Why There is Only One God: Relational Unity

In this concluding segment of the series on why there is only one God, we will examine how the relational unity between the persons of the Trinity does not allow Them to be conceived of as three Gods.

As we have observed in the earlier installments of this series, scripture clearly reserves the titles of “one God” and “only true God” for the person of the Father in particular. We have also observed that this is in no way due to a difference in divinity between the three persons; scripture is clear in revealing that God’s Son and Holy Spirit possess no other nature than His own, having the same divinity, or divine nature, as the one God, the Father. But how, if the persons of Son and Spirit are equal with the Father in respect to Their divine nature, do They not constitute second and third Gods?

The answer to that question is multifaceted; the Father alone is the one God because He alone is the Supreme Cause without a cause and the Supreme Authority with no higher authority. Additionally, the Son and Holy Spirit cannot constitute second and third Gods because They have the same divine nature as the Father, and because of Their relational unity with the Father. It is this last aspect of relational unity we shall examine in this post.

The three persons are truly distinct, but They are also inseparable.We see this unity between the persons spoken of throughout the gospel of John:

“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:18 NKJV)

“but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” (John 10:38 NKJV)

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.” (John 14:10-11 NKJV)

“At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” (John 14:20 NKJV)

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are… that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:11, 21 NKJV)

Because of this close unity between the persons, They are inseparable from one another. We also see, related to this, that God works through His Son and Spirit, in creation redemption, and judgement:

“By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the Spirit of His mouth.” (Psalm 33:6)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:1-3 NKJV)

““The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. 23 I have been established from everlasting, From the beginning, before there was ever an earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, When there were no fountains abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills, I was brought forth; 26 While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields, Or the primal dust of the world. 27 When He prepared the heavens, I was there, When He drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 When He established the clouds above, When He strengthened the fountains of the deep, 29 When He assigned to the sea its limit, So that the waters would not transgress His command, When He marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him,” (Proverbs 8:22-30 KNJV)

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the ages;” (Hebrews 1:1-2 NKJV, “worlds” changed to “ages” to reflect Greek)

“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5 NKJV)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17 NKJV)

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11 NKJV)

“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son,… I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:22, 30 NKJV)

So we see that in God’s actions, He works through His Son and Spirit, so that the actions are singular, although all three persons are involved in performing them. There are not three different acts of creation, three different schemes of redemption, or three different judgments of the world. Rather, there is a single creation, a single redemption of God’s people, and a single judgement of the world, executed by the one God through His only-begotten Son and His Holy Spirit, each person acting in Their specific roles in each of these actions.

On this Athanasius said “The Father does all things, by the Word, and in the Holy Spirit: And so the Unity of the Holy Trinity is preserved: And so one God is preached in the Church; even He who is over all, and through all, and in all: Over all, as he is the Father and Original and Fountain of all; Through all by His Word; and in all, by His Holy Spirit.” (Epistle Ad Serapion 1).

Additionally, we also see that God’s Son and Spirit are united with Him in that They are in perfect agreement of will and mind with Him. That does not mean, as those who Sabellianize intend it, that there is some sort of hive-mind controlling the persons of the Trinity, or that They are a single person; perish such a blasphemous thought. But rather we see that scripture teaches that the persons of the Trinity share one mind and one will meaning that They have a perfect agreement in Their wills and minds. In a similar way we see scripture regard the hearts and minds of many individual believers as being one heart and one mind:

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.”(John 17:11 NKJV)

“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

So the persons of the Trinity, we see, are in perfect agreement of will and mind. We may reasonably suppose that this stems from Their all having the same divine nature; because of this, what They will and what They know is the same, and there is perfect agreement between Them.

So we see that God’s Son and Spirit are united with Him in close relational unity, in such a way that They are inseparable from Him, and He works through Them, and is always in perfect agreement with Them. They cannot then, in any legitimate sense, be thought to constitute second and third Gods as a result of some separation from Him, or disagreement with Him; but as a result of Their identities as the only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit of the only true God, They remain eternally in perfect union with Him, inseparable from Him, and in perfect agreement with Him.

