Do the Church Fathers Matter?

Those familiar with this blog will be familiar with the great weight I place on sola scriptura. It is a necessary paradigm for determining true doctrine from false doctrine amid a sea of false teaching. Summed up, it is the principle that we must obey the command to “Test all things, and hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21); what is “good” being, in respect to doctrine, what is true, and in respect to practice, those practices which are legitimately apostolical and in accord with the will of God; and that what is indeed true in respect to doctrine and legitimate in respect to practice can ordinarily only be known by way of demonstration from the holy scriptures. Ordinarily to know that any doctrine is true or practice legitimate, we must see it demonstrated from the holy scriptures, either by an explicit testimony, or by demonstration that it is a necessary consequence of what is said.

This method will ordinarily provide the Christian with as much knowledge of true Christianity as they can ever hope to have in this world. The word “ordinarily” is inserted because what we really want is knowledge, and knowledge can only come by demonstration from an infallible indemonstrable first principle, taken on faith. Ordinarily this is only the scriptures- but at times in history it has includes other special revelation. God is not limited by the scriptures. But this exception laid aside, we can reasonably speak in generalities; not all of God’s people will hear a prophet speak, an apostle preach, or be visited by an angel. Of course the frequency of these things, the legitimacy of supposed instances of these things, etc, is a highly debated issue, and not something I intend to speak to here. Whether one believes that prophecy is ordinary to the church at all times, or is a rare event largely limited to ancient history and the apostolic era, anyone can agree that at times God has chosen to give men special revelation besides the scriptures, and that this revelation is just as reliable and just as useful a first principle for the discovery of truth as scripture is.

But these things are not common, not equally available to all believers. For instance, I know from the scriptures that some in Corinth prophesied, but I do not know what they said. In contrast to that, all believers have access to God’s infallible revelation in the scriptures. Thus ordinarily, scripture alone is our indemonstrable first principle, and ordinarily, only what can be demonstrated from the scriptures is truly known by the believer. Thus anything beyond what is demonstrable from the scriptures remains a mere theory, and in order for anything to be accepted, it ought to be positively proven from the scriptures. No doctrine that cannot be demonstrated has a place in the dogma of the church.

All that said, given these views, one might wonder why this blog gives so much attention to the early church fathers. After all, if sola scriptura is true, then no one needs the church fathers to come to a knowledge of the truth. Why then should we read the church fathers, or bother studying them at all?

One might argue that we need the church fathers for sake of catholicity. What catholicity is, and that as a paradigm it is flawed I have covered here. The various versions of the paradigm employed by different traditions are woefully arbitrary, inconsistent, and self-defeating. But one version especially is popular with many who value the church fathers. This is called the Vincentian Canon, named after fifth century church father Vincent of Lerins.

Vincent’s big idea is that we should all be catholic, and that what is catholic is what has ‘been believed always, everywhere, and by all’. Its perhaps the simplest form of the catholicity paradigm. And it sounds quite nice. After all, you can fool some people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time. Anything that everybody in the church has always agreed on must be a genuine apostolic tradition, it is reasoned. This view lives for ‘patristic consensus’, and whatever is understood to have had a consensus in the early church is deemed ‘catholic’, and true. This is one of the only versions of ‘catholicity’ that doesn’t betray its own name, since, according to this standard, anything that meets it must be truly universal, at least up till a certain point in history.

The Vincentian Canon is a beautiful idea. But it is fatally flawed. Like some mythical creature, its beauty is only dampened by the cold reality that it is not truly attainable. That’s because in order to know that there was a patristic consensus on any doctrine not only takes an enormous amount of research among the many volumes of church fathers available in English translations, and a knowledge of many ancient original languages to access untranslated works which are otherwise inaccessible, but also requires access to the great multitude of patristic writings that are not available to us, because they are lost to history.

In Eusebius of Caesarea’s famous Church History, we get a glimpse at what a fourth century theological library might look like. Eusebius painstakingly takes the time to list the works of many major church fathers, such as Irenaeus. From these lists, we are well aware that the surviving works we have from the many ante-nicene fathers are only a very small portion of what was produced in that era. There are many fathers we have no surviving works from at all. Many are known only by fragmentary quotes from later authors who quoted them in their own preserved works, thereby preserving small portions of otherwise lost books.

