On the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Update 6-25-2018]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samuel Clarke, Sir Isaac Newton, And Homoian Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

“4. What the proper Metaphysical Nature, Essence, or Substance of any of these divine Persons is, the scripture has no where at all declared; but describes and distinguishes them always, by their Personal Characters, Offices, Powers and Attributes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights from Sir Isaac Newton Concerning the Trinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Does the Submission of the Son to the Father Contradict the Notion that He has “one will” with the Father?

The authoritative headship of the Father over the Son was an important point of doctrine frequently emphasized by the fathers of the ante-nicene and Nicene eras. It was viewed by them as a clear teaching of scripture, and an important aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity. For example:

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

“XVII. If any man says that the Lord and the Lord, the Father and the Son, are two Gods because of the aforesaid words: let him be anathema. For we do not make the Son the equal or peer of the Father, but understand the Son to be subject. For He did not come down to Sodom without the Father’s will, nor rain from Himself but from the Lord, to wit, by the Father’s authority; nor does He sit at the Father’s right hand by His own authority, but because He hears the Father saying, Sit on My right hand.

51. The foregoing and the following statements utterly remove any ground for suspecting that this definition asserts a diversity of different deities in the Lord and the Lord. No comparison is made because it was seen to be impious to say that there are two Gods: not that they refrain from making the Son equal and peer of the Father in order to deny that He is God. For, since he is anathema who denies that Christ is God, it is not on that score that it is profane to speak of two equal Gods. God is One on account of the true character of His natural essence and because from the Unborn God the Father, who is the one God, the Only-begotten God the Son is born, and draws His divine Being only from God; and since the essence of Him who is begotten is exactly similar to the essence of Him who begot Him, there must be one name for the exactly similar nature. That the Son is not on a level with the Father and is not equal to Him is chiefly shown in the fact that He was subjected to Him to render obedience, in that the Lord rained from the Lord and that the Father did not, as Photinus and Sabellius say, rain from Himself, as the Lord from the Lord; in that He then sat down at the right hand of God when it was told Him to seat Himself; in that He is sent, in that He receives, in that He submits in all things to the will of Him who sent Him. But the subordination of filial love is not a diminution of essence, nor does pious duty cause a degeneration of nature, since in spite of the fact that both the Unborn Father is God and the Only-begotten Son of God is God, God is nevertheless One, and the subjection and dignity of the Son are both taught in that by being called Son He is made subject to that name which because it implies that God is His Father is yet a name which denotes His nature. Having a name which belongs to Him whose Son He is, He is subject to the Father both in service and name; yet in such a way that the subordination of His name bears witness to the true character of His natural and exactly similar essence.” (De Synodis, Quoting and commenting on the decision of the Council of Sirmium against Photinius)

“Believing then in the all-perfect triad, the most holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods, but one dignity of Godhead, and one exact harmony of dominion, the Father alone being head over the whole universe wholly, and over the Son Himself, and the Son subordinated to the Father; but, excepting Him, ruling over all things after Him which through Himself have come to be, and granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will. For that such is the account of the Divine Monarchy towards Christ, the sacred oracles have delivered to us.” (The Macrostich)

That the Son is subordinate to the Father as His Head is important as an aspect of Christian monotheism (see Why There is Only One God: Headship). There is only one God because there is only one supreme uncaused Cause of all, and one Supreme Authority over all -the Father. If the Son were equal to the Father in authority, and not under His headship, there would be two Supreme Authorities over all, and on that grounds, two Gods. The scriptural truth that “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3) is important then to how scripture teaches us that there is only one God.

Yet this teaching has come under fire in recent years. The argument leveled against this patristic and scriptural doctrine is that the Son cannot “submit” to the Father because this implies that They do not have the same will. In order for the Son to submit to the Father, it is argued, He must have a will contrary to His Father. Such a teaching, it is argued, goes against the historic doctrine that the persons of the Trinity share a common will.

For many this line of argument seems convincing, a good enough reason to jettison a view held by the early church. Yet upon close examination, this argument is shown to be seriously flawed.