 

“No other God besides Me”- the Trinity, or the Father?

Isaiah 43:11 and Isaiah 45:5-6 are very similar passages:

“I, even I, am the Lord, And besides Me there is no savior.” Isa 43:11 NKJV

“I am the Lord, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting That there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other;” Isa 45:5-6 NKJV

In these passages, obviously, God speaks in an exclusive way, proclaiming Himself the only true God. In light of the New Testament’s teaching that there is a Trinity of divine persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, some might wonder who the person speaking in these verses is. The most natural reading is that it is the Father, if for no other reason than that it is the ordinary pattern of scripture that when “God” is spoken of absolutely without qualification, it is referring to the one who scripture calls the “one God”, the person of the Father. We could give many examples of this throughout the New Testament, such as John 3:16, 18, and 2 Corinthians 13:14:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:16-18 NKJV

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” 2 Cor 13:14 NKJV

But sometimes the Son is also called “God”, so if a person is still unsure who is being spoken of, they may still wonder which person of the Trinity is in view. It is only natural, from the scriptures and reason, to think that one person is spoken of here, and utterly unnatural and foreign to scripture to think that a plurality of persons would speak as though they were one. So which person is it?

Greater clarity can be provided by employing one of the most natural, fundamental, and basic rules of scriptural interpretation: that we interpret scripture by scripture, understanding the unclear with the help of the clear. It is clear, in the fullness of revelation in the new Testament, that the “one God” 1 Cor 8:6 and “only true God” John 17:3 is the person of the Father in particular. Since this is explicitly taught, we can interpret scripture by scripture; if the scriptures throughout the New Testament reserve those titles for the person of the Father alone, we may safely understand that in the old testament, the same titles refer to the same person. This is the natural way to read these passages.

Yet, some insist that it must refer to the entire Trinity, a reading of the text that is entirely unnatural. The grammar of the text gives no indication of a plurality of persons, but rather, a single person is clearly indicated by the use of singular personal pronouns. But for dogmatic reasons, some wish to insert the entire Trinity, as if a single person, into the text of scripture here. This is all that those who want to teach that the Trinity is a single person can do; since no where in scripture is their absurd error ever taught, they must mutilate the scriptures to their own ends, and pretend they speak of a person unspoken of in scripture, their “God the Trinity”, that person who they suppose is all three persons of the Trinity.

And yet, as we have shown, the scriptural reading of these verses is to refer them to the person of the Father. This view, being the natural reading, is also, as should be expected, the way that we see the early church fathers of the ante-nicene and nicene eras apply these texts of scripture, as can be seen from the extensive quotations below:

Hilary of Poitiers

“XXIII. If any man, after the example of the Jews, understand as said for the destruction of the Eternal Only-begotten God, the words, I am the first God, and I am the last God, and beside Me there is no God Isaiah 44:6, which were spoken for the destruction of idols and them that are no gods: let him be anathema.

57. Though we condemn a plurality of gods and declare that God is only one, we cannot deny that the Son of God is God. Nay, the true character of His nature causes the name that is denied to a plurality to be the privilege of His essence. The words, Beside Me there is no God, cannot rob the Son of His divinity: because beside Him who is of God there is no other God. And these words of God the Father cannot annul the divinity of Him who was born of Himself with an essence in no way different from His own nature. The Jews interpret this passage as proving the bare unity of God, because they are ignorant of the Only-begotten God. But we, while we deny that there are two Gods, abhor the idea of a diversity of natural essence in the Father and the Son. The words, Beside Me there is no God, take away an impious belief in false gods. In confessing that God is One, and also saying that the Son is God, our use of the same name affirms that there is no difference of substance between the two Persons.” (Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis)

