Commentary on the Pseudo-Athanasian Creed

The Pseudo-Athanasian Creed is quite possibly the most heretical Creed ever officially approved of by church bodies. As I shall show below, far from summing up the Christian faith, it would be more accurately regarded as a creed of antichristian sentiments. That it’s supposed authorship by Athanasius is fraudulent is widely recognised by scholars, and I need not take time here to show what anyone can find with a quick search of the internet.

The Creed is still hailed by some as an ‘Ecumenical Creed’, an assertion which is quite laughable itself. The Creed is not used by the East, and by its inclusion of the filoque can be considered quite repugnant to Eastern orthodox thought. Its late authorship in medieval Europe is reflected in its doctrine, and cannot be considered representative of the theology of either its feigned author, Athanasius, or of any of the Eastern communions of churches. It belongs to the Roman Catholic church and its Protestant descendants only- making the claim that it is ecumenical obviously false, unless only those churches which one agrees with are included in the definition of ‘ecumenical’, in which case nearly any doctrine however obscure, so long as some small body of churches holds it, may be considered ‘ecumenical’.

The Creed itself touts that it is a summary of the catholic faith, which a person must believe to be saved. To a Protestant, or any real Christian, this statement is quite ridiculous, as the Creed well exceeds the holy scriptures in what it affirms, and downright contradicts them, as we shall see. Men are left with a choice, then, upon reading this bully of a creed, whether they will forsake the scriptures out of fear of its empty threats, or whether they will forsake the “catholic faith” of a medieval heretic for the true catholic faith taught by the holy and infallible scriptures, which alone are suited to be the ordinary rule of Christian faith.

Even church councils do not have the authority to bind our consciences beyond scripture, with doctrines and practices which have not been revealed by God, and thus cannot be ordinarily known to be legitimate. Yet this Creed is not the result of any council, or of any notable individual even, but of some anonymous author, summing up his own private opinion of what ought to be enforced on everyone else. That the Creed stands in need of both idle threats and a pretended authorship by Athanasius to gain adherents is itself a testament to how uncompelling its doctrines are. Only by threats and lies pertaining to its authorship, and the authority of the Pope, the antichrist of Rome, has this miserable blasphemy been forced upon the churches of the west.

The creed reads thus:

1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;

2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

3. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.

8. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.

9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

10. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.

11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.

12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.

13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.

14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.

15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;

16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

17. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;

18. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.

19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;

20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.

21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.

22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.

23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.

25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.

26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.

27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

30. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.

31. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.

32. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

33. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.

34. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.

35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.

36. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.

37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;

38. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead;

39. He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty;

40. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

41. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;

42. and shall give account of their own works.

43. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

44. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.

Lines 1-2 of the Creed have already been addressed- this anonymous Creed has no authority over any man, and its threats are as idle as its nonsensical propositions.

Line 3 begins the actual doctrinal meat of the creed, with the now sadly-famous phrase “That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity”. The one God, according to the scriptures, is the person of the Father in particular, not the Trinity. The Trinity is never even expressly mentioned as such in scripture. The one God, rather, throughout scripture, is always identified as the self-same person as the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The testimony of the early church also agrees with this; see: We Believe in One God, the Father Almighty for both scriptural proof and patristic witness to this truth.

The one God, is, according to the earlier standard of the church, the Nicene Creed, “the Father Almighty”. This is an accurate definition. It maintains scripture’s teaching that the one God is one person, the Father, and that He is the “Almighty”, or in Greek “Pantokrator”. This word and its meaning are important; it does not, like the English word “almighty” suggest unlimited ability or strength. Rather the word literally means “Ruler over all”- it denotes supreme headship and dominion over all, absolutely. Thus the term is applied exclusively to the Father, “the blessed and only Potentate” (1 Tim 6:15), Who “is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3) and “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6).

That the Father is the one God is important to know, for scripture reveals it; but it is important to know not only that these words are true, but what they mean according to the scriptures. How, after all, can the Father be the “one God”, while the Son is also called God?

To answer this question it is important to understand what the term “God” even means in itself. It is a term used very frequently throughout the scriptures, not only for the Supreme God, the Father, the “Lord God Pantokrator” (Rev 4:8), but also for being as low as men and angels. As Jesus noted in John 10:35 “He [God] called them gods, to whom the word of God came”, speaking of a psalm where the men of Israel were called “gods”. In Psalm 82:1 “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods”, calling created angels gods. Paul is well aware of this when he writes “For even if there are many called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”

Scripture then presents the word “God” as something which may be ascribed to many persons. What’s more, scripture treats the word “God” as a relative word, denoting relation rather than some absolute quality. Thus all throughout scripture we have statements where phrases like “my God”, “your God”, and “our God” are used. Sir Isaac Newton comments well on this point:

“This Being [God] governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator [Greek word usually translated “Almighty”], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually a signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

Newton’s observations well account for how scripture uses the term “God”. To be “God” therefore is to have dominion, and Godhood is dominion. Thus scripture can justly call the judges of Israel and holy angels “gods” without this in any way blaspheming the one supreme God, the Father. That the Father is the one God then does not tell us something about His nature, but rather tells us that He is the one Who alone has supreme dominion over all, absolutely. Thus on the one hand, as Paul and other scriptures said, there are many gods, and yet in another sense, the highest sense, there is only one God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who alone has dominion over all things absolutely. This dominion (or Godhood) extends not only over all creation, but also over His own only-begotten Son, as we saw above. Thus Christ could say to His disciples, looking forward to His ascension “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

That the Son, although He is another individual person from the Father, the one God, is also called “God” should be no surprise at all. For the Lord said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Having thus received Godhood over all creation from His Father, “in Him the fulness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). Nor was this deity something the Son merely received upon His exaltation to the right hand of the Father, but from the beginning, as the only-begotten Son of God begotten prior to creation and all time, the “the Word was God”. And thus the Son is called “Mighty God” (Isa 9:6), and thus the Psalmist says to the Son “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. 7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Ps 45:6-7 KJV).

The Son is then God and true God, but this does not make Him the Lord God Almighty, the one God, the only true God- for these titles belong to His Father alone, as His Father alone has Godhood over all things absolutely, including over the Son Himself; while the Son has Godhood over all creation which was made through Him, given to Him by the Father, which He exercises according to the Father’s will, on His behalf (John 5:30).

