Modern Eastern Orthodox Theologians on the One God being the Person of the Father

In recent years there has been something of a revival of aspects of classical trinitarianism in Eastern Orthodoxy. Several prominent EO theologians have argued for a return to a Nicene understanding of the Trinity and the belief that the one God is the Father.

As in the last few centuries the Eastern church has undergone what some have referred to as a “patristic renaissance” it is no surprise to see their theology has moving away from a semi-modalistic direction and returning to what the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers articulated regarding the one God being the person of the Father in particular.

I wanted to share a few quotes from some of these theologians below:

John Meyendorff:

The same personalistic emphasis appears in the Greek Fathers’ insistence on the “monarchy” of the Father. Contrary to the concept which prevailed in the post-Augustinian West and in Latin Scholasticism, Greek theology attributes the origin of hypostatic “subsistence” to the hypostasis of the Father—not to the common essence. The Father is the “cause” (aitia) and the “principle” (archē) of the divine nature, which is in the Son and in the Spirit. What is even more striking is the fact that this “monarchy” of the Father is constantly used by the Cappadocian Fathers against those who accuse them of “tritheism”: “God is one,” writes Basil, “because the Father is one.” (Byzantine Theology, 2nd ed, 1983, page 183)

John Zizioulas:

Among the Greek Fathers the unity of God, the one God, and the ontological “principal” or “cause” of the being and life of God does not consist in the one substance of God but in the hypostasis, that is, the person of the Father. The one God is not the one substance but the Father, who is the “cause” both of the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit. (Being As Communion, 1985, pages 40-41)

Thomas Hopko:

“… in the Bible, in the creeds, and in the Liturgy, it’s very important, really critically important, to note and to affirm and to remember that the one God in whom we believe, strictly speaking, is not the Holy Trinity. The one God is God the Father. In the Bible, the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. He is God who sends his only-begotten Son into the world, and Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Then, of course, in a parallel manner, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of God, that the Holy Spirit, being the Spirit of God, is therefore also the Spirit of Christ, the Messiah, because the Christ is the Son of God, upon whom God the Father sends and affirms his Holy Spirit.” (From the online transcript of the podcast, The Holy Trinity)

 
Source:   http://articulifidei.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-monarchy-of-god-father-and-trinity.html

Do Pronouns Matter?

Its usually more important what people mean by the words they use than the particular choice of wording they employ to communicate their ideas. Its easy to misspeak, or to phrase something in a way that does not perfectly capture the intended meaning.

When we come to the Bible, however, we come to something truly special. Because its authorship is divine, although written through human instrumentality, its authorship is not merely human, and thus is not subject to the kind of inaccuracies human frailty produces in our communication. The scriptures were inspired perfect and infallible, free from even the slightest error. Because of this, we can find a great deal of meaning even in seemingly minor details in the scriptures. Historically it has been noted that one such significant detail in the scriptures lies in the personal pronouns used to speak about the persons of the Trinity.

From very early on Christians have noted the great significance of the plural personal pronouns used in Genesis chapter one, for example. Among the earliest is the apostle Barnabas, who wrote:

“And further, my brethren: if the Lord endured to suffer for our soul, He being Lord of all the world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, “Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness,”46 understand how it was that He endured to suffer at the hand of men. ” (Epistle, Ch 5.)

“For the Scripture says concerning us, while He speaks to the Son, “Let Us make man after Our image, and after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the beasts of the earth, and the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea.”” (Epistle, Ch 6)

You see the apostle noting the plurality of persons in the text, as God spoke to His Son, recognized on the basis of the pronouns scripture employs, and particularly on the significance of the number of the pronouns, namely, that they are plural and not singular. This significant detail was also noted by other notable theologians in the early church, such as Irenaeus, who wrote:

“He calls Him Wonderful Counselor, meaning of the Father: whereby it is declared that the Father works all things together with Him; as is contained in the first book of Moses which is entitled Genesis: And God said, Let us make man after our image and likeness. For there is seen in this place the Father speaking to the Son, [200] the Wonderful Counselor of the Father.” (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