Novatian of Rome

“And now, indeed, concerning the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, let it be sufficient to have briefly said thus much, and to have laid down these points concisely, without carrying them out in a lengthened argument. For they could be presented more diffusely and continued in a more expanded disputation, since the whole of the Old and New Testaments might be adduced in testimony that thus the true faith stands. But because heretics, ever struggling against the truth, are accustomed to prolong the controversy of pure tradition and Catholic faith, being offended against Christ; because He is, moreover, asserted to be God by the Scriptures also, and this is believed to be so by us; we must rightly — that every heretical calumny may be removed from our faith— contend, concerning the fact that Christ is God also, in such a way as that it may not militate against the truth of Scripture; nor yet against our faith, how there is declared to be one God by the Scriptures, and how it is held and believed by us. For as well they who say that Jesus Christ Himself is God the Father, as moreover they who would have Him to be only man, have gathered thence the sources and reasons of their error and perversity; because when they perceived that it was written that God is one, they thought that they could not otherwise hold such an opinion than by supposing that it must be believed either that Christ was man only, or really God the Father. And they were accustomed in such a way to connect their sophistries as to endeavour to justify their own error. And thus they who say that Jesus Christ is the Father argue as follows:— If God is one, and Christ is God, Christ is the Father, since God is one. If Christ be not the Father, because Christ is God the Son, there appear to be two Gods introduced, contrary to the Scriptures. And they who contend that Christ is man only, conclude on the other hand thus:— If the Father is one, and the Son another, but the Father is God and Christ is God, then there is not one God, but two Gods are at once introduced, the Father and the Son; and if God is one, by consequence Christ must be a man, so that rightly the Father may be one God. Thus indeed the Lord is, as it were, crucified between two thieves, even as He was formerly placed; and thus from either side He receives the sacrilegious reproaches of such heretics as these. But neither the Holy Scriptures nor we suggest to them the reasons of their perdition and blindness, if they either will not, or cannot, see what is evidently written in the midst of the divine documents. For we both know, and read, and believe, and maintain that God is one, who made the heaven as well as the earth, since we neither know any other, nor shall we at any time know such, seeing that there is none. I, says He, am God, and there is none beside me, righteous and a Saviour. And in another place: I am the first and the last, and beside me there is no God who is as I. And, Who has meted out heaven with a Span, and the earth with a handful? Who has suspended the mountains in a balance, and the woods on scales? And Hezekiah: That all may know that You are God alone. Moreover, the Lord Himself: Why do you ask me concerning that which is good? God alone is good. Moreover, the Apostle Paul says: Who only has immortality, and dwells in the light that no man can approach unto, whom no man has seen, nor can see. And in another place: But a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. But even as we hold, and read, and believe this, thus we ought to pass over no portion of the heavenly Scriptures, since indeed also we ought by no means to reject those marks of Christ’s divinity which are laid down in the Scriptures, that we may not, by corrupting the authority of the Scriptures, be held to have corrupted the integrity of our holy faith. And let us therefore believe this, since it is most faithful that Jesus Christ the Son of God is our Lord and God; because in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. The same was in the beginning with God. And, The Word was made flesh, and dwelt in us. And, My Lord and my God. And, Whose are the fathers, and of whom according to the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for evermore.” (Novatian of Rome, On the Trinity, Chapter 30)

We see here Novatian refers the verse in question to the person of the Father, continuing afterwards to speak of the Son distinctly.

