Semi-Modalism & the Rule of Faith

The ancient “rule of faith” was a doctrinal standard employed by the early churches. It was used as a baptismal creed, a creed memorized by new converts and recited prior to baptism (off of which later creeds like that of Nicea and Arminium were based). Following the baptismal formula instituted by Christ, to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the ancient baptismal creed followed this same outline, giving a brief confession of the identities of the Father, Son, and Spirit, coupled with a brief summary of the gospel under the head of the Son’s identity. In this way the ‘rule of faith’ can be seen as a summary of the Christian faith as presented in the scriptures, summarizing the identity of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and the message of the gospel, as Paul said he delivered “as of first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15.

This ancient summary of the faith was held to by the churches as the teaching they had received from the apostles, which they had received from oral tradition, and was confirmed by demonstration from the holy scriptures. Irenaeus of Lyons, for example sets forth this rule as the standard of true Christian doctrine in both his Against Heresies, and his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. In Against Heresies he uses the rule of faith as the standard of Christian orthodoxy, against which the heretical claims of the various pseudo-gnostic sects were set in contradiction. Their contradiction of the rule of faith showed them to be heretics; on the other hand, faithful adherence to the rule would prevent one from falling into heresy. In Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, Irenaeus sets about demonstrating each point of the rule of faith from the holy scriptures, showing thereby that each point is beyond a doubt known to be true.

In Against Heresies, Irenaeus sums up the rule as follows:

“1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and  the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.” (Book 1, Chap 10.)

He goes on to explain:

“2. As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.” (Ibid)

In Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, he sums it up in these words:

“This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building, and the stability of our conversation: God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things: this is the first point of our faith. The second point is: The Word of God, Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was manifested to the prophets according to the form of their prophesying and according to the method of the dispensation of the Father: through whom all things were made; who also at the end of the times, to complete and gather up all things, was made man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death and show forth life and produce a community of union between God and man. And the third point is: The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and the fathers learned the things of God, and the righteous were led forth into the way of righteousness; and who in the end of the times was poured out in a new way upon mankind in all the earth, renewing man unto God.”

He goes on to explain that the rule is grounded in the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:

“And for this reason the baptism of our regeneration proceeds through these three points: God the Father bestowing on us regeneration through His Son by the Holy Spirit. For as many as carry (in them) the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son; and the Son brings them to the Father; and the Father causes them to possess incorruption. Without the Spirit it is not possible to behold the Word of God, nor without the Son can any draw near to the Father: for the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and the knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit; and, according to the good pleasure of the Father, the Son ministers and dispenses the Spirit to whomsoever the Father wills and as He wills.”

Tertullian similarly employed the rule of faith against heretics. He describes the rule of faith as the dogmatic standard of Christianity, a summary of the faith, which was beyond question to true Christians. No contradiction of the rule was to be allowed; such was heresy, and made the one denying the rule no true Christian at all. On the other hand, areas of theology which were not addressed in the rule were regarded as something that Christians were free to search out a knowledge of from the scriptures, to speculate on, and to disagree with one another on. The rule of faith was the standard of Christian doctrine which could not be denied; doctrines not addressed in it were free to be explored. In his book Against Praxeas, Tertullian sums up the rule as follows:

“We, however, as we indeed always have done (and more especially since we have been better instructed by the Paraclete, who leads men indeed into all truth), believe that there is one only God, but under the following dispensation, or οἰκονομία, as it is called, that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the Virgin, and to have been born of her — being both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas, a pretender of yesterday, will be apparent both from the lateness of date which marks all heresies, and also from the absolutely novel character of our new-fangled Praxeas.” (Chapter 2)

In Against Heresies, Tertullian gives the following summary of the rule, and explanation regarding a Christian’s freedom to speculate on other doctrines:

“Now, with regard to this rule of faith— that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend — it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen in diverse manners by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises among ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics. So long, however, as its form exists in its proper order, you may seek and discuss as much as you please, and give full rein to your curiosity, in whatever seems to you to hang in doubt, or to be shrouded in obscurity. You have at hand, no doubt, some learned brother gifted with the grace of knowledge, some one of the experienced class, some one of your close acquaintance who is curious like yourself; although with yourself, a seeker he will, after all, be quite aware that it is better for you to remain in ignorance, lest you should come to know what you ought not, because you have acquired the knowledge of what you ought to know. Your faith, He says, has saved you Luke 18:42 not observe your skill in the Scriptures. Now, faith has been deposited in the rule; it has a law, and (in the observance thereof) salvation.” (Chapter 13-14)

Similarly, the rule of faith was, as mentioned above, used as the baptismal creed of the various churches. The ancient creed of Jerusalem, for example, read thus:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before the ages, true God, by whom all things were made, who was incarnate and made man, crucified and buried, and the third day ascended into the heavens, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and is coming to judge quick and dead.

And in the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, who spake by the prophets;

And in one holy catholic Church; and resurrection of the flesh; and in life everlasting.”

All of these summaries of the Christian faith contain, as Irenaeus said, a skeleton of three articles: 1) the identity of the Father, 2) the identity of the Son, and 3) the identity of the Holy Spirit. The ancient heresies the church faced were considered heresies precisely because they contradicted this rule in one way or another. The Ebionites, for example, ancient unitarians, who denied the pre-existence of the Son, and regarded Him as a mere man, taught a different Christ, and so denied the second article of the faith. The gnostic heresies denied the identity of the Maker of all things and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, thus denying the first article of the faith. The Modalists, by teaching that all three persons of the Trinity were one God, one person, denied the second and third articles of the faith by seeking to take away the distinct existence of the Son and Spirit as distinct persons from the Father, and so denied the first as well by denying the true fatherhood of God. When Arianism later came along, it was likewise condemned for contradicting the second article of the faith, by teaching that the Son, through Whom all things were made, was actually a creature Himself, and so taught a false Christ. All these heresies had in common that they struck at the true identities of the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; by doing so, they set themselves in opposition to true Christianity.

A critical examination of semi-modalism (as summed up, for instance, in the Pseudo-Athanasian Creed) in relation to the rule of faith shows that like the aforementioned heresies, semi-modalism denies the rule of faith as well. A complex and self-contradictory idea in itself, semi-modalism contradicts the rule of faith on multiple points. Semi-modalism is the belief that the Trinity is one person who is three person, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the three persons are confessed to be equal in authority, and to together be “one God”. This one God, the Trinity, is deemed to be the Almighty, and the Maker of all things.

In sum, semi-modalism denies the rule of faith in the following ways:

1) Semi-modalism denies the first article of the faith by teaching the non-identity of the Father and the one God.

2) Semi-modalism denies the first article of the faith by denying that the Father is the Almighty.

3) Semi-modalism, by making all three persons of the Trinity into a single person, denies the second and third articles of the faith by taking away the distinct existence of the Son and Spirit as two distinct persons besides the one God.

4) Semi-modalism denies the second article of the faith by denying that Christ is the Son of the one God.

Let’s examine each point:

Firstly, semi-modalism denies the first article of the faith by teaching the non-identity of the Father and the one God. This is the most immediately obvious way that semi-modalism contradicts the rule of faith; while the ancient rule of faith begins by confessing with the scriptures that the one God is the Father particularly (1 Cor 8:6, Eph 4:6), semi-modalism defines the one God as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together. This difference is highly significant when we recall that the purpose of these statements is to correctly identify the persons of the Trinity; who is the Father? The rule of faith answers, ‘the one God, the Almighty, the Maker of all things’. Or asked conversely, Who is the one God? The rule of faith answers clearly: the Father, the Almighty, the Maker of all. Semi-modalism changes these answers, and takes these prerogatives away from the Father, applying them instead to the Trinity conceived of as a single person.

Since this first point focuses on the Father’s identity as the one God, let’s begin there. Godhood, biblically, is dominion; to be God is to possess dominion. As Sir Isaac Newton observed:

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

For the Father to be God, then, denotes His dominion; that He is called simply “God” without qualification, and “the one God” (1 Cor 8:6), and “the only true God” (John 17:3), then, is on account of His supreme dominion over all, as Eph 4:6 says, “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (NASB) That He is called the “one God” and “only true God” are not said to deny that the word “God” may be used of other persons, but by way of eminence, as denoting that He is supreme over all. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor 8:5-6, “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (KJV). It is clear, then, that the rule of faith is wholly correct in declaring that the one God is the Father in particular.

Semi-modalism, on the other hand, denies this title to the Father, and gives it to a person who does not in reality exist, the Trinity conceived of as a person. That the Trinity is believed to be a person is clear from, among other things, the very fact that the title “one God” is applied to it. For let us consider what the significance of the phrase is: as we have said, Godhood, or deity, is dominion; corresponding to this, a God, then, is by definition a person who possesses Godhood; just as a Lord is a person who possesses lordship, and a King is a person who possesses regal authority. To call something a “God”, then, denotes that it is a person who possesses Godhood, that is, dominion (for which reason judges and saints in the Old Testament, could be called “gods”, and Satan, as the wicked ruler of this world, and as possessing a degree of dominion over the world, is called “the god of this world”). To call the Trinity a God, “one God”, then, is to declare the Trinity, according to the very meaning of the term “God”, to be a person who possesses Godhood (or dominion). To declare the Trinity to be one God is to take a personal title, which can only be used of a single person, and apply it to the Trinity: thus in declaring the Trinity to be “one God” semi-modalism necessarily confesses the Trinity to be a single person.

This person is treated as such; he is also called “one Lord” according to the pseudo-Athanasian Creed, another title that properly denotes a single person who possess lordship, thus again affirming the personhood of the Trinity as a whole. Likewise, in semi-modalism the Trinity is treated as a person by the ubiquitous usage of singular personal pronouns for the Trinity as a whole, and the Trinity, spoken of under such language, even receives prayer and hymns directed to it as its own person; for example:

“This is our God;
This is one God;
This is the one and only God;
O Blessed Trinity.

To him we all pray,
The one whom we implore,
The one who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
O Blessed Trinity.” (3rd Hymn of Marius Victorinus)

The identity of the person who has supreme dominion over all, as is denoted by the phrase, “one God”, then, is according to semi-modalism a person never mentioned in the scriptures, a person who is the Trinity itself as a whole. This is contrary to the scriptural claim of the rule of faith, which expressly identifies the “one God”, that person who possesses dominion over all, as the Father in particular. Semi-modalism seeks to take this unique prerogative away from the Father, and give it to another person; it is clear then, that semi-modalism here contradicts the ancient rule of faith.

The second point upon which semi-modalism contradicts the rule of faith is very similar to the first: Semi-modalism denies the first article of the faith by denying that the Father is the Almighty.

The ancient rule of faith almost always includes this detail, that not only is there one God, the Father, but that He is Almighty. To modern ears this may seem strange; our conception of what is signified by “Almighty” usually pertains to strength in the sense of ability; it is one of many divine attributes, and its constant inclusion in the first article of the rule of faith can seem out of place. Why only list one of many attributes, and always that one?

The reason for this is because “Almighty” in its original meaning was not talking about ability or strength, but authority; the Greek word rendered “Almighty” is ‘Pantokrator’, which literally means, ‘Ruler over all’, or ‘Supreme Ruler’. Not talking about innate or natural ability at all, but about authority, this term is limited by scripture to the person of the Father alone, and the early church, likewise kept this association. Its inclusion in the rule of faith can be seen as an explanation of what is meant by “One God”: there is one God, because there is one Almighty, one Pantokrator, only one person Who has supreme dominion and authority over all absolutely- the Father.

As we said above, this is the essence of Christian monotheism; while there are many to whom the word “god” can be applied to in a limited sense, there is only one, according to the scriptures, who has dominion over all absolutely, and so, one God, the Father. As all things are from the Father, and He has dominion over all that is from Him, so He rightly has dominion over all things. As Irenaeus said “God is not ruler and Lord over the things of another, but over His own; and all things are God’s; and therefore God is Almighty, and all things are of God.” (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

The theological significance of the term “Almighty” then, has to do primarily with authority, not natural ability. Since this term then signifies a ‘Supreme Ruler’, it is firstly evident that the title must belong to a person, since all rulers are necessarily persons; and secondly, it is evident that this title can belong to only one person, and no more, by the very nature of its meaning. To be Ruler over all, or Supreme Ruler, Almighty, is to have dominion over all absolutely; this then admits of no equal, since if there were another with equal authority, then the original subject, not being Ruler over His equal, would not be Ruler over all. If there is an Almighty, a Pantokrator, then, He alone can be such, by the very definition of the term; and the rule of faith, like scripture, clearly tells us this is the Father, Who is the One God.

Semi-modalism, however, insists on making all three persons of the Trinity equal in authority:

“13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty…. 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.” (Pseudo-Athanasian Creed)

This declaration that the Son and Spirit have equal authority with the Father, then, is a denial that the Father is Almighty. It is not possible to have three with equal authority, and yet have a supreme authority; none having greater authority over the other, none is supreme over the others, and so there is no absolutely supreme authority. If the three persons are equal, none of them rules over all, none is Pantokrator, none is Almighty. Semi-modalism is then, on this point squarely opposed to the rule of faith.

But semi-modalism, nonetheless, being self-contradictory, claims nonetheless that there is one Almighty- the Trinity as a person.

“14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one Almighty.” (Pseudo-Athanasian Creed)

Again, the Trinity is clearly treated as a single person in this case, since it is being declared to be the Supreme Ruler over all. If the Trinity is then a ruler of any kind, then it is, according to the meaning of the words, a person who rules; no ruler is not a person. Semi-modalism then once again attempts to rob the Father of one of his prerogatives and apply it instead to the Trinity conceived of as a person.

In sum, semi-modalism, when it declares the Trinity to be one person who is Almighty, declares the Almighty to be a different person than the rule of faith does; on the other hand, if a semi-modalist objects that they do not think the Trinity is a person, yet make the persons out to be equal in authority, they will still deny the rule of faith, by denying not only that the Father is Almighty, but that there is any Almighty, any Supreme Ruler over all, at all. All-in-all, semi-modalism shows itself to be irreconcilably at odds with the rule of faith on both the identity of the one God, and the identity of the Supreme Ruler over all, both of Whom the rule declares to be one and the same person, the Father.

In our third point, we consider that semi-modalism denies the second and third articles of the faith by taking away the distinct existence of the Son and Spirit as two distinct persons besides the one God, by making all three persons of the Trinity into a single person. By making the Trinity out to be a single person, as classical modalism did, semi-modalism denies the real identities of the Son and Holy Spirit. To put the matter simply: in the rule of faith, the Son and Spirit are two distinct persons besides the one God; in semi-modalism, the Son and Spirit are effectively part of the one God as “persons of” or “within” the one God.

We see this come to bear especially clearly in scholastic articulations of semi-modalism. In short, the Father, Son, and Spirit are defined as not being three individual realities (that is three persons), but as only one individual reality, as per the Fourth Lateran Council.

“We, however, with the approval of this sacred and universal council, believe and confess with Peter Lombard that there exists a certain supreme reality, incomprehensible and ineffable, which truly is the Father and the Son and the holy Spirit, the three persons together and each one of them separately. Therefore in God there is only a Trinity, not a quaternity, since each of the three persons is that reality — that is to say substance, essence or divine nature-which alone is the principle of all things, besides which no other principle can be found. This reality neither begets nor is begotten nor proceeds; the Father begets, the Son is begotten and the holy Spirit proceeds.” (From Canon 2)

In this defining of Father, Son, and Spirit as one individual reality, semi-modalism is no different than classical Sabellianism. The Trinity itself is defined as a single supreme reality or being which is the principle of all things. If the Father, Son, and Spirit are all one rational individual Being (the very definition of a person), then the true distinct existence of the Son and Spirit as two other distinct rational Beings (that is, two distinct persons) in addition to the first is denied. The Son and Spirit are made to no longer be the Son of the one God and the Spirit of the one God, but mere “modes of subsistence” within him. The reality of both the Son and Spirit’s distinct existence from the Father in consumed into a single “supreme reality” which is all three. Rather than being worshipped as the Son of the Almighty, Christ is worshipped as the Almighty, as being, ultimately, the self-same person with the Father. Rather than being worshipped as the Son of the one God, the Son and Spirit are worshipped as themselves being the one God, as being one person with the Father.

