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.

Questions:

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.

12 thoughts on “Thoughts and Questions on the Councils of Arminium and Seleucia”

  1. Hope you are doing well, Andrew. There’s a lot to respond to here, and as my summer vacation draws to a close, I have less and less time, but I’ll offer a few responses. Then I’m afraid I’ll have to give you the last word again in responding.

    First, a lot of this seems to have to do with a specifically Western way of understanding the authority of councils and what makes a council “Ecumenical.” In the East (and I assume this is true for Copts as well, though I can’t speak for them), the criterion for being ecumenical is really something more like reception (an a posterior criterion), rather than any kind of (a priori) criteria like having been called by a pope or emperor, or having been ratified by the pope, etc. That is to say, one can’t be told “this is an ecumenical council and therefore binding” ahead of time, by some kind of outside authority. One to some extent has to judge for oneself whether the council is acceptable. If, at some point in time, essentially the whole church accepts a council, then that is what makes it ecumenical (at least in the sense of being authoritative. It could be “ecumenical” in the sense of having involved bishops from all over the world, but that’s a different send of “ecumenical.”) Clearly Arminium and Seleucia didn’t achieve the status of having been universally accepted. But Nicea (and Constantinople) did. So the question is whether God allowed His Bride to completely fall to crap, or whether he always preserves it, or at least preserves a remnant. If Arianism, or Homoiousianism, or Homoanism, etc., etc. is the truth, then God apparently allowed that to be forgotten at various points in time. But this really gets to the heart of the whole Protestant view of the Great Apostasy. So, I doubt you and I will agree on that any time soon. Still, I think it’s important to note that the questions you raise about the status of the councils really come from a specifically Western way of thinking.

    Second, a lot of what you say also seems to hang on something like the idea of sola scriptura. If you take “the pattern of sound words” to mean something like literally the sounds and shapes of letters, then just the fact that I (normally) read and write and think in English, means I’m an unbeliever. If you take it as the meaning, then it just presupposes that homoousianism isn’t what the scriptures mean — which just begs the question.

    Finally, you are *absolutely* incorrect that the teaching of homoousians is that the Son is invisible like the Father. This is another invention of St. Augustine and one of the reasons Fr. John Romanides was so vitriolic in his criticism of Augustine.
    http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.18.en.augustine_unknowingly_rejects_the_doctrine.00.htm
    http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.18.en.augustine_unknowingly_rejects_the_doctrine.02.htm

    As Fr. Romanides points out, Augustine is not on the same page with the Cappadocians on this point. Unlike in the West, where it is usually unquestioningly assumed that “Yahweh” in the OT typically refers to the Father (and occasionally may refer to the Son), the Orthodox understanding is that “Yahweh” is (at least typically) the Son (and occasionally refers to the Father, and sometimes the Holy Spirit). It’s also the Orthodox position that the prophets saw Yahweh quite literally (not, as Augustine supposes, that they only saw some creature that somehow “represents” Him). And while there are Jewish traditions that speak of a “visible Yahweh” versus an “invisible Yahweh,” and there’s nothing wrong with speaking of the Father as “invisible” and the Son as “visible,” strictly speaking, what the Bible says is not that the Father is “invisible” while the Son is “visible” (which might be argued to show a difference in their natures), but that no man has (in fact) seen the Father, but that they have seen the Son, and that (with respect to the Father) “no man can see me and live.” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the Father is invisible in Himself. Only that our vision of Him has to be mediated through His Image / Ikon — the Son.

    OK, one “final-final” point (no really!) That is that, from a homoouisan perspective, it’s very difficult to see what the point of homoianism is (and much less homoiousianism) if it isn’t heretical (from the point of view of homoousianism) or intended to allow for heresy. Here’s an analogy…

    Suppose a racist were to say that black and white people are two different species, and should not intermarry, etc., etc. Suppose a non-racist were to condemn that and proclaim that black people and white people are “one race, one species,” etc. Now suppose a third group came along and said, “Well, it’s very difficult to understand all of this metaphysics. What exactly is a “race” or a “species” anyway? Is that in the Bible? Let’s just agree to this: The species of black people is similar to the species of white people.” This would obviously raise some questions, and some red flags. First, if you interpret this talk about black and white people’s species being “similar” as “exactly similar,” then that just means that it’s the same species. Species have to be individuated by different essential qualities. In any case, either we’re one species, or we’re two species. If we’re one, then what’s the point of this new replacement statement? If we’re really two species, then why not just come out and say it (except that, maybe they’d rightly be embarrassed to?) On the other hand, if what you’re trying to do is have some kind of compromise “big tent” statement that can be interpreted in either way, then that seems just as bad as just making the racist statement in the first place. In fact, in some sense, it’s really worse. At least the first racists were *honest.*

    So, I guess what I am not seeing about the appeal of homoiousianism and homoianism is: (1) is there actually some substantive difference between either of these and homoousianism? Such that (2) it’s the case that homoousianism is heretical and not the other way around?