Firstly, the argument hinges upon an assumption that in order for there to be submission of the Son to the Father, the persons must have conflicting wills. This assumption is unwarranted; the Son submits to the Father willingly, and as being in agreement with His Father, and thus having “one will” with Him. We can even borrow from human analogy; if a man tells his son to do something, and his son loves his father and delights to do whatever his father says, his son will happily and willingly submit to his father. This sort of willing submission is precisely how the church fathers described the submission of the Son to the Father. For example Hilary of Poitiers, as quoted above, refers to it as “the subordination of filial love”.

Secondly it is noteworthy that the fathers of the early church also acknowledged that the persons of the Trinity share one will, and yet in their view, this was in no way contradictory to the Son’s subordination to the Father as His Head.

“Reverting to the Scriptures, I shall endeavour to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things,—numerically, I mean, not [distinct] in will. For I affirm that He has never at any time done anything which He who made the world—above whom there is no other God—has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho)

Here we see the way the Justin understood the Son’s subordination to the Father, and the Father and Son sharing “one will” fitting together; far from being contradictory, in Justin’s view we see the truth that the Son does not have a distinct will from the Father manifested in the Son’s perfect submission to the Father. It is His submission to the Father in which we see the Son’s perfect agreement with Him, as the Son willingly “ministers to the will of the Father” in “the subordination of filial love”.

If we are going to insist that the fathers are wrong on this point, especially in light of so much clear scriptural support for their position, we ought to have some good reason to do so. The fact is, we do not. The Son’s submission to the Father is a willing submission, grounded in the Son’s relationship to the Father as Son, stemming from His eternal generation.

Here a further distinction is worth noting, already mentioned in passing above, which yields further clarity. The persons of the Trinity possess one will in that They are each in perfect agreement with each other; each person, however, distinctly possesses the power of will. Thus the Father wills to send the Son and the Son wills to be sent; the Father wills to create through the Son, and the Son wills to be the Father’s instrument in the creation of the world. The perfect agreement and harmony between the persons renders the will “one”, similarly to how we see many distinct persons in the early church being described as “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” (Acts 4:32 NKJV).

This is contrasted with the view of those who conceive of the Trinity as a whole, or the essence shared by the persons, as a single person. Those who hold this view almost always mean something quite different than the fathers such as Justin and Hilary did when they speak of the persons of the Trinity sharing “one will”; what they refer to is that there is only one power of willing belonging properly to the sole person who is Father, Son, and Spirit, and thus the real persons of the Trinity possess the same will and mind because They are all ultimately a single person with a single power of will and mind. This bizarre ‘hive-mind’ view of the Trinity falls apart as soon as it is acknowledged that there is no such thing as a single subsistent individual who is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but that rather the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct individual realities or persons.

Essence, nature, or genus do not possess the power of will, mind, or consciousness. These properties belong to persons. For the persons of the Trinity to be described of as “one will”, then, is appropriate as a way to describe the perfect agreement between Them, but erroneous if this is meant to ascribe the power of will to the common essence the persons share, and so to treat that essence as a person.

Finally, some will object that the Son’s submission to the Father was merely an aspect of the economy of the incarnation, and therefore, speaking of this as a permanent and eternal character of the Son’s relationship to His Father is a mistake. Such an objection ignores the many places in the Old Testament in which we see the Son as the Angel of the Lord, ministering to the Father’s will in bringing messages from the Father to men (“angel” means ‘messenger’). It was the Father Who sent, and the Son Who obeyed; the Son is the Messenger of the Father, never the other way around. Likewise it ignores that the Father created all things through the Son, not the Son through the Father. The fact is, throughout all history and from the beginning we see the Son’s loving subordination to the Father, as to His authoritative Head.