As Samuel Clarke wrote:

“They who are not careful to maintain these personal characters and distinctions, but while they are solicitous (on the one hand) to avoid the errors of the Arians, affirm (in the contrary extreme) the Son and Holy Spirit to be (individually with the Father) the Self-existent Being: These, seeming in the Words to magnify the Name of the Son and Holy Spirit, in reality take away their very Existence; and so fall unawares into Sabellianism, (which is the same with Socinianism.)” (Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, Thesis 23)

This is quite at odds with the ancient rule of faith, which everywhere treats the Son and Spirit as truly distinct persons besides the Father. The Son in being Son, must necessarily be a distinct person; likewise, in being our “one Lord” He most clearly is a person, for a Lord is a person who possess lordship. The rule of faith, likewise, in teaching that the Spirit spoke through the prophets and was sent by the Son unto believers, teaches His existence as a third distinct person. Semi-modalism’s denial, then, of the distinct personal existence of the Son and Spirit, constitutes a clear denial of the second and third articles of the rule of faith.

Finally, let us examine our fourth point, related to the last, that semi-modalism denies the second article of the faith by denying that Christ is the Son of the one God. This is quite simple; if Christ is merely a person of the one God, a mere mode of subsistence of the one God, the Trinity conceived of as a person, as semi-modalism makes Him out to be, then He is not Himself the Son of the one God. For a Son, anyone will admit, is a distinct person from the person whose Son they are. They must be another besides the one whose Son they are, who relates to that person as a Father. If Christ is a mere subsistence of the one God, as semi-modalism says, then He relates to the one God as a mode of His subsistence, not as His Son; He is not begotten of Him, but rather is Him. On the other hand, if He were the Son of the one God, as the rule of faith says, then He must be another distinct individual being besides the one God, begotten from Him. He will no longer then be considered a mode of subsistence of the one God, but His Son. In short, Christ can either be the Son of the one God, or a mode of subsistence of one God, a person of God. The rule of faith teaches the former, semi-modalism the latter; their teachings are mutually exclusive.

In the end, then, we are forced to the conclusion that semi-modalism constitutes a rejection of the rule of faith; in total, it denies all three articles, and strikes at the very heart of what the rule of faith sets out to clearly confess: the identities of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. While the rule of faith, with scripture, says that the Father is the one God, the Almighty, Ruler over all, semi-modalism denies this, assigning these prerogatives to another person neither mentioned in the rule of faith nor scripture, “God the Trinity”, “the triune God”, the Trinity conceived of as a person, a god every bit as fictitious as those of Marcion and the gnostics of old, against which the same rule of faith was asserted to convict them of heresy. Likewise, while scripture and the rule of faith teach us to believe in the Son and Holy Spirit as two distinct persons in addition to the one God, semi-modalism ultimately denies the very existence of the Son and Spirit along with Sabellius and Praxeas of old, by making them out to be one and the same individual reality or being with the Father. Finally, while the rule of faith, like scripture, declares Jesus Christ to be the Son of the one God, semi-modalism denies this by making Him out to be nothing more than a subsistence or ‘person’ of the one God, denying that the Son relates to the one God as a Son.

To anyone willing to look at these matters objectively, it should be clear that semi-modalism blatantly contradicts the rule of faith at several points. That those who expound semi-modalism do not admit the contradiction between their heresy and the rule of faith should be of no surprise, and does nothing to lessen the real contradiction between these two opposing systems of doctrine. Arians too, we may recall, would not admit to violating the rule of faith with their heresy either; but sought to cunningly evade detection by means of equivocation. So semi-modalists do the same, yet, as in the case of the Arians, in truth it is inescapable that their doctrine contradicts the rule of faith, when their beliefs are brought out into the open.

In the end, one must choose between that ancient faith handed down once for all, as taught by the scriptures and preserved by the early church in the rule of faith, and semi-modalism. By the standards of that ancient rule, semi-modalism is every bit as much heresy as Sabellianism and Gnosticism; in its elaborate speculative denials of the first article of the faith, it bears a strong resemblance to gnosticism indeed; one might say semi-modalism is the new gnosticism. And like gnosticism of old, Christians will do well to shun it as the heresy it is, and in instead hold fast to that apostolic rule of faith, that ancient and scriptural safeguard against heresy.

 

Thoughts on Samuel Clarke’s 55 Theses, Part 2: Theses 16-30

I am in general agreement with the views Clarke expresses in his theses. There are, however, a few points of disagreement over details, and things that I believe could benefit from further clarification or commentary, that I set out to supply in these posts.

Respecting thesis 17, Clarke seems to rely very heavily on the opinion of the ancient writers. They, of course, serve well as witnesses to what is true; but what is known to be true, is ordinarily known only on the basis of demonstration from the holy scriptures, as the only special revelation ordinarily available to us, and thus, the only ordinary basis for knowledge of doctrinal truth. What Clarke says may be supplemented by a brief demonstration from the scriptures, that the Father begat the Son as an act of will.

This can be seen from that fact that scripture lays out, as a rule, that God does as He pleases (Ps 115:3, Ps 135:6). What God does, then, is what He has pleased to do, what he has willed to do; and it is unfitting to a pious notion of God to suppose that He is encumbered by any external necessity, He Who alone is from none, having no cause, source, nor origin, and owing nothing of what He is to anyone. He Himself is supreme in authority and headship over all absolutely (thus He is called, in scripture, the Lord God Pantokrator, or Supreme Governor over all), and so is under the authority of none. He is from none, and under the authority of none; He simply is without cause, source, or origin; and all things are from Him, and under His Godhood, dominion, and authority, even His own Son and Spirit, and all creation He has made through His Son.

Since, then, as a rule, the Father does what he wills, we may then safely say that what He does, is what He has willed to do. The question then of whether God begat the Son by an act of will is then simply reduced to the question, did God beget the Son? If He did, He did so willingly; and He most certainly did, according to the clear testimony of scripture.

In thesis 19, Clarke for some reason adds that the Spirit is not only from the Father, which He truly is, but that He is from the Father through the Son. Why a man so committed to sola scriptura, and willing to throw off common biases to look at theological matters as rationally and objectionably as possible, would here maintain the filoque, is an utter mystery to this author. Surely it is plausible; but what appears to be wanting, is any definite reason to suppose that it positively is the case, from the holy scriptures. Without demonstration of a given point of doctrine from the holy scriptures, it can hardly be regarded as definitely being true, or rightly be made a point of dogma.

Thesis 25 may be clarified further, in my opinion, to note particularly that Godhood, or divinity, biblically, is dominion. As Sir Isaac Newton observed:

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

This Clarke seems to acknowledge, but does not state as clearly as may be desired, and is perhaps too vague in his notion of what Godhood is, as in general being relative- which it is; but does not clearly define it, as it is, as being dominion specifically.

 

Samuel Clarke’s 55 Theses, Part 2: Theses 16-30

Here is part 2 of section 2 of Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity. The introduction is available here. The first part, theses 1-15, can be read here. My comments on the first part can be read here.

XVI.

     They therefore have also justly been censured, who taking upon them to be wise above what is written, and intruding into things which they have not seen; have presumed to affirm [Gr text] that there was a time when the Son was not.

See beneath, thesis 17.

XVII.

     The Son (according to the reasoning of the primitive writers) derives his Being from the Father, (whatever the particular manner of that derivation be,) not by mere necessity of nature, (which would be in reality self-existence, not filiation;) but by an act of the Father’s incomprehensible power and will.

Notes on thesis 17.

     It cannot be denied but the terms [Son and beget] do most properly imply an act of the Father’s will. For whatever any person is supposed to do, not by his power and will, but by mere necessity of nature; ’tis not properly He that does it, but necessity of fate. Neither can it intelligibly be made out, upon what is founded the authority of the Father, and the mission of the Son, if not upon the Son’s thus deriving his Being from the Father’s incomprehensible power and will. However, since the attributes and powers of God are evidently as eternal as his Being; and there never was any time, wherein God could not will what he pleased, and do what he willed; and since it is just as easy to conceive God always acting, as always existing; and operating before all ages: it will not at all follow, that that which is an effect of his will and power, must for that reason necessarily be limited to any definite time. Wherefore not only those ancient writers who were esteemed Semi-Arians, but also the learnedest of the fathers on the contrary side, who most distinctly and explicitly contended for the eternal generation of the Son, even they did still nevertheless expressly assert it to be an act of the Father’s power and will.

“Him [saith Justin Martyr] who, by the will of the Father, is God; the Son and Messenger of the Father.” (Dial. cum Trypho.)

Again: “For he hath all these titles [before-mentioned, viz. that of Son, Wisdom, Angel, God, Lord, and Word,] from his ministering to his Father’s will, and from being begotten of the Father by his will.” (Ibid.)

And in that remarkable passage, where he compares the generation of the Son from the Father, to one light derived from another; he adds, “I have said that this Power [meaning the Son] was begotten of the Father, by his power and will.” (Ibid.)

[Note: In all these passages, the words [Gr text], signify evidently, not volente, voluntate; not the mere approbation, but the act of the will. And therefore St. Austin is very unfair, when he confounds these two things, and asks (utrum Pater sit Deus, volens an nolens,) whether the Father himself be God, with or without his own will? The answer is clear: He is God, [volens,] with the approbation of his will; but not voluntate, not [Gr text], not, [Gr text], not by an act of will, but by necessity of nature.]

Irenaeus frequently styles the Son, [Latin text] the eternal Word of God; and affirms, that [Latin text] he always was with the Father, that [Latin text] he did always co-exist with the Father; and blames those who did [Latin text] ascribe a beginning to his production: And yet (I think) there is no passage in this writer, that supposes him to be derived from the Father by any absolute necessity of nature.

Origen speaks thus concerning the time of the Son’s generation: “These words, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee; are spoken to him by God, with whom it is always today: For there is no evening nor morning with him: but the time co-extended, if I may so speak, with His unbegotten and eternal life, is the today in which the Son was begotten: So that the beginning of his generation can no more be discovered, than of that day.” (Comment. in Joh. pag. 31.) And yet none of the ancient writers do more expressly reckon the Son among the [Gr text] Being derived from the power and will of the Father, than Origen: See the passage cited above, in thesis 14.

Novatian expresses himself thus: “The Son, being begotten of the Father, is always in [or with] the Father: —- He that was before all time, must be said to have been always in [or with] the Father.” (De Trin. c. 31.) And yet in the same chapter he expressly adds: “The Word, which is the Son, was born of the Father, at the will of the Father: —- He was produced by the Father, at the will of the Father. (Ibid.) Upon which passages the learned Bp Bull makes this remark: “When the Son is said to be born of the Father, at the will of the Father, that will of the Father must be understood to be eternal.” (Defens. Sect. 3. cap. 8. S 8.)

And Alexander Bishop of Alexandria: “We believe (saith he) that the Son was always from the Father. But let no one by the word [always,] be led to imagine him to be self-existent. For neither the term, was; nor, always; nor, before all ages; mean the same as being self-existent. —- The phrases, was; and, always; and, before all ages; whatever their meaning be, cannot imply the same as self-existence.” (Theodorit. lib. 1. c. 4.)

Eusebius, in the following passages, expresses his sense of the Son’s being always with the Father: “The singular [saith he] and eternal generation of the only begotten Son.” (Eccles. Theol. 1. 1, c. 12.) And again; “‘Tis manifest that the only-begotten Son was with God his Father, being present and together with him, always and at all times.” (Lib. 2. c. 14.) And again; “But [the consideration of Christ before his incarnation] must extend back beyond all time, and beyond all ages.” (Demonstr. Evang. lib. 4, c. 1.) And again; “That the Son was begotten; not as having at a certain time not been, and then beginning to be; but being before all ages, and still before them, and being always present as a Son with his Father; not self-existent, but begotten of the self-existent Father; being the only-begotten, the Word, and God from God.” (Ibid. c. 3.) And again; “That the Son subsisted from endless age, or rather before all ages; being with Him, and always with him who begat him, even as light with the luminous body”: (Ibid. 1. 5. c. 1.) [Which similitude ** how far it is true, see explained in the following page.] ** See my commentary on 40 select texts, in answer to Mr. Nelson, p. 158. And again; “To Him, [viz. to the Father] is intercession made for the salvation of all, by the pre-existing only-begotten Word Himself, by him first and only, who is over all, and before all, and after all, the great High Priest of the Great God, ancienter than all time and all ages, [Gr. the ancienter of all time and of all ages,] sanctified with the honor and dignity of the Father.” (De land. Constantini, c. 1.) And again: “The only-begotten Word of God, who reigneth with his Father from beginningless ages, to endless and never-ceasing ages. (Ibid. c. 2.)

And yet nobody more expressly than the same Eusebius, declares that the Son was generated by the power and will of the Father: “The Light [saith he] does not shine forth by the will of the luminous body, but by a necessary property of its nature: But the Son, by the intention and will of the Father, received his subsistence so as to be the Image of the Father: For by his will did God become the Father of his Son, and caused to subsist a second light, in all things like unto Himself.” (Demonstr. Evangel. lib. 4, cap. 3.) And again; “Receiving before all ages a real subsistence, by the inexpressible and inconceivable will and power of the Father.” (Ibid.)

And the Council of Sirmium: “If any one says that the Son was begotten not by the will of the Father, let him be anathema. For the Father did not beget the Son by a physical necessity of nature without the operation of his will; but he at once willed, and begat the Son, and produced him from Himself, without time, and without suffering and diminution himself.” (Anathemat. 25.) And this canon, saith Hilary, was therefore made by the Council, “lest any occasion should seem given to heretics, to ascribe to God the Father a necessity of begetting the Son, as if he produced him by necessity of nature, without the operation of his will.” (De Synod.)

And Marius Victorinus: “It was not [saith he, speaking of the generation of the Son,] by necessity of nature, but by the will of the Father’s Majesty.” (Adv. Arium.)

And Basil the Great: “God [saith he] having his power concurrent with his will, begat a Son worthy of Himself; he begat him, such as he Himself would” (Hom. 29.)

And again: “It is the general sentiment of all Christians whatsoever, that the Son is a Light begotten, shining forth from the unbegotten Light; and that He is the True Life and the True Good, springing from that Fountain of Life, the Father’s goodness.” (Contr. Eunom. lib. 2.)

And Gregory Nyssen: “For neither [saith he] doth that immediate connection between the Father and the Son, exclude [or, leave no room for the operation of] the Father’s will; as if he begat the Son by necessity of nature, without the operation of his will: neither does the supposition of the Father’s will [operating in this matter,] so divide the Son from the Father, as if any space of time was requisite between, [for the will of the Father to operate in.]” (Contr. Eunom. lib. 2.)

And again: “If he begat the Son when he would, (as Eunomius contends;) it will follow, that since he always willed what is good, and always had power to do what he would, therefore the Son must be conceived to have been always with the Father, who always wills what is good, and always has power to do what he wills.” (c. Eunom. 8.)

And, among modern writers, the learned Dr. Payne: “There are several things, I own [saith he] in the blessed Trinity, incomprehensible to our reason, and unaccountable to our finite understandings —-; As, why, and how an infinite and all-sufficient God, should produce an eternal Son, —-; Whether this were by a voluntary or a necessary production; etc.”