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    1. When discussing these homoian creeds, I’m often perplexed by the type of arguments given to prove their alleged deficiencies.

      What your analogy misses is that the use of the term ‘homoousious’ was considered by homoians to be a slippery slope that could potentially lead to a confusion of identities, a blurring of necessary distinctions and a flattening of the divine hierarchy (and history proved they were right). In the context of your analogy, it would be as if the non-racist group was at risk of going too far in their fight against racism by indirectly denying there really are different skin colors.

      Also, it seems reasonable to question whether we should use controversial and ambiguous philosophical terms to describe scriptural truths. This is quite uncharitable to assume this was merely a dishonest cop-out on the part of the homoians.

      So your analogy merely assumes there cannot be any other substantial position besides homoousious and arianism, and that there’s no potential problem with ‘homoousious’. This doesn’t seem helpful or accurate.

      Then you say these creeds “didn’t achieve the status of having been universally accepted”, contrary to Nicea/Constantinople. I don’t think this is fair either. If Nicea eventually achieved this status, it is *mostly* by the imperial decrees of Theodosius, not because it gradually won the debate through arguments. Homoian bishops were all excluded from the council of 381 even though they represented a very significant portion of the Church, not to mention the homoian bishop of Constantinople had been deposed by Theodosius right before the council. Homoianism was then outlawed, so of course, it is not surprising that nicene theology prevailed and became the majority view. I don’t see how we could use this argument to declare Nicea ‘truly ecumenical’ considering the history of the 4th century.

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      1. Hi Jonathan,

        Thanks for your comments. I am a bit pressed for time, but will just indicate my positions. You write:

        “When discussing these homoian creeds, I’m often perplexed by the type of arguments given to prove their alleged deficiencies.

        What your analogy misses is that the use of the term ‘homoousious’ was considered by homoians to be a slippery slope that could potentially lead to a confusion of identities, a blurring of necessary distinctions and a flattening of the divine hierarchy (and history proved they were right). In the context of your analogy, it would be as if the non-racist group was at risk of going too far in their fight against racism by indirectly denying there really are different skin colors.”

        Generally, I would say I’m more interested in what is or is not the case than simply in what the homoians considered to be the case. And as far as flattening out the divine hierarchy, there are two issues. First, this of course doesn’t go beyond begging the question. I.e., it simply assumes that (1) the hierarchy shouldn’t be “too flat” and (2) the Father and Son being of the same ousia makes the hierarchy “too flat.” The first premise there needs to be defined (I for one have no idea what it could mean). And regardless of how it might get defined, it seems enormously unlikely that (2) would turn out to be true. Kind David was homoousious with all of his subjects, and seems to have managed to be at the top of a hierarchy. Men and women are homoousious with one another, but in the Orthodox church at least, there are (at least some) clearly delineated gender roles and norms. Bishops, priests, deacons, monastics, and laymen are all homoousious with one another, but there is a hierarchy there as well. And Christ is (at least) homoousious with us (even if not with the Father), and yet is clearly above us. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine a bigger hierarchical “gap” than that between myself and Christ — yet nobody denies that Christ is human. So, it’s difficult to see how the issue of being of the same nature / species / essence plays into anything to do with hierarchy.

        “Also, it seems reasonable to question whether we should use controversial and ambiguous philosophical terms to describe scriptural truths. This is quite uncharitable to assume this was merely a dishonest cop-out on the part of the homoians.”

        Again, this doesn’t go much beyond begging the question, and what it asserts (that “homoousious” was (1) controversial and (2) ambiguous) seems to be (1) of questionable relevance, and (2) false, in any important sense.

        On (1), again, I’m more concerned with what is actually true than simply whether some people disagree. What seems to matter is not the simple fact that people disagree (otherwise, you ought not to disagree with homoousians, after all). What seems to matter is whether their disagreements are valid.