Godhood then is dominion, not a nature, and to be “God” is to have this dominion. For Christians then there is one God, the Father, the one Supreme Ruler over all, and His Son is also God, because the Father has given Him a share in that dominion over all creation, while the Son Himself is still subject to the Father as His God.

This understanding is an important basis for any discussion of theology or the Trinity. Without knowing what we mean by the term “God” and what it means for there to be “one God”, and without knowing what “Godhood” is, we cannot hope to accurately evaluate the pseudo-Athanasian Creed.

For the Creed then to say that there is one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, is, according to the later sections of the Creed, seemingly meant to be equivalent to saying that there is one God in three persons, and three persons in one God. This is a fair reading since “Trinity” is historically a term that applies to three united persons.

We must ask then what is meant by saying that one God is in three persons? The one God, as we saw from scripture, is the person of the Father, one person. This one person is one of the three persons of the Trinity. One might guess that perhaps this phrase could be taken as referring to the Father indwelling the Son and Spirit, and They the Father, yet this cannot account for the phrase either, since the one God is not described here as one person in unity with two other by way of mutual indwelling, but as a distinct entity entirely which dwells in all three persons, including the Father.

This last observation should give us pause- the one God dwells in the Father? Such absurd blasphemy is reminiscent of the gnostic heresies of the second century, by which Satan sought to create an identity crisis surrounding the identity of God by making out as though the God who created all things and the Father, the God of the New Testament, are two different beings. Perish such a blasphemous thought! Yet this same blasphemy is revived in Augustinian trinitarianism such as is seen in this Creed.

The entire creed begins then by pretentiously summing up under the name under the name of “the catholic faith” a blasphemy and falsehood as great as that of Marcion and the gnostics. The one God does not dwell in the Father, but is the Father. We see then that the whole Creed starts off on a heretical note.

But what is the one God, according to the Creed? We are not told, except that this one God includes in itself the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and is in Them. As we shall see later, the author of the creed has no recognition of the biblical usage of the term God, but instead treats Godhood as a nature or metaphysical essence.

Lines 4-6 read “4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. 5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. 6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.” In these lines we see that “substance” and “Godhead” seem to be equated. While the “persons” are three, the substance is one, and noted as being undivided.

Here it is crucial to note that “substance” is being used in a way that potentially equivocates with its usage in the Nicene Creed. At first glance this is Nicene, like Nicea proclaiming that the persons of the Trinity share a common genus or nature or substance. But this Creed was authored in Latin, and in the Latin usage of “substance”, there were two possible meanings of the term. One, “secondary substance” is that of Nicea- genus, species, or kind. The second, “primary substance” was the more common usage, and refers to an individual, such as when a person is defined as “a rational substance”. The pseudo-Athanasian Creed is ambiguous, but likely uses the latter meaning.

This is likely at the very least from our knowledge of the historical context; in latin trinitarianism, the one God is a person, who in turn is the three real persons of the Trinity. Thus Augustine prayed to this person as “God the Trinity”. The Trinity as a whole, the “one God” of Augustine, is the one substance shared by the persons of the Trinity. At one time this substance is spoken of as though a genus, like at Nicea; at another, as a person, as Sabellius taught. Given this context, the ambiguity may be intentional; but certainly, if we read this creed in congruence with its medieval environment, it is fair to assume that the “one substance” here is in fact an individual, a primary substance.

The creed also sets out to distinguish the persons, saying that they must not be confounded with one another; the three persons are, according to the creed, truly distinct. This is important to remember, as later this true point is contradicted.

It then proclaims that the Godhead is one, the glory equal, and the majesty co-eternal among the three distinct persons. “Godhead”, as per line 35 of the Creed, is clearly meant as secondary substance, metaphysical essence, or nature. This is in keeping with Nicea, although the point is not one that can be proven to a certainty from the holy scriptures, which are to be the true source of our doctrine. The Father’s metaphysical nature is never fully disclosed to us; neither is that of His Son. Rather scripture reveals many attributes, actions, and offices of these persons, without giving us a platonic breakdown of their respective metaphysical natures. Thus such assertions, while plausible, are left to the realm of extra-biblical speculation. Thus to make them a rule of faith, and set them up as a standard which all men must believe to be saved, is to go well beyond scripture, and to say that men must assent to mere theories and plausibilities in order to be saved.

Such is not the teaching of the scriptures. We are told what we must hold to by the scriptures: “Test everything, and hold fast to that which is good.” (1 Thess 5:21). We are to test all doctrines that men suggest to us as being true, and even those which authorities insist upon us, by the scriptures, which are for us a precious and infallible first principle, which we, receiving by God-given faith, may test all other propositions by. Those doctrines then which are demonstrated from the scriptures are good, and we must hold fast to them, according to the command of scripture. But those which are, although not disproven, not absolutely proven either, we must leave within the realm of plausibilities and theories, and not, as though they were known with certainty to be true, enforce them upon others as a standard for communion.

The glory being “equal” among the persons is another statement found nowhere in scripture, again constituting conjecture which cannot be proven. Certainly the Son is proclaimed to be the only-begotten Son of the one God, the brightness of His glory, the exact representation of His person, and the image of Him, the invisible God, the Wisdom and Power of His Father, Who has life in Himself and the Father has life in Himself. Certainly the Son is like the Father and is very glorious. Yet we are not told that the glory of the Father and the Son is equal; much less is the Holy Spirit’s glory compared by scripture.

What we do know is that when Moses asked to see God’s glory, He was only allowed to see it partly and obscurely, for “No one can see my face and live” (Ex 33:20), God said to Him. No man then, we are assured has ever seen God’s glory, for “no man has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). Yet the Son was seen “face to face” (Gen 32:30) by men prior to the incarnation when He appeared as the Angel (or Messenger) of the Lord, ministering to the will of His Father prior to the incarnation. Likewise Isaiah saw Him in a vision in Isa 6, which John refers to in John 12:41 “These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.” (NKJV). The glory of the Son, then, was seen by mortal men, and they lived, yet the glory of the Father is such that “No one can see my face and live”. The one God is invisible, that is, unseeable, to mortal man, because to see God’s glory would kill us, we are told (Ex 33). Yet the Son’s glory, we are told, was seen, and though extremely great, was not deadly.