XVIII.

     The [Logos, the] Word or Son of the Father, sent into the world to assume our flesh, to become man, and die for the sins of mankind; was not the [[Gr text], the] internal reason or wisdom of God, an attribute or power of the Father; but a real Person, the same who from the beginning has been the Word, or Revealer of the will, of the Father to the world.

See the texts, No 535, 680, 654, 616, 617, 6 18, 607, 612, 638, 574, 584, 586, 588, 569, 631, 641, 642, 652, 672.

See beneath, theses 22 and 23.

Notes on thesis 18.

     That [the [Gr text], the [Gr text], the [Gr text],] the Word, the Wisdom, the Power, of the Father, was inseparably united to Christ, and dwelt in him, [the Father which dwelleth in me, he doth the works, Joh. 14:10;] is acknowledged on all hands, even by the Socinians themselves. But the question is, whether that Logos, of whom it is declared in Scripture that He was made flesh, and dwelt among us; that he came down from heaven, not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him; that he came in the flesh;  that he took part of flesh and blood; that he was made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man; does not signify the real Person, to whom the forementioned powers and titles belongs, both before and after his incarnation, in different manners.

As to the sense of Antiquity. Among the writers before the time of the Council of Nice, Theolphilus, Tatian, and Athenagoras, seem to have been of that opinion, that [the Logos] the Word, was [the [Gr text]] the internal Reason or Wisdom of the Father; and yet, at the same time, they speak as if they supposed that Word to be produced or generated into a real Person. Which is wholly unintelligible: And seems to be a mixture of two opinions: the one, of the generality of Christians, who believed the Word to be a real Person: the other, of the Jews and Jewish Christians, who personated the internal Wisdom of God, or spake of it figuratively (according to the genius of their language) as of a Person. See my commentary on 40 select texts, in answer to Mr. Nelson, p. 178.

Irenaeus and Clemens Alexandrius, speak sometimes with some ambiguity; but upon the whole, plainly enough understand the Word or Son of God, to be a real Person. The other writers before the Council of Nice, do generally speak of Him clearly and distinctly, as of a real Person. See a large passage of Justin Martyr, in the latter part of his Dialogue with Trypho; where speaking against those, who taught [[Gr text]] that the Son was only a power emitted from the Father, so as not to be really distinct from him; in like manner as men say the light of the sun is upon earth, yet so as not to be a real distinct thing from the sun in the heavens, but, when the sun sets, the light also goes away with it; he, on the contrary, explains his own opinion to be, that as angels  are permanent beings, and not mere powers; so the Son, whom the Scriptures call [[Gr text]] both God and an Angel, [[Gr text]] “is not, like the light of the sun, a mere name [or power,] but a really distinct Being, begotten from the Father by his power and will; not by division, as if the Father’s Substance could be parted, as all corporeal things are divided and parted, and thereby become different from what they were before part was taken from them; but as one fire is lighted from another, [so as to be really distinct from it,] and yet the former suffers thereby no diminution.” And indeed St John himself, styling him [Theos] God, (which can be understood only of a real Person,) Joh. 1:1; compared with Rev. 19:13, where he says, “His name is called the Word of God”; does sufficiently determine the point.

About the time of the Council of Nice, they spake with more uncertainty; sometimes arguing that the Father considered without the Son, would be without Reason and without Wisdom, (which is supposing the Son to be nothing but an attribute of the Father:) and yet at other times expressly maintaining, that the Son was “neither the word spoken forth, nor the inward word [or reason] in the mind of the Father, nor an efflux of him, nor a part [or segment] of his unchangeable nature, nor an emission from him; but truly and perfectly a Son.” (Athanas. Exposit. Fidei.) But the greater part agreed in this latter notion, that he was a real Person: and the learned Eusebius has largely and beyond contradiction proved the same, [viz. that the Son is neither, [Gr text], a mere power or attribute of the Father; nor the same Person with the Father; but a real distinct living Subsistence, and true Son of the Father;] in his Books, de Ecclesiastica Theologia, against Marcellus of Ancyra, a Follower of Sabellius and Paul of Samosat: And particularly, Book I, chap. 8, and chap. 20; which highly deserve the perusal of all learned men.

After the time of the Council of Nice, they spake still more and more confusedly and ambiguously; till at last the Schoolmen, (who, as an + excellent writer of our Church expresses it, “wrought a great part of their Divinity out of their own brains, as spiders do cobwebs out of their own bowels; starting a thousand subtilties, —- which we may reasonably presume that they who talk of them, did themselves never thoroughly understand”;) made this matter also, as they did most others, utterly unintelligible. + Archbishop Tillotson, sermon concerning the unity of the divine nature.

XIX.

     The Holy Spirit is not self-existent, but derives his Being from the Father, (by the Son,) as from the Supreme Cause.

See the texts, No 1148, 1154, 546; and 1149-1197.

See above, theses 5 and 12; and below, thesis 40.

XX.

     The Scripture, speaking of the Spirit of God, never mentions any limitation of time, when he derived his Being from the Father; but supposes him to have existed with the Father from the beginning.

See the texts, No 1132*, 1148, 1154.

See above, theses 3 and 15.

XXI.

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

See the texts, No 1148, 1154.

See above, thesis 13.

Notes on thesis 21.

     Thus Basil: “If [saith he] you are ignorant of many things; nay; if the things you are ignorant of, be ten thousand times more than those you know, why should you be ashamed, among so many other things, to take in this likewise, that safe method of confessing your ignorance as to the manner of the existence of the Holy Spirit?” (Orat. contr. Sabell.)

And again: “The very motions of our own mind, [saith he,] whether of the soul may be said more properly to create or beget them; who can exactly determine? What wonder then is it, that we are not ashamed to confess our ignorance how the Holy Spirit was produced? For, that he is superior to created Beings, the things delivered in Scripture concerning him do sufficiently evidence: But the title of unoriginated, this no man can be so absurd as to presume to give to any other than to the Supreme God: Nay, neither can we give to the Holy Spirit, the title of Son; for there is but one Son of God, even the only-begotten. What title then are we to give the Spirit? We are to call him the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth, sent forth from God, and bestowed through the Son: Not a servant, but Holy and Good, the directing Spirit, the Quickening Spirit, the Spirit of Adoption, the Spirit which knoweth all the things of God. Neither let any man think, that our refusing to call the Spirit a creature, is denying his personality, [or real subsistence:] for it is the part of a pious mind, to be afraid of saying any thing concerning the Holy Spirit, which is not revealed in Scripture; and rather be content to wait till the next life, for a perfect knowledge and understanding of his nature.” (Contra Eunom. lib. 3.)

XXII.

     The Holy Spirit of God does not in Scripture generally signify a mere power or operation of the Father, but more usually a real Person.

See the texts, No 1017, 1032, 1043, 1045, 1046, 1048, 1059*; 1077, 1129, 1138, 1143, 1144, 1147, 1155, 1171, 1172.

See above, thesis 18; and below, thesis 23.

XXIII.

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

See above, theses 18 and 22.

Notes on thesis 23.

     “It is so manifestly declared in Scripture, [saith Novatian] that He, [viz. Christ] is God; that most of the heretics, struck with the greatness and truth of his divinity, and extending his honor even too far, have dared to speak of him not as of the Son, but as of God the Father himself.” (De Trin. cap. 18.)

And Origen: “Be it so [saith he,] that some among us, (as in such multitude of believers there cannot but be diversity of opinions,) are so rash as to imagine our Savior to be Himself the Supreme God over all; Yet we do not so, who believe his own words, My Father which sent me, is greater than I.” (contr. Cels. lib. 8.)

And Athanasius: “Was not the Son [saith he] sent by the Father? He himself every where declares so: and He likewise promised to send the Spirit, the Comforter; and did send him according to his promise. But now they who run the Three Persons into One, destroy (as much as in them lies) both the generation [of the Son,] and the mission [of the Son and Spirit.]” (contra Sabell.)

And Basil: “If any one [saith he] affirms the same person, to be the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; imagining One Being under different names, and one real subsistence under three distinct denominations; we rank such a person among the Jews.” (Monachis Suis, epist. 73.)

And again: “Unto this very time, in all their letters, they fail not to anathematize and expel out of the Churches the hated name of Arius: but with Marcellus, who has introduced the directly contrary impiety, and profanely taken away the very existence of the divinity of the only-begotten Son, and abused the signification of the word (Logos,) [interpreting it of the internal reason of the Father;] with this man they seem to find no fault at all.” (Ad Athanas. epist. 52.)

And Nazianzen, speaking somewhere of the same opinions, calls those men [[Gr text]] over-orthodox, who by affirming the Son and Holy Spirit to be unoriginated, did consequently either destroy their personality, that is, their existence; or introduce three co-ordinate self-existent Persons, that, [[Gr text]] a plurality of Gods.

The learned Bishop Bull, speaking of the ancient writers before the Council of Nice: “Though perhaps [saith he] they do indeed somewhat differ from the divinity of the schools; on which, Petavius lays too much stress in these mysteries.” (Sect. 2. cap. 13, S 1.)

And again: “He [viz. Petavius] thought every things jejune and poor, that was not exactly agreeable to the divinity of the schools, itself more truly in most things jejune and poor.” (Sect. 3. cap. 9, S 8.)

XXIV.

     The Person of the Son, is, in the New Testament, sometimes styled, God.

See the texts, No 533-545.

See below, theses 25 and 27.

XXV.

     The reason why the Son in the New Testament is sometimes styled God, is not so much upon account of his metaphysical substance, how divine soever; as of his relative attributes and divine authority (communicated to him from the Father) over us.

See the texts, No 533—-545.

See beneath, thesis 51.

Notes on thesis 25.

     So far indeed as the argument holds good from authority to substance, so far the inferences are just, which in the School of Divinity are drawn concerning the substance of the Son. But the Scripture itself, being written as a rule of life; neither in this, nor in any other matter, ever professedly mentions any metaphysical notions, but only moral doctrine; and metaphysical or physical truths accidentally only, and so far as they happen to be connected with moral.

The word, God, when spoken of the Father himself, is never intended in Scripture to express philosophically his abstract metaphysical attributes; but to raise in us a notion of his attributes relative to us, his supreme dominion, authority, power, justice, goodness, etc. For example: When God the Father is described in the loftiest manner, even in the prophetic style, Rev 1:8, he which is, and which was, and which is to come; tis evident that these words, signifying his self existence or underived and independent eternity, are used only as a sublime introduction to, and a natural foundation of, that which immediately follows, viz. his being (ho Pantokrator) Supreme Governor over all.

And hence (I suppose) it is, that the Holy Ghost in the New Testament is never expressly styled God; because whatever be his real metaphysical substance, yet, in the divine economy, he is no where represented as sitting upon a throne, or exercising supreme dominion, or judging the world; but always as executing the will of the Father and the Son, in the administration of the government of the Church of God; according to that of our Savior, Joh. 16:13 “He shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak.” See below, theses 32 and 41.

XXVI.

     By the operation of the Son, the Father both made and governs the world.

See the texts, No 546, —- 553, 642, 652.

Notes on thesis 26.

     There is hardly any doctrine, wherein all the ancient Christian writers do so universally, so clearly, and so distinctly agree; as in this. And therefore I shall mention but one or two authors.

“There is one God [saith Irenaeus] Supreme over all, who made all things by his Word: —- And out of all things, nothing is excepted; but all things did the Father make by Him, whether they be visible or invisible, temporal or eternal.” (lib. 1, cap. 19.)

Again: “That the Supreme God did by his Word [which, saith he just before, is our Lord Jesus Christ,] make and order all things, whether they be angels, or archangels, or thrones, or dominions; is declared by St. John, when he saith, All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made.” (Lib. 3. cap. 8.)

And again: “Believing [saith he] in the one true God, who made heaven and earth, and all things that are therein, by his Son Jesus Christ.” (lib. 3, cap. 4.)

And Athanasius: “By whom [viz. by the Son,] the Father frames and preserves and governs the universe.” (contra Gentes.)

And again: “By the Son [saith he,] and in [or through] the Spirit, God both made and preserves all things.”

XXVII.

     Concerning the Son, there are other greater things spoken in Scripture, and the highest titles ascribed to him; even such as include all divine powers, excepting only supremacy and independency, which to suppose communicable is an express contradiction in terms.

Notes on thesis 27.

     The Word, [saith Justin] is the first power (next after God, the Father and Supreme Lord of all,) and it is the Son.” (Apol. 1.)

See the texts, which declare;

That He knows men’s thoughts, No 554, 557, 562, 564, 565, 573, 589, 599, 605, 614, 627, 657, 669.

That he knows things distant, No 571.

That he knows all things, No 606, 613.

That he is the Judge of all, No 582, 623.

That it would have been a condescension in him, to take upon him the nature of angels, No 654.

That he knows the Father, No 555, 576; even as he is known of the Father, No 592.

That he so reveals the Father, as that he who knows Him, knows the Father, No 590, 598, 600, 603.

That he takes away the sin of the world, No 570.

That he forgave sins, and called God his own Father, No 580, 649, 650.

That all things are His, No 604, 608, 655, 656.

That he is Lord of all, No 620, 621*, 622, 630, 633, 638, 651, 652, 665, 679, 681.

That he is the Lord of Glory, No 626, 663.

That he appeared of old in the person of the Father, No 616, 617, 618, 597.

That he is greater than the temple, No 556.

That he is the same for ever, No 652, 662.

That he hath the keys of hell and of death, No 667.

That he hath the Seven Spirits of God, No 670, 674.

That he is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, No 666, 667, 668, 686,

That he is the Prince of Life, No 615.

That he and his Father are one, [[Gr text]] No 594, 595, 609, 610, 611.

That he is in the Father, and the Father in Him, No 596, 600, 602, 610, 611.

That he is the Power and Wisdom of God, No 625, 644.

That he is holy and true, No 671, 672.

That he is in the midst of them who meet in his Name, No 558, 621, 624, 648.

That he will be with them always, even unto the end, No 560.

That he will work with them and assist them, No 563, 640, 643.

That he will give them a mouth and wisdom, No 566.

That he will give them what they ask in his Name, No 601.

That he hath Life in himself, No 583, 667.

That he hath power to raise up himself, No 572, 593.

That he will raise up his disciples, No 582, 585, 587.

That he works as the Father works, and does all as He doth, No 579, 581, 582.

That he has all power in heaven and in earth. No 559, 578, 628, 629, 639, 646, 653, 664, 671.

That he is above all, No 577, 633, 638, 642.

That he sits on the throne, and at the right hand, of God, No 633, 647, 652, 659, 666, 661, 664, 673, 676.

That he was before Abraham, No 591.

That he was in the beginning with God, No 567.

That he had glory with God before the world was, No 607, 612.

That he was in the form of God, No 638.

That he came down from heaven, No 574, 584, 586, 588; and is in heaven, No 575.

That he is the Head, under whom all things are reconciled to God, No 632, 633, 635, 636, 642, 646.

That in him dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead, No 642, 645.

That he is the Image of God, No 631, 641, 652.

That he is in the bosom of the Father. No 569.

That his generation none can declare, No 619, 658.

That he is the Word of God, No 680, 535; the Son of God, No 561; the only-begotten Son, No 568; the firstborn of every creature; No 641, 642, 672.

See also the texts, wherein are joined together

The kingdom of Christ and of God, No 637, 677.

The throne of God and of the Lamb, No 684, 685.

The wrath of God and of the Lamb, No 675.

The first fruits to God and to the Lamb, No 675.

God and the Lamb, the light of the new Jerusalem, No 683.

God and the Lamb, the temple of it, No 682.

