son or the Holy Spirit. If Clarke’s reading of “Almighty” as a special prerogative of the Father is correct, it makes a lot of sense in light of the way scripture uses the term. The Father alone is the Supreme Authority over all; thus he alone is called “Almighty”. (Again, for clarity’s sake, if we speak of God’s essential power, all three persons possess that equally, as the Son and Spirit have the divine nature of God Himself.)

This explanation seems compelling, and makes more sense than reading “Almighty” in the Nicene Creed as merely being a grossly abridged description of God’s essential attributes. It also fits with the way it is used throughout the scriptures. Further, this understanding is supported by the Greek word for “Almighty” itself- the word literally rendered is ‘ruler over all’. This fact alone seems to confirm Clarke’s assessment, and combined with scripture’s application of this title solely to the Father presents a compelling case that when scripture speaks of the Father “Almighty” it is making reference to His sole and supreme authority over all.

 

“The Father is greater than I”?

Recently we examined in  No One Good But the Father?  the idea that the Father is greater than the Son in respect to His being the Cause and Origin of the Son by eternal generation. This view that the Father is eternally greater than the Son, although scriptural, rubs many the wrong way. This is primarily because of the misuse of that biblical expression to try to dishonor the Son and deny Him His proper dignity as the only-begotten Son of the only true God, Who is eternally of the same divine nature as His Father. But many modern Christians might be surprised to find that this interpretation of the passage, viz, that it refers to the Father as the eternal origin of the Son, is actually quite common among the orthodox church fathers.

We find a several instances of this interpretation even in the post-nicene ‘Cappadocian fathers’, as well as in the teachings of Alexander of Alexandria (Athanasius’s predecessor in the episcopate), and even Hilary of Poitiers:

Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria

“We have learnt that the Son is immutable and unchangeable, all-sufficient and perfect, like the Father, lacking only His “unbegotten.” He is the exact and precisely similar image of His Father. For it is clear that the image fully contains everything by which the greater likeness exists, as the Lord taught us when He said, ‘My Father is greater than I.’ And in accordance with this we believe that the Son always existed of the Father ; for he is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Father’s Person.’ But let no one be led by the word ‘always’ to imagine that the Son is unbegotten, as is thought by some who have their intellects blinded : for to say that He was, that He has always been, and, that before all ages, is not to say that He is unbegotten…

Therefore His own individual dignity must be reserved to the Father as the Unbegotten One, no one being called the cause of His existence : to the Son likewise must be given the honour which befits Him, there being to Him a generation from the Father which has no beginning ; we must render Him worship, as we have already said, only piously and religiously ascribing to Him the ‘was’ and the ‘ever,’ and the ‘before all ages ;’ not however rejecting His divinity, but ascribing to Him a perfect likeness in all things to His Father, while at the same time we ascribe to the Father alone His own proper glory of ‘the unbegotten,’ even as the Saviour Himself says, ‘My Father is greater than I.'” (Epistle of Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, to Alexander, Bishop of Constantinople, from Theodoret’s, Ecclesiastical History, I.III – NPNF 3.39, 40.)

 

Basil the Great

“For since the Son’s beginning/origin (ἡ ảρχή) is from the Father, according to this, the Father is greater, as cause (ἀίτιος) and beginning/origin (ảρχή). Therefore the Lord said, My Father is greater than I, clearly because He is Father. Indeed, what else does the word Father mean unless the cause (τὸ αἰτία) to be/exist [Latin: esse] (εἶναι) and beginning/origin (ἀρχὴ) of that which is begotten of Him?” (Against Eunomius, I.25 – translation by David Waltz.)

Greek text:

Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἡ ἀρχὴ τῷ Υἱῷ, κατὰ τοῦτο μείζων ὁ Πατὴρ, ὡς αἴτιος καὶ ἀρχή. Διὸ καὶ ὁ Κύριος οὕτως εἶπεν· Ὁ Πατήρ μου μείζων μου ἐστὶ, καθὸ Πατὴρ δηλονότι. Τὸ δὲ, Πατὴρ, τί ἄλλο ση μαίνει ἢ οὐχὶ τὸ αἰτία εἶναι καὶ ἀρχὴ τοῦ ἐξ αὐτοῦ γεννηθέντος; (Migne, PG 29.568)