        On (2) “homoousious” is a perfectly good Greek word, and was used by non-Christians, by gnostic and other heretical sects, in secular contexts, medical and legal contexts, etc., and always meant the same thing in all those cases. There is a fantastic passage in Kelly’s “Early Christian Doctrines” where he essentially admits that there is absolutely no evidence that “homoousious” ever meant what the later Western (“quasi-modalist”) tradition took it to mean, and that all available evidence points to it being unambiguously a “generic” sense. But he just chooses to interpret it differently because his theology requires it. This is pretty standard in Western textbooks on theology. People look past the fact that “homoousious” is in fact not ambiguous in Greek, because quasi-modalist theology *requires* it to be ambiguous. In this sense, you are (perhaps unwittingly) just playing into the hands of the modalists.

        Also, it doesn’t really matter to me whether the homoians were being honest or not. I’m more interested in whether there is any good reason to accept their view (whether or not they sincerely held that view). I can’t see that there is.

        “So your analogy merely assumes there cannot be any other substantial position besides homoousious and arianism, and that there’s no potential problem with ‘homoousious’. This doesn’t seem helpful or accurate.”

        No, I would not choose to add that claim to any of the claims that I’ve made.

        “Then you say these creeds “didn’t achieve the status of having been universally accepted”, contrary to Nicea/Constantinople. I don’t think this is fair either. If Nicea eventually achieved this status, it is *mostly* by the imperial decrees of Theodosius, not because it gradually won the debate through arguments. Homoian bishops were all excluded from the council of 381 even though they represented a very significant portion of the Church, not to mention the homoian bishop of Constantinople had been deposed by Theodosius right before the council. Homoianism was then outlawed, so of course, it is not surprising that nicene theology prevailed and became the majority view. I don’t see how we could use this argument to declare Nicea ‘truly ecumenical’ considering the history of the 4th century.”

        You may be trying to read me as saying something closer to what a Western Christian might want to say, which is not what I intend. The very point is that there is nothing “magical” about an ecumenical council, so that they can be known to be ecumenical councils before the fact, and this gives them some kind of magical power of infallibility or something. All I am saying is that, if “ecumenical” is defined as having actually achieved acceptance by the whole church at some point, then Nicea is ecumenical, and Arminium is not. I don’t think that “truly ecumenical” means they are magical, though, because I don’t believe in magic at all.

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      2. Hi Beau,

        Thanks a lot for your reply.

        Regarding Nicea being ‘truly ecumenical’ and not Arminium, I don’t see where my point misconstrued your view of what constitutes an ecumenical council, I perfectly understood that you don’t confer to them some ‘magical’ a priori authority. I was simply challenging the criterion of “a posteriori reception” on the basis of the disturbing historical events which led Nicea/Constantinople to their global acceptance. How is this not relevant to the discussion on your position?

        As for the homoians — whether or not ‘homoousious’ was clear in the mid-4th century, it seems that the following century has shown that their concerns were at least valid on the surface. Very quickly the term has indeed been misconceived and twisted to mean something different than its original intended meaning at Nicea. If a non-scriptural term has the capacity to lead to such a confusion among orthodox believers, why holding to it at all cost? A description of the concept without using the term should have been sufficient.

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      3. Hi Jonathan,

        I apologize if I misconstrued your response.

        “Regarding Nicea being ‘truly ecumenical’ and not Arminium, I don’t see where my point misconstrued your view of what constitutes an ecumenical council, I perfectly understood that you don’t confer to them some ‘magical’ a priori authority. I was simply challenging the criterion of “a posteriori reception” on the basis of the disturbing historical events which led Nicea/Constantinople to their global acceptance. How is this not relevant to the discussion on your position?”

        I guess I am a bit lost, then. My understanding of the dialectic was something like this:
        1. Andrew (as I understood him) was challenging the idea that Nicea was ecumenical and that Arminium was not on the basis of various criteria of what would make a council count as “ecumenical” (criteria I’ve just labelled “a priori” for convenience).
        2. I pointed out that there is a different understanding of “ecumenical” that (as it seemed to me), he hadn’t considered (which I labelled “a posterior” for convenience). According to this understanding, Nicea is clearly ecumenical and Arminium clearly isn’t.
        3. You (as I understood you) were questioning whether it could count as ecumenical, given that this resulted largely from the imperial decrees of Theodosius, not because it gradually won the debate through arguments. (Or, perhaps that is not what you meant by saying it didn’t seem “fair.” Maybe that’s where I got you wrong?)