In order to understand rightly and consistently, and in what sense, in several of these passages, many of the same powers are ascribed to Christ, which in other passages are represented as peculiar characteristics of the Person of the Father; it is to be observed, that with each one of the attributes of the Father, there must always be understood to be connected the notion of supreme and independent; but the titles ascribed to the Son, must always carry along with them the idea of being communicated or derived. Thus, for example, when all power is ascribed to the Father; ’tis manifest it must be understood absolutely, of power supreme and independent: but when the Son is affirmed to have all power, it must always be understood (and indeed in Scripture it is generally expressed) to be derived to him from the supreme power and will of the Father. Again; When the Father is said to create the world, is must always be understood, that he of his own original power created it by the Son: But when the Son is said to create the world, it must be understood that he created it by the power of the Father. See and compare thesis 10 above, with this whole thesis 27; and the texts there cited, with those referred to here; particularly No 447, 362, 58, 669, and 789.

XXVIII.

     The Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament, as the immediate Author and Worker of all miracles, even of those done by our Lord himself; and as the Conductor of Christ in all the actions of his life, during his state of humiliation here upon earth.

See the texts, wherein he is declared to be:

The immediate Author and Worker of all miracles, No 996, 997, 1001, 1009, 1011, 1012, 1014, 1015, 1016, 1017, 1018, 1019, 1021.

Even of those done by Christ himself, No 1000, 1010, 1013, 1023.

And the Conductor of Christ, in all the actions of his life here upon earth, No 998, 999, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005, 1006, 1007, 1008, 1010, 1020, 1022.

XXIX.

     The Holy Spirit is declared in Scripture to be the Inspirer of the prophets and apostles, and the Great Teacher and Director of the apostles in the whole work of their ministry.

See the texts, No 1024—-1073.

XXX.

     The Holy Spirit is represented in the New Testament, as the Sanctifier of all hearts, and the Supporter and Comforter of good Christians under all their difficulties.

See the texts, No 1074—-1120.

Thoughts On Samuel Clarke’s 55 Theses, Part 1: Theses 1-15

As I noted in the preface I wrote to the introduction of Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, I am in general agreement with Clarke. Such being the case I am able to highly endorse his book as an excellent resource on the doctrine of the Trinity. However, I also mentioned in that preface, that there are a number of details within the grand scheme of our doctrine with which I disagree with Clarke. It is my hope in this article to briefly outline the main point of disagreement with his first 15 theses.

Firstly, in thesis one, Clarke begins with the a priori assumption that in addition to being the uncaused Cause of all, and autotheos, the person of God is “simple, uncompounded, and undivided”. This one detail, of divine simplicity, seems to me to contradict one of the most fundamental premises of Clarke’s entire work, which is that all our doctrine is to be drawn from the Holy Scriptures, and we ought not go beyond what can be demonstrated from them. I believe Clarke is correct in stating that the rest of thesis 1, minus this clause, is assumed throughout scripture, and moreover it can be demonstrated from the same. But that God is “simple, uncompounded, and undivided,” scripture has nowhere declared. As such, it remains a plausible theory, but it must be acknowledged that, without any positive demonstration from scripture, it remains a merely tentative notion.

In theses 2-3, it should be noted simply for sake of clarity, that when Clarke speaks of the Son and Spirit being with the Father “from the beginning”, this should not suggest to the reader that Their eternality is denied. As can be seen later on, Clarke does not deny it, and it is an important point of revealed doctrine that the Son and Holy Spirit, together with the Father, the one God, are eternal. We may fairly speak of Them as having been “from the beginning”, however, not only in emulation of scripture’s own language, but more technically, in the sense that prior to the beginning, when time was created by God through the Son, there was no space of time which we may properly speak of any person of the Trinity existing in, but They existed before, outside of, and apart from time together, prior to its creation. And it was in this atemporal or pretemporal state in which the Son was uniquely begotten from the Father, and the Spirit drew His origin from the Father.

In thesis 5, Clarke begins employing the somewhat problematic language of “self-existence”, something which ascribes to that Father alone, and later denies to the Son. This is problematic because the bare phrase “self-existent” can be taken in two senses, either in reference to self-caused, or rather, uncaused existence, or in reference to self-sustained existence, and these are two distinct notions. Perhaps one of the greatest flaws of Clarke’s work is his failure to clearly delineate between these two concepts. In the explanatory notes, however, we may observe that Clarke a couple of times equates self-existence with “unbegotten”, which gives us indication that he may have indeed intended it as a way of denoting the idea of uncaused existence. So long as that is how the term is understood, Clarke’s usage of it is accurate; the Father alone is without cause, source, or origin, while the Son has the Father as His own Cause, Source, and Origin. In this usage of “self-existent”, to affirm it of the Father and deny it to the Son is quite true and quite scriptural.

However, we must note that the term can also bear the meaning of self-sustained existence, and must remember that this quality, unlike uncaused existence, is indeed communicable, and was communicated by the Father to the Son. We read in John 5:26 (NASB) “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself;” this life in oneself, this other sort of ‘self-existence’, we might say, belongs to the Son as well as the Father, because the Father gave it to Him. The very fact that it is received from the Father precludes all possibility of confounding ‘life in oneself’ with uncaused existence, for the Son does not have this quality without cause, source, or origin, but from the Father as His personal Cause, Source, and Origin. This quality of self-sustained existence then deals with perpetual existence; we know that God sustains the existence of all creation perpetually, through the Son. Creation does not possess ‘life in itself’, but is wholly dependent upon the constant action of God, through the Son, in upholding the existence of all things (Heb 1:3). The Son is not like this, He does not stand in need, as creatures do, of being perpetually upheld and sustained in His existence by the Father; having once, before the ages, received life from the Father in His ineffable generation, He forevermore has “life in Himself”, self-sustained existence, as the Father has “life in Himself”, dependent on no other being to sustain or uphold His life whatsoever.

It should simply be noted, for sake of clarity, that in the many places where Clarke speaks “absolutely”, this is an antiquated way of saying, without qualification, such as that when the term “God” is used absolutely, eg, without qualification, it always or almost always refers to the person of the Father.

Relatedly, in thesis 8, Clarke says that the title “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”, when used absolutely, belongs to the Father alone. This is probably correct, so long as we understand then that at the burning bush, the title is not used absolutely, but is modified by the earlier introduction in the passage that the one speaking is the Angel of the LORD, who came down from heaven, the pre-incarnate Son.

In thesis 14, Clarke says that those who hold Christ to be “the self-existent Substance” are worthy of censure. The language of “Substance” is somewhat unclear, but it is quite likely to take that as a reference not to an abstract metaphysical substance, a generic substance or secondary substance, but in reference to a primary substance, an individual, in this case, the Father. I believe it should be understood in the latter sense, especially when we consider that in thesis 4 Clarke simply eschews discussion of secondary substance altogether as going into the area of theory and speculation beyond what we have revealed in the scriptures. To then suppose that he here denies generic co-essentiality outright, would seem to make him contradict himself; while to read “Substance” here as a synonym for person, (as in antiquity especially, it often was), is to read Clarke’s theses in a manner most consistent with themselves. The theory of the generic co-essentiality of the Son with the Father, remains a wholly plausible one.

Samuel Clarke’s 55 Theses, Part 1: Theses 1-15

Here is the beginning of section 2 of Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, in which, after having presented the biblical data organized categorically in section 1 of the book, he sets out to systematically sum up the teaching of the Scriptures in 55 theses. This is taken from the 2nd Edition. The very useful introduction to the book can be read here. God willing, the remainder of the theses will follow soon.

The

Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity.

Part II.

     Being the foregoing doctrine set forth at large, and explained in more particular and distinct propositions.

I.

     There is one * supreme Cause and Original of all things; one simple, uncompounded, undivided intelligent Agent, or ** Person, who is the + Author of all being, and the # Foundation of all power.

This the great foundation of all piety; the first principle of natural religion, and every where supposed in the scripture revelation. And the acknowledgment of this truth in our faith and worship, is the first and great commandment, both in the Old Testament and the in the New. See, in Part I, the texts No 1—-532.

* See beneath, thesis 7.

** For, intelligent Agent, is the proper and adequate definition of the word, person; neither can it otherwise be understood, with any sense or meaning at all. See Dr. Bennet on the Trinity, p. 231.

+ See beneath, theses 12, 19, & 35.

# See beneath, thesis 6.

II.

     With this First and Supreme Cause or Father of all things, there has existed * from the beginning, a second divine + Person, which is his Word or Son.

See the texts, No 567, 568, 569, 574, 584, 586, 588, 591, 607, 612, 619, 638, 641, 658.

* See beneath, thesis 15.

+ See beneath, thesis 18.

III.

     With the Father and the Son, there has existed # from the beginning, a third divine + Person, which is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

See the texts, No 1124, 1129, 1132*, 1148.

# See beneath, thesis 20.

+ See beneath, thesis 22.

IV.

     What the proper metaphysical nature, essence, or substance of any of the divine persons is, the Scripture has no where at all declared; but describes and distinguishes them always, by their personal characters, offices, powers, and attributes.

See beneath, theses 13 & 21, and the notes on thesis 25.

All reasonings therefore, (beyond what is strictly demonstrable by the most evident and undeniable light of nature,) deduced from their supposed metaphysical nature, essence, or substance; instead of their personal characters, offices, powers, and attributes delivered in the Scripture; are uncertain and at best but probable hypotheses.

V.

     The Father alone, is self-existent, underived, unoriginated, independent; made of none, begotten of none, proceeding from none.

See the texts, No 8, 13, 339, 361, 372, 385, 393, 411.

Also No 413, 414, 416, 417, 419, 425, 427, 431, 583, 798.

See beneath, theses 12 & 19 & 34 & 40.

VI.

     The Father is the Sole Origin of all power and authority, and is the Author and Principle of whatsoever is done by the Son or by the Spirit.

See the texts, No 756 —- 995, 1148 —- 1197.

See beneath, theses 35, 36, 37 & 41.

VII.

     The Father alone, is, in the highest, strict, and proper sense, absolutely Supreme over All.

See the tests, No 337, 342, 343, 345, 346, 347, 348, 349, 350, 357, 360, 361, 363, 365, 372, 380, 382, 382*, 389, 393, 398, 411, 414, 415, 416, 417, 420, 425, 426, 427, 428, 429, 430, 433, 434, 435, 436, 440.

See beneath, these 34 & 40.

VIII.

     The Father alone, is, absolutely speaking, the * God of the Universe; the + God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the # God of Israel; of Moses, of ++ the prophets and apostles; and the ** God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

* See the texts, No 337, 357, 361, 363, 365, 372, 380, 382*, 393, 411, 414, 415, 416, 417, 418, 421, 423, 424, 425, 427, 428, 429, 432, 434, 435, 436, 439, 440.

+ No 356.

# No 338.

++ No 441.

** No 18 —- 336, 767, 854, 894, 904, 911, 917, 922, 935, 950, 974, 989, 991, and the Note on 542.

See also the passage cited below in thesis 9, from Irenaeus, lib. 2. c. 55.

IX.

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

See the texts, No 1—-17.

See beneath, thesis 39.

Notes on thesis 9.

     The reason is; because the words, “one” and “only,” are used, by way of eminence, to signify Him who is absolutely supreme, self-existent, and independent; which attributed are personal, and evidently impossible to be communicated from one person to another.

Wherefore, not only the Scripture, but also the ecclesiastical writers in all antiquity, do thus speak.

“Have we not, [says Clement Romanus,] One God, and one Christ, and one Spirit?” (Ad Cor. 1)

And Ignatius: “There is [saith he] One God, who hath manifested himself by His Son Jesus Christ, who is his eternal Word:” Or, (as it is in the larger copy of the same epistle,) “There is One God, Supreme over all, who hath manifested himself by his Son Jesus Christ, who is his Word; not a word spoken forth, but substantial; For he is not the sound of an articulate voice, but a substance begotten by the divine power.” (Ad Magnes.)

And Justin Martyr: “If ye had considered [says he] the things spoken by the prophets, ye would not have denied Christ to be God, who is the Son of the Only and unbegotten and ineffable God.” (Dial. cum Tryph.)

And Irenaeus: “St John [says he] preached One God supreme over all, and one only-begotten Son Jesus Christ.” (lib. 1. c. 1.)

Again: “The Church dispersed over all the world, has received from the apostles this belief, in One God the Father, Supreme over all, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, etc.” (lib. 1. c. 2.)

Again: “We hold fast the rule of truth, which is, that there is one God Almighty, [Gr. pantokrator, Supreme over all;] who created all things by his Word. —- This is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (lib. 1. c. 19.)

Again: “This God, is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and of Him it is, that St Paul the apostles declares, There is One God, even the Father, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.” (lib. 2. c. 2.)

Again: “Our Lord acknowledges one Father; and that He is the God over all.” (lib. 2. c. 12.)

Again: “The One only God, the Creator, who is above all principality, dominion and power. —-This is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob; —- whom both the Law shows forth, and the prophets declare, and the Spirit reveals, and the apostles preach, and the Church has believed in. This is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (lib. 2. c. 55.)

Again: “The doctrine delivered by the apostles; viz. that there is One God Almighty, —- and that He is the father our our Lord Jesus Christ.” (lib. 3. c. 3.)

Again: “Believing in One God, the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things that are therein, by Jesus Christ the Son of God.” (lib. 3. c. 4.)

Again: “Settling in the Church, the rule of truth; that there is One God Almighty, who made all things by his Word, [viz. by Christ.]”  (lib. 3. c. 11.)

Again: “The only-begotten Son came to us from the One God; For no man can know the Father, but by the revelation of the Son.” (lib. 4. c. 14.)

Again: “First of all, believe that there is One God, who made all things. —- As saith the apostle; There is One God, even the Father, who is above all, and in us all.” (lib 4. c. 37.)

Again: “In One God Almighty, of whom are all things: and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things: and in the Spirit of God.” (lib. 4. c. 62.)

And again: “Thus therefore [says he] our Lord manifestly shows, that the true Lord and One God, which the law had declared, etc. —- For he shows that the God, preached and declared in the Law, was the Father.” (lib. 5. c. 18.)

Clemens Alexandrius in like manner: “The nature of the Son, (saith he) which is most closely allied to Him who alone is Supreme over all; is most beneficent.” (Strom. 7.)

And again: “This eternal Jesus, [saith he] the one great High Priest of One God, who is also his Father.” (Protreptic. ad Gentes.)

And Tertullian: “As [says he,] the Word of God is not the same Person whose Word he is, so neither is the Spirit; and if he is called God, yet it is not thereby meant that he is That God [or that same Person] whose Spirit he is. For no thing, which belongs to another, (or, is the relative of another,) can be that same thing to which it belongs, (or, whose relative it is.)” (Adv. Prax. c. 16.)

And again: speaking of those who did not approve His (or Montanus’s, and perhaps * Valentinus’s) explication of the doctrine of the Trinity:

* See Tertullian. advers. Prax. cap. 8,  [latin and Gr text] Et advers. Valentin. c. 7, [latin text] compared with that passage in Irenæus, lib. 1, c. 1, referred to by the Learned Bp. Bull, Defens, Sect. 2, c. 5. s 4, [Gr text.]

“The unlearned people [saith he,] which are always the greatest part of believers; not understanding that they ought indeed to believe in One God, but yet so as at the same time to take in the Economy; [that is, that notion of the Trinity which he says in this book he learnt more perfectly from Montanus, whom he calls the Paraclete;] are the frightened at the notion of the Economy. And pretending that we teach two or three Gods, but that they are the worshippers of the One God; they perpetually cry out, We hold fast the Monarchy, [or the Supreme Government of the One God, over the universe.]” (ibid. c. 3.)

And again: speaking of the Creed received in the universal Church; “The rule of faith [saith he,] is that, whereby we believe in One God only who made all things out of nothing, by His Word emitted first of all; Which Word is called his Son.” (Preser. adv. Haeres. c. 13.)