This certainly gives the appearance of some difference between the glory of the Father and that of the Son; between Him Who is invisible, and Him Who is the Image of that Invisible Person. Yet the matter is left open to conjecture; there may be ways to explain this apparent difference which allow for there to be, in some sense, an equality of glory and an identicality of essence. Two fires, for example, may share the same essence, both being truly fire by definition, and yet one may be larger than the other, and therefore brighter and hotter than the other. The difference in such a case can be viewed as one of magnitude, not one of kind. So perhaps something similar is true in respect to God and His Son, such that although the Son is visible and the Father invisible, yet this may arise from some other factor than a difference in essence or inequality of glory. Scripture does not specify, nor offer any reward or encouragement for digging into deep mysteries and things which God has not revealed to us.

This Creed, however, taking no heed of these things, seeks to be the corrector of scripture rather than its disciple. Let us not follow its bad example.

As far as the majesty being “co-eternal”, that the Son and Spirit are co-eternal with the Father is beyond doubt. The Son was begotten before the ages, and the ages and all time were created through Him (Heb 1:2, John 1:1-3, Prov 8:22-31). The Holy Spirit is called “the eternal Spirit” (Heb 9:14).

Next we come to line 7, which reads “7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.” This is flatly false. If one believes that the three persons share a common metaphysical nature, then certainly within that scope one could fairly assert that the Son and Holy Spirit are identical to the Father, but only in respect to Their nature. When we look at the persons on the whole, we must take into account their personal properties as well as their nature. The Father, for example, is unbegotten, uncaused, Father, and head over all things absolutely as the Supreme God. The Son and Spirit do not share any of these qualities with the Father. They do not beget Sons. They are not uncaused, but have the Father as Their Cause and Source. And it is manifestly obvious that by the very nature of being Supreme God, this quality cannot be communicated to another; and the Son and Spirit are under the Godhood of the Father, as we have already seen.

Line 7 of the creed then is shown to be utterly unbiblical and unpalatable to any true Christian. Had this been limited to the scope of essence, it could be reasonable, but the creed simply leaves the statement unqualified.

In the next lines the creed goes through a list of attributes and tries to demonstrate this principle given in line 7 with them each, stating that they are shared by the Father and the Son, and yet there is only one subject of that attribute. In this endeavor it repeatedly attempts to overthrow arithmetic, to no avail. One and one and one is three, not one. God did not send His Logos to teach men to abandon the rationality He gave us, but to save us. Yet the author of this Creed attempts a futile war against numbers, which, were he not serious, would be nearly comical.

Lines 8-9 read “The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. 9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.” That all three persons are uncreated is biblical. The Son was begotten, not created, and this mode of origination, whatever the difference may be between that and creation, is certainly unique to the Son, as He is “only-begotten” (John 3:16). All creatures, on the other hand, were made through Him (John 1:3), and thus the Son is categorically excluded from creation. The Holy Spirit likewise is said to have been the instrument of God in the creation of all angelic and heavenly spirits (Ps 33:6), and thus is excluded from possibly being a creature.

As to the Father, Son, and Spirit being incomprehensible, the term can be translated as “immeasurable”, “infinite”, or “illimitable”. Each of these carries somewhat different but related ideas. Such a confession follows logically from co-essentiality if an essential attribute is in view here.

Lines 10-12 continue “The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. 11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal. 12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.”

The eternality of the persons of the Trinity has already been addressed and affirmed. As three distinct persons, each person is eternal. Yet the Creed goes further than this biblical assertion to affirm the heresy of modalism, in a deviant form. There are three eternal persons- the creed just admitted as much. To then turn and say that there is only one is to deny arithmetic, or to deny the proposition itself. It denies that there are three eternals- yet it has just confessed that there are three. Here we see the self-contradiction inherent in the Augustinian system of semi-modalism. There are three eternal persons in reality, and not one only. The assertion that there is only one, if given more weight, must be a denial that there are three truly; or else the assertion that there are really three must be a denial that there is only one.

One way to understand this in a somewhat less contradictory fashion is to suppose that one of these clauses is meant in a real and literal way, and the other merely nominal. The question is, if this were so, which is nominal? The weight of emphasis seems to be placed on the singularity, and so, in such an understanding the creed could only be understood to assert that there are nominally three persons, but not really. Yet such is the nature of these self-contradictory statements that one could forever wonder which half of the proposition the creed really supports, and never find an answer.

The qualities of being uncreated and incomprehensible get the same nonsensical treatment. If there are three eternal persons, then there is not only one eternal person. If there are three uncreated persons, then there is not only one uncreated person. Yet this creed nonsensically affirms mutually exclusive ideas. The idea that such statements consititute the catholic faith, and must be believed to be saved, is utter nonsense, without either logical or scriptural support.

We may wonder if these self-contradictory statements were not given out of a dishonest intent, with a view to be able to confound any opponent by always agreeing with what they might say, while also affirming the opposite.

In lines 13-14 the nonsense continues “So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. 14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.” There is indeed only one Almighty, according to scripture, for as we saw above, the term translated “Almighty” is the Greek word “Pantokrator” in the scriptures, which means “Ruler over all”. So it was translated into Latin “Omnipotent” which can be understood the same way. As we also discussed, only the Father is called “Almighty” in the scriptures, for the reason that only the person of the Father is “Lord God Pantokrator”, the one Supreme Authority over all.

That this blasphemous creed calls the Son and Spirit also “Almighty” is just as much a confounding of persons as if it had called Them both “Father”- there is only one Supreme Ruler over all, the Father, Who has dominion or Godhood not only over all creation but also over His own only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit. The assertion of three “Almighties” then is the assertion that there are three Supreme Gods, and thus is a denial of monotheism as taught by the scriptures. But this wretched creed can be counted on to contradict itself, which it does.

Line 15-16 continue saying “15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; 16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.”

The Holy Spirit is never to the knowledge of this author called “God” in the scriptures. In this respect, the Creed seemingly goes beyond what can be known from the scriptures and is said by them. It is accurate to the teaching of scripture that Father and Son are both God. Yet it is unbiblical in saying that They together are one God. The one God is not the Father and the Son, but the Father, as we said above. The Son also has been given a share in the Father’s godhood over all creation, and so, is not an independent or rival God, but rather participates in the Father’s monarchy, as the instrument by which the Father rules over all things through the Son. So there is only one Supreme God, the Father, and His Son is God, but subordinate to His Father, the one God. So although both persons are God, since the Son is under the Godhood of His Father, a monarchy is preserved, and there is one Supreme God, the Father. Such is the scriptural and early patristic reckoning of monotheism.