As if this is not depressing enough to the eager student of the ante-nicene fathers, we must also remember that the fathers Eusebius gives us lists of works from, and whose works we have preserved, are almost all Greek-speaking fathers from within the bounds of the Roman Empire. Almost all the ante-nicene fathers who we know much about and have surviving works from are from around the Mediterranean basin. Even still, fathers from ancient Roman Britain and Hispania are almost completely unknown. When we consider the ancient churches of Ethiopia, Assyria, China, and India, and how vast they were, we realize that we truly only have a relatively small sampling of ante-nicene writings, and even a relatively small knowledge of ante-nicene authors. We know who influential fathers within the Mediterranean basin area were- but who were the prominent theologians of non-Greek speaking lands? Who were the Irenaeuses and Justin Martyrs of ancient Britain, Ethiopia, China, and India? We simply do not know.

This massive gap in our data is significant. To claim that looking at the small sampling of sources we do have is enough data by which to determine what was believed ‘always, everywhere, and by everyone’, is simply ludicrous. We may make educated guesses. We may see things in which we find consensus among surviving sources, and extrapolate from that incomplete data that it is very likely that all churches would have held a given belief. But we lack the concrete evidence to make a solid case, let alone to suppose that we truly know. After all, on top of everything mentioned above, even what was preserved from the Mediterranean basin was often selectively preserved according to the ‘orthodoxy’ of later periods- works supporting Quartodecimanism, Iconoclasm, non-nicene views of the Trinity, and pre-millennialism, for instance, were far less likely to be preserved than their ‘orthodox’ counterparts.

This means that the Vincentian Canon is impossible- we cannot know what was believed everywhere, always, and by everyone, in the early church. We lack the data, and what those who claim to use this paradigm to discover truth present to us is not what they claim. To base one’s doctrine off such great uncertainty is foolish. It is to make speculation and guesswork into dogma. We should rather base our dogma off an actual knowledge of truth, for which we must go to God’s infallible revelation in the holy scriptures.

All the more so, then, after dismantling the theory of the Vincentian Canon, one might wonder what use studying the writings of the church fathers is? After all, if we cannot gain a certain knowledge of true doctrine and legitimate practice from them, but only what is tentatively true, what is the point of investing effort in understanding their doctrines and beliefs?

The answer is multifaceted. Firstly, sola scriptura does not deny the value of teachers. Scripture affirms the value of teachers to help us understand the truth. Whatever we receive from teachers must be taken as tentative until it is confirmed to be true by demonstration from the holy scriptures- but that tentative instruction is extremely valuable, as a guide to understanding the scriptures, and as a witness to the truths they teach. While doctrines must be confirmed by scriptural demonstration to be known, they can be pointed out to us by teachers. Were it not for such instruction drawing our attention to what scripture says, we would often not understand the scriptures as clearly and fully as we can with the aid of such instruction. The very principle of “Test everything, and hold fast to that which is good” requires that we be receiving some extra-biblical instruction which requires testing.

Studying the church fathers is also valuable in order to avoid novelty. If a doctrine was not believed within the first three centuries of Christianity, it is almost certainly false. The apostles, after all, are the original teachers of the early church. What they taught was the doctrine of the early church. Of course, we do not have a complete record of all that was believed early on. Even honest men make mistakes and err, and false teachers and outside influences may result in certain truths receiving an undeservedly small amount of attention, or being lost early in church history. Certainly, new things were added over time. Seeing a doctrine in the fathers is no assurance that it is true. But the faith handed down once for all was not invented in the sixteenth century. It found a home in the hearts of first century Christians, instructed by the apostles themselves, and those Christians, and their students, remain among the best possible resources at our disposal for tracking down what that apostolic faith is.

Due to the incomplete record of early Christian belief, we may fairly say that not having a record of someone holding a given doctrine within the first few centuries of church history does not mean that it is not true. Scripture is our source of knowledge of what is true, and if some doctrine is demonstrable from it, we can know it is true, even if it lacks patristic witness. Yet, that being said, novelty is still suspect. And so studying the church fathers, and showing one’s beliefs to be in accord with the teachings of the church fathers, bears much value, to see for oneself, and to show others, that one’s views are not the novel inventions of a much later time.