And Origen: “We worship [saith he] the One God, and his one Son or Word; offering up our prayers to the Supreme God, through his only-begotten Son.” (Cels. lib. 8.)

And Novatian: “We believe [says he] in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our God, but God’s Son; namely, the Son of Him, who is the One and Only God, the Maker of all things.” (de Trinit. c. 9.)

And again: “God the Father therefore is alone unoriginated, —- the One God. —- The Son indeed as proceeding from God, is also God, constituting a second Person, but not therefore hindering the Father from being the One God. —- The Son is begotten, and derives his original from Him who is the One God. —- For since the Principle or First cause of all things, is that which is Unbegotten; (which God the Father only is, as being without any Original at all;) this shows, that though He which is begotten is also God, yet the One God is He whom the Son hath declared to be Unoriginated. —- Whilst the Son acknowledgeth the whole power of his divinity to be derived from the father, he declares the Father to be the One True Eternal God, from whom alone that divinity of the Son is derived. —- The Son indeed is shown to be God, as having divinity derived and communicated to him; and yet nevertheless the Father is proved to be the One God, as being the Communicator of that divinity.” (Ibid. cap 31.)

And Eusebius, in the following passages, (which are most of them cited by Dr. Cave in his dissertation against Le Clerc in defense of Eusebius’s orthodoxy:) “The Son, [saith he,] hath his divinity by derivation from the Father, as being the Image of God; so that there is but one divinity considered in both, according to this similitude, [namely as the light of the sun, and of an image of the sun seen in glass, is but one;] and there is but One God, viz. he who exists of Himself without cause and without original, and who is manifested by his Son as by a glass and an Image.” (Demonstr. Eveng. lib. 5. c. 4.)

And again: “Though the Son [saith he] is by us acknowledged to be God, yet [properly speaking] there is but One God only; [or, there is but One who is the Only God;] even He who alone is underived and unbegotten, who hath his divinity of Himself, and is the Cause both of the Son’s Being, and of his being what he is, [viz. of his being God]. —- This is the One God, even the Father of the only-begotten Son. —- Is not He alone the One God, who acknowledges no superior, no cause of his Being, but hath his divinity and supreme dominion absolutely of Himself, underived and unbegotten; and communicates to the Son, both his divinity and life? —- whom the Son himself teaches us to acknowledge as the Only True God? [Joh. 17:3.]” (De ecclesiast. Theol. lib. 1. c. 11.)

And again: “The Son himself declares the Father to be even His God also. —- And therefore the Church preaches, that there is but One God.” (Ib. lib. 2. c. 7.)

And again: “As all other things, so the glory of his divinity also has he received from the Father, as a true and only Son. But the Father did not receive His from any; but being Himself the Original and Fountain and Root of all Good, is therefore justly styled the One and Only God.” (Ibid.)

And again: “The Church preaches the One God, and that He is the Father and Supreme over all; and that Jesus Christ is God of God.” (lib. 1. c. 8.)

And again: “The apostles styles Christ the Image of God, that no man might imagine two Gods, but One only, even Him who is over all. For if there be One God, and there be none other but He; ’tis plain this must be He, who is made known by his Son as by an Image.” (Lib. 1. cap. 20. s 15.)

And Athanasius: “One God, [saith he] and one [who is the] Word of God.” (contra Gentes.)

And again: “The One and Only True God; I mean the Father of Christ.” (Ibid.)

Again: “That Jesus Christ our Lord and God incarnate, is not the Father; is not, as Sabellians would have it, The Only God: this the Holy Scriptures every where testify; Declaring, that it was the Son of God, which came in the flesh; and that he always spake of his Father, and professed that he came forth from his Father, and was to return to his Father. In proof of which, there is no need to allege particular passages; For (as I said) all the Gospels, and all the Writings of the apostles tend to this very point.” (contra Sabellianos.)

Again: “There is but One God, because the Father is but One; yet is the Son also God, having such sameness as that of a Son to a Father.” (Ibid.)

Again: “Because He only [viz. the Father] is unbegotten, and He only is the Fountain of Divinity; therefore He is styled the Only God.” (Ibid.)

Again: “What person, when he hears Him, whom he believes to be the Only God, say, This is my beloved Son; dares affirm, that the Word of God was made out of nothing?” (De Sententia Dionysii Alex.)

And again: “When therefore the Father is styled the Only God, and the Scripture says that there is One God, etc.” (contra Arian. Orat. 3.)

And again: “We acknowledge but One Original of things; and affirm that the Creating Word has no other sort of divinity, but that which derives from the Only God, as being begotten of Him.” (Ibid.)

And again: “The One God, is the Father; who exists by Himself, as being over all, and is manifested by his Son, etc.” (Ibid.)

And again: “Because Christ is God of God, therefore the Scripture declares there is but One God: For, the Word being the Son of the Only God etc.” (contra Arian. Orat. 4.)

And Hilary: “The Son’s being God, does not hinder the Father from being the One God; For He is therefore one God, because he is self-existent God.” (Hil. de Trin. lib. 4.)

And again: “We profess our belief in One God: —- because upon account of his self-existence, he [viz. the Father] is the One God.” (Id. de Synod.)

And Epiphanius: “Do you not perceive how these words, There is one God, of whom are all things, and we in him, show there is but one Original of Things?” (Heres. 57.)

And Gregory Nazianzen: “There is but One God; the Son and the Holy Ghost being referred to the One Cause; [Namely, as being divine persons by whom the One God, or One Cause and original of things, made and governs the world.] (Orat. 29.)

And Austin; (mentioning objections against his own notion of the Trinity;) “But what shall we do [saith he] with that testimony of our Lord? For ’twas the Father he spoke to, and ’twas the Father he directed himself to, when he said; This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the One True God. [The reader that pleases to consult the passage, will find the answer much weaker than the objection.]” (De. Trin. lib. VI. cap. 9.)

And, among later divines, Zanchy: “The Father [saith he] is called the One and Only God, by way of eminence.” (de Trib. Elohim, Lib. 5. c. 5.)

And the learned Bishop Pearson: “That One God [saith he] is Father of all; and to us there is but One God, the Father.” (Expos. on the Creed, p. 26.)

Again: “And thus to us there is but One God, the Father, of whom are all things; To which, the Words following in the Creed may seem to have relation, The Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.” (pag. 26.)

And again: “From hence He [viz. the Father] is styled One God, (1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:6;) the True God, (1 Th. 1:9;) the Only True God, (Joh. 17:3;) the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3;).” (pag. 40.)

Again: “I shall briefly declare the creation of the world to have been performed by that One God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (pag. 63.)

And again: “But as we have already proved that One God to be the Father; so must we yet further show that One God, the Father, to be the Maker of the World.” (p. 64.)

And the learned Bishop Bull: “When He [viz. Socinus] affirms that all the ancients, till the time of the Nicene Council, believed the Father of Jesus Christ to be alone the One True God; if this be understood of that preeminence of the Father, by which He alone is of Himself [by self-existence] the True God; we confess that this assertion is most true. But this makes nothing in favor of Socinus: And ’tis certain that this doctrine continued in the Church of Christ, not only till the Council of Nice, or a little after; but always.” (Defense. Proaem. S 4.)

Again: “Which subordination [saith he] of the Son to the Father, is expressed by the Nicene Fathers two ways. First, in their calling the Father, the One God; and then in their styling the Son, God of God, Light of Light.” (Ibid. S 11.)

Again: To an Arian writer, who alleged that Polycarp, in his prayer, manifestly styles the Father only, the true God and maker of all things; and that he invoked Him through the Son, whom he calls only our High Priest; and lastly that he so speaks, as to seem to acknowledge the Father only, to be the Supreme God: He replies; “We readily grant, that the Father alone is in some respect the Supreme God; namely because, as Athanasius speaks, He is the Fountain of Divinity; that is, He alone is of Himself [by self-existence] God; from whom the Son and Holy Spirit derive their divinity: And that for this cause the Father is most commonly styled properly [or peculiarly] the True God, both in the Holy Scriptures, and in the writings of the ancients; especially where the divine persons are mentioned together.” (Defens. Sect. 2. cap. 3. S 10.)

Again: “Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho, expressly affirms, that the Father is the Cause of the Son’s Being. Upon which account, both Justin and the other Ante-Nicene Writers commonly call God the Father, by way of distinction, sometimes God absolutely, sometimes The God and Father of All, (according to the Texts, 1 Cor. 8:4; Eph. 4:6; Joh. 17:3;) namely, because the Father alone is God of Himself [by self-existence;] but the Son, is only God of God.” (Defens. Sect. 4, cap. 1, S 2.)

Again: “They also [viz. the fathers after the Council of Nice,] make no scruple to style the Father the Origin, The Cause, The Author of the Son; nay, to call the Father therefore, The One God.” (ibid. S 3.)

And again: “Lastly, [saith he,] the ancients, because the Father is the Original Cause, Author, and Fountain of the Son; made no scruple to call Him the One and Only God. For thus even the Nicene Fathers themselves began their Creed; I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, etc.” (ib. S 6.)

And Mr Hooker: “The Father alone [says he] is originally that Deity, which Christ originally is not; For Christ is God, by being of God.” (Ecclesiast. Pol. Book 5. S 54.)

And Dr. Henry More: “By the term God, [saith he,] if you understand that which is First of all, in such a sense as that all else is from Him, and He from None; the Son and Spirit cannot be said to be God in this signification; because the Father is not from Them, but They from the Father.” (Myst. of Godliness, Book 9, chap. 2.)

And the learned Dr. Payn: “Had we gone no further [says he] than Scripture, the only rule of our faith, in this matter; and held, with that, that to us there is One God, the Father, 1 Cor. 8:6; One God and Father of all, who is above all, Eph. 4:6; And had we known Him the Only True God, (as Christ called him, Joh. 17:3, not exclusively, but eminently and by way of excellency and prerogative, by which the Name and Title of God is peculiarly predicated of God the Father in Scripture; —- which is the great reason given by the fathers, of the divine unity; —-) Had we considered this plain Scriptural account and observation, that One God is spoken and predicated of the Father, and meant of Him, when it is said both in the Old Testament, and in the New, the Lord thy God is One God, and there is none other but he, or besides him; we had not given occasion for that objection of our adversaries, against our faith, of its implying a contradiction, or of its setting up more Gods than One. The One God, whom we pray to in the Lord’s prayer, and in other Christian offices and addresses; whom we profess to believe in, in our Creed; and whom the Scripture calls so; is God the Father Almighty. And He hath an only-begotten Son, etc.” (Payn’s Sermon on Trinity-Sunday, June the 7th, 1696; pag. 18.)

Again: “The One God [saith he] is spoken of God the Father in Scripture, as I have shown you; and as a great many, and particularly,  Bishop Pearson upon the Creed observes; that “the Name of God taken absolutely, is often in Scripture spoken of the Father, and is in many places to be taken particularly of the Father; and from hence (says he) he is styled One God, the True God, the Only True God: and this 9he says further) is a most necessary truth to be acknowledged, for the avoiding multiplication and plurality of Gods:” He saying the Unity mainly here, as I have done. So that though the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; which they are not often called in Scripture; (which rather reserves and gives the name of God absolutely and peculiarly to the Father; as, God loved the world, God sent his Son, and the like;) yet neither of them are meant by that One God, which the Scripture speaks of, when it speaks peculiarly of the Father. —- The word God, —- generally (if not always) in Scripture, taken absolutely and spoken so of One God, is meant of God the Father. Which may give us such an account of the Trinity and of the Unity, as may take of all the charge of a contradiction. Since they are not One and Three; nor is each of them God, and All of them God or One God, in the same respect, sense and meaning of the words; but in different. —- The Father  is the Only Self-existent unoriginated Being, the Cause and Root of the other Two, as the ancients often call him; and so is the most absolutely perfect Being, and God in the highest sense: And the Scriptures, Creeds, and Christian offices, call him so absolutely and by way of eminence and prerogative. The Son is produced of the Father, and so is not Autotheos, or God in that sense as the Father who is from none; but is God, of God etc.” (Ibid.)

Again: “He is not indeed God the Father, or God from none, Autotheos. 9In that sense, we believe in One God, the Father Almighty; and to use there is but One God, the Father, as the apostles speaks, 1 Cor. 8:6; And Christ is the Son of this God the Father, who had his Being and Nature from him:) But he is God of God, etc.” (Serm. on Spet. 21, 1696; pag. 87.)

Again: “The Father [saith he] is the only self-existent, unoriginated Being; —- and so, in the words of a right reverend and excellent person, God in the highest sense —- The word Deus, [God,] as it signifies a self-existent, unoriginated Being, is predicated only of God the Father; and not, secundum eandem rationem [upon the same account,] of the other two divine Persons, neither of which are self-existent and unoriginated, nor God in the highest sense of Autotheos. —- But He [viz. the Father] —- is called eminently and absolutely, and by way of excellence and prerogative, the One God, and, in the words fore-quoted God in the highest sense.” (Letter from Dr. P. to the Bishop of R. in Vindication of his Sermon on Trinity-Sunday, pag. 15, 16, 17.)

And again: “This is the explication of the ancients, which they hold; with this more plain Scriptural account of the Trinity, that needs no explication: One God the Father, with an only-begotten Son, etc.” (Postscript, pag. 26.)

Lastly, the learned author of the History of the Apostle’s Creed: “This Clause [saith he] of One God, was inserted [in the Creed,] to require our belief, that there is but one Infinite, Supreme, Beginningless, and Eternal God; and that this One God, and none other, was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of all other beings whatsoever; Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. So that this expression of One God, is to be understood either absolutely, without regard to any other article in the Creed; and so it denotes our faith, that there is but one Eternal, Independent, Self-existent God: or relatively, as it hath reference to what immediately follows; as so it signifies, that One and the same God, and not a different or diverse Being from him, is the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

X.

     When the word, God, is mentioned in Scripture, with any high epithet, title, or attribute annexed to it; it generally, (I think, always) means the Person of the Father.

See the texts, No 337-441. Wherein He is styled;

The Lord of heaven and earth, No 337, 365.

The God of Israel, No 338.

The Living God, No 339, 341, 354, 361, 370, 378, 379, 385, 390, 391, 394, 397, 400, 401, 403, 406, 422.Which liveth for ever and ever, 417, 419, 425, 430.

The Good God, No 340.

The Power, No 342.

The most High God, No 343, 350, 360, 364, 398.

The Blessed, No 344.

The Highest, No 345, 346, 348, 349.

The Mighty One, No 347.

Who is above all, No 382**.

The Invisible God, 384, 389, 402.

Whom no man hath seen or can see, 351, 352, 353, 393, 409.

The True and Only True God, No 355, 385, 410.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, No 356.

That made heaven and earth, etc. No 357, 361, 365, 425, 428.

Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. No 382*, 634.

The God of our fathers, No 356, 358, 366.

The God of Glory, No 359.

Which searcheth the hearts, No 362, 369*, 386.

Which doth or maketh all things, No 363.

The incorruptible God, No 367.

Which raiseth the dead, and quickeneth all things, No 368, 377, 392.

Who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, No 369, 858, 859, 864, 866, 867, 870, 873, 875, 876, 877, 878, 879, 881, 882, 885, 887, 889, 893, 899, 901, 908, 912, 913, 923, 924, 939, 942, 972, 974, 975.

The Lord of Hosts, No 371, 405.

Of whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things, No 372.

The God of Peace, No 373, 374, 381, 383, 387, 404.

The Everlasting God, No 375.

The Only Wise God, No 376, 389, 412.

The Lord God Almighty, No 380, 414, 416, 427, 429, 432, 434, 435, 436, 440.