        But in any case, the criterion I suggested for “ecumenical” was simply that it in fact came to be accepted by all of the local churches as a general consensus, with no mention of how that came about. So, there are two ways (as it seems to me) that the argument might go:

        A. One might try to argue that no such consensus actually came about, and that it only seems to be so because of the actions of Theodosius. I would accept some such story if what we saw was that, actually, people kept privately believing homoian theology, say, and that this lasted until there was another emperor who allowed homoian theology, and then all of the homoians came out of the woodwork. Or, say, if the homoian tradition had stayed alive in Western Europe down to the present day, or what have you. (Although, in the latter case, there would still be an ecclesiological question whether to consider the situation that there were still “two branches” of a single church, or whether one or the other group was just heretical, so that one alleged ecumenical council was legitimately ecumenical, and the other was not.) But in any case, this doesn’t seem to be the case in historical fact. It seems to be the case that, as a matter of fact, homoianism and homoiousianism died out. The views may have been resurrected from time to time by various individuals or groups (e.g., Clarke). But as a living church, these groups seem to have died out.

        B. On the other hand, one might try to argue, not with the historical facts, but with the criterion itself. Maybe the criterion itself isn’t fair (isn’t a good criterion), because it allows for the possibility that some unscrupulous political leader can come along and force things to go a certain way, and when some consensus emerges only as a result of politics, violence, etc., well, that shouldn’t count.

        I’m sympathetic to the point (if that’s your point). But I can’t see how to reconcile it with the Bible. I think that homoousianism is fine, and indeed may have been or become the mainstream view even if Constantine (and on up) had never gotten involved (the Visigoths and Lombards, for example, just converted voluntarily; the Franks converted as Nicenes; Ethiopians and others outside the borders of the empire accepted Nicea voluntarily). But who knows? It’s hard to say. Let’s suppose that homoousianism only triumphed over homoiousianism, homoianism, and indeed classical Arianism, Eunomianism, etc., etc., only because Theodosius eventually legislated and enforced it. But by the same token, it could be argued that Yahwism only prevailed over Baalism because Elijah slaughtered the 450 priests of Baal, and because king Josiah slaughtered the priests of the high places and burned their bones on their own altars (not to mention the fact that the Israelites had slaughtered the Canaanites under Joshua when they had first arrived). Those are nasty bits that we like to forget about when we condemn the Roman emperors for similar (actually, probably far less violent) acts.

        If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have any religion triumphing over any other as a result of any kind of violence. But if we say that the result (the community achieving a certain consensus on certain religious matters) is invalidated by the flaws of the process by which it came about (violence, politics, etc.), then it seems to me that we would invalidate much more than we want to. I’m content with the view that God sometimes allows nasty things to happen (e.g., genocide), but just doesn’t allow His people to be completely wiped off the face of the earth, or for their faith to be extinguished (“Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”) What the connection might be between process and result, or why God allows certain processes to happen, I leave up to God.

        “As for the homoians — whether or not ‘homoousious’ was clear in the mid-4th century, it seems that the following century has shown that their concerns were at least valid on the surface. Very quickly the term has indeed been misconceived and twisted to mean something different than its original intended meaning at Nicea. If a non-scriptural term has the capacity to lead to such a confusion among orthodox believers, why holding to it at all cost? A description of the concept without using the term should have been sufficient.”

        To take the points in reverse order, any term — scriptural or not — has the capacity to lead to confusion and to be interpreted incorrectly. That’s just the nature of human language. There are always ambiguities. Indeed, it seems that “homoousious” was added precisely for this reason. All of the scriptural terms that the fathers used seemed to have the capacity to be interpreted in a (classically) Arian way (by Eusebius of Nicomedia and his associates). Thus, “homoousious” was added as a way of clarifying the meaning of the scriptural terms. Specifically, “begotten *of* the Father” doesn’t mean “of” the Father in the sense in which creatures are “of” the Father (created). The existence of the Son is essential to the Father (in the sense of “essential” we use today among philosophers). They are both uncreated (although the Son depends for His existence on the Father, but He has *always* existed by the causality of the Father; He didn’t come into being “ex nihilo” like creatures). All of that can be summed up by saying that the Son is “from the Father” in the sense of being “from the essence / being” of the Father, and that the Father and Son are “homoousious” (“same kind”). So, those terms are, themselves, the description that clarifies the language. It in fact was precisely the description of the intended concept that was being argued against, because it wasn’t scriptural.