The writings of the church fathers, then, are to be valued highly; not overvalued, as an infallible authority on par with scripture when they are not, but as knowledgable teachers, who can help guide us to the truths taught by scripture, which we will know to be true by seeing them demonstrated from the holy scriptures themselves. Any Christian who neglects them, neglects a valuable help that God has given him, and those who study their writings know how blessed it is to be their students.


Testimonies of Early Church Fathers In Favor of Sola Scriptura

The early church fathers express a wide range of views on many topics. Issues of authority and how doctrine was to be determined valid, and the role of scripture, like other topics, saw a variety of views. While not necessarily ubiquitous throughout the early church fathers, several fathers ranging from the ante-nicene through post-nicene eras spoke in favor of what is basically ‘sola scriptura’.

They did not, of course, speak of it by that name. In short, for them, it was the principle that in order for doctrines to be established as true, they must be demonstrated from the scriptures. This idea of demonstration is simply that a given doctrinal proposition must be proven from the scriptures, either by way of an explicit testimony, or else as a necessary deduction from them, in order to be accepted by Christians as true. That it come from an esteemed person or an ecclesiastical authority is not enough- it must be demonstrated from the scriptures, these fathers argued.

The first father worth mentioning here will probably come as a surprise in this list to many, Irenaeus of Lyons, because one of the things he is enduringly remembered for is articulating a view called ‘apostolic succession’, which is often appealed to as an alternative to sola scriptura. Certainly to say that Irenaeus believed sola scriptura would be false- but he is worth mentioning here, because even as the father perhaps best known for extolling the importance of ecclesiastical tradition in determining true doctrine from false, yet he also took the effort to write an excellent work, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, in which sets out to prove what the apostles taught from the scriptures. He relies on oral ecclesiastical tradition as his source for what the apostles preached- but then sets out to painstakingly demonstrate each point of what they taught from the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

This is noteworthy, because it shows the great value that Irenaeus placed on scripture, and the importance he saw in actually proving the church’s traditions from the scriptures. Were the church alone without the scriptures sufficient to establish the truth of the apostles’ doctrines, one would not expect anyone to bother taking the trouble to go about proving that the various points of doctrine they taught can be demonstrated to be true from the holy scriptures- yet Irenaeus did just that. This shows us that even while Irenaeus held a very high view of the church and her tradition, even he saw it as of great importance to show people that the church’s faith can be known to be true on the basis of demonstration from the scriptures.

The next father we come to is Clement of Alexandria. In Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata, Clement takes up the theme of the ‘true gnostic’. The heresies in modern history known as “Gnosticism” were among the greatest threats that faced the church of his day. The Gnostic heretics claimed that by following the teaching of their various sects, people could gain hidden knowledge of the truth. The selling point of these heresies was that in order to have knowledge of the truth, one must leave the church and go to heretics to receive special esoteric knowledge handed down to them by the apostles. Knowledge of the truth then, was not, according to them, available to all Christians.

Clement responded brilliantly to this by arguing that the true ‘gnostic’ (knower, possessor of knowledge) was the faithful Christian, who gains a true and certain knowledge of the truth by way of demonstration from the scriptures, not those who joined various sects hoping to gain esoteric knowledge. Clement wrote, in Book 7, Chapter 16:

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves… He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things. What is subjected to criticism is not believed till it is so subjected; so that what needs criticism cannot be a first principle. Therefore, as is reasonable, grasping by faith the indemonstrable first principle, and receiving in abundance, from the first principle itself, demonstrations in reference to the first principle, we are by the voice of the Lord trained up to the knowledge of the truth.

For we may not give our adhesion to men on a bare statement by them, who might equally state the opposite. But if it is not enough merely to state the opinion, but if what is stated must be confirmed, we do not wait for the testimony of men, but we establish the matter that is in question by the voice of the Lord, which is the surest of all demonstrations, or rather is the only demonstration; in which knowledge those who have merely tasted the Scriptures are believers; while those who, having advanced further, and become correct expounders of the truth, are Gnostics. Since also, in what pertains to life, craftsmen are superior to ordinary people, and model what is beyond common notions; so, consequently, we also, giving a complete exhibition of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, from faith persuade by demonstration.” (Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 16)

This excellent quote sums up the patristic doctrine of sola scriptura. It is not a doctrine that denies all ecclesiastical authority; it is not a doctrine that disvalues ecclesiastical traditions and teachers as aids; but it is a true and logically irrefragable principle, that we must be trained in a knowledge of the truth by the voice of the Lord in the scriptures, by seeing all doctrines we hold demonstrated from the holy scriptures. We cannot safely accept any opinion as true merely on human testimony; we must have it from God, in the holy scriptures. This way alone can an actual knowledge of the truth be ordinarily obtained, rather than merely holding uncertain opinions and theories.