Gregory Nazianzen –

“As your third point you count the Word Greater ; and as your fourth. To My God and your God. And indeed, if He had been called greater, and the word equal had not occurred, this might perhaps have been a point in their favour. But if we find both words clearly used what will these gentlemen have to say? How will it strengthen their argument ? How will they reconcile the irreconcilable? For that the same thing should be at once greater than and equal to the same thing is an impossibility; and the evident solution is that the Greater refers to origination, while the Equal belongs to the Nature ; and this we acknowledge with much good will. But perhaps some one else will back up our attack on your argument, and assert, that That which is from such a Cause is not inferior to that which has no Cause ; for it would share the glory of the Unoriginate, because it is from the Unoriginate. And there is, besides, the Generation, which is to all men a matter so marvellous and of such Majesty. For to say that he is greater than the Son considered as man, is true indeed, but is no great thing. For what marvel is it if God is greater than man ? Surely that is enough to say in answer to their talk about Greater.” (Orations, 30.7 – NPNF 7.312)

Hilary of Poitiers

“But perhaps some may suppose that He was destitute of that glory for which He prayed, and that His looking to be glorified by a Greater is evidence of want of power. Who, indeed, would deny that the Father is the greater; the Unbegotten greater than the Begotten, the Father than the Son, the Sender than the Sent, He that wills than He that obeys ? He Himself shall be His own witness :—The Father is greater than I. It is a fact which we must recognise, but we must take heed lest with unskilled thinkers the majesty of the Father should obscure the glory of the Son. Such obscuration is forbidden by this same.” (On the Trinity, III.12 – NPNF 9.65.)

“If, then, the Father is greater through His authority to give, is the Son less through the confession of receiving? The Giver is greater : but the Receiver is not less, for to Him it is given to be one with the Giver. If it is not given to Jesus to be confessed in the glory of God the Father, He is less than the Father. But if it is given Him to be in that glory, in which the Father is, we see in the prerogative of giving, that the Giver is greater, and in the confession of the gift, that the Two are One. The Father is, therefore, greater than the Son: for manifestly He is greater, Who makes another to be all that He Himself is, Who imparts to the Son by the mystery of the birth the image of His own unbegotten nature, Who begets Him from Himself into His own form, and restores Him again from the form of a servant to the form of God, Whose work it is that Christ, born God according to the Spirit in the glory of the Father, but now Jesus Christ dead in the flesh, should be once more God in the glory of the Father. When, therefore, Christ says that He is going to the Father, He reveals the reason why they should rejoice if they loved Him, because the Father is greater than He.” (On the Trinity, IX.54 – NPNF 9.174.)

Bishop George Bull on the Subordination of the Son to the Father as His Cause

Bishop George Bull, an Anglican, showed himself an important patristic scholar of his era with his books in defense of the Nicene creed, in which he attempts to prove that the Nicene Creed’s articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity is in essential agreement with those of the earlier church fathers. In his books, he makes some valuable observations about how the ancients spoke of the Father in relation to the Son:

From Book IV of Defensio Fidei Nicaenae, Chapter 1:

“Respecting the subordination of the Son to the Father, as to His origin and principle, we have incidentally, when engaged on other points, spoken not a little in the preceding books; it is, however, an argument not unworthy of a more careful discussion by itself in a separate book; especially as at the beginning of our work we put it forward as a distinct head of doctrine delivered in the Nicene Creed, and which we proposed to establish by testimonies out of the ancients. Respecting this subordination, then, let the following be our first proposition:

The First Proposition

That decree of the Council of Nice, in which it is laid down that the Son of God is ‘God of God,’ is confirmed by the voice of the catholic doctors, both those who wrote before, and those who wrote after, that council. For they all with one accord taught, that the divine nature and perfections belong to the Father and the Son, not colaterally or co-ordinately, but subordinately; that is to say, that the Son has indeed the same divine nature in common with the Father; in such sense, that is, that the Father alone hath the divine nature from Himself, in other words, from no other, but the Son from the Father; consequently that the Father is the fountain, origin, and principle, of the Divinity, which is in the Son.”

No One Good But the Father?

God the Father only is good, wise, holy, invisible, sovereign, and immortal, and is greater than the Son.

Most Christians today would probably call someone saying what I just said above an Arian, and consider those words blasphemous. Yet, these words are found throughout scripture:

“Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” 18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Mark 10:17-18 KNJV)

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27 KJV)

“Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17 KJV)

“For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4 KJV)

“I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; 14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: 15 Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:13-16 KJV)

“And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.4 Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.” (Revelation 15:3-4 KJV)

Are the scriptures Arian? Do the Son and Holy Spirit lack true goodness, wisdom, holiness, invisibility, and immortality?