Justin Martyr also made great use of these important details in his Dialogue With Trypho, A Jew, noting the detail that Holy Spirit used plural personal pronouns in Genesis one as evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity, as a proof that God did not create the world alone, but through His Son, a second person distinct from Himself. Justin wrote:

“And the same sentiment was expressed, my friends, by the word of God [written] by Moses, when it indicated to us, with regard to Him whom it has pointed out,409 that God speaks in the creation of man with the very same design, in the following words: ‘Let Us make man after our image and likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the heaven, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creeping things that creep on the earth. And God created man: after the image of God did He create him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and said, Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and have power over it.’410 And that you may not change the [force of the] words just quoted, and repeat what your teachers assert,—either that God said to Himself, ‘Let Us make,’ just as we, when about to do something, oftentimes say to ourselves, ‘Let us make;’ or that God spoke to the elements, to wit, the earth and other similar substances of which we believe man was formed, ‘Let Us make,’—I shall quote again the words narrated by Moses himself, from which we can indisputably learn that [God] conversed with some one who was numerically distinct from Himself, and also a rational Being. These are the words: ‘And God said, Behold, Adam has become as one of us, to know good and evil.’411 In saying, therefore, ‘as one of us,’ [Moses] has declared that [there is a certain] number of persons associated with one another, and that they are at least two.”

The argumentation employed here is clear: because scripture uses personal pronouns that are plural and not singular, we must understand there to be multiple persons. The reasoning here is straightforward and rock-solid.

Unfortunately, many Christians today regard the detail of whether we use singular or plural personal pronouns for the persons of the Trinity together as a group as something unimportant. It is commonplace to see the Father, Son, and Spirit referred to together as “he” or “you”, with singular instead of plural personal pronouns.

Unfortunately, this is more than simply improper grammar: it implicitly teaches the false doctrine that the three real persons of the Trinity are actually a single person, which is semi-modalism. As we have seen, this is an unbiblical way to speak of the persons of the Trinity together, as scripture is careful to accurately portray reality by using plural personal pronouns for the persons as a group.

Instead of carelessly using language that implies false doctrine, we ought to use plural personal pronouns for the persons of the Trinity together, as scripture does. We must strive to be careful in the language that we use when speaking about God, His Son, and His Spirit. If we do so, instead of implicitly teaching something false about God, we will be implicitly declaring the truth of the Trinity, to the glory of God.

Irenaeus Highlights

Irenaeus of Lyons, unlike many church fathers, is one relatively well known to modern Christians. The second century bishop of Lyons is famous for his staunch opposition to the various pseudo-gnostic heresies that faced the church in his day, and especially for the multi-volume work Against Heresies that he authored to combat them. He also authored a lesser-known work summarizing an orthodox understanding of the Christian faith and proving its tenets from the scriptures called Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, which I highly recommend.

Here I want to briefly examine some quotes from his writings that highlight his strongly held and clearly-articulated belief that the one God of the Christian faith is the person of the Father in particular.

“And others of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a stedfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Against Heresies, Book I. Chapter III. 6.)

Due to the clarity of these quotes, comment is largely unnecessary. While Irenaeus is writing against the heretics of old his words still hold a strong rebuke for the modern semi-modalists who have taken up their mantle.

“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” (Against Heresies, Book I. Chapter X. 1.)

“These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics.” (Against Heresies, Book III. Chapter I. 2.)

“Since, therefore, this is sure and stedfast, that no other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word, and those who receive the Spirit of adoption, [3805] that is, those who believe in the one and true God, and in Jesus Christ the Son of God; and likewise that the apostles did of themselves term no one else as God, or name [no other] as Lord; and, what is much more important, [since it is true] that our Lord [acted likewise], who did also command us to confess no one as Father, except Him who is in the heavens, who is the one God and the one Father;–those things are clearly shown to be false which these deceivers and most perverse sophists advance” (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter I. 1.)

“And therefore it is right first of all to believe that there is One God, the Father, who made and fashioned all things, and made what was not that it should be, and who, containing all things, alone is uncontained.” (The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

“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.” (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

Semi-modalism as the Greatest Problem Facing the Church Today

Church history is riddled with problems. Sin has left much of church history to more closely resemble the ancient Jerusalem of the Old Testament than the heavenly Jerusalem we look forward to. The problems the church has faced are about as varied as could be imagined, from practical issues, to sin among leadership and laity, to heresies in every generation. But which problems present the greatest danger?