“Him, then, we acknowledge and know to be God, the Creator of all things — Lord on account of His power, Parent on account of His discipline — Him, I say, who spoke, and all things were made; He commanded, and all things went forth: of whom it is written, You have made all things in wisdom;  of whom Moses said, God in heaven above, and in the earth beneath; Deuteronomy 4:39 who, according to Isaiah, has meted out the heaven with a span, the earth with the hollow of His hand;  who looks on the earth, and makes it tremble; who bounds the circle of the earth, and those that dwell in it like locusts; who has weighed the mountains in a balance, and the groves in scales, that is, by the sure test of divine arrangement; easily fall into ruins if it were not balanced with equal weights, He has poised this burden of the earthly mass with equity. Who says by the prophet, I am God, and there is none beside me Isaiah 45:22 Who says by the same prophet Because I will not give my majesty to another, Isaiah 13:8 that He may exclude all heathens and heretics with their figments; proving that that is not God who is made by the hand of the workman, nor that which is feigned by the intellect of a heretic. For he is not God for whose existence the workman must be asked. And He has added hereto by the prophet, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what house will you build me, and where is the place of my rest?  that He may show that He whom the world does not contain is much less contained in a temple; and He says these things not for boastfulness of Himself, but for our knowledge. For He does not desire from us the glory of His magnitude; but He wishes to confer upon us, even as a father, a religious wisdom. And He, wishing moreover to attract to gentleness our minds, brutish, and swelling, and stubborn with cloddish ferocity, says, And upon whom shall my Spirit rest, save upon him that is lowly, and quiet, and that trembles at my words?  Isaiah 66:2 — so that in some degree one may recognise how great God is, in learning to fear Him by the Spirit given to him: Who, similarly wishing still more to come into our knowledge, and, by way of stirring up our minds to His worship, said, I am the Lord, who made the light and created the darkness;  that we might deem not that some Nature, — what I know not — was the artificer of those vicissitudes whereby nights and days are controlled, but might rather, as is more true, recognise God as their Creator. And since by the gaze of our eyes we cannot see Him, we rightly learn of Him from the greatness, and the power, and the majesty of His works. For the invisible things of Him, says the Apostle Paul, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by those things which are made, even His eternal power and godhead; so that the human mind, learning hidden things from those that are manifest, from the greatness of the works which it should behold, might with the eyes of the mind consider the greatness of the Architect. Of whom the same apostle, Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory. 1 Timothy 1:17 For He has gone beyond the contemplation of the eyes who has surpassed the greatness of thought. For, it is said, of Him, and through Him, and in Him are all things. Romans 11:33 For all things are by His command, because they are of Him; and are ordered by His word as being through Him; and all things return to His judgment; as in Him expecting liberty when corruption shall be done away, they appear to be recalled to Him.

Chapter 4

Moreover, He is Good, Always the Same, Immutable, One and Only, Infinite; And His Own Name Can Never Be Declared, and He is Incorruptible and Immortal.

Him alone the Lord rightly declares good, of whose goodness the whole world is witness; which world He would not have ordained if He had not been good. For if everything was very good, Genesis 1:31consequently, and reasonably, both those things which were ordained have proved that He that ordained them is good, and those things which are the work of a good Ordainer cannot be other than good; wherefore every evil is a departure from God. ” (Novatian of Rome, On the Trinity, Chapters 3-4)

Here we see again Novatian applies the verse to the Father, the only true God, speaking of the same person who that verse speaks of as the one Whom the Lord said was alone good- the Father.

Ignatius of Antioch

“There is then one God and Father, and not two or three; One who is; and there is no other besides Him, the only true [God]. For “the Lord thy God,” saith [the Scripture], “is one Lord.” And again, “Hath not one God created us? Have we not all one Father? And there is also one Son, God the Word. For “the only-begotten Son,” saith [the Scripture], “who is in the bosom of the Father.” And again, “One Lord Jesus Christ.” And in another place, “What is His name, or what His Son’s name, that we may know?” And there is also one Paraclete. For “there is also,” saith [the Scripture], “one Spirit,” since “we have been called in one hope of our calling.” And again, “We have drunk of one Spirit,”” (Letter to the Philippians)

Here we see Ignatius apply the verse in question to the Father, going on afterwards to speak of the Son and Spirit.

Justin Martyr

“For God cannot be called by any proper name, for names are given to mark out and distinguish their subject-matters, because these are many and diverse; but neither did any one exist before God who could give Him a name, nor did He Himself think it right to name Himself, seeing that He is one and unique, as He Himself also by His own prophets testifies, when He says, “I God am the first,” and after this, “And beside me there is no other God.”” (On the Monarchy of God, Chapter 21)

It is manifest that he speaks of the Father in particular here, who he frequently styles “the unbegotten God”, as he describes the one to whom he refers the passage as having none before who might give Him a name- yet this is not true of all three persons, but of the Father in particular, as He is unbegotten and of none; yet the Son, being from the Father by eternal generation, was given by His Father “that name which is above all names”.

