Novatian of Rome on the One God Being the Person of the Father in Particular

Third-century Latin church father Novatian of Rome is not well-known today, but was an important figure in his time. He was an anti-pope, meaning he opposed the bishop of Rome, and was elected as a rival bishop. This caused a lot of controversy, which is not within the scope of this post to explore.

Novatian is noteworthy regardless of other shortcomings he may have had for his small contribution to trinitarian doctrine, in his treatise Concerning the Trinity. In it he elucidates his understanding of classical trinitarianism. In doing so he argues for both the divinity of Christ and the doctrine that the one God is the person of the Father, and defends the biblical truth that the Father is the one God by showing it is compatible with the doctrine of the Son’s divinity.

This can be seen from these quotes:

“Thus God the Father, the Founder and Creator of all things, who only knows no beginning, invisible, infinite, immortal, eternal, is one God; to whose greatness, or majesty, or power, I would not say nothing can be preferred, but nothing can be compared; of whom, when He willed it, the Son, the Word, was born, who is not received in the sound of the stricken air, or in the tone of voice forced from the lungs, but is acknowledged in the substance of the power put forth by God, the mysteries of whose sacred and divine nativity neither an apostle has learnt, nor prophet has discovered, nor angel has known, nor creature has apprehended.” A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity, Chapter XXXI.

“Assuredly God proceeding from God, causing a person second to the Father as being the Son, but not taking from the Father that characteristic that He is one God.” A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity, Chapter XXXI.

Notice here how explicitly he shows his belief that the Father is the one God- to be the one God is a characteristic special to the Father, not taken from Him by virtue of His having His Son and Spirit as distinct persons of the same divine nature as He.

“But now, whatever He [Christ] is, He is not of Himself, because He is not unborn; but He is of the Father, because He is begotten, whether as being the Word, whether as being the Power, or as being the Wisdom, or as being the Light, or as being the Son; and whatever of these He is, in that He is not from any other source, as we have already said before, than from the Father, owing His origin to His Father, He could not make a disagreement in the divinity by the number of two Gods, since He gathered His beginning by being born of Him who is one God.” A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity, Chapter XXXI.

We see here the classical trinitarian position shared by many church fathers, the explanation as to how it can be that the Son is a distinct person of the same divine nature as the one God (the Father), and yet does not constitute a second God: because Christ is from the Father by eternal generation, He has the Father as His atemporal Origin, and also has the same divine nature/essence as the Father. Therefore, the Son does not constitute a second God by making another unoriginate origin in addition to the Father, nor does He constitute a second God by introducing a second and different divine nature, since He is co-essential with His Father.

“Thus making Himself obedient to His Father in all things, although He also is God, yet He shows the one God the Father by His obedience, from whom also He drew His beginning.” A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity, Chapter XXXI.

Here we last see Novatian answer the objection that the Son constitutes a second God because He is another supreme head over all creation, as the Father is (since “God” sometimes indicates supreme headship, such as in the phrase “the Lord is my God”). Novatian’s response, again characteristic of the orthodox fathers of the early church, is that since the Son is subject to the Father in everything, eternally obedient to Him in filial love, the Son does not constitute a rival headship over the universe, so as to make a second God. Rather, the Son Himself is eternally subject to the headship of the Father, the one God (1 Cor 11:3).

 

Equivocation Over the Term “Person”

Semi-modalism is the false doctrine that teaches that the three real persons of the Trinity are together a single person. Most semi-modalists, however, refuse to use the term “person” for the Trinity, although conceptually they treat the Trinity as a whole as a person in every way except using that term for it.

For example, instead of saying that they believe that ‘God is a person who is three persons’, they will say that ‘God is a being who is three persons’. This sounds closer to orthodoxy; yet there is no substantial difference in meaning.

Such is the skillful deceptiveness of this soul-poisoning error. By minutely altering that ancient saying “one essence in three persons” to “one being in three persons”, no apparent error is introduced, since “being” is a term vague enough to denote either person or essence. Yet this vagueness is used to alter the meaning entirely from the original.