        But as for the point that the description itself was confusing and had its meaning twisted, I just don’t see that it was twisted to mean something that it didn’t, except by the later West. And there’s a big irony here. That twisting into quasi-modalism went hand-in-glove with the development of the filioque. And while the seeds for both quasi-modalism and the filioque may have been sown by Augustine, it was actually the Franks who pushed both lines of thought. The typical scholarly line is that the filioque was put into place to more forcefully reject “Arianism” (i.e., really homoianism). But there is a good argument to be had that in fact it wasn’t put in place to *contrast* with homoianism, but precisely to *mimick* the structure of Ulfilas’ creed. I.e., it may actually have been the Franks’ desire to make their creed more homoian (maybe so as to seduce the homoians away?) (http://taylormarshall.com/2017/09/the-filioque-as-nicene-theology-for-arian-goths-and-the-creed-of-ulfilas.html)

        In any case, in the East, homoousian continued to have the meaning it normally has, the so-called “generic” meaning “of the same nature / kind,” as seen, for example, in Chalcedon, where Christ is said to be “homoousious with the Father according to His divinity” and “homoousious with us according to His humanity.” Obviously the fathers of Chalcedon didn’t think of Christ and all the rest of humanity in a modalist way.

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      4. Hi Beau,

        Thanks for the cordial conversation.

        On the ‘ecumenical’ criterion, that’s indeed what I was arguing for (both A and B).

        I don’t know enough about the history of homoianism after ~400, but even if we concede that it completely died out, I don’t think this is particularly unreasonable to judge it was due to its fierce and long-lasting repression. Once a position has been declared the only orthodoxy for decades/centuries by imperial decree and later by the Church itself as a whole, it becomes almost impossible to challenge it or even question it, so I’m not really troubled by the fact that homoians were absent during certain eras (and I don’t think it should be taken as a proof of their error). Ultimately, it is only by a subjective *faith* that one would accept/reject that God could have allowed a group to disappear even if they held to a correct point of doctrine.

        Next, I’m not so sure the Yahwism/Baalism is a valid analogy since the distinction was between the true God of Israel and rival gods, not between two subtle metaphysical speculations between genuine believers. Moreover, God ruled over and led his people in very different ways in the old covenant. The visible people of God in the AT was defined around ethnicity, not voluntary faith as in the NT church (hence a different kind of ruling). But I guess we might disagree on that as well.

        As for ‘homoousious’, I agree with you that only the later West twisted it, but that’s exactly my point: it did happen, it doesn’t matter when and where exactly. To the degree where this quasi-modalist interpretation has been held by a very large portion of the Church for countless centuries. So their concerns were certainly not irrelevant, were they not?

        (I didn’t know some were saying the filioque could potentially have been added to lure Ulfilas followers — interesting, but it seems highly speculative to me)

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  2. Hi Beau,

    To respond briefly to your points in order:

    I am at least somewhat familiar with the EO conciliar framework and the need for recognition within that. My question to you would be, why does the twenty years of practically universal recognition following the councils of Arminium and Seleucia not count, in the EO framework? Not only did the churches of the Roman Empire give their official consent, but so did a great many beyond the bounds of the Empire. That seems like it should qualify the councils as ecumenical. If, however, twenty years is deemed too little time, I would be curious to know how much time EO believe is needed- could a modern ecumenical council overturn the decision of, for instance, 2 Nicea, as 1 Constanintople did that of Arminium?

    As for our overall views on sola scriptura, apostasy, and ecclesiology, I agree it is unlikely we would currently find much common ground there. When looking at Homoian theology, it is worth noting that it has been quite prevalent as an inconspicuous presence for most of history since 381. It remained alive and well among the Barbarians for several centuries, while also continuing to be active in the Eastern Empire with its own separate network of churches. How long underground churches remained is something I myself don’t know, but certainly by the time of the Reformation the view was present at least in the west among men such as Samuel Clarke. To say that there was a time when the view was not held by some pocket of Christians would be a hard view to prove, and it is at least plausible that it has never been totally absent.

    As for the pattern of sound words, I think its pretty clear that there is a middle ground between it meaning either ‘Greek words and phrases’ or ‘general concepts’. Greek words and phrases can be translated to other languages, and be considered to constitute the same ‘pattern of words’ in another tongue. The phraseology of scripture carries significance, whether read in the original languages or in translations.