Additionally we may note that it is natural and common to all cultures to associate authority with fatherhood and submission to that authority to sonship. We know that all fatherhood in creation is a reflection of the eternal relationship between God and His Son; we see that authority structure even in the Law of Moses, where sons are commanded to honor, submit to, and obey their fathers. Because of this, it is most natural and reasonable to assume that the Son, simply by virtue of being Son, would be subordinate to His Father as His Head. In light of all this, if someone wishes to ague that the Son is not eternally subordinate to His Father, they ought to have some very good reason for saying so, seeing as this goes against all natural reason, and the pattern of authority and submission that we see between God and His Son throughout the whole of history. And the truth of the matter is, no such reason exists. Nowhere do we find scriptural warrant to limit this relationship to the incarnation, or the economy of redemption. Instead, everywhere we are given reason to understand that this relationship is eternal.

What Really Constitutes a Rejection of Modalism?

Most Christians are willing to recognize that modalism is heresy; yet at the same time, what passes for a rejection of modalism today is so lacking that many closet modalists can seemingly vindicate themselves of being modalists ( in name, at least) while still holding to the same fundamental doctrines as those who openly hold to modalism.

This is because it has become acceptable to respond to modalism by stating that the persons of the Trinity are not identical to each other; the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and neither of them is the Holy Spirit. And yet, this does not exclude all forms of modalism, nor does it address the fundamental underlying tenet of modalism that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all one person.

As noted in Equivocation Over the Term “Person”, many modern Christians effectively state their belief in trinitarianism as a belief in one person (the Trinity or the essence) who is three persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). This is almost always done by using a synonymous word for “person” in respect to the Trinity as a whole, such as “being”; a word vague enough that it can be used either for an abstract essence or for an individual person, which in most cases like this, is used to mean the latter (a fact often betrayed by the use of singular personal pronouns such as “he” for the “being”). Others will use terms such as “reality”, “thing”, or some other term to describe the person who they conceive of as being three persons; yet using a different word in place of “person” hardly alleviates the problem, since what we ought to primarily be concerned with is not the modes of expression people employ (although these are important), but what is meant by them.

Since, then, the fundamental problem posed by modalism is that it conceives of God as a single individual who somehow is the Father, Son, and Spirit, if we merely require someone to affirm that there is some kind of distinction between “Father”, “Son”, and “Spirit” such as that they are not totally synonymous with each other, we have failed to address the primary issue. Many modalists are willing to affirm such a distinction. While they believe there is only one divine individual, they are also willing to affirm that the names “Father”, “Son”, and “Spirit” refer to three things that are not totally interchangeable with each other.

This distinction may be as shallow as the names themselves; it may extend to seeing them as signifying historically distinct modes by which the one individual manifests himself to the world; or they may view each name as signifying a distinct mode of subsistence within a single individual. Others would view them as effectively signifying different parts of this one individual. All these notions are blasphemous and false; yet by merely accepting the affirmation of some difference between “Father”, “Son”, and “Spirit” as being enough to clear a person of being a modalist, we will have let most modalists pass themselves off as trinitarians with little difficulty.

Even Sabellius himself was willing to say that there were three distinct “personas”, after all. Other early modalists would also try to affirm that while in their minds “Father” and “Son” were the same individual, only the Son died, not the Father. Yet today, it seems we have pushed the threshold of what constitutes trinitarianism so low that those who call the Trinity as a whole a single person, and a single individual, are not regarded as modalists. While they are not given the label they deserve, the underlying beliefs are fundamentally the same. Just as the Sabellians of old taught, if “Father” and “Son” are the same individual, then the Father became man and died on the cross. And yet today this view is tolerated, so long as the person specifies that it was the mode of “Son” that died, not the mode of “Father”.

To really be cleared of modalism, a person must be willing not only to to say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are somehow distinct, but that They are distinct as three individuals, three real persons. A modalist can say that they are somehow distinct, especially if that modalist is willing to equivocate over the term “person”, using it to mean something less than a really distinct individual. A trinitarian must affirm that there are in reality three distinct individuals of one divine nature, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

If we wish to guard against semi-modalism, we must go farther still. A semi-modalist does affirm that there are really three distinct persons; however, the semi-modalist believes these three persons to be one person as well. This view is nonsensical; yet, it is held by many, more often than not as an unconscious inconsistency in their own thinking. Yet, some would venture to hold such a view consciously, being willing to say that they believe in one person who is three persons, and really mean “three persons” by those words. The only way to guard against such an error is to not only require a confession of three distinct persons, three distinct individual realities, but to also require a denial that those three are one person or individual reality.