I would suggest that the most dangerous errors that face the church are those that go unnoticed. When a problem is recognised as such, the table is set for efforts to be made to rectify it. But when problems go unrecognised, especially if they are unrecognised for a long time, the extent of damage they cause can be extreme, and rectifying them becomes more difficult.

Church history is full of examples of this exact sort of thing. Consider the church in the Southern United States- for two centuries sinful racism against blacks was not only tolerated but also endorsed by Southern churches. For only a relatively small portion of that time did they even face outside opposition from Christians in other regions, since most Northern Churches were equally rascist, and while they often decried slavery, they rarely focused on the great sin of hating and prejudicing others on the basis of race.

Because most white Christians did not even categorically think of racism as sin, there was no real effort to correct the problem for a long time. The effects of this are readily visible today as many black and white Christians still meet in separate churches. There still remains work to be done.

Semi-modalism is a similar problem in terms of its going largely unnoticed as being a problem. But semi-modalism also surpasses other errors in other ways as well, which, combined, make semi-modalism one of the greatest problems the church has ever faced.

Semi-modalism is a variation of the ancient heresy of modalism that keeps the fundamental principle of modalism unchanged -namely, that the person of the one God is all three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- but unlike classical modalism does not teach that he takes turns manifesting himself as each of the three persons. Instead semi-modalism teaches that the single person who is the one God eternally exists as the three real persons of the Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- simultaneously. This stands in contrast to the Bible’s teaching that the one God is the person of the Father in particular, with the Son standing in relation to the one God as His only-begotten Son, and the Spirit as His Spirit. The idea that all three persons of the Trinity constitute a single person is foreign to the teaching of scripture.

Firstly we must note that semi-modalism is among the most serious errors the church has ever faced simply because of the centrality of the doctrines it attacks. The ancient church regarded the confession of one God Who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ as the first and most fundamental article of the Christian faith, and for good reason. There is little more fundamental and more crucial doctrinally than the very identity of the one true God.

Its an especially grievous error when we consider that the purpose of all history and creation is to make known the glory of God- Who He is. Semi-modalism works to obscure that truth. It works against the very purpose for which Christians are to live. By presenting God fictitiously as though He is a person who is three persons instead of acknowledging Him as one person, the Father, this dangerous heresy undermines the very foundations of the Christian faith. So fundamental was this doctrine that the famous Nicene Creed began by affirming this truth, saying “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” and afterwards going on to discuss the Son as His Son and Holy Spirit as His Spirit.

Not only is scripture abundantly clear on this basic point of doctrine, but the early church also labored to defend it against various heresies that arose in the first few centuries of church history. For an extensive list of historical testimony to the truth that the one God is the person of the Father in particular, and proof from the holy scriptures, see here: https://nicenefaith.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/i-believe-in-one-god-the-father-almighty/.

Another factor that makes semi-modalism in particular, out of all the varied and serious heresies the church has faced throughout history, one of the most dangerous and damaging of all is its long history. It can first be seen in the late fourth century, creeping in without much notice amid the doctrinal chaos and confusion caused by the Arian controversy. Shortly thereafter the highly influential fifth century theologian Augustine popularized it with his books on the Trinity, and ever since it has been accepted nearly unopposed in Western Christianity.

Many have blindly followed this false teaching without question, and without realizing that they were fed a counterfeit doctrine of the Trinity, not that taught in scripture, articulated by the Nicene Creed, and defended by great theologians of the early church like Athanasius and Irenaeus. Like any error that has gained wide and largely unopposed acceptance, semi-modalism is made especially dangerous to those who hold it because of its long history, which gives it a sense of normality, and a special appeal to those who place favorite theologians who have fallen into this error above the scriptures. Rather than heeding scripture’s command to “test everything, and hold fast to that which is good”, many today would rather take the word of a favorite theologian they are impressed with over and against the clear teaching of scripture on this issue.