    As for the invisibility of the Son being a homoousian position, I don’t see how it can be argued to have began with Augustine when it is present in Hilary’s De Synodis some half a century before Augustine. Hilary is of course western, but De Synodis is marked with especially Greek thought, and as such, its hard to see a justification for saying that Hilary Himself was being novel in saying that co-essentiality meant the Son is invisible:

    “Or what distinction can be made between Father and Son affecting their nature with its similar genus, when the Son subsisting through the nature begotten in Him is invested with the properties of the Father, viz., glory, worth, power, invisibility, essence? And while these prerogatives of divinity are equal we neither understand the one to be less because He is Son, nor the other to be greater because He is Father; since the Son is the image of the Father in species, and not dissimilar in genus; since the similarity of a Son begotten of the substance of His Father does not admit of any diversity of substance” (De Synodis)

    Hilary is inconsistent here, as in other places He affirms the Son was seen prior to the incarnation; an inconsistency that as you noted, would later be dropped by Augustine. However, this makes it appear that early homoousianism was simply inconsistent, on the one hand affirming, as per the churches tradition and the scriptures, that the Son was seen in the OT, while also affirming that the Son could not be seen in His pre-incarnate nature because He is co-essential.

    And I think we probably completely agree on your nuanced view of God’s invisibility. I don’t think His being invisible means that He is not visually perceptible, but rather is unseeable (invisible) to us because no man can see Him and live. Yet the fact remains that no man can see God’s glory and live, while men have seen the Son’s glory and lived, prior to the incarnation. One cannot be seen because it would kill us to see Him, the other, that is not so. There is some sort of difference there, clearly. I don’t think it requires us to reject homoousias, but does seem to imply the opposite.

    As for the point of a Homoian articulation, it is certainly not intended to be dishonest or to hide what is believed. Neither is it intended to be an umbrella allowing heresy. Rather the idea is, fundamentally, that we are limited in our knowledge of God by His revelation to us, and therefore as a matter of principle we must limit our dogma to what we can concretely demonstrate from that revelation. This view goes hand-in-hand with sola scriptura, that since scripture is ordinarily our only divine, infallible basis for acquiring a knowledge of doctrinal truth, we must therefore limit ourselves to what can be demonstrated from the scriptures. The objection to ‘homoousias’ then comes not due to any positive belief that what it intends to signify is false or heretical, but that it merely goes beyond what can be proven- and thus as a matter of principle, cannot be rightly made a point of dogma. As a private theory, I think a Nicene view of co-essentiality is excellent, and while not provable from scripture, is also not able to be disproven from the scriptures either. I think my view here reflects well what I know of the ancient Homoians as well, who did not, it should be noted, condemn homoousias as false, but rather banned it because it went beyond scripture.

    In Christ,

    Andrew Davis

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  3. Also, Athanasius argued that according to His pre-existent nature Christ is invisible, like the Father, on account of His co-essentiality. This further disproves the theory that it is not a homoousian, but merely an Augustinian, point of doctrine. As he is Eastern, that would also bear significance in seeming to show that this view was indeed a Homoousian view overall:

    “For he has given the name of mission to the uniting with the Man, with Whom the Invisible nature might be known to men, through the visible. For God changes not place, like us who are hidden in places, when in the fashion of our littleness He displays Himself in His existence in the flesh; for how should He, who fills the heaven and the earth? but on account of the presence in the flesh the just have spoken of His mission. Therefore God the Word Himself is Christ from Mary, God and Man; not some other Christ but One and the Same; He before ages from the Father, He too in the last times from the Virgin; invisible before even to the holy powers of heaven, visible now because of His being one with the Man who is visible; seen, I say, not in His invisible Godhead but in the operation of the Godhead through the human body and whole Man, which He has renewed by its appropriation to Himself.” (Against the Arians, Discourse 4)

    In Christ,

    Andrew Davis

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    1. Hello again, Andrew. I will try to keep to my word about giving you the last word. I did want to say, though, two things.

      First, the business from St. Hilary is disappointing. I’m not knowledgeable enough about Hilary to comment, so I’ll assume you’ve got him right, and that’s too bad.

      Second, with St. Athanasius, I think either he must simply be inconsistent, or else we should likely take the quote you mention with a grain of salt. In Discourse III.16 he calls Christ “the Form of Father” and points out that it was Christ who was seen by Jacob when he wrestled with the Angel (the LXX reads something like “and the sun rose upon him, as the Form of God passed by him.”) And other passages could be mentioned where Athanasius acknowledges that Christ is the Angel of the Lord and that the Angel of the Lord was made visible to the prophets.