For when the semi-modalist speak of one “being” who is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, is it not obvious from their employment of the personal pronoun “who” that they regard this being as a person, just as when we speak of a “human being”, we usually do not refer to the human nature considered in abstract, but to an individual human person? So these deceivers equivocate with the terminology of “being” to teach their counterfeit doctrine of the Trinity, which in truth is no doctrine of the Trinity at all, since by making the Trinity itself as a whole out to be a person they introduce a fourth person, and destroy the doctrine of the Trinity and instead teach a quadrinity.

Yet these false teachers act as though if only they can avoid pronouncing the word “person” they will not be convicted of error by the Lord, as though the word used in expressing oneself is the thing of primary importance, and not the meaning and idea behind it.

Others will say that the Trinity as a whole, that is, the Father, Son, and Spirit together are not one person, (for they deny this word), but rather say that it is a single subsistent “thing” or “reality”. Again we see what vague language they must introduce in order to keep up the subterfuge that they are trinitarians. What then, is this “thing” which is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit together, when we closely enquire as to their meaning?

We find that this “thing” meets the very definition they will admit for “person”; though they pretend they are not the same. For a person, they will say, is an individual subsistence of a rational nature. Thus angels, for example, as being both individual existences and possessing a rational nature, are persons. So too they will admit individual men are persons under this definition, and also the real persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But what then is this thing? For they identify this “thing”, this “reality” which is the Trinity as truly existing, or subsisting, and define it as being individual and singular, and also regard it as being of a rational nature, namely, the divine nature. In what area then, does it fall short of the definition of “person”? In truth, it does not.

And the same false teachers treat this “thing” which meets the definition of a ‘person’, yet is robbed of the title by them, as being a person in every way. They pray to “God the Trinity”, the “triune God”; they speak of this “thing” using singular personal pronouns; they attribute to it consciousness, will, and action, and speech, and in short, everything pertaining to a person, excepting that they deny it the word “person”. Their deception then is obvious, although perhaps it is as much a self-deception as it is a deception of those who hear them.

Let those then who equivocate over the terminology of “person” give up their subterfuge, and like Van Til, come out and openly admit what they think in language that does not hide it. For by hiding their true belief behind ambiguous language, and equivocating as they do, do they not acknowledge the shamefulness of their own belief? For if it is true, it is noble, for truth is excellent; let them then come out and openly make it known. Or else why do they so dishonor the god of their imaginations by denying him personhood? What insult to the “triune God”, that he may receive men’s worship and prayers, and be called by personal pronouns, and have names and titles belonging to the real persons of the Trinity applied to him, and yet he is denied the honor of being called a person!

Or if those who are merely confused and ill taught speak in these ways, and treat the Trinity as a person in the way they speak, and yet acknowledge that it is in truth an error to regard the Trinity as a whole as a person, and for this reason deny it the term “person”, they do well; but let them then abandon their misunderstanding wholeheartedly, and not waver between truth and error any longer. But let them acknowledge the one true God as a person; the person of the Father. And let them acknowledge a second divine person also, one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the one true God, and together with Him and His Father, Who is the one true God, let them acknowledge a third divine person, the Holy Spirit. And these three persons together are the Trinity; not a singular person, but a group of three and only three persons, all three of Whom possess exactly the same divine nature, or essence. And so we may return to that ancient formula “one essence in three persons” as it was intended, to denote how the one God, and His only-begotten Son, and His Holy Spirit all share the same divine nature, and not giving in to any system of false doctrine that would confound this formula to teach a person who is three persons.

 

Aphrahat of Assyria On the One God Being the Person of the Father in Particular

Aphrahat of Assyria is not a household name in Western Christianity, but his Demonstrations serve as a valuable window into the theology and practice of the churches of the middle east around the time of the Nicene Council. By the time of the council, the Christian church stretched from Britain in the West to India and China in the East, and had not yet been divided by the later schisms that have left so many churches cut off from one another. In English, at least, it is difficult to find the writings of ante-nicene and Nicene era Christian authors who lived farther East than Persia. Most of those commonly known in the West today come from Europe, North Africa, and the Western edge of the Asian continent. Who knows what excellent theologians may have lived in the ancient churches of India and China, today unknown to later generations.