Thus the ancient Macrostich says:

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

“And those who say that the Father and Son and Holy Ghost are the same, and irreligiously take the three names of one and the same reality and person, we justly proscribe from the Church, because they suppose the illimitable and impassible Father to be also limitable and passable through His becoming man. For such are they whom Romans call Patripassians, and we Sabellians. For we acknowledge that the Father who sent, remained in the peculiar state of His unchangeable Godhead, and that Christ who was sent fulfilled the economy of the Incarnation.”

It is not enough that someone be willing to say the words “three persons”; they must be willing to affirm that they mean that in the sense it is intended, that they believe in three distinct individual realities, not merely three modes or manifestations termed “persons”. Likewise, a trinitarian must be willing to affirm that there is only three persons; this guards against the semi-modalism that imagines a fourth distinct individual (or person) who is the three persons of Father, Son, and Spirit.


Significant Changes in Homoousian Creeds in the Post-Nicene Era

The ‘Homoousian’ fathers were those church fathers who during the trinitarian controversies of the fourth century favored the Greek word ‘homoousias’, to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father. This word was employed in this manner by the Nicene Creed, and was highly controversial. To understand why the word was controversial we must first understand that it was a philosophical term not understood the same way by everyone.

Secondly we must note that its meaning prior to the trinitarian controversies of the fourth century was effectively equivalent to the modern English word “being”. Just as “being” in English can  be used in significantly different ways, to indicate either a nature/genus, or an individual (such a “human being”), so ‘ousia’ could be understood to indicate an individual, or a nature shared by many individuals. Therefore, when initially introduced to theological discussion, the word “ousia” was actually used to indicate an individual, with Sabellius, an early classical modalist, using the term ‘homoousias’ (same ousia) to say that the Father and Son were the same person. Similarly, Paul of Samosata used the term ‘homoousias’ to portray the Son as a part of the Father’s person, and thus the same person, or ‘homoousias’. This idea, and the word itself, were therefore condemned by church council, which rather proclaimed that Christ was ‘heteroousias’ or a different ousia, that is, in this usage, a distinct person.

When the Nicene Council used the term to describe the Son’s relationship to the Father, it was intended by its authors to be understood differently. Now, instead of ‘ousia’ indicating person, it was intended to indicate nature. Athanasius and the Nicene Council intended the word as used in the Creed to communicate that the Son of God, as His true Son and not merely a creature, shares His Father’s divine nature, and has the same divine nature as He. Thus ‘homoousias’ was intended to mean ‘same nature’, not ‘same person’ as heretics had previously used it.

While the intention behind the Nicene council’s use of the word was a good and orthodox one, changing the way the word was being used, and using a word that had been condemned as heretical, understandably resulted in widespread controversy, with the vast majority of Eastern bishops opposing the usage of the word for these reasons. They initially proposed the term ‘homoiousias’ instead, meaning “like ousia”; this was largely motivated not by thinking that the Son’s nature was not the same as that of the Father, but out of concern that saying the Son was the same ousia would be to say that the Son was the same person; therefore, they would declare that the person of the Son was like the person of the Father by the term ‘homoiousias’. They agreed that the Son had the same divine nature as the Father, but viewed ousia the same way it had previously been used, as equivalent to person. Therefore, it was blatantly modalistic in their thinking.

To add further difficulty, some of those who supported the Nicene Creed and use of the word ‘homoousias’ actually did intend it in a modalistic way, such as Marcellus of Ancyra, who was condemned for teaching modalism. The heretical usage of the term, therefore, was by no means a thing of the past. Just as many homoousian bishops, therefore, suspected those who rejected the term of Arian tendencies, the majority of orthodox Eastern bishops likewise suspected those who favored ‘homoousias’ of modalism.