Finally, semi-modalism is made especially dangerous by the fact that most people simply do not recognise it at all. It wraps itself in language so similar to orthodoxy, and shares so much in common with orthodoxy, that many fail to make a distinction. It has blended just enough error in with a great deal of truth to make it seem palatable, like poison hidden in something sweet to cover its taste. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he doesn’t exist, it has been said.

But however well semi-modalism blends in, it is fundamentally different than orthodox trinitarianism. There is a vast conceptual difference between thinking of the Trinity as being a person who is himself three persons and thinking of the Trinity as a group of three distinct persons, namely, the one God Who is the Father, His one only-begotten Son, and His one Holy Spirit, as the Nicene Creed confesses and the scriptures teach.

Rather than give way to this false teaching, we must strive to think rightly of the one true God, thinking of Him as He has revealed Himself in the scriptures, not according to the imaginations of men. And the scriptures clearly reveal Him as the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, not as a person who is multiple persons. Until semi-modalism is widely recognised as being incompatible with the truth scripture teaches, this problem will continue to do great harm both to the church herself and to the cause of God’s glory.

God’s ‘Preferred Pronouns’

As the world constantly strives to become more and more politically-correct, the issue of “preferred pronouns” has been receiving increased attention, especially in light of an increased societal focus on gender identification. In some states in the U.S. it is now punishable by law for a caregiver to knowingly and repeatedly continue to use pronouns that signify a person’s biological gender if they choose to identify as being another gender.

Although usually the recent crusade for using ‘preferred pronouns’ is one that accompanies sexual immorality and personal confusion as to an individual’s God-given biological gender, it is interesting to note that increasingly radicals of various stripes have also begun using pronouns for God that differ from His obvious ‘preferred pronouns’. God of course, being without a body, does not have a biological gender.  But He has chose to reveal Himself, and His Son, in scripture using a particular pattern of human pronouns nonetheless, that does carry with it meaning. That is what I hope to briefly examine in this article.

Pronouns serve as a placeholder for proper names grammatically. Instead of constantly repeating a name every time we want to refer to an individual, pronouns allow us to refer to an individual by an often shorter fill-in for their proper name. Pronouns can carry various sorts of grammatical significance, including possession, gender, and number. When it comes to God’s ‘preferred pronouns’ I want to specifically examine both gender and number.

Starting with gender, we have already noted that since God is by incorporeal, when God refers to Himself by terms that signify gender these cannot be understood in a literal way so as to imply that God does have a body with some sort of biological gender. That God always uses masculine pronouns for Himself, however, does carry significance. In scripture, the male gender is associated with headship, authority, and strength. Scripture expressly says that “man is the head of woman” (1 Cor 11). It also refers to the woman as a “weaker vessel” than man (1 Pet 3). So when God chooses to reveal Himself using masculine pronouns, we should see those associations with headship and power, although obviously God as being infinite and transcendent is far beyond man’s power and authority.

That is why it is wrong to use feminine pronouns for God. God has not revealed Himself that way for a reason. It is because submission and weakness are naturally and biblically associated with the female gender.

Next we examine number. Personal pronouns break down into plural plural pronouns like “they” and “them” and singular pronouns like “he” and “him”. God’s usage of pronouns in scripture show us a pattern: when plural divine persons are spoken of, plural pronouns are used. And when God speaks of a single person, singular personal pronouns are used.

This may sound too simplistic to need to be made a point of, but unfortunately, semi-modalists have set out to twist this pattern of preferred pronouns to distort the truth. Although God uses plural pronouns for plural persons in scripture, such as when He said to the Son “Let Us make man in our image” in Genesis, these semi-modalists, based on their unbiblical presupposition that all three persons of the Trinity are ultimately a single person, prefer to use a singular pronoun. You will hear them say things like “He is Father, Son, and Spirit.

This usage of pronouns not only breaks with the biblical pattern that God has given us in His infallible word regarding how He ought ot be spoken of, but carries with it an obvious false implication: that the three real persons of the Trinity are all one person.

Just as the radical feminists and liberals who have taken to referring to the Father as “she” need to repent of their blasphemy and false teaching, so also those who would refer to the persons of the Trinity together as though a single person, using “He”, and “Him” for all three persons together, must repent likewise of their blasphemy and tacit false teaching.