Aphrahat’s writings prove themselves a rare treat to Western Christians as a chance to peer into the often overlooked but enormous ancient churches of the East, where Syriac, instead of Greek or Latin, was used by the churches.

Aphrahat of Assyria, however far he was geographically from other orthodox fathers we may be familiar with such as Irenaeus of Lyons (modern-day France), was not far from them at all in his theology. Like Irenaeus and the fathers at the Nicene Council, Aphrahat taught that the one God is very same person who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“For if they worship, and honour with the name of worship, the heathen— those who in their heathen wickedness deny even the name of God — and yet do not worship them as their maker, as though they worshipped them alone, and so do not sin; how much more does it become us to worship and honour Jesus, Who converted our stubborn minds from all worship of vain error, and taught us to worship and serve and minister to the one God, our Father and our Maker. ” (Demonstrations, on Jesus Christ the Son of God)

We see Aphrahat express the classical trinitarian belief that men are brought by the Lord Jesus Christ to the one God, Who is our Father and Creator. The one God is not to Aphrahat the Trinity conceived of as though it were a single person, but rather the one God is explicitly the person we know as Father, to Whom the Lord Jesus Christ stands in relation as His only-begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit as His Spirit.

Aphrahat’s belief on this important point of doctrine stands in agreement with both scripture and the teaching of other orthodox fathers of the ante-nicene and nicene eras, as can be see here: I believe in one God, the Father Almighty

How the Monarchy and Divinity are Special to the Father yet Shared by all Three Persons of the Trinity

Having recently examined the topic of equality and subordination in the Trinity, and discussed how in order to accurately speak of the equality and subordination of the Son to the Father we must not speak broadly of equality or subordination, but must rather distinguish between the categories of nature, headship, and causality. We examined how scripture teaches that the Son is equal with the Father in respect to His divine nature, since He eternally has the same divine nature as the Father, yet in respect to headship and causality the Son is subordinate to the Father as to His authoritative head and origin. This subordination to the Father as His head and origin stems from the fact that the Son has his ontological origin from the Father in being begotten of the Him before the ages, and therefore is truly Son of the Father, eternally under His headship, yet also eternally equal to Him in respect to the divine nature he possesses.

After seeing these points demonstrated from scripture, we also saw a sampling of the extensive testimony given by the orthodox church fathers of the ante-nicene and nicene eras in favor of these points of doctrine.

In this post I want to briefly treat the topic of how the monarchy and divinity both belong to the Father in a special way, yet are shared by all three persons of the Trinity.

By “monarchy” we refer to rulership and headship. The one God, the Father, has headship not only over all creation, but even over His own Son and Spirit. This headship is a monarchy, that is, a rule of one, because it belongs to the Father alone to be supreme head over all, not only over all creatures, but also over the Son and Spirit, as we have said. Yet the Son and Spirit share in the Father’s monarchy, inasmuch as God rules and administrates His kingdom through His Son and Spirit. So the Son and Spirit also enjoy headship over all creation together with the Father, while having the Father as their head, lest by having three equal heads there be no longer a monarchy but a polyarchy. In this way then we see that the monarchy is properly regarded as belong specially to the Father, yet this rule is not limited to the Father, but the headship over all creation is shared by His Son and Spirit as well.

In respect to “divinity” we speak of the divine nature, the single sort of divinity shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The one God, the Father, has His own divine nature as proper to Himself, from no source or origin whatsoever. The Father in respect to His person and His divine nature is unbegotten and unoriginate. The one divine nature then, is properly regarded as being in a special way the Father’s divine nature, as He possesses it as His own proper nature, of Himself, and not of another. The Son and Spirit however, as we have expressed before, share this same divine nature, this paternal divinity, as it is communicated to them from the Father in the eternal generation of the Son and eternal procession of the Spirit. The one God, the Father, is divine of Himself; the Son is divine because of His eternal generation from the Father, from which he possesses the paternal divinity. The Spirit, likewise, possesses the paternal divinity which is proper to the Father as He eternally proceeds from Him.