With all these difficulties surrounding the terminology of ‘ousia’, which is not used in scripture, it is easy to see why eventually the church opted to give up the language of ‘ousia’ altogether and simply say that the Son was “like” (homoi) the Father. This likeness was understood to include that the Son had the same divine nature as the Father, although He is a distinct person from Him. This language prevailed for some twenty years until emperor Theodosius I purged the church of bishops who would not accept ‘homoousias’, and insisted that the Nicene formula be the lone confession of the church. After these decisions were made by the emperor without the consent of the church, the emperor called the council of Constantinople in 381 to make his decision official for the church, those who disagreed with his decision not being allowed to participate.

The church was now wholly homoousian, and things quickly went in a modalistic direction, although this was not how men like Athanasius and Hilary of Poitier had intended the word. By observing Creeds accepted by the homoousians after 381, we can see how things changed over the next few decades.

Whereas the first two ‘homoousian’ creeds, those of Nicea in 325 and Constantinople in 381, had both shared in common that they began by acknowledging “one God, the Father Almighty”, this important first article of the faith quickly disappears from later Creeds and confessions, despite the fact that this is not only the language and teaching of scripture, but was also the clear teaching of the ante-nicene fathers (see I believe in one God, the Father Almighty).

That the one God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, is an important point of Christian doctrine, and an integral part of classical trinitarianism as taught by scripture and witnessed to by the early church. But both due to semi-modalism’s emphasis on the “one essence”, or one divine nature shared by the persons as “one God”, as well as the association of the doctrine that ‘the one God is the Father in particular’ with Arianism, which had blended that scriptural truth with its errors, later Homoousian theologians greatly de-emphasized the church’s historic belief that the one God is the person of the Father in particular. Thus when we come to these creeds, we find a very lacking trinitarianism, and something that cannot be considered classical trinitarianism at all.

First let us examine an excerpt from the decision of the Council of Rome held in the same year as that of Constantinople, 381:

“If anyone shall think aright about the Father and the Son but does not hold aright about the Holy Ghost, anathema, because he is a heretic, for all the heretics who do not think aright about God the Son and about the Holy Ghost are convicted of being involved in the unbelief of the Jews and the heathen; and if anyone shall divide the Godhead, saying that the Father is God apart and the Son God, and the Holy Ghost God, and should persist that they are called Gods and not God, on account of the one Godhead and sovereignty which we believe and know there to be of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost -one God- or withdrawing the Son and the Holy Ghost so as to suggest that the Father alone is called God and believed in as one God, let him be anathema…

…This is the salvation of the Christians, that believing in the Trinity, that is in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and being baptized into the same one Godhead and power and divinity and substance, in Him we may trust.”

Much could be said on this. Let us note that there is a failure to identify the Father as the one God. The idea of doing so is mentioned only in respect to doing so in denial of the Son and Spirit’s divinity, which is condemned; yet that He is the one God, even while His Son and Spirit share His divine nature and have the same divine nature, is not explained. Not only is this significant change noteworthy, but we see that in place of the traditional grounding of monotheism, namely, the person of the Father as the one supreme uncaused Cause of all and one Supreme Authority over all, the grounding of monotheism is innovated to be the one common divine nature the persons share, and one lordship over creation They share (see Why Are We Monotheists?). Additionally, this is the among the earliest instances of a singular personal pronoun (“Him”) being used for the Trinity as a whole, or for the single divine nature the persons share; such language betrays the semi-modalism of the council.

In the previous centuries Rome had been home to multiple modalist bishops, such as Callixtus. Sabellius had been at Rome, as had Noetus. One must wonder from this and following developments if Rome ever truly supported an orthodox understanding of ‘homoousias’, or if they accepted it so readily during the fourth century controversies as a convenient way to express their own native modalism. Certainly this would not be the last step that Rome took to lead the church away from classical trinitarianism to semi-modalism, as the papal anti-christ later officially redefined the concept of co-essentiality in a semi-modalistic way in the Fourth Lateran Council.