Which worketh all thing s after the counsel of his own will, No 382.

The Blessed God, No 388.

The King eternal, immortal, etc. No 389.

The Blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the Light which no man can approach unto, etc. No 393.

The Great God, No 395, 437.

The Majesty on high, and in the heavens, No 398, 399.

The excellent Glory, No 407.

The Holy One, No 408.

The Only Supreme Governor, No 411.

He which is, and which was, and which is to come, No 413, 414, 416, 427, 431.

Which sitteth on the throne, No 415, 417, 418, 421, 423, 424, 435, 439.

Who created all things, and for whose pleasure they are, and were created, No 417.

Supreme, Holy, and True, No 420.

The God of heaven, No 426, 433.

Who only is the Holy One, No 429, 431.

From whose Face, the earth and the heaven fled away, No 438.

The Lord God of the Holy Prophets, No 441.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, No 767, 854, 894, 904, 911, 917, 922, 935, 950, 974, 989, 991.

XI.

     The Scripture, when it mentions God, absolutely and by way of eminence; always means the Person of the Father.

Particularly when ’tis the subject of a proposition, as God does, etc. But when ’tis predicated of another, (as, the Word was God,) the case is different. Concerning the single text, 1 Tim 3:16; See No 540.

See the texts No 18—-336.

Notes on thesis 11.

     This is the language, not only of Scripture, but also of all antiquity.

Thus Justin Martyr: “The Word [saith he] is the first Power (next after God, the Father and Supreme Lord of all;) and it is the Son.” (Apol. 1.)

And Tatian: “Of the Trinity, [saith he;] namely, of God, and his Word, and his Wisdom.” (Lib. 2.)

And Origen: “We [saith he] acknowledge the unspeakable supereminent divinity of God; and moreover [the divinity] of his only-begotten Son also, who excelleth all other beings.” (Cels. lib. 5.)

[Of these words, the learned Bishop Bull sets down the following translation: [Latin text]: That is: We acknowledge the divinity of God and his only Son, to be unspeakably supereminent, and far excelling all other things.) But this translation quite spoils the emphasis of what Origen intended to say; by running the two distinct members of the sentence, into one; and wholly omitting the words, ([Gr text], and moreover;) and rendering [Gr term], as if it had been again [different Gr term].

And Athanasius: “It is necessary to acknowledge God the Governor of the Universe; and that he is One, and not many: And one Word of God, which is the Lord and Ruler of the creation.” (contr. Gentes.)

Again: “Not, as God himself is far above all, so also is the Way to him [viz. Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,] far off and beyond us.” (Ibid.)

Again: “Concerning the eternal existence of the Son and the Spirit, with God.” (contr. Sabellianos.)

Again: “When you reason concerning God, and the Word, and the Spirit.” (Ibid.)

Again: “By the Son, and in the Spirit, did God create, and does preserve all things.” (Ibid.)

And again: “The Spirit being in the Word; ’tis manifest that consequently through the Word, it was in God.” (Epist. ad Serap. altera.)

And the Council of Sirmium: “The head, which is the Original of all things, is the Son; but the Head, which is the Original of Christ, is God.” (apud Hilar. de Synod.)

And Hilary: “For the Head of all, is the Son; but the Head of the Son, is God.” (Ibid.)

And Basil; ‘As there are many sons, but One properly the true Son; so though all things may be said to be from God, yet the Son is in a peculiar manner from God, and the Spirit in a peculiar manner from God; the Son from the Father by generation, and the Spirit from God in an ineffable manner.” (Homil. 27. contr. Sab. & Arium.)

Again: “But the title of Unbegotten, [or self-existent.] no man can be so absurd to presume to give to any other than to the Supreme God.” (contr. Eunom. 1. 3.)

And Theo. Abucara, cited by Bishop Pearson: “the apostles [saith he] and almost all the Scriptures, when they mention God absolutely and indefinitely, and commonly with an article [ho theos,] and without personal distinction; mean the Father.” (Abucara Opusc.)

And, among modern divines, Calvin: “We freely confess, [saith he,] that the name, God, by way of eminence, is properly ascribed to the Father.” (Calv. in Valent. Gent.)

And Flac. Illyricus: “‘Tis to be observed, [saith he,] that St. Paul in his epistles commonly styles the Father, God; and Christ or the Son of God, Lord: —- Because, in the mystery of our redemption, the supreme dignity is ascribed to the Father, as the True God —-. And this is the reason, why in the New Testament the first person only is usually styled God.” (Clavis Script. in voce, Dens.)

And the learned Bishop Pearson: “It is to be observed, [saith he,] that the name of God, taken absolutely, is often in the Scriptures spoken of the Father: As when we read of God sending his own Son; of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God: and generally wheresoever Christ is called the Son of God, or the Word of God; the name God is to be taken particularly for the Father, because he is no Son but of the Father. From hence he [viz. the Father] is styled the One God, the True God, the Only True God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Which, as it is most true, and so fit to be believed, is also a most necessary truth, and therefore to be acknowledged, for the avoiding of multiplication and plurality of Gods: For if there were more than one which were from none, it could not be denied be there were more Gods than One. Wherefore this origination in the divine paternity, hath anciently been looked upon as the assertion of the unity. (p. 40.)

Again: “As we believe there is a God, and that God, Almighty; as we acknowledge that same God to be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in Him of us; so we also confess that the same God the Father, made both heaven and earth.” (pag. 47.)

And again: “I acknowledge this God, Creator of the world, to be the same God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And the learned Bishop Bull: “God the Father [saith he;] who was usually by the catholics of that age, [viz. in Origen’s time,] called, by way of distinction, the Supreme God, [or the God of the Universe.] (Sect. 2. cap. 9. S 12.)

And again: “For which reason also, [viz. because the Father alone is God of Himself, or self-existent;] the writers before the time of the Council of Nice, when they mention the Father and the Son together, generally give the name, God, to the Father; styling the second Person, either the Son of God, or our Savior, of our Lord, or the like.” (Id. Sect. 4. cap. 1. S 2.)

And the learned Dr. Payne: “I doubt not but the great God, and my blessed Savior, and their Holy Spirit, etc.” (Letter from Dr. P. to the Bishop of R. in Vindicat. of his Serm. on Trinity Sunday, pag. 21.)

XII.

     The Son is not self-existent; but derives his Being, and all his attributes, from the Father, as from the Supreme Cause.

See. the texts, No 619, 769, 798, 801, 937, 950, 953, 986, 992.

Notes on thesis 12.

     Thus Basil, speaking of the Person of the Father: “But [saith he] the title of Unbegotten, [or self-existent,] no man can be so absurd as to presume to give to any other than to the Supreme God.” (contr. Eunom. lib. 3.)

And the learned Bishop Bull: “they [says he] who contend that the Son can properly be styled God of Himself, [or self-existent;] their opinion is contrary to the catholic doctrine.” (Def. Sect. 4. cap. 1. S 7.)

And again: “The Council of Nice itself decreed, that the Son was only God of [or from] God: Now He that is only God of God, cannot without manifest contradiction be said to be God of Himself, [or self-existent.] —- I earnestly exhort all pious and studious young men, to take heed of such a Spirit, from whence such things as these [viz. ridiculing the distinction between God self-existing, and God of God,] do proceed.” (Ib. S. 8.)

See above, thesis 5; and below, thesis 34.

XIII.

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

See the texts, No 619, 658.

See beneath, thesis 21.

Notes on thesis 13.

     For generation, when applied to God, is but a figurative word, signifying only in general, immediate derivation of Being and life from God himself. And only-begotten, signifies, being so derived from the Father in a singular and inconceivable manner, as thereby to be distinguished from all other Beings. Among men, a son does not, properly speaking, derive his being from his father; father, in this sense, signifying merely an instrument, not an efficient cause: But God, when He is styled Father, must always be understood to be [aitia,] a True and Proper Cause, really and efficiently giving life. Which consideration, clearly removes the argument usually drawn from the equality between a father and son upon earth.

‘Tis observable that St. John, in that passage, where he not only speaks of the Word before his incarnation, but carries his account of him further back, than any other place in the whole New Testament; gives not the least hint of the metaphysical manner, how he derived his Being from the Father; does not say He was created, or emitted, or begotten, or was an emanation from him; but only that he was, that he was in the beginning, and that he was with God, and that he was [theos] partaker of the divine power and glory with and from the Father, not only before he was made flesh or became man, but also before the world was.

Accordingly Irenaeus: “If any one [saith he] inquire of us, how then was the Son produced by the Father? We answer that this his production, or generation, or speaking forth, [alluding to his name, the Word;] or birth, [adaperitonem; alluding, I suppose, to the Hebrew phrase, adaperiens vulvam], or how else soever [tis observable he does not here add the term, creation,] you in words endeavor to express his generation, which in reality is ineffable; it is understood by no man, neither by Valentinus nor Marcion, neither by Saturninus nor Basilides, neither by angels nor archangels nor principalities nor powers, but by the Father only which begat, and by the Son which is begotten of him. Wherefore, since his generation is ineffable, etc.” (lib. 2, cap. 48.)

And Novatian: “Of whom, and at whose will, was generated the Word His Son. The secret manner of whose sacred and divine generation, neither have the apostles known, nor the prophets discovered, nor the angels understood, nor any creature comprehended: It is known only to the Son, who understands the Father’s secrets.” (De Trinit. c. 31.)

And Alexander Bishop of Alexandria: “The pious apostle St. John, [saith he,] considering that the manner of existence of God the Word, was far superior to, and incomprehensible by, all created beings; avoided saying of Him, that he was made; [but said only, that he was] Not as if he were unoriginate; (for nothing is unoriginate besides the Father;) but because the ineffable manner how the only-begotten God received his subsistence, is far beyond the comprehension not only of the evangelists, but probably even the angels also. —- For if the knowledge of many things very far inferior to this, be hid from human understanding; —- how dare any man curiously pry into the manner how God the Word received his subsistence; concerning which the Holy Ghost saith, Who shall declare his generation?” (Epist. as Alex. apud Theodorit. lib. 1. cap. 4.)

And Eusebius: “The church [saith he] preaches Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all ages: being not the same Person with the Father; but having a real subsistence and life of his own, and being with him as his true Son; God from God, Light from Light, Life from Life: Begotten of the Father after unspeakable and ineffable and to us wholly unknown and inconceivable manner, for the salvation of the world.”  (De Eccles. Theol. lib. 1, c. 8.)

And again: “If anyone [saith he] will be so curious as to inquire, How God begat the Son; the boldness of this question is justly reproved by Him that said, (Ecclus. iii. 21) seek not out the things that are too hard for thee, neither search the things that are above thy strength; but what is commanded thee, think thereupon with reverence; for it is not needful for thee to see with thine eyes the things that are in secret. He that would presume to go further; let him himself first show, how and in what manner those things, which be says were made out of nothing, received their subsistence, having before had no being at all. For as this is impossible in nature, for men to explain; so, and much more, the manner how the only-begotten was produced, is unsearchable and inscrutable, not only to us (as a man may say,) but also to all the powers far beyond us.” (De Eccles. Theol. lib. 1. cap. 12.)

And Basil: “Thou believest that he was begotten? Do not inquire, how. For, as it is in vain to inquire how He that is unbegotten, is unbegotten; so neither ought we to inquire how he that is begotten, was begotten. —- Seek not what cannot be found out —- –. Believe what is written; search not into what is not written.” (Homil. 29.)

XIV.

     They are both therefore worthy of censure; both they who on the one hand presume to affirm, that the Son was made ([Gr text]) out of nothing, and they who, on the other hand, affirm that He is the Self-existent Substance.

Notes on thesis 14.

     That the Son is not self-existent, see above in these 5 and 12.

That, on the other hand, the ancients were generally careful not to reckon Him among beings made ([Gr text]) out of nothing, but (on the contrary) thought themselves obliged to keep to the Scripture-language, which styles him the only-begotten of the Father, and ([Gr text]) the first-born (not [Gr text] the first created) of every creature; may be judged from the following passages.

“The Son of God [saith the Pastor of Hermas] is ancienter than all creatures, insomuch that he was present in consult with his Father at the making of the creature, [or, at the creation.]” (Simil. 9.)

And Ignatius: “Who [saith he] was with the Father, [or, as it is in the other copy, was begotten of the Father, before all ages;] and appeared at the end of the world. (Ad Magnes. epist. contractior, S 6.)

And again: “If anyone confesses the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and praises the creation, [viz. acknowledges all the creatures of God to be good,] etc.” (Epist. as Philadelph. largior sive interpol. S 6.)

And Justin Martyr: “But the Son of the Father, even he who alone is properly called his Son, the Word which was with him before the creation, because by Him He in the beginning made and disposed all things; He etc.” (Apol. 1.)

And again: “But this Being, who was really begotten of the Father, and proceeded from him; did, before all creatures were made, exist with the Father, and the Father conversed with him.” (Dial. cum Trypho.)

And in all other places of his works, he speaks with the like caution; calling Christ, [Gr text], the first-begotten of God before all creatures; and, [Gr text], a Being which was begotten absolutely before all creatures; and the like.

And Irenaeus, reckoning up the several words, by which the generation of the Son [or Word] might be expressed; such as production, generation, speaking forth, or birth; did not think fit (as I before observed) to add, creation. (Lib. 2. c. 48.)

Origen calls the Son, ([Gr text], contr. Cels. lib. 1.) ancienter than all creatures, (so the learned Bp Bull translates the words; in like manner as the phrase, [Gr text], in St John, must be rendered, before me. See above, the note upon a passage of Origen, cited under No 937.) But I think the words should rather be understood in a larger sense; as appears from that passage in Athanasius contra gentes, [[Gr text], The Lord of all creatures, and the Author of every subsistence;] where he calls God the [Gr text] Author of [Gr text] subistencies, which are distinguished from [Gr text] the creature.

And Eusebius: “The Church [saith he] preaches One God, and that He is the Father and Supreme over all: The Father indeed of Christ alone, but of all other things the God and Creator and Lord. (De Eccles. Theol. lib. 1. c. 8.)

And Athanasius: “Who, [says he,] when he hears Him, whom he believes to be the only true God, say, this is my beloved Son; dares affirm that the Word of God was made out of nothing?” (De Sentent. Dionys. Alexandr.)

XV.

     The Scripture, in declaring the Son’s derivation from the Father, never makes mention of any limitation of time; but always supposes and affirms him to have existed with the Father from the beginning, and before all worlds.

See the texts, 567, 569, 574, 584, 586, 588, 591, 607, 612, 619, 641, 642, 658, 666, 667, 668, 672, 686.

See above, thesis 2; and below, thesis 17.

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

I have for some years now desired to write a book on the doctrine of the Trinity; but when I read Samuel Clarke’s work, the Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, I was so impressed both by the quality of the work itself, and the similarity of my own views with those of Clarke, that I thought I may not need to write a work of my own at all, but simply recommend his work to others for the same basic purpose. Small differences between our views, and the desire to treat aspects of the subject in addition to those which Clarke addresses, and Clarke’s inclusion of extensive sections of the book which, while important to the Church of England in his day, bear little immediate relevance to the churches of the twenty-first century, continue to provide sufficient motivation for me to still aspire to write in the future. I continue, however, to strongly recommend Clarke’s work above any other written in the last millennia and a half, as the best book I am aware of written on the Trinity within the last fifteen-hundred years.

Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity is an excellent work, one which is not only largely unknown, but also in some respects inaccessible to most modern Christians. The text of the book itself, scanned from very old editions, my be readily found online, free to read, and is searchable in such format. However, the mode of expression and style of the print make it a difficult (although worthwhile) read for modern students. The old font used in the scanned editions makes the letter ‘S’ appear much more like the letter ‘F’ than most modern readers are used to, making the work as a whole slow and difficult to read for those accustomed only to modern English fonts.