Clement of Alexandria’s principle of sola scriptura was not novel to him alone (although it does not seem to have been universally held, either). Cyril of Jerusalem also witnessed to this same principle in the fourth century. His excellent catechetical lectures, which should be required reading for any student of theology or church history, bear several references to this same principle:

“Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.” (Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 4)

“For my part, I have ever wondered at the curiosity of the bold men, who by their imagined reverence fall into impiety. For though they know nothing of Thrones, and Dominions, and Principalities, and Powers, the workmanship of Christ, they attempt to scrutinise their Creator Himself. Tell me first, O most daring man, wherein does Throne differ from Dominion, and then scrutinise what pertains to Christ. Tell me what is a Principality, and what a Power, and what a Virtue, and what an Angel: and then search out their Creator, for all things were made by Him. John 1:3 But you will not, or you can not ask Thrones or Dominions. What else is there that knows the deep things of God 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 , save only the Holy Ghost, who spoke the Divine Scriptures? But not even the Holy Ghost Himself has spoken in the Scriptures concerning the generation of the Son from the Father. Why then do you busy yourself about things which not even the Holy Ghost has written in the Scriptures? Thou that know not the things which are written, busiest you yourself about the things which are not written? There are many questions in the Divine Scriptures; what is written we comprehend not, why do we busy ourselves about what is not written? It is sufficient for us to know that God has begotten One Only Son.” (Lecture 11)

“Neither today will we use the subtleties of men, for that is unprofitable; but merely call to mind what comes from the divine Scriptures; for this is the safest course, according to the blessed Apostle Paul, who says, Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Ghost teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. ” (Lecture 17)

“And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into His [the Holy Spirit’s] 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)

Throughout his lectures, Cyril urges his students to test what they hear from ecclesiastical authority by scripture, and accept only what they see demonstrated to be true from it. Likewise, his lectures are replete with admonitions for his hearers to limit themselves strictly to what God has revealed in the holy scriptures, without going beyond it. Only what is demonstrated from scripture is known- therefore, one must limit themselves to those doctrines they see demonstrated.

Cyril taught this in the midst of the raging trinitarian controversies of the fourth century. In that context, he gave clear evidence of his consistency to these principles by refraining from teaching at all on the ‘ousia’ of the Son in relation to the Father, and the nature of the Holy Spirit, instead merely limiting his teaching to his students to what could truly be demonstrated from the scriptures.

Finally, we come to Maximinus the Homoian in the post-nicene era. In the fifth century, bishop Maximinus publicly debated Augustine of Hippo respecting their differing understandings of the Trinity. Throughout the debate, Maximinus constantly appeals to the scriptures as the determinative source of Christian doctrine, rather than philosophical conjectures. As a Homoian, Maximinus’s position seems characteristic of the outlook of the churches among the Vandals and Goths in general; Christian doctrine must be strictly limited to what can be known to be true by way of demonstration from the scriptures. For this reason, the doctrine of the co-essentiality of the Son and Holy Spirit with the Father was deemed to be inappropriate as a part of the Christian dogma- it was a theory which could not, in their view, be demonstrated true from the Holy Scriptures.

These churches held to the decision of the ecumenical councils of Arminium and Seleucia, which declared that:

“the word ‘substance,’ which was too simply inserted by the Fathers, and, not being understood by the people, was a cause of scandal through its not being found in the Scriptures, it has seemed good to us to remove, and that for the future no mention whatever be permitted of the ‘substance’ of the Father and the Son. Nor must one ‘essence’ be named in relation to the person of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And we call the Son like the Father, as the Holy Scriptures call Him and teach”

Maximinus echoes this insistence on sticking to what can be demonstrated from the scriptures, and not going beyond that, throughout the debate:

“If you produce from the divine scriptures something that we all share, we shall have to listen. But those words which are not found in the scriptures are under no circumstance accepted by us, especially since the Lord warns us, saying, In vain they worship me, teaching human commandments and precepts” (Mt 15:9).”