Irenaeus of Lyons

“1. God, therefore, is one and the same, who rolls up the heaven as a book, and renews
the face of the earth; who made the things of time for man, so that coming to maturity in
them, he may produce the fruit of immortality; and who, through His kindness, also bestows [upon him] eternal things, “that in the ages to come He may show the exceeding riches of His grace;”1195 who was announced by the law and the prophets, whom Christ confessed as His Father. Now He is the Creator, and He it is who is God over all, as Esaias says, “I am witness, saith the Lord God, and my servant whom I have chosen, that ye may know, and believe, and understand that I am. Before me there was no other God, neither shall be after me. I am God, and besides me there is no Saviour. I have proclaimed, and I have saved.”1196 And again: “I myself am the first God, and I am above things to come.”1197 For neither in an ambiguous, nor arrogant, nor boastful manner, does He say these things; but since it was impossible, without God, to come to a knowledge of God, He teaches men, through His Word, to know God. To those, therefore, who are ignorant of these matters, and on this account imagine that they have discovered another Father, justly does one say, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.”” (Irenaeus Chapter 5)

Here again we see Irenaeus take the natural meaning of the text, applying it to the Father, who teaches men about Himself through His Word, the Son.

Athanasius

“And he who worships and honours the Son, in the Son worships and honours the Father; for one is the Godhead; and therefore one the honour and one the worship which is paid to the Father in and through the Son. And he who thus worships, worships one God; for there is one God and none other than He. Accordingly when the Father is called the only God, and we read that there is one God, and ‘I am,’ and ‘beside Me there is no God,’ and ‘I the first and I the last,’ this has a fit meaning. For God is One and Only and First; but this is not said to the denial of the Son, perish the thought; for He is in that One, and First and Only, as being of that One and Only and First the Only Word and Wisdom and Radiance. And He too is the First, as the Fulness of the Godhead of the First and Only, being whole and full God. This then is not said on His account, but to deny that there is other such as the Father and His Word.”

“And this account of the meaning of such passages is satisfactory; for since those who are devoted to gods falsely so called, revolt from the True God, therefore God, being good and careful for mankind, recalling the wanderers, says, ‘I am Only God,’ and ‘I Am,’ and ‘Besides Me there is no God,’ and the like; that He may condemn things which are not, and may convert all men to Himself. And as, supposing in the daytime when the sun was shining, a man were rudely to paint a piece of wood, which had not even the appearance of light, and call that image the cause of light, and if the sun with regard to it were to say, ‘I alone am the light of the day, and there is no other light of the day but I,’ he would say this, with regard, not to his own radiance, but to the error arising from the wooden image and the dissimilitude of that vain representation; so it is with ‘I am,’ and ‘I am Only God,’ and ‘There is none other besides Me,’ viz. that He may make men renounce falsely called gods, and that they may recognise Him the true God instead. Indeed when God said this, He said it through His own Word, unless forsooth the modern2853 Jews add this too, that He has not said this through His Word; but so hath He spoken, though they rave, these followers of the devil. For the Word of the Lord came to the Prophet, and this was what was heard; nor is there a thing which God says or does, but He says and does it in the Word. Not then with reference to Him is this said, O Christ’s enemies, but to things foreign to Him and not from2855 Him. For according to the aforesaid illustration, if the sun had spoken those words, he would have been setting right the error and have so spoken, not as having his radiance without him, but in the radiance shewing his own light. Therefore not for the denial of the Son, nor with reference to Him, are such passages, but to the overthrow of falsehood.”

In both these passages it is clear Athanasius refers these words to the Father, saying in the latter that He spoke them through His Son.