I have therefore set out to update the style and language of the original work here on Contra Modalism, in an effort to make this work more widely accessible to those interested. The main alterations are an updated font, and the removal of the very frequent use of capitalization and italics, in order to make the book appear in a style more comfortable for modern readers. This removes the added emphasis these provide in the original, but make it much simpler for modern readers. If the details of a specific passage are in question, the passages should be kept in mind, and the scanned originals available on the web referred to, so that any special emphasis provided by such things may be taken note of by the reader. For simplicity, the extensive parallel columns of the Greek and Latin of quotations in the original are left out here; anyone wishing to see the Greek or Latin basis for Clarke’s quotations is referred to the scans of the original work available on the web. I have inserted the citations for such quotations into the English text, where they were only present in the Greek or Latin column.

The content of Clarke’s work combines at once careful exegesis of scripture with an equally careful handling of relevant patristic data, making this book highly useful for all Christians, and of special interest to those who are interested in the teaching of church fathers as they relate to the doctrine of the Trinity. Those who follow this blog will find Clarke’s views closely aligned with my own, although there is not perfect agreement between our views, as is to be expected. The points of disagreement are generally quite minor, enough so that I would happily profess myself to hold the same general view as Clarke, with only a few areas wherein our views differ on details. This work has been a great help to me, and I hope it will be for others as well. My hope is that this work will abound to the glory of God and His Son, and for the good of His people.

The Introduction.

     As, in matters of speculation and philosophical inquiry, the only judge of what is right or wrong, is reason and experience; so in matters either of human testimony or divine Revelation, the only certain rule of truth is the testimony or the revelation itself.

The Christian revelation, is the doctrine of Christ and his apostles; that is, the will of God made known to mankind by Christ, and by those whom Christ instructed with infallible authority to teach it. For the right apprehending of which doctrine, men are (as in other matters of the greatest importance to them) sincerely to make use of their best understanding; and, in order thereunto, to take in all the helps they can find, either from living instructors or ancient writers: But this, only as a means to assist and clear up their own understanding, not to over-rule it; as a means to afford them light to see what Christ has taught them, not to prejudice them with supposing that Christ has taught any thing, which, after the strictest inquiry and most careful examination, they cannot find to be delivered in his doctrine.

If in all things absolutely necessary to be believed and practiced in order to salvation, the revelation of Christ was not itself so clear, as that every sincere person, using the best helps and assistances he can meet with, could sufficiently understand it; it would follow, that God had not at all made sufficient provision for the salvation of men. For the doctrine of Christ and his apostles being the only foundation we have to go upon, and no man since pretending to have had any new revelation; ’tis evident there can never possibly be any authority upon upon earth, sufficient to oblige any man to receive any thing as of divine revelation, which it cannot make appear to that man’s own understanding (sincerely studying and inquiring after the truth,) to be included in that revelation. For if any man can by any external authority be bound to believe any thing to be the doctrine of Christ, which at the same time his best understanding necessitates him to believe is not that doctrine; he is unavoidably under the absurdity of being obliged to obey two contrary masters, and to follow two inconsistent rules at once. The only Rule of Faith therefore to every Christian, is the doctrine of Christ; and that doctrine, as applied to him by his own understanding. In which matter, to preserve his understanding from erring, he is obliged indeed, at his utmost peril, to lay aside all vice and prejudice, and to make use of the best assistances he can procure: but after he has done all that can be done, he must of necessity at last understand with his own understanding, and believe with his own, not another’s, faith. For (whatever has sometimes been absurdly pretended to the contrary,) ’tis evidently as impossible in nature, that in these things any one person should submit himself to another, as that one man should see or taste, should live or breathe for another.

Wherefore in every inquiry, doubt, question or controversy concerning religion, every man that is solicitous to avoid erring, is obliged to have recourse (according to the best of his capacity) to the rule itself, to the original revelation. Using (as is before said) all the helps and assistances he can obtain; but still taking care to use them, only as helps and assistances; not confounding and blending them with the rule itself. Where that rule is to be found by every sincere Christian, is very evident. Whatever our Lord himself taught, (because his miracles proved his divine authority,) was infallibly true, and to us (in matters of religion) the rule of truth. Whatever his apostles preached, (because they were inspired by the same Spirit, and proved their commission by the like testimony of miracles,) was likewise a part of the rule of truth. Whatever the apostles wrote, (because they wrote under the direction of the same Spirit by which they preached,) was in like manner a part of the rule of truth. Now in the Books of the Scripture is conveyed down to us the sum of what our Savior taught, and of what the apostles preached and wrote: and were there as good evidence, by any certain means of tradition whatsoever, of any other things taught by Christ or his apostles, as there is for those delivered down to us in these writings; it could not be denied but that such tradition would be of the same authority, and in every respect as much a part of the rule of truth, as scripture itself. But since there is no such tradition (and indeed in the nature of things there can be no such tradition) at this distance of time;  therefore the Books of Scripture are to us now not only the rule, but the whole and the only rule of truth in matters of religion.

This notion is well expressed by Irenaeus: “We have not [saith he] been taught the method of our salvation by any others, than by those from whom the Gospel itself was delivered to us: which the apostles, at first, preached; and afterwards, by the will of God, delivered down to us in writing, that it might be the foundation and pillar of our faith. And it is impious to imagine, that they preached before they had perfect knowledge of what they were to deliver; as some, who boast themselves to be the amenders of the apostles doctrine, have presumed to affirm. For after our Lord was risen from the dead, and they were indued by the Holy Spirit with power from on high; they were fully instructed, and had perfect knowledge in all things; and went forth into the ends of the world, declaring the good things which God hath provided for us, and preaching peace from heaven unto men; having all and each of them the Gospel of God. Thus Matthew set forth the Gospel in Writing, etc.”

Nevertheless, though the whole Scripture us the rule of truth; and whatever is there delivered, is infallibly true; yet because there is contained in those writings great variety of things, and many occasional doctrines and decisions of controversies, which though all equally true, yet are not all equally necessary to be known and understood by all Christians of all capacities; therefore the church from the beginning, has out of scripture selected those plain fundamental doctrines, which were delivered as of necessity to be known and understood by all Christians whatsoever. And these, all persons were taught in their Baptismal Creed: Which was therefore usually called, the rule of faith: not that itself was of any authority, any otherwise than as it expressed the sense of scripture; but that it was agreed to be such an extract of the rule of truth, as contained all the things immediately, fundamentally, and universally necessary to be understood and believed distinctly by every Christian.

As in process of time men grew less pious, and more contentious; so in the several churches, they enlarged their creeds, and confessions of faith; and grew more minute, in determining unnecessary controversies; and made more and more things explicitly understood; and (under pretense of explaining authoritatively,) imposed things much harder to be understood than the scripture itself; and became more uncharitable in their censures; and the farther they departed from the fountain of catholic unity, the apostolical form of sound words, the more uncertain and unintelligible their definitions grew; and good men found no where to rest the sole of their foot, but in having recourse to the original words of Christ himself and of the Spirit of Truth, in which the Wisdom of God had thought fit to express itself.

For, matters of speculation indeed, of philosophy, or art; things of human invention, experience, or disquisition; improve generally from small beginnings, to greater and greater certainty, and arrive at perfection by degrees: but matters of revelation and divine testimony, are on the contrary complete at first; and Christian Religion, was most perfect at the beginning; and the words of God, are most proper significations of his will, and adequate expressions of his own intention; and the forms of worship set down in scripture, by way of either precept or example, are the best and most unexceptionable manner of serving him.

In the days of the apostles, therefore, Christianity was perfect; and continued for some ages, in a tolerable simplicity and purity of faith and manners; supported by singular holiness of life, by charity in matters of form and opinions, and by the extraordinary guidance of the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Peace, Holiness and Love. But needless contentions, soon began to arise; and faith became more intricate; and charity diminished; and human authority and temporal power increased; and the regards of this life grew greater, and of the next life less; and religion decayed continually more and more, till at last (according to the predictions of the apostles) is was swallowed up in apostasy. Out of which, it began to recover at the reformation; when the doctrine of Christ and his apostles was . again declared to be the only rule of truth, in which were clearly contained all things necessary to faith and manners. And had that declaration constantly been adhered to, and human authority in matters of faith been disclaimed in deeds as well as words; there had been, possibly, no more schism in the church of God; nor divisions, of any considerable moment, among Protestants.

But although contentions and uncharitableness have prevailed in practice, yet (thanks be to God) the Root of Unity has continued amongst us; and the Scripture hath universally been declared to be the only rule of truth, a sufficient guide both in faith and practice; and those who differ in opinion, have done so only because each party has thought their own opinion founded in Scripture; and men are required to receive things for no other cause and upon no other authority, than because they are found (and consequently in no other sense than wherein they are found) in the Holy Scriptures. Wherefore in any question of controversies in a matter of faith, Protestants are obliged (for the deciding of it) to have recourse to no other authority whatsoever, but to that of the Scripture only.

The incomparable Arch-Bishop Tillotson, has made this sufficiently appear, in his Rule of Faith; particularly, Part I, Sect. 3; and Part IV, Sect. 2.

And the very learned and judicious Bp Wake: “I choose rather [saith he in the Name of ever Christian,] to regulate my faith by what God hath delivered, than by what man hath defined.” Comment. on Ch. Catech. pag. 21.

And the excellent Mr Chillingsworth: “By the religion of Protestants [saith he,] I do not understand the doctrine of Luther, or Calvin, or Melancthon; nor the Confession of Augusta, or Geneva; nor the Catechism of Heidelberg; nor the Articles of the Church of England; no, nor the harmony of Protestant Confessions: but that wherein they all subscribe with a greater harmony, as a perfect rule of their faith and actions; that is, the Bible. The Bible, I say, the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants. Whatsoever else they believe besides it, and the plain, irrefragable, indubitable consequences of it; well may they hold it as a matter of opinion: but as matter of faith and religion, neither can they, with coherence to their own grounds, believe it themselves; nor require the belief of it of others, without most high and most schismatical presumption. I, for my part, after a long and (as I verily believe and hope) impartial search of the true way to eternal happiness, do profess plainly, that I cannot find any rest for the sole of my foot, but upon this Rock only. I see plainly and with mine own eyes, that there are Popes against Popes, Councils against Councils, some fathers against others, the same fathers against themselves, a consent of fathers of one age against a consent of fathers of another age against the church of another age. Traditive interpretations of Scripture are pretended, but there are few or none to be found. No tradition, but only of Scripture, can derive itself from the fountain; but may be plainly proved, either to have been brought in, in such an age after Christ; or, that in such an age it was not in. In a word, there is no sufficient certainty but of Scripture only, for any considering man to build upon. This therefore, and this only, I have reason to believe: this I will profess; according to this, I will live; and for this, if there be occasion, I will not only willingly, but even gladly lose my life; though I should be sorry that Christians should take it from me. Propose me any thing out of this book, and require whether I believe it or no; and seem it never so incomprehensible to human reason, I will subscribe to it hand and heart: as knowing no demonstration can be stronger than this; God hath said so, therefore it is true. In other things, I will take no mans liberty of judgement from him; neither shall any man take mine from me. I will think no man the worse man, nor the worse Christian: I will love no man the less, for differing in opinion from me. And what measure I mete to others, I expect from them again. I am fully assured that God does not, and therefore that men ought not, to require any more of any an than this; to believe the Scripture to be God’s word, to endeavor to find the true sense of it, and to live according to it.” Ch. 6. S 56.

In the Statutes given by Queen Elizabeth of glorious memory, to Trinity-College in the University of Cambridge, the following oath is appointed to be taken by every fellow in the chapel, before his admission. “I, N. N. do swear and promise in the presence of God, that I will heartily and steadfastly adhere to the true religion of Christ, and will prefer the authority of Holy Scripture before the opinions of men; that I will make the Word of God the rule of my faith and practice, and look upon other things, which are not proved out of the Word of God, as human only; —- that I will readily and with all my power oppose doctrines contrary to the Word of God; that, in matters of religion, I will prefer truth before custom, what is written before what is not written; etc”

And, in the same university, ever Doctor of Divinity, at his taking that degree, does [profiteri in Theologia] make his profession in the following words: “In the Name of God, Amen: I A. B. do from my heart receive the whole sacred Canonical Scriptures of the old and new Testament: And do hold, or reject, all that the True, Holy, and Apostolical Church of Christ, subject to the Word of God, and being governed by it, holds or rejects: And in this profession I will persevere to my lives end, God of his great mercy giving me grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

And every Priest at his ordination, (and Bishop at his consecration,) being solemnly asked, “Are you persuaded that the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrine required of necessity to eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined out of the same holy Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach (or maintain) nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture?” answers in the following words; “I am so persuaded, and have so determined by God’s grace.”

And the whole church, in the 6th, the 20th, and the 21st Articles, declares; that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; So that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an Article of the Faith, or be though requisite or necessary to salvation: That it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s word written; neither may it so expound one place of scripture, that it be repugnant to another: wherefore, although the church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of salvation: that even general councils, —- [forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and the Word of God,] may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God: Wherefore things ordained by them, as necessary to salvation, have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.”

To apply this general doctrine (which is the whole foundation of the Protestant and of the Christian Religion,) to the controversies which have been raised in particular, with great animosity and uncharitableness, concerning the manner of explaining the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity; I have in the first part of the following treatise, (that it might appear what was, not the sound of single texts which may easily be mistaken, but the whole tenour of the Scripture,) collected all the texts that relate to that matter, (which I am not sensible has been done before,) and set them before the reader in one view, with such references and critical observations, as may (’tis hoped) be of considerable use towards the understanding of their true meaning.

In the second part, is collected into methodological propositions the sum of doctrine, which (upon the carefullest consideration of the whole matter) appears to me to be fully contained in the texts cited in the first part. And I have illustrated each proposition with many testimonies out of the ancient writers, both before and after the Council of Nice; especially out of Athanasius and Basil; of which, are several not taken notice of either by Petavius or the learned Bp Bull. Concerning all which, I desire it may be observed, that they are not alleged as proofs of any propositions, (for proofs are to be taken from the Scripture alone,) but as illustrations only; and to show how easy and natural that notion must be allowed to be, which so many writers could not forbear expressing so clearly and distinctly, even frequently when at the time they were about to affirm, and endeavoring to prove, something not very consistent with it. The greatest part of the writers before and at the time of the Council of Nice, were (I think) really of that opinion, (though they do not always speak very clearly and confidently,) which I have endeavored to set forth in those propositions. But as to the writers after that time, the reader must not wonder, if many passages not consistent with (nay, perhaps contrary to) those which are here cited, shall by any one be alleged out of the same authors. For I do not cite places out of these authors, so much to show what was the opinion of the writers themselves, as to show how naturally truth sometimes prevails by its own native clearness and evidence, even against the strongest and most settled prejudices: according to that of Basil: “I am persuaded [saith he] that the strength of the doctrine delivered down to us, has often compelled men to contradict their own assertions.” (De Spiritu Sancto, cap. 29.)

In the third part there is, first, brought together a great number of passages out of the Liturgy of the Church of England, wherein the doctrine set forth in the former parts is expressly affirmed; and then in the next place are collected the principle passages, which may seem at first sight to differ from that doctrine: and these latter I have endeavored to reconcile with the former, by showing how they may be understood in a sense consistent both with the doctrine of Scripture, and with the other before-cited expressions of the liturgy. And this is absolutely necessary to be done by every one, who when he prays with his mouth, desires to pray with his understanding also.