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  4. Hi Beau,

    I think the data concerning the relationship to the Son’s pre-incarnate visibility (or lack thereof) is interesting to ponder. In both Athanasius and Hilary, perhaps the two strongest supporters of ‘homooousias’ during the Nicene controversy, we see that they hold the Son to be invisible like the Father as a logical corallary to to the Son’s co-essentiality with the Father; yet at the same time, they maintain the pre-nicene tradition that the Son was seen by the patriarchs as the Angel of the Lord. There is an obvious tension there between their new idea (based on co-essentiality) that the Son is invisible, and their traditional view that He was visible before the incarnation.

    Then, when we come to Augustine, that tension is resolved, by the removal of the inconsistency. This is achieved by Augustine by calling into question the doctrine that the Son was seen as the Angel of the Lord- a change which, as you noted, he deserves to be censured for (and actually, based on the ruling of the council of Sirmium in 351, would according to the ruling of that previous council have qualified as a formal heretic). Its no wonder that a later homoousian author like Augustine would want to resolve that tension, because the inconsistency seen in Hilary and Athanasius would have (and still does, really) provide a very good argument against their view of co-essentiality. Since by the fifth century Augustine’s commitment to co-essentiality was stronger than his commitment to the scripturally sound ante-nicene tradition that the Son is the Angel of the Lord, the latter doctrine got jettisoned to protect the former.

    That’s the case in the west, at least. I would be curious if the tension found in Athanasius and Hilary is still around in the Eastern traditions, or if later theologians in the East eventually resolved it the same way Augustine did in the west.

    In Christ,

    Andrew Davis

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    1. Hello again, Andrew,

      I agree with you that the issue of visibility / invisibility is an interesting one.

      It seems that at least some of the homoians and (perhaps some of?) the homoiousians used the insivisible / visible distinction to argue that the Father and Son cannot be beings of the same kind (homoousious).

      You would know more about the timelines of the homoian responses, but it would not surprise me if this was a direct response to the Cappadocians. Their argument for the homoousion is just this:

      1. Natures (ousiai) are individuated by the causal powers associated with them.
      2. The persons of the Trinity engage in all of the same types of activities (and thus have all the same causal powers).
      3. Therefore, the nature(s) of the persons are all identical.

      As an analogy, if I had a piece of copper and we found some other bit of metal, and that bit of metal is copper colored, has the same density, conducts heat and electricity at exactly the same resistance, etc., and I said, “Nevertheless, this second one isn’t copper,” anybody would reject that, or at least ask “how do you know?” The only sensible response would be to show that there is something that copper *does* that this piece of metal *doesn’t* do. Otherwise, they are clearly both the same kind of metal (they are homoousious).

      The Cappadocians claim that all the activities that the Father does, the Son does too (as does the Spirit). E.g., creating, saving, redeeming, sanctifying, glorifying, etc. They challenge Eunomius, for example, to show that some activity is predicated of one person but not the others. Christ even explicitly says “Whatsoever the Father doeth, the Son doeth the same, likewise.” In my dissertation, I call this “the Cappadocian Assertion,” that the persons do the same things. Coupled with their criteria for individuating natures, the homoousion is a strict logical consequence.

      I don’t think anybody in the ancient world would have denied that natures are individuated by causal powers (Michel Rene Barnes traces this all the way back to pre-Socratic medical literature). Indeed, most philosophers today consider it a pretty plausible view.

      So, it would not at all surprise me if the homoians decided that they needed to have some response to this argument, and focused on the invisible / visible distinction to try to do it.

      You write:

      “Then, when we come to Augustine, that tension is resolved, by the removal of the inconsistency. This is achieved by Augustine by calling into question the doctrine that the Son was seen as the Angel of the Lord- a change which, as you noted, he deserves to be censured for (and actually, based on the ruling of the council of Sirmium in 351, would according to the ruling of that previous council have qualified as a formal heretic). Its no wonder that a later homoousian author like Augustine would want to resolve that tension, because the inconsistency seen in Hilary and Athanasius would have (and still does, really) provide a very good argument against their view of co-essentiality. Since by the fifth century Augustine’s commitment to co-essentiality was stronger than his commitment to the scripturally sound ante-nicene tradition that the Son is the Angel of the Lord, the latter doctrine got jettisoned to protect the former.”

      I think that seems like a plausible reading of Augustine. You write:

      “That’s the case in the west, at least. I would be curious if the tension found in Athanasius and Hilary is still around in the Eastern traditions, or if later theologians in the East eventually resolved it the same way Augustine did in the west.”