“I wanted the decree of the Council of Ariminum to be present, not to excuse myself, but to show the authority of those fathers who handed on to us in accord with the divine scriptures the faith which they learned from the divine scriptures.”

“My reply is clear: I believe that there is one God the Father who has received life from no one and that there is one Son who has received from the Father his being and his life so that he exists and that there is one Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who enlightens and sanctifies our souls. I state this on the basis of the scriptures. At your bidding, I will follow up with testimonies.”

“The authors of religion never resort to false accusations. You asked for testimonies in order that I might show by testimonies what I have professed, and you yourself have professed three that are the same and equal, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And, though you professed that the three are equal, you now turn around and produce the testimony of the divine scriptures that pertains not to their equality, but to the singleness of the omnipotent God, that there is one author of all things.†28 You take precedence by your age and have greater authority; hence, go first and show by testimonies that there are three equals, three omnipotents, three unbegottens, three invisibles, three incomprehensibles. Then we would have to yield to these testimonies. But if you cannot give an account of this from the divine scriptures, then I must produce testimonies to the extent that you want for everything I have said in the foregoing: either that the Father alone receives his life from no one or that the Son†29 has received his life from the Father, as I have professed, or what I have said of the Holy Spirit.”

“You yourself are caught doing what you blamed in us. It is certain, as the divine scripture warns us, that with much talking you will not escape sin, but that you will be wise, if you spare your lips. Even if one produces testimonies from the divine scriptures all day long, it will not be truly counted against one as wordiness. But if one uses some literary skill or cleverness of mind and makes up words which the holy scriptures do not contain, they are both idle and superfluous.”

“Those who read can test whether I made this point on my own authority and with many words, as you charge, or whether I have answered with the authority of the divine scriptures.”

“You say that the Holy Spirit is equal to the Son.†91 Provide the scripture passages in which the Holy Spirit is adored, in which those beings in heaven and on earth and under the earth bend their knee to him. We have learned that God the Father is to be adored from the exclamation of blessed Paul, Therefore, I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all fatherhood in the heavens and on earth has its name (Eph 3:14-15). By the authority of the holy scriptures we adore the Father; likewise, taught by these divine scriptures we worship and adore Christ as God. Do the scriptures anywhere say that the Holy Spirit should be adored? If the Father bore witness to him to that effect, if the Son did so, if he himself has made such claims concerning himself, read it from the scriptures against what we have said.”

“We believe the scriptures, and we venerate the divine scriptures. We do not want a single particle of a letter to perish, for we fear the threat that is stated in these divine scriptures, Woe to those who take away or add! (Dt 4:2).”

“We ought to accept all the things that are brought forth from the holy scriptures with full veneration. The divine scripture has not come as a source of our instruction so that we might correct it. How I wish that we may prove to be worthy disciples of the scriptures!”

“I pray and desire to be a disciple of the divine scriptures; I believe that Your Holiness recalls that I earlier gave the response that, if you produced the evidence that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one power, one substance, one deity, one majesty, one glory, that, if you state this from the divine scriptures, if you produce any passage of scripture, we are eager to be found disciples of the divine scriptures.”

Doctrinal truth, for Maximinus, was to be found in the holy scriptures. Anything not demonstrated from the scriptures, could not be considered to be known, but merely an opinion, and unworthy of being counted a part of Christian dogma.

It is noteworthy, in all these examples, that Clement, Cyril, and Maximinus all had doctrine in view when they spoke of ‘sola scriptura’, and insisted on the Christian principle that all things must be positively demonstrated from the scriptures in order to be accepted as true. In respect to practices, rites, and ceremonies, there is no evidence that these fathers took the same view. There seems to be things in the lectures of Cyril, at least, which would indicate that he was willing to accept various practices on the basis of tradition alone. But doctrine was to demonstrated strictly from the scriptures, and was not to be accepted otherwise.

Such a distinction in principle respecting doctrine compared to practice may have appeared to make more sense in that ancient era. The churches were still relatively close to the apostles, and there may have been greater hope of traditions genuinely reflecting apostolic practice than later eras would have. Regardless of what these fathers thought one way or the other, ordinarily the only way to know with certainty that a given practice is really an apostolic tradition, is to see that demonstrated from the scriptures.