Next we see the Creed of the First Council of Toledo (400 AD):

“1. We believe in one true God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, creator of that which is visible and invisible, through whom everything in heaven and on earth was created.

2. This one God also has one divine name – the Trinity.

3. The Father is not the Son, but he has the Son, who is not the Father.

4. The Son is not the Father, but is by nature the Son of God.

5. Also the Spirit is the Paraclete, who himself is neither the Father nor the Son, but proceeds from the Father.

6. Therefore the Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten, the Paraclete not begotten, but is proceeding from the Father

7. It is the Father whose voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

8. It is the Son who said, “I came forth from the Father and I came into this world from God.”

9. It is the Paraclete himself about whom the Son said, “Unless I go to the Father, the Paraclete will not come to you.”

10. This Trinity is distinct in persons, of one substance, virtue, power and undivided majesty, unable to be differentiated.

11. Besides him there is no one else with a divine nature, neither angel nor spirit nor anything else of excellence which one ought to believe to be God.

12. Therefore, this Son of God, being God, born from the Father before everything, the beginning of all, made holy the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary and assumed true humanity from her without procreation through a man’s seed,

13. that is, the Lord Jesus Christ.

14. His body was neither imaginary nor did it merely have form but had substance.

15. And so he had hunger and thirst and suffered pain and wept and felt every kind of bodily hurt.

16. In the end he was crucified, died and was buried, and rose on the third day;

17. afterwards he spoke with his disciples;

18. he ascended to heaven on the fortieth day.

19. This Son of Man is also named the Son of God; however, the Son of God is God and should not be called a son of man.

10. We truly believe in the resurrection of the human body.

21. However the soul of man is not a divine substance or a part of God, but rather a creation which by divine will is imperishable.


1. Therefore if anyone should say or believe that this world was not made by the omnipotent God and his instruments, let him be anathema.

2. If anyone should say or believe that God the Father is himself the Son or the Paraclete, let him be anathema.

3. If anyone should say or believe that God the Son is himself the Father or Paraclete, let him be anathema.

4. If anyone should say or believe that the Paraclete, the Spirit, is either the Father or the Son, let him be anathema.

5. If anyone should say or believe that the human Jesus Christ was not assumed by the Son of God, let him be anathema.

6. If anyone should say or believe that the Son of God as God suffered, let him be anathema.

7. If anyone should say or believe that the human Jesus Christ, as a human, was incapable of suffering, let him be anathema.

8. If anyone should say or believe that there is one God of the Old Testament and another of the Gospel, let him be anathema.

9. If anyone should say or believe that the world was made by another God that by the one of whom it is written, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” let him be anathema.

10. If anyone should say or believe that the human body will not rise after death, let him be anathema.

11. If anyone should say or believe that the human soul is a part or substance of God, let him be anathema.

12. If anyone should say or believe that there is another Scripture than that which the Catholic Church accepts or believes to be held as authoritative or has venerated, let him be anathema.” (Translated by GLT and PSAM- source )

Here we see again that the first article of the faith is neglected, and in its place, the Trinity is identified as the one God of Christianity. Rather than identifying the one God with the Father as scripture does, the one God is given the name “Trinity”. Modalism is ostensibly avoided by declaring that the Father, Son, and Spirit are not each other; the issue of making Them out to be a single person, which is the heart of the modalist heresy, is not directly addressed.

Signs of semi-modalism can be found in this Creed, but it is not as explicit as other authors such as Augustine make it. In points 10-11 of the Creed, we see the Trinity get identified as a “him”; which serves to illustrate that when the Trinity is made out to be the one God, conceiving of it as a person is soon to follow, for it is obvious that the one God is a person. The misidentification of the this person with the Trinity as a whole, rather than as the person of the Father as scripture reveals, is heterodox, and indicative of semi-modalism.