In light of what has been said above, we may properly regard the monarchy the three persons share as the ‘monarchy of the Father’, and likewise, the divinity They share as ‘the Father’s divinity’, while acknowledging that the Son and Spirit share in the Father’s monarchy and divinity.

Subordination and Equality in the Trinity

With many things, error accompanies oversimplification; distinction is necessary to accurately articulate the truth, and without careful distinction error is practically ensured.

One such issue is subordination in respect to the Trinity, particularly in respect to the relationship between the Father and the Son. In some circles, “equality” without further specification is held at a premium, and any talk of the subordination of the Son is deemed heretical, or even Arian. On the other hand, it must be noted that among the spectrum of all mainstream schools of trinitarian thought some subordination of the Son to the Father is acknowledged in the incarnation, when the Son humbled Himself and took on a human nature.

When we look at equality and subordination in respect to the Son’s relation to the Father, I would argue that we must distinguish carefully between the three different categories of nature, headship, and causality in order to avoid falling into one sort of error or another.

Firstly, I will state my view on subordination and equality in each of these three categories, and then seek to demonstrate the truthfulness of these positions from scripture, and support the validity of these interpretations with the historical testimony of the orthodox church fathers.

In the category of nature we are dealing with essence, or substance, or genus; the broad elements that are common among many individuals. Basil of Caesarea puts it well: “The distinction between οὐσία [essence] and ὑπόστασις [person] is the same as that between the general and the particular ; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man.” (Letter 236) In respect to nature, the Father and Son are entirely equal; this is what the Nicene Creed confesses when it say that the Son is co-essential with the Father; He has an exactly identical nature with the Father, admitting of no difference whatsoever.

We see this exegetically from scripture in two main ways. Firstly, the Son is called “God” when it says in John 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and the Word was God.” This is not saying that the Word is the same person as “the God” Whom He is “with”, and thus distinguished from, but rather indicates His nature. There is, however, only one divine nature, since if there were multiple there could no longer truly be said to be only one God, as scripture clearly teaches. So when scripture makes known that Christ is of a divine nature, we know that it can be no other than that of the Father, exactly identical with no difference whatsoever, or else it would constitute a second divine nature.

Secondly the Son’s co-essentiality is irrefutably proven from scripture’s teaching eternal generation. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6 NKJV) Everything which begets, begets after its own kind. What is created by God from nothing, as all creation, is of a different nature than He; but that which is begotten from God’s own nature is of no other nature than He Who begat Him. As the Nicene Creed says “begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of the same essence as the Father”. That the Son is begotten of the Father is expressly indicated several times by scripture calling the Son the “only-begotten” of the Father (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).

The Son then, as having been begotten of the Father as His true and eternal Son before the creation of the world (“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5 NAS)) is therefore necessarily of the same divine nature as the Father. His nature is exactly identical without any inequality whatsoever. In fact, to say that the Son were subordinate to the Father in respect to His nature would be to deny His true divinity, and would be a variant of the Arian heresy.

Having looked at the first category of ‘nature’, and seeing there that the Son is equal to the Father in nature, we come to the category of headship. By headship, I mean authority. The Son eternally is subordinate to the Father as His head; this subordination is not grounded in a difference in nature, but in the personal properties of the Father and Son. The Son, as we have said, is equal to the Father in nature, having the same divine nature as He; yet inasmuch as the Son is Son and the Father is Father, the Son is subordinate to the Father as His head.

Scripture is explicit in teaching that the Father is the head of the Son: “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Cor 11:3 NKJV) We see the Father’s headship over the Son again referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” (NKJV)

The Son’s subordination to the Father’s headship can also be seen apart from the incarnation entirely; God sends the Son, and the Son is sent; God creates through His Son, not His Son through Him; and throughout the Old Testament we read of Christ as the “Angel (that is, Messenger) of the LORD”, bringing messages from the Father to men, ministering to the Father’s will.