However it is also simply possible that, as many Protestants believe today and since the Reformation, practices were considered by these fathers to fall within the specific purview of the church, and thus, since the church has liberty in such matters, demonstration of specific rites and practices was not considered necessary, as it was with doctrine. Rites, ceremonies, and practices, after all, deal with what is permissible in the life of the church; doctrine deals with what is true and believed by the church. These two different questions, of what is permissible in practice, versus what is true in doctrine, have often been treated as distinct within Protestantism, and there is no reason to think these church fathers were any different, adopting the rites and ceremonies of their times and the churches they were in, while insisting that doctrinal truth required not merely church sanction, but demonstration from the scriptures, so that what is believed can be known to be true, rather than merely supposed.

The doctrine of sola scriptura, then, is certainly no Protestant invention. It is a necessary principle, and one taught by several notable fathers of the ancient churches, that every point of doctrine must be demonstrated to be true from the holy scriptures in order to be accepted. Our beliefs must not, like those of the world, be founded on mere opinion and speculation, but on knowledge; we must be ‘true gnostics’, knowing the truth with certainty because we have seen it demonstrated from the infallible and inspired holy scriptures, and have so been taught it by the Lord Himself.


See also:

Questions on the Pseudo-Athanasian Creed

The so-called Athanasian Creed, not authored by Athanasius, but by an anonymous medieval author, gives a long summary of Augustinian trinitarian dogma. It was not the product of, nor received the official sanction of, any of the supposed ‘7 ecumenical councils’. It reads as follows:

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.



1) Does not the teaching that ‘in the Trinity, none is greater or less than another’, contradict the Lord’s own statement, “My Father is greater than I”?

2) If the response to this is that the statement “My Father is greater than I” must be understood in a nuanced way, so that in once sense the Father is greater than the Son, and in another They are equal, then is the creed not convicted of being too broad in its statement, and in error, since it does not make any such distinction in that place?

3) Does not declaring that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equal contradict the scriptures which say “God is the head of Christ”, and all the passages in the Old and New Testaments in which the Father is said to be the God of the Son, and that the Son acts according to the will of the Father, and can do nothing apart from the Father?

4) Does not declaring that the Son and Holy Spirit are ‘Almighty’ (Ruler over all) together with the Father clearly contradict the scriptures, which only call the Father “God Almighty”, and declare Him alone to be the Head and God of all things, even of His Son and Spirit?

5) Can something which contradicts the scriptures be fairly made to be standard which one must assent to be saved?

6) Does not saying that the Holy Spirit is ‘Lord’ and ‘God’ go beyond what can be proven from the scriptures?

7) Does not saying that the persons of the Trinity share one metaphysical nature go beyond what can be proven from the scriptures?

8) Can something which cannot be either proven nor disproven by the scriptures rightly be set up as a dogmatic standard which on must assent to in order to be saved?

9) Is it in the authority of any earthly man to set up, apart from the scriptures, or against the scriptures, their own opinions as a standard which others must consent to in order to be saved?

10) Does not the Athanasian Creed contradict the creed of the councils of Arminium and Seleucia, which have the approval of an ecumenical council?

11) How can a creed which contradicts the decision of an ecumenical council be counted as the catholic faith?

12) Since the so-called Athanasian creed includes the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but from the Father and the Son, which the churches of East reject, how can the doctrine it teaches be counted catholic, or universal?

13) How can a creed which declares an equality of authority between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by declaring Them to each be equally ‘Almighty’, be said to teach the catholic faith, when this notion contradicts the teaching of the ante-nicenes, who taught that there is a divine monarchy, with the Father, as the one God, at its head? How can a doctrine be called ‘catholic’ or universal, which could not find acceptance among the churches in the first three centuries after the apostles?

14) Does not the creed break with older trinitarian standards when it applies the title of the Son “one Lord”, and the title of the Father “one God” both to the Trinity as a whole instead of those persons individually?

15) How can a creed teaching Chalcedonian christology, which would be neither acceptable to the Gothic and Vandal Homoian churches, the ‘Nestorian’ Oriental Orthodox churches, nor the Coptic Miaphysite churches, be considered to teach the catholic faith? Or what is universal, or catholic, about doctrines which the whole church is not in agreement upon?

16) Is not the language of the Creed that there “the Father is ‘x’, the Son is ‘x’, the Spirit is ‘x’, yet there are not three ‘x’s, but one ‘x'” manifestly paradoxical?