Eusebius Pamphili

“And if he should say, “See, see that I am, and there is no God beside me,” again it was the Father claiming this through the Son as through an image and mediator. For if, then, Isaiah the prophet says, “Sons I have reared and brought up,” and again, “Israel does not know me, and my people do not understand me,” and again, “I have commanded the stars, and by my hand I made firm the heavens,” and everything else of this sort, we will not say that Isaiah said these things, but that God was speaking through him and in him [the prophet]? Will it, then, not be fitting also with regard to the only-begotten Son of God [to say] that the Father needed to confirm these things through him for those who stood in need of these sorts of commandments? These men were idolaters, as the same scripture teaches, saying, “And the Lord said, ‘Where are [their] gods, in whom they trusted, of whose sacrifices you eat the fat and of whose libations you drink the wine? Let them arise and help you, and let them become your protectors.” For to these remarks was added the statement “See, see that I am, and there is no God beside me.”

Chapter 22

Well now, if pronouncing countless times through the prophet he proclaimed, “Beside me there is no God,” and, “A righteous God and a savior, there is none beside me,” and, “You shall know no other god besides me, and besides me there is no savior,” and all the other remarks akin to these that are referenced in the other prophets, God was also on that basis “in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” and it was the Father himself who was saying these things to human beings through the only-begotten Son as through an interpreter.

And indeed, the Son himself handed down in the gospels, teaching [the people] to acknowledge only one God, when he said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Therefore, he himself was the true God, who alone is one and besides whom there is no other, who enjoined these things upon the Jewish nation when they had fallen into idolatry, not only through the prophets, but [also] through His own Son.”” (On Ecclesiastical Theology, Book 2, Chapters 21-22)

We may notice that there is no indication given whatsoever in any of these quotes that the fathers understood these passages to refer to a person other than the Father, and the Father alone; not to the exclusion of the Son and Spirit from the divine nature, as they explain, but rather to the exclusion of idols and false gods. Rather, they regarded these as words of the Father spoken in reference to His own person, through His Son, Who is His Word.

They do not refer these words to the Trinity conceived of as a person; but rather, these passages refute the blasphemy of “God the Trinity” altogether, since they rule out the possibility that there is any other person higher than or equal to God the Father; which certainly “God the Trinity” must be, since God the Father is but the third part of Him, according to the ravings of the semi-modalists.

 

 

Quote from Eusebius taken from: Eusebius Pamphilius, On Ecclesiastical Theology, trans. Kelly McCarthy Sproerl and Markus Vinzent (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2017).

Why There is Only One God: One Divine Nature

Scripture is clear in teaching that the one God is the person of the Father in particular, as can be observed as explicitly taught in 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)

“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)

Yet scripture is also clear in teaching that the one God has a Son, and His Holy Spirit, who are each distinct persons from the Father, and each of the same divine nature as He. This easily raises the question, ‘how can the Son and Holy Spirit both be God, having the same divinity as the Father, Who is the one God, without constituting second and third Gods?’

The answer to this question is multifaceted: the Father is the one God because He alone is the Supreme Cause, or uncaused Cause, and He alone is the Supreme Authority, or Head without a head, as we have observed in the last two installments of this series. Additionally, we may point to the unity of the Son and Spirit with the Father in respect to both their divine nature and their relationship to Him as reasons why They cannot be said to constitute second and third Gods. In this installment, we will examine how the unity of the divine nature does not allow the Son and Spirit to constitute second and third Gods.

Firstly, let us observe that the unity of the divine nature is not the cause of there being only one God- rather, it is a result of it; as such, if there were a plurality of divine natures, it would create a plurality of Gods due to their know being multiple species of divinity. So when we bring up the unity of the divine nature in defending the unity of God, we aren’t saying that there is only one God because there is only one divine nature, but rather that the Son and Spirit’s divinity cannot infringe upon the unity of God because They are not of different divine natures than the Father, but have the Father’s own divine nature.

If we were to argue, as some have tried to, that the sole or primary reason that there is only one God because there is only one divine nature, one might easily reply that in the case of men there is but one human nature common to many men, yet there are many men, not one man, because there are many human persons; so also, such a person could argue, simply having three divine persons all share a common divine nature does not make Them constitute one God, but three Gods. This line of argumentation is valid, if all we can point to in order to assert that there is one God is that the Father, Son, and Spirit share a common divinity as any three individuals in creation may share a common species.