On this point, there is abundant testimony from the church fathers:

““I shall give you another testimony, my friends,” said I, “from the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a Beginning,403 [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, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will…” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

“XVI. “If any man does not understand The Lord rained from the Lord to be spoken of the Father and the Son, but says that the Father rained from Himself: let him be anathema. For the Lord the Son rained from the Lord the Father.”…

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.” (Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis; Therein quoting the Council of Sirmium Against Photinius)

We see then that in reference to headship, the Son, as Son, is subordinate to the Father in “the obedience of filial love”, and yet as we have said above, is equal to the Father in respect to His divinity.

Having then addressed the categories of nature and headship, we come to the third category of ‘causality’.

The Son is subordinate to the Father as His Cause. In having begotten the Son before the ages, the Father Himself is the Cause of the Son, as the Son has both His person and essence from the Father in eternal generation. This is closely related to the other two categories; because the Father is the Origin of the Son by eternal generation, the Son is both equal to the Father in respect to nature, as having the Father’s nature communicated to Him in eternal generation, and yet subordinate to the Father as His Head because the Father is truly ontologically His Father, and therefore the Cause of His being.

That the Father is the origin and cause of the Son is obvious from the doctrine of eternal generation, which as we have noted above, teaches that the Son was begotten of the Father before the ages (that is, before and outside of time, which as part of creation (Heb 1:2), was created through the Son). Begetting by definition indicates causality; as do the very names “Father” and “Son”. The Father is unbegotten, uncaused, and unoriginate, while the Son is begotten of the Father, and thus has the Father as His cause and origin.

We have express testimony in scripture that the Son is begotten of the Father, in that the Son is called “only-begotten”, as is mentioned above. John 5:26 also says “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (NASB). Here we clearly see the communication of the Father’s nature to the Son taught.

As in the two previous categories, there is much patristic support for this reading of scripture.

“II. “And if any one hearing the Son say, As the Father has life in Himself, so also has He given to the Son to have life in Himself John 5:26, shall say that He who has received life from the Father, and who also declares, I live by the Father , is the same as He who gave life: let him be anathema.

14. The person of the recipient and of the giver are distinguished so that the same should not be made one and sole. For since he is under anathema who has believed that, when recipient and giver are mentioned one solitary and unique person is implied, we may not suppose that the selfsame person who gave received from Himself. For He who lives and He through whom He lives are not identical, for one lives to Himself, the other declares that He lives through the Author of His life, and no one will declare that He who enjoys life and He through whom His life is caused are personally identical.” (Hilary of Poitier, De Synodis)

““Is not the meaning here of the word ὁμοούσιον that the Son is produced of the Father’s nature, the essence of the Son having no other origin, and that both, therefore, have one unvarying essence? As the Son’s essence has no other origin, we may rightly believe that both are of one essence, since the Son could be born with no substance but that derived from the Father’s nature which was its source.”” (Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis)

“But now, whatever He is, He is not of Himself, because He is not unborn; but He is of the Father, because He is begotten, whether as being the Word, whether as being the Power, or as being the Wisdom, or as being the Light, or as being the Son; and whatever of these He is, in that He is not from any other source, as we have already said before, than from the Father, owing His origin to His Father, He could not make a disagreement in the divinity by the number of two Gods, since He gathered His beginning by being born of Him who is one God.” (Novatian, A Treatise Concerning the Trinity, Chapter XXXI.)