      This is something I will have to look into further. I’m not aware that the Cappadocians directly address this issue. It may be that the homoian argument was a response to the Cappadocians (you’ll have to tell me if this argument pops up in their writings prior to the Cappadocians making their argument). And if that’s so, there’s an interesting story to tell here. Cappadocians give their argument from the individuation of natures; homoians give their invisibility response, then Augustine changes to an “all-persons-invisible” view.

      However, there are a couple of things to note about the later Eastern tradition.

      First, is the anthropomorphite controversy in Egypt. See (http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/morphe.html). It’s been a long time since I read that. There is probably a lot of relevance there, and I will try to go through it again soon.

      Second, certainly the Eastern Orthodox Church eventually comes down firmly on the side of being able to have the vision of God in this life (though, this is a vision of Christ in His glory, seen in the Holy Spirit). St. Symeon the New Theologian experienced this, was suspected of heresy, but won the day. And St. Gregory Palamas ends up defending the hesychasts on Mt. Athos for their spiritual practices that lead to the vision of the Uncreated Light.

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      1. Hi Beau,

        It is possible that the invisibility/visibility argument was brought up in response to the Cappadocians, but I find that to be unlikely for a couple reasons.

        Firstly, because the very nature of the Homoian position was opposed to extra-biblical and philosophical speculation. Its unlikely that the Homoians would have engaged seriously with the Cappadocians for this reason. In this way they were very unlike Eunomious who was of course extremely comfortable going beyond scripture, and making heavily philosophical points into dogma, whose philosophical arguments the Cappadocians’ equally philosophical arguments were well-suited for. The Homoian unwillingness to engage in such philosophical discussion would have made it unlikely that their arguments regarding visibility/invisibility were meant to counter the Cappadocians, IMO.

        Secondly, the argument has a long history prior to the Homoian movement in the fourth century. In 345 the authors of the Macrostich singled out the Father as being distinguished not only by His role as the uncaused Cause and Supreme Head, but also as the one invisible:

        “Nor again, in confessing three realities and three persons, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, do we therefore make Gods three; since we acknowledge the self-complete and unbegotten and unbegun and invisible God to be one only, the God and Father (John 20:17) of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone vouchsafes this to all others bountifully.”

        A century prior, Novatian (who I think can fairly be taken as representative of a stream of ante-nicene theology, at least), in arguing that the Son is “of like nature with the Father in some measure by His nativity” -basically, ‘homoiousias’- argued from the Son’s visibility compared to the Father’s invisibility that the Son was unequal with the Father and thus not a second God:

        “Had He been invisible, as compared with the Invisible, and declared equal, He would have shown forth two Invisibles, and thus also He would have proved them to be two Gods.” (Treatise on the Trinity, Ch 31)

        So the fact that this argument seems to have been employed prior to Nicea, as well as post-Nicea, but before the Cappadocians wrote against Eunomius, makes it appear unlikely that it was a new argument devised in response to the Cappadocians.

        You said “It seems that at least some of the homoians and (perhaps some of?) the homoiousians used the insivisible / visible distinction to argue that the Father and Son cannot be beings of the same kind (homoousious).”

        I don’t think that its reasonable to expect that Homoians generally would have argued that the Son cannot be of the same kind as the Father. Its important to not lump them in with homoiousians. The Homoian position wasn’t ‘we know homoousias is wrong, therefore we must ban it’, nor ‘we know homoiousias is wrong, therefore we must ban it’, but simply, we don’t know, and we shouldn’t be prying into it, because scripture doesn’t tell us. They weren’t on the homoiousian side of the homoousias vs homoiousias discussion, rather, they sought to circumvent the discussion altogether and leave ‘ousia’ in the realm of mystery. Contrast that with the way that the Homoians actually condemned the ‘Anhomoians’ and Arians who they did believe could be concretely proven to be in error from the scriptures.

        The Homoian reasons for bringing up the visibility of the Son would have included simply the fact that, at least later on by the time of Augustine in the West, the western Homoians were defending the ante-nicene tradition that the Son was seen prior to the incarnation which had been abandoned by the Homoousians in the west. In addition to that (and probably prior to that if we are correct as to why Augustine jettisoned the Son’s visibility) it probably was used to show the homoousians that their position, as they articulated it- which, as we discussed, included an (often inconsistent) assertion that the Son is invisible- was not scriptural, and thus did not deserve serious consideration to be made into dogma; and after it was dogma in the Roman Empire, to argue that it could not justly be enforced on the churches, since it was accompanied by a denial of scriptural truth.

        In Christ,

        Andrew Davis

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