It continues “17. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; 18. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.” I am unaware of the Holy Spirit being called “Lord” in the scriptures. That the Son is Lord, and the Father Lord, is abundantly clear. Yet the way that the term is used in the scriptures has a special significance as a title special to the Son, by which His subordinate headship over all creation, while being under the Godhood of the Father, is denoted. Thus 1 Cor 8:6 says “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (KJV). In this special sense, in which being “Lord” denotes the Son’s subordinate role to the Father in governing the universe, the term cannot be fittingly applied to the Father. However, in a more general term , simply denoting dominion, it may fittingly be applied to the Father as well as the Son. The special sense which belongs to the Son is denoted by Him being called our “one Lord”. This convention is also common in the early church fathers.

To say that the three persons of the Trinity are together “one Lord” is not only to go against the teaching of scripture concerning this being a special title for the Son, but also approaches modalism. To say that three persons are one Lord comes very close to asserting that three persons are one person.

In lines 19-20 continue: “19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; 20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.”

True Christians are compelled to follow the scriptures, whatever they teach, and strive to be the disciples of the same. Yet this creed blasphemously sets out to be the corrector of the scriptures, constantly going beyond what they teach in what it affirms, and sometimes contradicting them blatantly. That there is one God and one Lord we have already examined, as well as in what sense this is the case. 1 Cor 8:6 says “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (KJV). In contrast to scripture and the Nicene Creed, this Creed represents clear degeneration in the western church’s understanding of these matters.

In lines 21-24 there is finally something reminiscent of Nicene theology: “21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. 22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. 23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. 24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.” Line 21-22 are accurate, as is 24. Line 23 includes the filoque so hated by the churches of the East, proving that this Creed is anything but ecumenical. It serves as just one more example of teaching that goes beyond what is revealed in scripture. The statement that the Holy Spirit is “proceeding” requires the interpretation that the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father in John 15:26 is ontological, rather than economic.

Line 25-26 read “25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another. 26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.” These statements are contrary to the plain teaching of the scriptures “If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28 KJV). That all three persons are co-eternal is indeed taught by the scriptures, but that the Son and Spirit are equal to the Father is contradictory to biblical monotheism altogether, and to the plain sense of so many passages of scripture. The Son and Holy Spirit are under the headship and authority of the Father, the one God, and so, the Father is greater than the Son and Spirit in respect to authority. Also, as this Creed itself has acknowledged, the Son and Spirit are from the Father, the Father being the Source, Cause, and Origin of both the Son and the Holy Spirit, and so in respect to causality, the Father Who is alone without Cause, Source, or Origin, must be considered greater than the Son and the Holy Spirit. To speculate in respect to essence here is to go beyond scripture’s revelation. But the fact stands, that while the Son of God freely taught, without giving qualification, that His Father is greater than He, this creed of antichrist outright denies this same truth.

Thus at this juncture the reader of the pseudo-Athanasian Creed is posed with a choice, as to whether they will allow themselves to be bullied into denying the true catholic faith by denying the holy scriptures, or if they will instead hold fast to scripture, and reject the creed. For with statements so openly contradictory to scripture, the creed forces a choice between the pretended “catholic faith” of its author, and the holy scriptures themselves.

To declare the Son equal with the Father, without qualification, is to imply that He is equal to the Father in authority and dominion; such a doctrine not only explicitly contradicts the scriptures, but also, by making two, or in this case three persons who are equally supreme in dominion and authority, makes there out to be three Gods, destroying biblical monotheism, which as we have said, is that there is only one Supreme Ruler over all absolutely, the Father, the one “Lord God Pantokrator”.

This doctrine of a Trinity of three co-equal persons then is a denial of monotheism, and the teaching of scripture, and the Christian faith.

Articles 27-28 finish off the section on the Trinity, saying “27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. 28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.” This is merely a repetition of the idle threats and foolish blasphemies the Creed began with, and need not be addressed again.

The rest of the Creed focuses on the incarnation, but I will not toil over that section of it. It is enough to show that it is no orthodox creed, and a denial of the Christian faith. No attempt at explaining the incarnation of the Lord on that foundation can have any hopeful prospect.

 

On the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit has not been a main focus over the course of this blog; although the Spirit has been spoken of as part of the Trinity, and in relation to the Father and the Son, the focus of most of the posts has been on christology and theology proper, with only marginal attention to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I now wish to treat the subject at some length.

In the period of church history with which I am the most familiar, the patristic era, especially the ante-nicene and nicene eras, there was quite a wide variety of views on the Holy Spirit expressed by various authors at various times. In the latter half of the fourth century, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit became a new focus for the church, which previously had regarded the doctrine of the Spirit as something somewhat mysterious. Origen could write of the doctrine:

“the apostles related that the Holy Spirit was associated in honour and dignity with the Father and the Son. But in His case it is not clearly distinguished whether He is to be regarded as born or innate, or also as a Son of God or not: for these are points which have to be inquired into out of sacred Scripture according to the best of our ability, and which demand careful investigation. And that this Spirit inspired each one of the saints, whether prophets or apostles; and that there was not one Spirit in the men of the old dispensation, and another in those who were inspired at the advent of Christ, is most clearly taught throughout the Churches.” (De Princippiis, Preface)

This summary is well-representative of the testimony of the ante-nicene fathers on the subject. The Spirit’s ontology is an area of doctrine that has very little settled substance, and which seems more to be a mystery than a dogma, about which the church has no clear settled tradition from the apostles, except for the economic role of the Spirit in the giving of divine revelation and in the life of believers, and the Spirit’s close association with the Father and the Son.

In the Nicene era, the doctrine received surprisingly little attention upon the outbreak of the arian controversy. The nicene creed is so vague on the Holy Spirit that nearly any view can subscribe to the article. In the debates of the following decade, christology continued to be the main focus, with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit seemingly only being included as a marginal consideration in the context of the wider debate.

The Creed composed by the homoousians at the western council of Serdica in 343 includes this confusing statement on the Holy Spirit:

“We believe in and we receive the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, whom the Lord both promised and sent. We believe in it as sent.