17) Does not such paradoxical language, which is unintelligible to most, constitute a needless stumbling block to the simple and less-educated?

18) If a creed’s use is to express belief, then is it not requisite that for a creed to be useful, it must be believed?

19) How can people be said to believe what they do not understand the meaning of? Merely giving assent to a series of words which one does not comprehend the significance of can hardly be counted as belief, can it?

20) If then the creed, by being needlessly paradoxical and confusing, is unintelligible to the masses, is it not necessarily a useless creed, since it does not make known the actual beliefs of most who are compelled to give assent to it? And if it does accurately represent the beliefs of an elite few, since it fails to meaningfully communicate that view to the masses, is it not also useless on that count?

21) Finally, how can a creed which contains so so many propositions which are contradictory to the scriptures, and so many propositions which are highly controversial among the churches, and rejected by many of them, and which is so confused, paradoxical, and incoherent in what it says, put itself on such a high and lofty pedestal as to say that anyone who holds a different opinion than what it says, or does not think the same way, shall be damned, and is no Christian? Is it not the greatest hubris to put such a creed on the same level with scripture, in making it a standard which must be believed to be saved, although it contains many things not found in the scriptures?

Thoughts and Questions on the Councils of Arminium and Seleucia

-The joint councils of Arminium and Seleucia met in 359 to resolve the ongoing trinitarian debates of the fourth century. The council of Nicea had succeeded in largely nullifying the threat of Arianism, but also, by introducing highly philosophical, extra-biblical, controversial language of ‘ousia’, ‘being’, or ‘substance’, had continued to be a source of controversy to the churches of the Roman empire.

-The joint councils of Arminium and Seleucia were called by emperor Constantius to settle the ongoing debates that divided the church. These councils were intended to be ecumenical, and their decision was one. They met in separate locations sheerly for the convenience of the bishops attending. The council of Arminium alone was said to have included 330 bishops, making it larger than Nicea, and over twice as large as the first council of Constantinople.

-The decision of these councils, with the approval of the emperor, was to remove all language of ‘ousia’ from the church’s dogma, and to ban extra-biblical speculation on what the metaphysical relation of the Son’s nature to that of the Father is. The Son was to be described as “like to the Father Who begat Him, according to the scriptures”, and after a brief creed, their decision included this statement: “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; and all the heresies, both those which have been already condemned, and whatever are of modern date, being contrary to this published statement, be they anathema.”

-Although the council proscribed all previously condemned heresies, and thus that of Arius as well, it has been slandered by the Romans and homoousians as an Arian council, and a victory of Arianism.


1) Were not the councils of Arminium and Seleucia faithful to the instruction of the apostle Paul in holding fast to “the pattern of sound words” given in the scriptures?

2) Do not the councils of Arminium and Seleucia constitute a valid second ecumenical council?

3) How can a decision which maintained the anathemas of previous councils against Arianism, and thus continued to proscribe Arians from communion, be Arian? How can the continued excommunication of Arians represent a victory of that heresy?

4) If, as the Romans and homoousians have so been inclined to say, the councils pronounced a sentence in favor of Arianism, did not the churches err in their official teachings?

5) Is a refusal to call the Son ‘homoousias’ with the Father not damnable heresy, as the official decisions of later councils say?

6) If the church then supposedly erred in its official teachings in rejecting the word ‘homoousias’, in a damnable way, did the churches of the Roman empire not, according to that view, go apostate in 359? How can churches not be said to go apostate, if they embrace damnable heresy as their official teaching?

7) If the church then erred, as the homoousians are inclined to say, why then do the Eastern Orthodox, the Romans, the Coptics, and the other ancient communions hold that the church cannot err in its official teaching, since it is guided by the Spirit to be free from error?

8) If it be argued that the pressure of the Roman government on the church is what secured the decision of these councils, and thus they are invalid, why can it not equally be argued that the decisions of Nicea and Constantinople may likewise be disregarded on that same basis, since in both the Emperors were intimately involved?

9) If it will be argued in defense of the councils of Nicea and Constantinople that since the churches could not be compelled to compromise their faith in the face of three hundred years of open and brutal persecutions, therefore they surely would not have bent to the will of the emperors against the true sentiments of the churches, and so the involvement of the emperors in these councils cannot be said to invalidate their decisions, must not the same argument be equally valid when applied to the councils of Arminium and Seleucia?