But as we have observed in the last two installments of this series, the scriptures do not teach that there is only one God because there is only one divine nature, but because the Father, Who alone is the Supreme Cause of all and Supreme Authority over all, is one. Thus there is only one God, although there are three divine persons, because there is one Supreme Cause and Authority, the person of the Father. This, we observed, is why scripture styles God the Father in particular the “one God”, even while teaching the divinity of the persons of the Son and Holy Spirit.

And yet, it is important to note that the divinity of the Son and Spirit is identical to that of the Father; there are not three different divine natures, but one divine nature. Thus no one can charge Christians with tritheism on account of the Son or Spirit introducing a second or third divinity; rather, as the Son and Spirit are from the Father as Their Origin and Source by eternal generation and procession, They have communicated to Them in an ineffable way the divine nature of the only true God, the Father.

Thus scripture ascribes to the Son all the same divine attributes it ascribes to the Father, excepting fatherhood, and Supreme Headship, and being unoriginate, since those attributes of the Father are incommunicable. Similarly, we see the scriptures ascribe divine attributes to the Holy Spirit. Scripture also outright calls the Son “God” in John 1:1, which may rightly be viewed as referring to the Son’s divinity. Colossians 2:9 also tells us that Christ has the “fullness of deity”. The many references to and implications of the Son and Spirit’s divinity in scripture are themselves enough to prove that Their divinity is the same as that of the Father simply by way of necessary logical deduction from the fact that while the Son and Spirit are divine, They do not constitute second and third Gods, for there is only one God, the Father. In order for the Son and Spirit to not constitute second and third Gods They must have exactly the same divine nature as the Father, or else, as we mentioned above, a plurality of Gods would be introduced by way of a plurality of divine natures.

But we can also see the Son and Spirit’s exactly identical divinity from scripture’s teaching that the Son is begotten of the Father, and that the Spirit proceeds from Him as His Spirit. It is impious to think that the very Spirit of God would be anything other than divine, of the same divine nature as the one true God whose Holy Spirit He is. Likewise, it is absurd to suggest that God did not beget a Son who is of the same divine nature as He. God’s eternal fatherhood of His only-begotten Son is the very pattern off of which all human and created fatherhood is modeled. And in human fatherhood, a man’s son is always of the same nature as the father who begat him. So it is with all animals, that each begets after its own kind, there being an exact identicality of nature between the one begotten and the begetter. Thus every human son has the humanity of His Father. So also, the Lord Jesus Christ, the being the only begotten Son of the only true God, has the divinity of His Father, being of one and the same divine nature with the one true God Who begat Him before the ages. For a more detailed demonstration of eternal generation from the holy scriptures, see Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures.

Thus we see that the Son and Spirit, being of the same divine nature as the Father Whose Son and Spirit They are, do not create a plurality of Gods on account of a plurality of divine natures; but of one God, the Father, are one only-begotten Son and one Holy Spirit, who have the very same divine nature as the one God Whose Son and Spirit They are.

In addition to the proofs cited from scripture, we may bring to bear the testimony of many church fathers; not that the testimony of any man or council is sufficient to prove any point of doctrine true, but these are witnesses to which the truths which are known with certainty from the scriptures alone:

Novatian of Rome

“For all things being subjected to Him as the Son by the Father, while He Himself, with those things which are subjected to Him, is subjected to His Father, He is indeed proved to be Son of His Father; but He is found to be both Lord and God of all else. Whence, while all things put under Him are delivered to Him who is God, and all things are subjected to Him, the Son refers all that He has received to the Father, remits again to the Father the whole authority of His divinity. The true and eternal Father is manifested as the one God, from whom alone this power of divinity is sent forth, and also given and directed upon the Son, and is again returned by the communion of substance to the Father. God indeed is shown as the Son, to whom the divinity is beheld to be given and extended. And still, nevertheless, the Father is proved to be one God; while by degrees in reciprocal transfer that majesty and divinity are again returned and reflected as sent by the Son Himself to the Father, who had given them; so that reasonably God the Father is God of all, and the source also of His Son Himself whom He begot as Lord. Moreover, the Son is God of all else, because God the Father put before all Him whom He begot. Thus the Mediator of God and men, Christ Jesus, having the power of every creature subjected to Him by His own Father, inasmuch as He is God; with every creature subdued to Him, found at one with His Father God, has, by abiding in that condition that He moreover was heard, briefly proved God His Father to be one and only and true God.” (On the Trinity, Chapter 31)