It was not the Holy Ghost who suffered, but the manhood with which He clothed Himself; which he took from the Virgin Mary, which being man was capable of suffering; for man is mortal, whereas God is immortal.”

In 351 the council that met to deal with the heresy of Photinius included in their canons a more exact statement of the Spirit’s ontology than can seemingly be found in the decision of any council prior. As this council had the support of both the eastern and western churches, the statements are especially notable as seemingly expressing the general consensus at the time:

“XVIII. If any man says that the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are one Person: let him be anathema.

XIX. If any man speaking of the Holy Ghost the Paraclete says that He is the Unborn God: let him be anathema.

XX. If any man denies that, as the Lord has taught us, the Paraclete is different from the Son; for He said, And the Father shall send you another Comforter, whom I shall ask John 14:16: let him be anathema.

XXI. If any man says that the Holy Spirit is a part of the Father or of the Son: let him be anathema.

XXII. If any man says that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three Gods: let him be anathema.”

These statements are mostly negative in nature: declaring what the Spirit ontologically is not, rather than what the Spirit actually is. The most noteworthy thrust of these decrees is that the Spirit is not in any way to be understood as part of God, or of His Son, but as a truly distinct individual. This seems to go a step beyond the ante-nicene fathers, such as Origen, who treated the matter of whether the Spirit was “born of innate” as an open question.

This apparently recent consensus that the Spirit was a distinct individual from both the Father and the Son laid the groundwork for the debates over the Holy Spirit that would rage in the following decades.

Among the major figures of the arian controversy we can already see the opposing positions that would, by the time of the council of Constantinople in 381, constitute the two major positions within the church on the Holy Spirit. In Athanasius’s writings, we have a defense of the Holy Spirit’s essential divinity, which he wrote in response to some he had heard about who thought that the Holy Spirit was a creature.

Perhaps unknown to Athanasius, one of his major opponents in the debates of the fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea, held exactly this view, at least towards the end of his life. In his work On Ecclesiastical Theology, in which Eusebius argued for an essentially nicene christology over and against the doctrines of Marcellus of Ancyra, Eusebius wrote thus of the Holy Spirit:

“But the Counseling Spirit would be neither God nor Son, since he himself has not also received his generation from the Father as the Son has, but is one of those things brought into existence through the Son, because “all things were made through him, and without him not one thing was made.” (Book 3, Chapter 6)

Others took a more cautious approach to the subject, and confessed a decided agnosticism on the nature of the Holy Spirit, regarding it as something not revealed in the scriptures, such as Cyril of Jerusalem:

“And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into His nature or substance : for had it been written, we would have spoken of it; what is not written, let us not venture on; it is sufficient for our salvation to know, that there is Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost.” (Lecture 16, On the Holy Spirit)

Despite these views existing in this era, there does not appear to have been widespread debate on the subject, nor did everyone seem to agree amongst the various parties that had formed- for instance, Hilary of Poitiers, a staunch homoousian, could write in such a way in De Synodis as to seem to imply that nearly no one would consider that the Holy Spirit was co-essential with the Father and the Son:

“This assembly of the saints wished to strike a blow at that impiety which by a mere counting of names evades the truth as to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost; which represents that there is no personal cause for each name, and by a false use of these names makes the triple nomenclature imply only one Person, so that the Father alone could be also called both Holy Ghost and Son. Consequently they declared there were three substances, meaning three subsistent Persons, and not thereby introducing any dissimilarity of essence to separate the substance of Father and Son. For the words to teach us that they are three in substance, but in agreement one, are free from objection, because as the Spirit is also named, and He is the Paraclete, it is more fitting that a unity of agreement should be asserted than a unity of essence based on likeness of substance.”

Shortly after Eusebius of Caesarea’s death, a large portion of eastern bishops, perhaps numbering in the hundreds, became known to those who held to the position of Athanasius as ‘Pneumatachi’- contenders against the Holy Spirit. Debates raged about the Holy Spirit’s nature leading up the the council of Constantinople in 381. Among the important contributions to these debates was the work of Basil ‘the Great’ On the Holy Spirit. In this, Basil argued, like Athanasius, that the scriptures treat the Holy Spirit as divine, and that He must be understood as a third co-essential person, together with the Father and the Son.

This view proved the dominant view among the homoousians, who in 381 won a great victory when emperor Theodosius decided to make the empire homoousian. ‘Arian’ homoian bishops were ejected from their pulpits and replaced with homoousians ahead of the council of Constantinople in 381. A delegation of a great many Pneumatachi were barred from attending the proceedings of the council, and, to no one’s surprise, the council decided in favor of the changes the emperor had already enacted, and against the Pneumatachi. The clause on the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed was expanded upon to speak of the Holy Spirit as an object of worship together with the Father and the Son, and the official doctrine of the church was henceforward that the Holy Spirit was a third distinct consubstantial person.

Now, having covered the history of this doctrine a bit, I will, if I may be so bold, propose a theory of my own, which circumvents both the Homoousians and the Pneumatachi, by suggesting that the basic assumption both parties built upon- that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person from the Father and the Son- is unwarranted by the scriptures.

The theory I propose is this- that the Holy Spirit is not a distinct individual besides the Father, but rather, as being the Spirit of the one God, the Father, is a part of the Father. Or said another way, the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father is better summed up as the relation of a part to the whole, than that of one individual to another. There is no text of scripture I am ware of that would disprove this theory.

Such a view is based on the parallel drawn, in scripture, between the relationship of a man’s spirit to a man:

“But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor 2:10-11 NKJV)

A man’s spirit, is of course part of a man, yet, a part is certainly distinguishable from the whole. We may speak of a man’s spirit distinctly from the man, although not as another person.

Just as the relationship of the Son to the Father being described as generation secures in our mind the understanding that the Son is a distinct individual from the Father, so the description of the Spirit as the Spirit of God, as paralleling how the spirit of a man relates to that man, seems to imply to us that the Spirit is not a distinct individual from the Father, but is rather a part of Him.

Further, among men, our spirits are not impersonal forces, but according to scripture can seemingly think, will, communicate, and know. For example, Samuel’s spirit, when summoned to Saul, obviously spoke, thought, possessed knowledge etc. Thus such a theory can account for the things usually used to argue that the Spirit is a person rather than an impersonal force. Certainly, that the Spirit wills, knows, acts, etc, shows that it is not impersonal. Yet it is not obvious that the Spirit must be a distinct person from God in order to exhibit these traits, as even a human spirit may exhibit such traits without being a distinct person from the man.