The scriptural answer to these questions is an emphatic “no”. The Son and Holy Spirit share all these attributes with the Father, having the very same goodness, wisdom, holiness, invisibility, and immortality as the Father, as They have the very same divine nature as He.

We see this in many ways in scripture. One easy example is that the Son Himself is called the “Wisdom of God”. How can the Wisdom of God lack wisdom? Such an idea is absurd. And what of Solomon, who is called wise, and many other men also? Clearly then, when scripture refers to the Father alone as being wise then, it does not do this to indicate that others to do not possess wisdom. So the same is true with all these other attributes ascribed to the Father in an exclusive manner- they do not exclude others in creation from participating in those qualities, and do not exclude the Son and Holy Spirit from possessing those attributes in Themselves as Their divine nature.

How then, can these things be so? Is scripture self-contradictory in speaking of the Father in such an exclusive way in regards to these various attributes, when it teaches at the same time that they belong equally to the persons of the Son and Holy Spirit?

The answer is emphatically “no”. There are no contradictions in scripture, and what appears to men to reveal contradictions in scripture really reveals to us that we do not understand scripture fully. When understood according to its right meaning, no part of scripture contradicts another, on account of its divine origin as the very words of God.

Why then, does scripture speak this way of the Father? The answer, we may deduce from scripture, is because the Father alone has all these attributes in Himself without cause, source, or origin. He is the origin and very definition of divinity, and all the attributes of it. The Father alone is goodness, and wisdom, and love, and holiness uncausedly, having these attributes from no source, but being rather the fountain of them. And from this Fountain, the Son and Spirit draw Their being, having the paternal divinity in Themselves, of the Father.

Thus the Son is Wisdom from the only Wise, Goodness from He Who alone is Good. The Son having all that He is and has from the Father, and the Father alone being the Supreme Cause of all, Who Himself has no cause.

Thus the Son is called the Wisdom of God, and the Logos of God; not simply ‘Wisdom’ and ‘Word’. For He is not simply an attribute of the Father, nor do the Father and the Son draw Their being equally from some anterior divinity so as to account for Their having an identical nature; but since the Son draws His existence from the Father, and has His essence from the Father, He has the very same nature, from the Father. The Father then, in His nature is the very definition of wisdom and rationality; He is these things in what he is. The Son then, having His origin from the Father, has this same wisdom and rationality; like the Father He is wisdom and rationality in what He is. But He is this because the Father begat Him, and gave Him His divinity; therefore, the wisdom He has is not original to Himself, nor is the rationality He is original to Himself, but is from the Father: and for this reason, He is the ‘Wisdom of God’, and ‘Word of God’, for His essence is the Father’s, given to Him in eternal generation.

Since then, the Father is all that He is without cause, unoriginate, and is therefore the original of all that He is, for this reason the divine attributes are ascribed to Him by scripture in an exclusive manner. This is not because He alone possesses the attributes of divinity, but because He alone possesses them without cause, source, or origin.

In a similar manner, the scriptures speak of the Father alone as Lord over all and the only sovereign, not to deny what is taught elsewhere that Jesus His Son is Lord over all creation, but because the Father alone is the supreme authority and head of all, and all authority other persons possess is subordinate to His, and from Him. The Son then is truly head over all creation, yet “God is the head of Christ”, the Lord and God of the Son. And although He has supreme authority over heaven and earth, the Son does not have it of Himself, but from the Father, Who tells the Son to sit at His right hand. Thus scripture says “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matthew 28:18 KJV), since the Father gave Him to have authority over all creation.

And the Lord openly confessed that the Father was greater than He, not in respect to His humanity alone, but eternally, not in respect to any difference in nature, as the Son is equal in divinity to the Father, but because the Son is subordinate to the Father as His cause and His head. In these respects, that is, in the Father being the cause of the Son and Head of the Son, the Father is greater than He.

So then, we see that scripture is in no way contradictory, nor does it in any way give any credence to the blasphemy of Arius. But the high and exclusive titles applied to the person of the Father, “the only true God”, are applied to Him in such a way in reference to His alone being the Supreme Cause of all, and Supreme Head of all, even of the persons of the Son and Holy Spirit.