““11. And thus there appeared another beside Himself. But when I say another, I do not mean that there are two Gods, but that it is only as light of light, or as water from a fountain, or as a ray from the sun. For there is but one power, which is from the All; and the Father is the All, from whom comes this Power, the Word. And this is the mind which came forth into the world, and was manifested as the Son of God. All things, then, are by Him, and He alone is of the Father. Who then adduces a multitude of gods brought in, time after time? For all are shut up, however unwillingly, to admit this fact, that the All runs up into one. If, then, all things run up into one, even according to Valentinus, and Marcion, and Cerinthus, and all their fooleries, they are also reduced, however unwillingly, to this position, that they must acknowledge that the One is the cause of all things. Thus, then, these too, though they wish it not, fall in with the truth, and admit that one God made all things according to His good pleasure. And He gave the law and the prophets; and in giving them, He made them speak by the Holy Ghost, in order that, being gifted with the inspiration of the Father’s power, they might declare the Father’s counsel and will.”” (Hippolytus of Rome, Against the Heresy of One Noetus)

“And now I shall again recite the words which I have spoken in proof of this point. When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129)

“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. And of this very Beginning the Word is by nature Son, not as if another beginning, subsisting by Himself, nor having come into being externally to that Beginning, lest from that diversity a Dyarchy and Polyarchy should ensue; but of the one Beginning He is own Son, own Wisdom, own Word, existing from It.” (Athanasius, Against the Arians, Discourse 4)

“We believe then In the Only-Begotten Son of God, Who Was Begotten of the Father Very God. For the True God begets not a false god, as we have said, nor did He deliberate and afterwards beget ; but He begot eternally, and much more swiftly than our words or thoughts: for we speaking in time, consume time; but in the case of the Divine Power, the generation is timeless. And as I have often said, He did not bring forth the Son from non-existence into being, nor take the non-existent into sonship : but the Father, being Eternal, eternally and ineffably begot One Only Son, who has no brother. Nor are there two first principles; but the Father is the head of the Son 1 Corinthians 11:3; the beginning is One… Suffer none to speak of a beginning of the Son in time, but as a timeless Beginning acknowledge the Father. For the Father is the Beginning of the Son, timeless, incomprehensible, without beginning. The fountain of the river of righteousness, even of the Only-begotten, is the Father, who begot Him as Himself only knows.” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 11)

So we see the testimony of the orthodox fathers of the ante-nicene and nicene eras is that the Son has the Father as His origin and cause, in agreement with the teaching of scripture.

We see then, that the scriptures teach the Son to be equal with the Father in respect to His nature, as having the same divine nature, yet they also teach that the Son is subordinate to the Father as His Head and Cause. It is neither sufficient nor helpful to speak of the relationship of the Son to the Father simply as one either of ‘equality’ or ‘subordination’ without further distinction.

For if we say only that the Son is subordinate we may be taken to deny the Son’s equality with the Father in respect to His divinity, which is to blaspheme the Son greatly; yet if we deny the Son’s subordination to the Father as to His Head and His Origin by only calling Him “equal” without qualification, we will have blasphemously declared the Son to be a second God, by making there out to be two equal heads over all, and two first causes and unoriginate origins. But there are not two gods, but “yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” (1 Cor 8:6 NKJV) There is one alone Who is Head of all, yet Himself without a head; one Who is alone unbegotten and without origin, the one First Cause; the Father of one only-begotten Son, Who together with the Father is head over all creation, the Word of Whom scripture says “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. ” (John 1:3 NKJV).

Let us then seek to be careful in distinguishing between these various categories, lest we fall into error one way or another by making broad and unqualified statements.

 

Athenagoras of Athens on the One God Being the Person of the Father in Particular

Second century church father Athenagoras of Athens is known best for his work Plea for the Christians, an apologetical work in which he urges the Roman authorities to stop unjustly persecuting Christians. Not much is known of his life, but he seems to have been an Athenian philosopher who converted to Christianity, and afterwards wrote in its defense.

Athenagoras stands as another witness to the view of the orthodox church fathers of the second century, the view that the one God of the Christian faith is the person of the Father in particular; not the entire Trinity as a whole. The one God, after all, according to scripture, is a person, not some abstract divinity without real existence. The Trinity, however, is not a person, and certainly not the person of the one God. Rather, scripture teaches that the person of the one God is the same person Who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, His eternal Logos and Wisdom, and only-begotten Son.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-5 NAS

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NAS

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

We see Athenagoras express his beliefs on the matter thus:

“But, since our doctrine acknowledges one God, the Maker of this universe, who is Himself uncreated (for that which is does not come to be, but that which is not) but has made all things by the Logos which is from Him, we are treated unreasonably in both respects, in that we are both defamed and persecuted.” A Plea For the Christians, Chapter IV.