Another merit of this theory is that it can account for both the fact that the Spirit is presented as divine, and yet, at the same time is never given distinct worship in the scriptures. There are many places where the Father and Son are both distinctly worshipped, yet the Spirit is never worshipped personally. Why?

This seems like something that must be a glaring question for those who hold the Spirit to be a distinct homoousias person. If the Spirit is a distinct individual, and is of the same essence as the Father and the Son, then it certainly follows that the Spirit should receive His own distinct worship and prayers. Yet we have neither example of such, nor command to do so, in the scriptures. This argument was probably one of the strongest arguments in the arsenal of the Pneumatachi.

If the Spirit, on the other hand, is a part of God, then the Spirit does indeed receive worship, but not as a distinct person, but rather together with God, as His Spirit. For when God is praised, He is praised in whole, not in part; when He is worshipped, He is worshipped in totality, not in part. So then, if the Spirit is a part of God, then the Spirit is surely honored when God is honored. This would then explain the absence of distinct personal worship of the Spirit in the scriptures.

Yet the Spirit is treated as divine frequently- to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit is to be indwelt by God, Whose Spirit the Holy Spirit is. The saving work of the Spirit in us is presented as the work of God in us. All of this fits very well with a model of the Spirit’s relationship to the Father being that of a part to the whole. For if that is so, then the Spirit is God, not in nature, nor in having dominion as a distinct person, but as being part of the person of the one God, the Father. And just as the spirit of a man is that man, so the Spirit of God is God. Yet the spirit of a man is not synonymous with the man, but is distinguished from Him as a part from the whole. So the same model seems to account for the biblical data well in respect to the Holy Spirit.

This theory also accounts for passages that otherwise do not appear to make sense to either Pneumatachi nor homoousians- such as Mark 13:32:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father..” (NKJV)

Here the Son says that no one knows when He will return except the Father- not only any man, but also not any angel, and not even the Son Himself- but only the Father. Here we run into a quite baffling apparent contradiction with 1 Cor 2:10-11, however, if we say that the Spirit is a distinct person. For the Spirit knows the mind of God- which must certainly include the date of Christ’s return. Yet the Lord is emphatic that no other person knows the date except the Father. The absence of the Holy Spirit in this passage stands out as very strange, unless the Holy Spirit is understood to be included in the Father as His Spirit, and to not constitute a distinct individual.

Having laid out the basics of what I propose, not as a certainty, but as a theory which to me seems much more likely, and much more able to account for the scriptural data, than the theory that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person from the Father and the Son, I now want to address a couple of foreseeable objections to what I have just proposed.

Firstly, I anticipate the objection that such language of the Spirit being the “Spirit of God” in a way parallel to how the spirit of man is the spirit of a man, and a part of him, is merely anthropomorphic language. Surely, such an argument can be made with some validity; God is different than we are, and the relation of the Spirit to the Father would not exactly parallel how our spirits relate to us. Yet we may also note that the language of sonship and generation is also anthropomorphic, and we do not for that reason deny that the Son is truly Son, or that He was really generated before creation.

Yet someone may point out that while we have bodies which our spirits are distinguished from, God does not have a body. In fact, “God is spirit” (John 4:24), we are told, and, according to Christ, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39 NKJV). Thus the analogy falls apart, one may argue.

Firstly let us note in response to this, that the analogy, and the parallel, of the spirit of a man relating to a man as the Spirit of God relates to God, is taken from scripture itself. Whatever supposed deficiencies it has, this should be kept in mind. But secondly we may note that man is composite of more than merely a spirit and a body- according to the scriptures we have a soul as well, as a distinct part of us:

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess 5:23 NKJV)

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV)

So we see that even in men, our spirits are in some way (seemingly not revealed to us in the scriptures) distinguishable from our incorporeal souls.

So likewise, with God, although God is spirit, that is, incorporeal, having neither flesh nor bone, yet this does not rule out that His Spirit can be distinguished from Him as a part of Him. Arguably, this is exactly what scripture does repeatedly when it identifies the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God.

The second objection I wish to anticipate, related to the first, is that God is simple, and uncomposed, having no parts, and thus, any distinction between God’s Spirit and God Himself, as a part from a whole, is invalid.

This objection is easily responded to, that nowhere in scripture is any such doctrine about God taught, and thus it cannot be argued from as an assumption, nor can it properly be made a point of dogma. This idea of divine simplicity stems from the conjecture of the heathen philosophers prior to the time of Christ, which idea was absorbed by many of the more philosophically-minded fathers of the church. This can quite likely be taken as the cause for the fathers beginning to think of the Spirit as a distinct person in the first place, as the idea of simplicity would have banished from their minds any consideration of the theory I know propose. Thus they introduced as a point of dogma that the Spirit was a distinct person from the Father and the Son, thus setting themselves sup for the inevitable debates of the fourth century over the matter.

As reprehensible as the views of the Pneumatachi are, one can hardly be surprised that the idea became a very popular one among the bishops of the church, when the Holy Spirit is never given distinct worship together with the Father and the Son, and is often not even mentioned together with Them in the scriptures. Yet this error would never have arisen, if only it had been understood that the Spirit was no distinct person at all, but is rather the Spirit of the one God Himself, and a part of Him. Thus the Spirit’s identification with God and His works is explained, while the absence of any mention of the Spirit as a distinct person, and of the things we would expect to accompany such a doctrine in the scriptures, are both explained.

Again, by way of disclaimer, this is a rough theory. In my opinion this explanation seems to better account for the biblical data, and model the relationship of the Spirit to God in a better way than understanding the Spirit as a distinct person. By no means do I propose that it offers a comprehensive understanding of the Holy Spirit. Likely much of what philosophers would like to know about the Spirit remains a mystery to us if we are honest, given the limits of the scriptural data we have to go off of, and due to the fact that such scriptural revelation is our only normative basis for knowledge in matters of doctrine. It is the part of faithful Christians to be content to affirm and embrace what God has revealed to us in the scriptures, and not pry into things that God has left mysteries to us. Much of the division throughout church history can be argued to stem from people being too dogmatic on what is ultimately conjecture about the ontology of the Holy Spirit.