10) If the churches of the fourth century believed, by way of an apostolic tradition, that ecumenical councils cannot err, as the Eastern Orthodox hold, why then were such a great multitude of bishops from both the eastern and western reaches of the Roman Empire willing to declare that Nicea had erred in introducing the term ‘homoousias’ into the church’s dogma? Does not such a decision manifestly testify that the ancient churches held no such sentiment about ecumenical councils?

11) If the approval of the Pope of Rome were known by the churches to be necessary for the decision of a council to be legitimate, as the papists claim, why then did the churches of the Roman empire give their acceptance to the decision of the councils of Arminium and Seleucia, which the Pope refused to consent to, and was therefore deposed?

12) Is it not conducive to the peace and unity of the churches to impose nothing on them beyond what can be proven from the scriptures, as the councils of Arminium and Seleucia sought to do?

13) If it is to be counted as a great sin to charge the churches with having apostatized, as some count it, are not those then who, while accepting the 7 so-called ecumenical councils, denounce those of Arminium  and Seleucia as Arian, guilty of the same supposed impiety they charge others with, since they must regard the churches as having apostatized for over twenty years following the councils of Arminium and Seleucia?

14) Is it not manifestly an impossible position to say that the church cannot err in its official teaching, when at Nicea, the church officially taught that the Son is ‘homoousias’ with the Father, and yet also officially taught at the councils of Arminium and Seleucia that it is improper to teach that the Son is ‘homoousias’ with the Father, and banned such speculation? Likewise is it not a manifest contradiction when the church officially taught at Arminium and Seleucia that Nicea had erred in introducing ‘homoousias’, while about twenty years later the churches officially taught that Nicea was correct in doing so, and made ‘homoousias’ a dogmatic standard again? How can two mutually exclusive positions be officially taught by the churches at different times, and it not require that in at least one of those decisions, the churches erred?

15) Are not those churches which hold sola scriptura, while requiring a dogmatic confession of ‘homoousias’ from their members, manifestly acting in self-contradiction?

16) Did not the Homoians who held to the decision of the councils of Arminium and Seleucia faithfully hold and teach a form of sola scriptura some one thousand years before the Protestant Reformation, and apply that principle more consistently than the latter?

17) According to the standard of the holy scriptures alone, can there be any insufficiency ascribed to describing the Son as “like the Father as the scriptures say and teach”?

18) If the Son is homoousias with the Father, and does by virtue of His divine nativity before the ages share one and the same metaphysical nature and essence with the Father, is He not “like the Father”? For He is another person from the Father; begotten, not unbegotten; Son, not Father. And so He cannot be said to be the same person, nor a completely identical person, but a like person.

19) Is not the confession of the Son being “like the Father, according to the scriptures”, without any mention of metaphysical nature, a more scriptural confession than describing the Son as homoousias?

20) Is it not better suited to the capacity of the simple and less-educated to describe the Son as being like the Father, as the scriptures teach, than to demand that the simple must learn platonic or aristotelian metaphysics to be good Christians?

21) Is it not better suited to the teaching of scripture, that while the Son is the exact representation of the Father’s person, the brightness of His glory, Who has life in Himself as He has life in Himself, Who is eternal and before all creation with the Father, through Whom all creation was made, and is the Image of the invisible God, and so not invisible as His Father is, to simply describe the Son as being “like the Father, according to the scriptures”, than to demand a philosophical confession which seems to contradict that the Son is from eternity the visible Image of the invisible God?

22) Has not the historic teaching of most, if not all homoousians, such as Hilary and Augustine, been that since the Son is of the same divine metaphysical nature as the Father, He must according to that nature be invisible?

23) And is not such teaching manifestly contradictory not only to the plain sense of the scriptures, but to the ecclesiastical tradition of the ante-nicene church, which taught that the Son, as the Angel of the Lord, was visible in His pre-incarnate nature? Did not those same ante-nicenes argue for the identity of the Angel of the Lord being the Son on the very basis of there being a difference between the Father and the Son, that the Father cannot be seen, but the Son can be, and on that very basis argue that the Son was the Angel of the Lord?

These questions are more intended to be rhetorical than to solicit an answer; answers and comments, however, are welcome.