“That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being—I have sufficiently demonstrated. [I say “His Logos”], for we acknowledge also a Son of God.” A Plea For the Christians, Chapter X.

From both these quotations we see Athenagoras identify that Christians believe in one God; and that this one God created all thing through His Logos, Who is His Son. Thus we see Him clearly equate the “one God” with the person of the Father, while the Logos stands in relation to the one God as His divine Son.

This same language is used by the Nicene Creed, when it says “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things…”, afterwards going on to confess “one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, and one “Holy Spirit”.

For an extensive list of testimonies from the ante-nicene and nicene church fathers on this subject, see here: https://contramodalism.com/2017/03/08/i-believe-in-one-god-the-father-almighty/.

Demonstration From Scripture that the One God is the Father in Particular

It is important to see every point of doctrine proven from scripture in order to know with certainty that it is true; conversely we endanger ourselves if we rashly accept what merely seems plausible without a true demonstration from the scriptures. For scripture commands that we “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21)

For those who think this idea is merely a peculiarity of the protestant tradition, we may learn that this idea is in fact a patristic doctrine held by the early church fathers:

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

We see the same idea expressed by Clement of Alexandria:

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves… He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things. What is subjected to criticism is not believed till it is so subjected; so that what needs criticism cannot be a first principle. Therefore, as is reasonable, grasping by faith the indemonstrable first principle, and receiving in abundance, from the first principle itself, demonstrations in reference to the first principle, we are by the voice of the Lord trained up to the knowledge of the truth.
For we may not give our adhesion to men on a bare statement by them, who might equally state the opposite. But if it is not enough merely to state the opinion, but if what is stated must be confirmed, we do not wait for the testimony of men, but we establish the matter that is in question by the voice of the Lord, which is the surest of all demonstrations, or rather is the only demonstration; in which knowledge those who have merely tasted the Scriptures are believers; while those who, having advanced further, and become correct expounders of the truth, are Gnostics. Since also, in what pertains to life, craftsmen are superior to ordinary people, and model what is beyond common notions; so, consequently, we also, giving a complete exhibition of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, from faith persuade by demonstration.” (Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 16)

And Irenaeus of Lyons considered it so important to see even the most basic tenets of the Christian faith demonstrated from the scriptures, and not believed on the authority of mere human opinion, that he authored his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, in which he admirably shows the agreement of the holy tradition of the church with the holy and infallible scriptures, and proves each point of the traditional faith from the same.

And the teaching of these ancient Christians is itself well supported from the scriptures, which commend the Jews of Berea as “noble-minded”(Act 17:11) because they did not accept or reject what the Apostle Paul himself taught except upon seeing it proven from the scriptures, the Holy Spirit through the apostle in another place commanding every Christian to “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21).

Having then, demonstrated the need for demonstration from the scriptures itself from the scriptures, and having provided a few testimonies to the same effect from the holy fathers of the church, let us move on to our main subject, concerned with the identity of the one God.

The opinion of many, led astray by false teachers, is that the one God is a person who is the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The greater part who have been deceived have no idea of their own peril, but having uncritically accept what some teachers have told them, have been carried away by lies contrary to the teaching of scripture.

But the teaching of scripture stands, and the truth in unchanged by the false opinions of the multitude. And as Justin Martyr says “Neither shall light ever be darkness as long as light exists, nor shall the truth of the things pertaining to us be controverted. For truth is that than which nothing is more powerful. Every one who might speak the truth, and speaks it not, shall be judged by God.” I must then, although I would rather avoid the controversy entailed, do my best to speak the truth, although I am the least of all Christians.