[Update 6-25-2018]

The theory I propose in this article is proven false, by at least two scriptural arguments.

A person is defined as a rational individual. That the Spirit is personal and rational was never in question, but that He is an individual, was. One of the principle reasons for suspecting that the Spirit were God’s innate Spirit, rather than a distinct person, is the frequent way that the Spirit is styled “the Spirit of God”, and the way that this is paralleled with the relationship of a man’s spirit to that man. Therefore it was reasoned that the Spirit’s metaphysical relation to God may parallel the metaphysical relation of a man’s spirit to that man- as a part to the whole.

This argument is overthrown by the fact that the Spirit is also frequently styled “the Spirit of Christ”, and yet is manifestly revealed by scripture to be “another” besides Christ, when the Son refers to the Spirit He would send as “another Comforter”. The Spirit cannot be “another Comforter” if He is part of Christ. The possible connection then between the Spirit being “the Spirit of God” meaning that He is a part of God and not a distinct individual then is shown invalid, as a parallel is made between the Spirit being the Spirit of Christ and being the Spirit of God. If it holds true that He may be the Spirit of Christ and yet be a distinct individual from Him, or “another”, then the same holds true for the Father, the one God, and it cannot therefore be said to be implied by this title “the Spirit of God”, that the Spirit is not a distinct individual.

The two positive arguments from scripture which demonstrate that the Spirit is a distinct individual are, firstly, that the Spirit is sent by Christ, and secondly, that the Spirit intercedes for us to God.

The first, that the Spirit is sent by Christ, goes as follows: on general principle, to be sent by another is to be under the headship of another. To be sent, and to go, is an act of submission. The Spirit, we are told, was sent by the Son after His ascension to the right hand of God. The Spirit then is under the headship of the Son. If, however, the Spirit were merely a part of the Father, then this would necessarily mean that a part of the Father was under the headship of His Son, which is to invert the whole order of the relationship between God and His Son revealed through the whole of scripture, in which the Son is always under the headship, authority, dominion, and Godhood of the Father, while the Father, the one God, is under the dominion and Godhood of none, but is Himself supreme over all, the Lord God “Pantokrator”, Universal Ruler over all.

The Father, then, in whole and not in part, is Supreme over all, having authority over all things absolutely, and Himself is under the authority of none. It would be impossible then that a part of the Father could be under the headship and authority of His Son. It is therefore shown that the Spirit cannot merely be a part of the one God as His innate Spirit, but must necessarily be understood as a third individual together with the Father and the Son, Who is under the authority of each.

The second argument, is that since the Spirit intercedes for believers to God, and actually prays to God on our behalf, according to the scriptures, it is made manifest by this that the Spirit has not only consciousness and personality as a mere part of God, but as a distinct individual, Who is able to interact with God as one individual interacts with another.

So much then, for that theory, and praise God for His word given to us in the holy scriptures, which is a light to our way, from which we gain a sure and true knowledge of what is true, and are guarded from erroneous opinions.

Samuel Clarke, Sir Isaac Newton, And Homoian Theology

My last post, Highlights from Sir Isaac Newton Concerning the Trinity, featured a number of highlights from Sir Isaac Newton’s personal writings, relating to his research in theology and church history. One of those quotes is, in my opinion, an especially noteworthy observation:

“This Being [God] governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator [Greek word usually translated “Almighty”], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually a signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

Newton’s observation is a valuable one: in the scriptures, the word “God” is used as something relative, relating to authority. To be “God” is to have dominion; “deity” or “Godhood” is dominion, not some metaphysical quality relating to a being’s substance.

Newton went so far as to suggest that God’s metaphysical substance is something which to us is unknown, neither being known by our senses, nor elucidated on in the scriptures:

“We have ideas of his [God’s] attributes, but what the real substance of any thing is we know not. In bodies, we see only their figures and colours. We hear only the sounds. We touch only their outward surfaces. We smell only the smells, and taste the flavours; but their inward substances are not to be known either by our senses, or by any reflex act of our minds: much less, then, have we any idea of the substance of God.” (Isaac Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. tr. Andrew Motte (3 vols.; London, 1803), II, Bk. III, 312-13.)

Samuel Clarke, a personal friend of Newton, made similar observations in his published work The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity. Clarke’s theology is summed up in 55 theses, a couple of which deal with this same point:

“4. 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 them always, by their Personal Characters, Offices, Powers and Attributes.”

“25. The Reason why the Son in the New Testament is sometimes stiled God, is not upon account of his metaphysical Substance, how Divine soever; but of his relative Attributes and Divine Authority (communicated to him from the Father) over Us.”

A section of Clarke’s note on thesis 25 is also of interest:

“The word, God, when spoken of the Father Himself, is never intended in Scripture to express Philosophically his abstract metaphysical Attributes; but to raise in us a Notion of his Attributes Relative to us, his Supreme Dominion, Authority, Power, Justice, Goodness, &c.”

The point that Clarke and Newton make is a compelling one. If “Godhood” in scripture pertains to authority rather than metaphysical nature, then verses which speak of the Father and Son as each being “God” cannot be taken as referring to metaphysical substance or essence at all. While throughout the scriptures, the “Personal Characters, Offices, Powers and Attributes” of God and His Son are spoken of, none of these amount to a treatment of the metaphysical nature of either person. Thus, if we limit ourselves to what God has revealed in the scriptures, rather than philosophical speculation, we will be left with agnosticism as to the metaphysical nature of God and His Son.

Such a view was by no means a novelty of Clarke and Newton. In the trinitarian debates of the fourth century, the leading view for a time, which gained the ecumenical approval of the church, was basically that of Clarke and Newton. After a few decades of bickering over the philosophical categories of ousia and hypostasis, and whether substance, or essence, or ousia, should be understood to be like or the same, whether homoousias denoted numerical or generic unity, etc, the bulk of the church was tired of the confusing and extra-biblical debates that had rent the unity of the church asunder. The majority of bishops, east and west, were willing to recognise that the church had erred by making matters of philosophical conjecture into dogma. These bishops- called ‘homoians’, for their favoring of simply describing the Son as “like” the Father, without reference to metaphysical nature- recognised that the scriptures do not speak of God’s essence, as such. They tell us about Who God is, what He is like, what His attributes are, what He has done and will do, etc, and likewise, the same sorts of things about His Son- but all without giving lessons on metaphysics.