It is a thing very destructive of religion, and the cause of almost all divisions among Christians; when young persons at their first entering upon the study of divinity, look upon human and perhaps modern forms of speaking, as the rule of their faith; understanding these also according to the accidental sound of the words, or according to the notions which happen at any particular time to prevail among the vulgar; and then picking out (as proofs) some few single texts of Scripture, which to minds already strongly prejudiced must needs seem to sound, or may easily be accommodated, the same way; while they attend not impartially to the whole scope and general tenour of Scripture. Whereas on the contrary, were the Scriptures first thoroughly studied, and seriously considered, as the rule and the only rule of truth in matters of religion; and the sense of all human forms and expressions, deduced from thence; the greatest part of the uncharitable divisions that have happened among Christians, might in all probability have been prevented. The different states, which controversies concerning predestination, original sin, free will, faith and good works, and the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity, have at different times gone through, are a sufficient evidence of this truth.

The Church of Rome indeed requires men to receive her particular doctrines (or explications of doctrines) and traditions, as part of the rule itself of their faith: and therefore with them no good Christian can possibly comply. But the Protestant Churches, utterly disclaiming all such authority; and requiring men to comply with their forms, merely upon account of their being agreeable to Scripture; ’tis plain that every person may reasonably agree to such forms, whenever he can in any sense at all reconcile them with Scripture.

The first Reformers, when they had laid aside what to them seemed intolerable in the doctrines of the Church of Rome, in other matters chose to retain the words they found; yet declaring that they meant thereby to express only the sense of Scripture, and not that of tradition of the schools. If tradition or custom, if carelessness or mistake, either in the compiler or receiver, happen at any time to put a sense upon any human forms, different from that of the Scripture, which those very forms were intended to explain, and which is at the same time declared to be the only rule of truth; ‘its evident no man can be bound to understand those forms in such a sense; nay, on the contrary, he is indispensably bound not to understand or receive them in such a sense. For (as the learned Mr Thorndike rightly observes,) “That which once was not matter of faith, can never by process of time, or any act the church can do, (or by any interpretation of words, that custom or carelessness or contentiousness may have introduced,) become matter of faith.” Epilog. Part II. pag. 155.

As in reading a comment upon any book whatsoever, he that would thence understand the true meaning of the text, must not barely consider what the words of the comment may of themselves possibly happen to signify; but how they may be so understood, as to be a consistent interpretation of the text they are to explain: so in considering all forms of human composition in matters of religion, it is not of importance what the words may in themselves possibly most obviously signify, or what they may vulgarly and carelessly be understood to mean; (for there is in almost all words, some ambiguity;) but in what sense they can be consistent expositions of those texts of Scripture, which they were intended and are professed to interpret. Otherwise it may easily happen, that a comment may in effect come into the place of the text, and another interpretation afterwards into the place of that comment; till in process of time, men by insensible degrees depart entirely from the meaning of the text, and human authority swallows up that which is divine. Which evil can no otherwise be prevented, than by having recourse perpetually to the original itself; and allowing no authority to any interpretation, any further than ’tis evidently agreeable to the text itself.

Not to mention many examples of this kind, in almost all the confessions of faith that ever were published; there is one very remarkable instance of it, in the Apostles Creed itself. The word, Hell, in the English language, signifies always the place or state of the damned; and every vulgar English reader, when he professes his belief that Christ descended into hell, is apt to understand the article, as signifying Christ’s descending into the place of the damned: and probably they who first put the article into the Creed, about the beginning of the fourth century, might mean and intend it should be so understood. Nevertheless, since all learned men are satisfied, that the Greek word (hades) in those texts of Scripture upon which this article was founded, does not signify Hell, but in general only the invisible state of those departed out of this world; they now with great reason think themselves obliged to understand it in the Creed, not as the word my in modern speech seem to sound to the vulgar, but as it really signifies in the original Texts of Scripture.

The same is to be understood of every part of all human compositions whatsoever. According to that excellent observation of the learned Bp. Pearson: “I observe [saith he] that whatsoever is delivered in the Creed, we therefore believe, because it is contained in the Scriptures; and consequently must so believe it, as it is contained there: whence all this exposition of the whole, is nothing else but an illustration and proof of every particular part of the Creed, by such Scriptures as deliver the same, according to the true interpretation of them.” Expos. on the Creed, 4th Edit. pag. 227.

And the whole church has made the like declaration, in the 6th, the 20th, and 21st of the 39 Articles, before-cited; and in the eighth Article, which declares that the creeds ought only to be received and believed, “because [and consequently only in such sense wherein] they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.”

In what sense the most difficult passages in the liturgy, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, can be understood agreeably to the doctrine of Scripture, I have endeavored to show in the following papers. And (as I think the sincerity of a Christian obliges me to declare, ) I desire it may be observed that my assent to the forms by law appointed, and to all words of human institution, is given only because they are, and in that sense wherein they are, (according to the following application,) agreeable to that which appears to me (upon the most careful and serious consideration of the whole matter) to be the doctrine of Scripture; and not in that sense which the popish schoolmen, (affecting, for the sake of transubstantiation, to make everything look like a contradiction,) endeavored to introduce into the church.

Every sincere Christian, assenting (for the sake of peace and order) to the use of any forms of words; must take care to assent to them in such a sense, as may make them consistent with the Scripture; (otherwise he assents to what is false:) and in such a sense, as may make them consistent with themselves; (otherwise he assents to nothing.) This is what I have attempted to do in the third part: and I am sure it is no more a putting of violence upon the expressions cited in the second chapter of that part, to make them consistent with Scripture, and with the expressions of the liturgy cited in the first chapter of that part; than it is on the contrary a putting of violence upon Scripture and upon the expression cited in the first chapter of that section, to make them consistent with the expressions cited in the second chapter of that section.

I am well aware it may to many seem needless, to enter into questions of this nature; and that, in matters of such nicety and difficulty as this, it were better (in their opinion) to let every man frame to himself such obscure notions as he can, and not perplex him with subtle speculations. And indeed, with regard to Scholastic and philosophical inquiries concerning the metaphysical nature and substance of each of the Three Persons in the ever-blessed Trinity, this manner of judging is so right and true, that had these things never been meddled with, and had men contented themselves with what is plainly revealed in the Scripture, (more than which, they can never certainly know;) the peace of the Catholic Church, and the simplicity of the Christian Faith, had possibly never been disturbed. But that which is properly theological in this matter; viz. the distinct powers and offices of each of the Three Persons, in the creation, government, redemption, sanctification, and salvation of man; and the proper honor due consequently from us to each of Them distinctly; this is the great foundation, and the main economy of the Christian Religion; the doctrine, into which we were baptized; and which every sincere Christian ought, according to the best of his ability and the means he has of informing himself, to endeavor thoroughly to understand. The Supremacy of God the Father over all, and our Reconciliation and Subjection to him as such our Supreme Governor; the Redemption purchased by the Son; and the Sanctification worked in us by the Holy Spirit; are the three great articles of our Creed: and in maintaining these rightly, so as seriously to affect men’s understandings, and influence their lives accordingly; is the honor of God, and the interest of True Religion greatly concerned. Tritheism, Sabellianism, Arianism, and Socinianism, have, to the great disparagement of Christianity, puzzled the plain and practical doctrine of Scripture, with endless speculative disputes: and it has been no small injury to religion, in the midst of those disputes; that as on the one hand, men by guarding unwarily against Tritheism, have often in the other extreme run into Socinianism, to the diminution of the honor of the Son of God, and to the taking away the very Being of the Holy Spirit; so on the contrary, incautious writers in their zeal against Socinianism and Arianism, have no less frequently laid themselves open to Sabellianism or Tritheism, by neglecting to maintain the honor and supremacy of the Father. The design of the following papers, is to show how this evil may be prevented, and in what manner both extremes may rationally be avoided.

There are others who have thought, that we ought not at all to treat concerning any of these matters, because they are mysterious. By which if they meant, that the words of God were mysterious, and that therefore we ought not to be wise beyond what is written; no man could say that herein they judged amiss. But if they mean, that the words of men are mysterious; and that we must not reason concerning them, nor inquire whether or no, and in what sense, they are agreeable to the words of God: what is this, but substituting another mystery in the stead of the true one; and paying deference to the mystery of man’s making, instead of the mystery of God? The true veneration of mysteries consists, not in making them ourselves, and in receiving blindly the words of men without understanding them; but it consists, either in taking care there to stop, where the Scripture itself has stoped, without presuming to go further at all; or else, in taking care to understand all words of human institution in such a sense, as that they be sure to signify neither more nor less than the words of Scripture necessarily and indisputably do. Whosoever puts any meaning upon words of human institution, which does not appear to another (upon his sincerest and most careful examination) to be the same with the sense of the words of Scripture; must not complain that the other opposes his own reason to the authority of God, when indeed he opposes it only to those who would make human authority the same with divine. Affecting to speak unintelligibly, where the Scripture itself has not done so; is indeed promoting skepticism only, not true religion: nor can there be any other so effectual a way of confuting all heresies, as it would be to restrain men within the bounds of the uncontested doctrine of Scripture; and give them as few advantages as possible, of raising objection against human and fallible forms of speaking.

Lastly; as to those, who, in the whole, are of opinion that every man ought to study and consider these things according to his ability; and yet, in the particulars of the explication, have quite different notions from those which I have thought reasonable and necessary to set forth in the following papers; I have, with regard to such persons as these, endeavored to express myself with all modesty and due submission. And if any learned person, who thinks me in an error, shall in the Spirit of Meekness and Christianity, propose a different interpretation of all the texts I have produced, and deduce consequences therefrom different from those which seem to me unavoidably to follow; I shall think myself obliged, either to return him a clear and distinct answer in the same Spirit of Meekness and Candor, or else fairly and publicly to retract whatsoever is not capable of being so defended. But if, on the contrary, any nameless or careless writer shall, in the spirit of popery, contend only that men must never use their own understandings, that is, must have no religion of their own; but, without regarding what is right or wrong, must always plead for what notions happen at any time to prevail; I shall have no reason, in such case, to think myself under the same obligation of answering him.

The Semi-Modalism of Marius Victorinus

Marius Victorinus is not the best-known church father. Of his works, we have his book on the Trinity preserved, authored sometime between 355-364 AD. This puts the authorship of the book right in the middle of the ongoing Nicene controversy, and is a valuable resource in giving us another individual perspective of what the fourth-century ecclesiastical melee looked like.

Marius Victorinus was a Homoousian, which is valuable for a number of reasons. He is also one of the earliest examples of semi-modalism this author is aware of. Besides advocating such radical departures from previous church tradition as defining the Trinity as the one God, rather than the Father in particular, Victorinus also provides us an excellent example of what the Homoians of the fourth century were trying to avoid when they eschewed the term ‘homoousias’.

Marius Victorinus goes much farther than other more moderate and orthodox Homoousians like Athanasius and Basil, who carefully defined what they meant by ‘homoousias’ as indicating that the persons of the Trinity share a generic unity of metaphysical nature. Marius Victorinus provides yet another example in a long list of fourth century fathers such as Marcellus of Ancyra and Scotinus of Galatia who advocated the term ‘homoousias’ while insisting on a modalistic or semi-modalistic trinitarianism. The Homoian and Homoiousian opposition to the term ‘homoousias’ can be better understood in light of the startlingly modalistic way several contemporary advocates of ‘homoousias’ meant the term to be understood. The idea that the term was modalistic was not merely some distant memory of ante-nicene Sabellian usage of the term, nor an insightful prediction of how the term could eventually be taken wrongly in the future- it was right before the eyes of the fourth century moderates who advocated the use of other terminology.

The following sampling of quotes is taken from: Victorinus, M. (1981). Theological Treatises on the Trinity. (H. Dressler, Ed., M. T. Clark, Trans.) (Vol. 69, p. 334). Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

“But Christ irrigates the whole universe, both visible and invisible; with the river of life he waters every substance among the existents. Yet insofar as he is life, he is Christ; insofar as he waters, he is the Holy Spirit; insofar as he is the power of vitality, he is Father and God, but the whole is one God.”

Here we have pretty blatant semi-modalism. In other parts of the book, he distinguishes the persons as distinct individuals, as we shall see, or else we should be inclined to call this simply out-and-out modalism altogether. His theology is also subject to extreme over-philosophization, something the Homoian movement was keen to avoid by sticking to strictly scriptural terminology. For Victorinus, some of this over-phisophizing took the form of seemingly regarding each person individually as being in themselves a Trinity of three as well. This bizarre belief exceeds even semi-modalism, but many of the same ideas are present.

“But although we confess two individuals, nevertheless we affirm one God and that both are one God, because both the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father.”

“That is why the Father and the Son and the Spirit are not only one reality, but also one God.”

“O God, you are limitless, infinite, invisible, but to some limitless, infinite, and to others invisible, to thyself limited, finite, visible;
Hence, then, you also have form; therefore you are identical with Logos because Logos is form;
And because to you form is knowledge, but knowledge is Holy Spirit, therefore you are God and Logos and Holy Spirit.
O Blessed Trinity.”

In saying, “You are God and Logos and Holy Spirit”, Victorinus anticipates the Augustinian tradition’s later semi-modalistic articulation of the Trinity, since the persons together are spoken of and related to as if They form a single person.

“You also O Holy Spirit are knowledge;
But all knowledge is knowledge of form and substance; therefore you know God and have the form of God;
Hence you are God and Son, O Holy Spirit;
O Blessed Trinity.”

Here we see and example of each person being a sort of Trinity within the Trinity. While calling this “insanity” seems harsh, I am at a loss of what else could well-describe this.

“One substance therefore is God, Logos and Spirit, dwelling in three and existing thrice in all three;
But this is both form and knowledge;
So every simple singularity is tripled;
O Blessed Trinity.”

So we see again each person is a Trinity within a Trinity.

“The three are therefore one,
And three times over,
Thrice are the three one,
O Blessed Trinity”

Some moderns wonder at why anyone would object to a Nicene understanding of the term ‘Homoousias”, and the concept of co-essentiality, especially when it is carefully defined as Athanasius meant it. People saying things like the above quote are a major part of the answer to that question. Not all Homoousians were Athanasius- within the ranks of this vocal minority were some whose theology should make anyone reconsider the wisdom of making the term dogma.

Finally we come to this:

“This is our God;
This is one God;
This is the one and only God;
O Blessed Trinity.

To him we all pray,
The one whom we implore,
The one who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
O Blessed Trinity.”

Unlike even most contemporary Homoousians, Marius Victorinus could not be more emphatic that the one God of Christianity is the Trinity as a whole, (and as a Trinity of Trinities, apparently). While we have limited access to early sources, the fact that it is in the modalistic ravings of a nutcase like this that we first begin to see monotheism’s emphasis shifted from the person of the Father as the one God to the Trinity as the one God should be deeply worrying to those who favor the same language. We also see the Trinity being treated as a single person, being called collectively by single personal pronouns, and having worship directed to it as a single entity.

It would take a while for Victorinus’s emphases to work their way into the mainstream of Homoousian thought. Eventually Augustine would adopt very similar language in his treatment of the Trinity; in the meantime, other prominent Homoousians like Hilary of Poitiers and Basil of Caesarea would remain on the more moderate side of the Homousian party, and continue to generally stick to more traditional-sounding formulations.

The similarity between Marius Victorinus’s articulations of (what I shudder to refer to as) the Trinity and that of Augustine later are no simple co-incidence. According to Augustine, in his Confessions (Book 8, 2, 3-6), Marius had a significant influence on Ambrose, and by extension, his student Augustine. According to Augustine’s account of Victorinus’s conversion from paganism, Victorinus, originally from Africa, went to the Roman church to convert, where he seems to have enjoyed great prestige. It seems then that the tradition of ‘latin trinitarianism’, ‘Augustinian trinitarianism’, or semi-modalism, does not truly begin with Augustine, but with Victorinus, a half-century earlier, at least.