The Son’s Generation Prior to the Creation of the Universe Proved from the Scriptures

It is important for the sake a sure knowledge of the truth to really see every point of doctrine proved from scripture. Our beliefs, after all, must rest in something greater than the mere opinions of men.

It is for that reason that I’ve decided it would be good to put together a brief demonstration of the doctrine of the Son’s generation from the Father prior to creation from the scriptures below.

The doctrine states that the Son was begotten of the Father before creation, and is therefore a distinct person from the Father. Now lets see each part of this definition proved from the infallible scriptures:

The Son was begotten and created by the Father:

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 KJV)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18 KJV)

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Col 1:15 NASB)

““To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness [the Lord Jesus], the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:” (Rev 3:14 NASB)

“The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me.” (Proverbs 8:22-25)

The Son was with the Father prior to the creation of the universe:

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5 NAS)

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col 1:16-17 NASB)

The Son is a distinct person from the Father:

“And God saith, `Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over fish of the sea, and over fowl of the heavens, and over cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that is creeping on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26 YLT)

“Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;” (Genesis 19:24 KJV)

“If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.””And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.” (John 5:31, 37 KJV)

Athanasius Highlights

Especially in light of the misnamed “Athanasian Creed” and its consistent usage by semi-modalists to sum up their belief, it would perhaps not be difficult to suppose that Athanasius believed that version of pseudo-trinitarianism that passes for the doctrine of the Trinity since the time of Augustine: the variant of modalism I have taken to calling semi-modalism.

But actually, Athanasius very explicitly supported the biblical doctrine that the one God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. This should not surprise us at all when we consider that Athanasius not only helped frame, but also spent his life defending the Nicene Creed, which very explicitly defines that the identity of the one God is the person of the Father.

In truth if there is really a creed that deserves the label “Athanasian”, it is the Nicene Creed, given all that Athanasius sacrificed to defend and champion it. But here are several quotes from various writing of Athanasius in which his belief in this point of doctrine can also be seen. Let’s examine some highlights from among them:

“He it is who through His Word made all things small and great, and we may not divide the creation, and says this is the Father’s, and this the Son’s, but they are of one God, who uses His proper Word as a Hand, and in Him does all things. This God Himself shews us, when He says, ‘All these things hath My Hand made;’ while Paul taught us as he had learned, that ‘There is one God, from whom all things; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things.” (Defense of the Nicene Definition, Chapter III.)

Here we see Athanasius argue that all creation cannot be divided up into what was created by God versus what what created by His Son, but that rather we must understand that all creation is the work of the one God- the Father- through His one Son, His Word. Notice that he explicitly speaks of the Word here as the Word of the one God, clearly equating the one God and the Father, using the names “one God” and “Father” as synonymous.

”But if this is not to be seen, but while the creatures are many, the Word is one, any one will collect from this, that the Son differs from all, and is not on a level with the creatures, but proper to the Father. Hence there are not many Words, but one only Word of the one Father, and one Image of the one God.” (Against the Arians, Discourse II.)

Here again we see a direct equation made between the “one Father” and the “one God”. The following quotes are also clear on this:

“For there is One God, and not many, and One is His Word, and not many; for the Word is God, and He alone has the Form of the Father.” (Against the Arians, Discourse III.)

“For the Word, being Son of the One God, is referred to Him of whom also He is; so that Father and Son are two, yet the Monad of the Godhead is indivisible and inseparable. And thus too we preserve One Beginning of Godhead and not two Beginnings, whence there is strictly a Monarchy” (Against the Arians, Discourse IV.)

“For the one God makes and creates; but Him He begets from Himself, Word or Wisdom.” (Against the Arians, Discourse IV.)

“The Triad, then, although the Word took a body from Mary, is a Triad, being inaccessible to addition or diminution; but it is always perfect, and in the Triad one Godhead is recognised, and so in the Church one God is preached, the Father of the Word.” (To Epictetus)

If you would like to see more of these quotes from not only Athanasius himself, but many other church fathers, please see my extensive collection of them available for viewing here: https://nicenefaith.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/i-believe-in-one-god-the-father-almighty/