Rather than pry into things which God has left a mystery to man, this majority of bishops agreed to end the divisive debates by repenting of the previous decisions to make matters of philosophical speculation about the metaphysical essence of God’s Son into dogma. The term “ousia” was to be eschewed altogether, and scriptural language about God and His Son was to be maintained.

Thus the ‘Homoian Creed’ of Constantinople in 360 declared that the Son was “begotten as only-begotten, only from the Father only, God from God, like to the Father that begat Him according to the Scriptures”, and went on to say:

“But the name of ‘essence,’ which was set down by the Fathers in simplicity, and, being unknown by the people, caused offense, because the Scriptures do not contain it, it has seemed good to abolish, and for the future to make no mention of it at all; since the divine scriptures have made no mention of the essence of Father and Son. For neither ought ‘subsistence’ to be named concerning Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But we say that the Son is like the Father, as the divine Scriptures say and teach”

This decision remained the official position of the churches within the Roman empire until the ascension of emperor Theodosius and subsequent changes he made to the church and her doctrine in 381.

Highlights from Sir Isaac Newton Concerning the Trinity

“We have ideas of his [God’s] attributes, but what the real substance of any thing is we know not. In bodies, we see only their figures and colours. We hear only the sounds. We touch only their outward surfaces. We smell only the smells, and taste the flavours; but their inward substances are not to be known either by our senses, or by any reflex act of our minds: much less, then, have we any idea of the substance of God.” (Isaac Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. tr. Andrew Motte (3 vols.; London, 1803), II, Bk. III, 312-13.)

“This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator, or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually a signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

“And therefore as a father and his son cannot be called one King upon account of their being consubstantial but may be called one King by unity of dominion if the Son be Viceroy under the father: so God and his son cannot be called one God upon account of their being consubstantial.” (Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy)

“The Homousians made the father and son one God by a metaphysical unity, the unity of substance: the Greek Churches rejected all metaphysical divinity as well that of Arius as that of the Homousians and made the father and son one God by a Monarchical unity, an unity of Dominion, the Son receiving all things from the father, being subject to him, executing his will, sitting in his throne and calling him his God, and so is but one God with the Father as a king and his viceroy are but one king.” (Newton, Yahuda MS 15.7)

“For the people of the Church Catholick were zealous for a monarchial unity against a metaphysical one during the first two centuries.” (Newton, Yahuda MS 15.7)

“The homousians taught also that the Son was not monoousio~ or tautoousio~ to the father but omoousio~, & that to make them monoousioi or tautoousioi or, to take the three persons for any thing else then personal substances tended to Sabellianism.” (Newton, Yahuda MS 15)

“Quaere 2. Whether the word homoousias ever was in any creed before the Nicene; or any creed was produced by any one bishop at the Council of Nice for authorizing the use of that word? Quaere 3. Whether the introducing the use of that word is not contrary to the Apostles’ rule of holding fast the form of sound words? Quaere 4. Whether the use of that word was not pressed upon the Council of Nice against the inclination of the major part of the Council? Quaere 6. Whether it was not agreed by the Council that the word should, when applied to the Word of God, signify nothing more than that Christ was the express image of the Father? and whether many of the bishops, in pursuance of that interpretation of the word allowed by the Council, did not, in their subscriptions, by way of caution, add toutv ejstin homoiousias. Quaere 7. Whether Hosius (or whoever translated that Creed into Latin) did not impose upon the Western Churches by translating homoousias by the words unius substantiae, instead of consubstantialis? and whether by that translation the Latin Churches were not drawn into an opinion that the Father and Son had one common substance, called by the Greeks Hypostasis, and whether they did not thereby give occasion to the Eastern Churches to cry out, presently after the Council of Sardica, that the Western Churches were become Sabellian? Quaere 8. Whether the Greeks, in opposition to this notion and language, did not use the language of three Hypostases, and whether in those days the word Hypostasis did not signify a substance? Quaere 9. Whether the Latins did not at that time accuse all those of Arianism who used the language of three Hypostases, and thereby charge Arianism upon the Council of Nice, without knowing the true meaning of the Nicene Creed. Quaere 10. Whether the Latins were not convinced, in the  Council of Ariminum, that the Council of Nice, by the word homoousias, understood nothing more than that the Son was the express image of the Father?—the acts of the Council of Nice were not produced for convincing them. And whether, upon producing the acts of that Council for proving this, the Macedonians, and some others, did not accuse the bishops of hypocrisy, who, in subscribing these acts, had interpreted them by the word oJmoiovusio~ in their subscriptions? Quaere 11. Whether Athanasius, Hilary, and in general the Greeks and Latins, did not, from the time of the reign of Julian the Apostate, acknowledge the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be three substances, and continue to do so till the schoolmen changed the signification of the word hypostasis, and brought in the notion of three persons in one single substance? Quaere 12. Whether the opinion of the equality of the three substances was not first set on foot in the reign of Julian the Apostate, by Athanasius, Hilary, &c.?”(Newton, “Quaeries Regarding the Word Homoousias”, Keynes MS 11)

For more excellent quotes from Sir Isaac Newton himself, as well as insightful analysis of Newton’s though on the Trinity, see Thomas Pfizenmaier’s paper ‘Was Isaac Newton An Arian?’: http://www.sfu.ca/~poitras/Arian_newton.pdf

An Excellent Article on Sir Isaac Newton’s Beliefs About the Trinity

Sir Isaac Newton is well-known for his scientific contributions, but his Christian theology is far less well-known. Although Newton never published his beliefs during his lifetime, he spent an enormous amount of energy studying the scriptures, church history, historical theology, and specifically, the doctrine of the Trinity. Interestingly, he appears to have come to many of the very same conclusions I have regarding the developments taking place in the Nicene era, and to have come to many of the same doctrinal conclusions I have as well.

Because Newton didn’t publish his views on doctrine, the large body of primary sources we have on his beliefs primarily come from his own personal notes. These are not easily available, and as such, finding reliable information on what he actually believed has been a task I have found somewhat difficult.

Thankfully, this essay gives a thorough overview of Newton’s beliefs, and is rich with quotations from the primary sources. The author’s analysis is also cogent and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this, for those who are interested:

http://www.sfu.ca/~poitras/Arian_newton.pdf