The points of doctrine then, which I undertake to prove from the scriptures, that you may have a true knowledge of them, not founded on human opinion or plausible arguments, but upon proof from very voice of God speaking in the holy scriptures, are these:

  1. That the “one God” of scripture is a person.
  2. That the person of the one God is the Father in particular.

Firstly, let us fix in our minds what a “person” is: a person is commonly acknowledged to be an individual of a rational nature. For instance, we may speak of human persons, since individual men are individual and possess a rational nature. We may also regard angelic creatures as persons, since they also exist as individuals and possess a rational nature. God, His Son, and His Spirit are also persons, since each of them is an individual of a rational nature. Persons, since they are by definition rational and individual, possess their own distinct consciousness, will, and mind. As rational individuals, they act, think, and speak.

That the “one God” scripture reveals is a person is demonstrated from;

  • That it is self-evident that the “one God” is individual.
  • His actions demonstrate that He is rational.
  • That He is God proves He is rational, since rationality is proper to the divine nature.
  • Scripture’s use of singular personal pronouns for Him demonstrates that He is an individual.

Thus, once we see all these points proven, we will have it proven that the one God is both rational and individual; thus, by definition, a person.

We see that the one God acts in these passages of scripture:

“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another By profaning the covenant of the fathers?” (Malachi 2:10)

“since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:30)

We see that God is rational from these passages of scripture:

““Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28)

“For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;” (Proverbs 2:6)

Having it proven then from the holy scriptures that the one God is rational, and from the very term “one God” itself having it self-evident that He is individual, we have proven that He is a person. But scripture gives us further proof of this by using singular personal pronouns for Him; since by definition a singular personal pronoun indicates a single person.

We have already quoted above:

“since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:30)

The “one God” then is not an “it” and so impersonal, but is rather called by scripture “who”, thus teaching us that the one God is a person.

“So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”” (Mark 12:32-34)

Here the scribe says that there is one God, and calls Him “He”. If then, the one God were not a person, then the scribe did not indeed answer wisely, since he speaks of Him as one. But Christ, the Wisdom of God, acknowledges that “he answered wisely”.

Again the Spirit through Paul teaches

“yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)

We see then the one God spoken of with the singular personal pronouns “whom” and “Him”.

Lastly we will cite Ephesians 4:6:

“one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Here again we see the one God is proven to be a person by the use of the personal pronoun “who”.

So we see it proven again that the one God is a person, having proved it first from the fact that scripture shows the one God to be an individual of a rational nature, and thus a person by definition, so also we have now shown that scripture declares that the one God is a person by using personal pronouns for Him. We have then, demonstrated from infallible scripture this first point of doctrine, that the one God is a person.

On then, to the second point of doctrine of our demonstration, that is, having established that the one God is a person, proving now from the scriptures that He is the person of the Father in particular.

This is made clear from the following passages:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-5 NAS

Here the one God is explicitly shown to be the same person as the Father.

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NAS

Here the Lord teaches us to call the Father the “only true God” by His own example when He prayed to the Father on the night He was betrayed.

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

Here the Holy Spirit expressly declares through the apostle that the one God is the Father.

From these explicit testimonies is clearly demonstrated the fact that the one God is the Father. And He cannot be, as some have though, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit if He is a person; for a person, as we have said, is an individual, and thus singular. And we also noted the use of singular, not plural, personal pronouns used for the one God, thus proving that the one God is not a company of persons but a single person, and that this person is none other than the Father, the one Whom the Lord Jesus Christ called “the only true God”.

Here then both points of doctrine have been clearly and thoroughly proven from the scriptures; let he who has ears hear. What you may once have safely regarded as mere opinion is now declared to you by the voice of God to be sure and certain truth, which cannot be safely disregarded.

But someone will perhaps not regard the testimony of scripture alone as sufficient, but will require an official ruling from the church. Such foolishness deserves no answer; but that they may through the truth be drawn to repentance, let them read only the first line of the Creed composed by the Council of Nicea, the first ecumenical council, when it says “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all thing.s..” and they will know that what I have already demonstrated from the scriptures is indeed true.

 

Above scripture quotations taken from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.