Eusebius

“The children of the Jews first received the confession of the one God in opposition to the polytheistic error of the Greeks. But the saving grace of recognizing that the same [God] is also Father of an only-begotten Son has been given to the Church as a special privilege. For as Son it knows Jesus Christ alone and no other, not according to generation of the flesh that he assumed (for it has been taught to call this flesh the “form of a slave” and “Son of Man”), but according to his [generation] before all ages from God himself and the Father, [which is] unknowable to all. According to this [generation from God] the fullness of the paternal divinity also made him, the Son, God, and so as a result he possesses a divinity that is not his own, [not] one separated from that of the Father, nor one that is without source and that is unbegotten, nor one that is foreign, from somewhere else, and different from the Father’s. Rather, he is filled with divinity by participating in the paternal [divinity] itself, which pours into him as from a fountain. For the great Apostle taught that “in him alone dwells the fulness” of the paternal “divinity.” For this reason then, one God is proclaimed by the Church of God, “and there is no other beside him,” but also one only-begotten Son of God, the image of the paternal divinity, who, because of this, is God.” (On Ecclesiastical Theology, Book I, Ch 2)

Athanasius

“Accordingly when the Father is called the only God, and we read that there is one God, and ‘I am,’ and ‘beside Me there is no God,’ and ‘I the first and I the last,’ this has a fit meaning. For God is One and Only and First; but this is not said to the denial of the Son, perish the thought; for He is in that One, and First and Only, as being of that One and Only and First the Only Word and Wisdom and Radiance. And He too is the First, as the Fulness of the Godhead of the First and Only, being whole and full God.” (Against the Arians, Discourse III.)

“For, as the illustration shows, we do not introduce three Origins or three Fathers, as the followers of Marcion and Manichæus; since we have not suggested the image of three suns, but sun and radiance. And one is the light from the sun in the radiance; and so we know of but one origin; and the All-framing Word we profess to have no other manner of godhead, than that of the Only God, because He is born from Him.” (Against the Arians, Discourse III.)

“For there is but one form of Godhead, which is also in the Word; and one God, the Father, existing by Himself according as He is above all, and appearing in the Son according as He pervades all things, and in the Spirit according as in Him He acts in all things through the Word.” (Against the Arians, Discourse III.)

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

Hilary of Poitiers

“And if any one hearing that the Only-begotten Son is like the invisible God, denies that the Son who is the image of the invisible God (whose image is understood to include essence) is Son in essence, as though denying His true Sonship: let him be anathema.

15. It is here insisted that the nature is indistinguishable and entirely similar. For since He is the Only-begotten Son of God and the image of the invisible God, it is necessary that He should be of an essence similar in species and nature. Or what distinction can be made between Father and Son affecting their nature with its similar genus, when the Son subsisting through the nature begotten in Him is invested with the properties of the Father, viz., glory, worth, power, invisibility, essence? And while these prerogatives of divinity are equal we neither understand the one to be less because He is Son, nor the other to be greater because He is Father; since the Son is the image of the Father in species, and not dissimilar in genus; since the similarity of a Son begotten of the substance of His Father does not admit of any diversity of substance, and the Son and image of the invisible God embraces in Himself the whole form of His Father’s divinity both in kind and in amount: and this is to be truly Son, to reflect the truth of the Father’s form by the perfect likeness of the nature imaged in Himself.” (De Synodis)

“VIII. And if any one understanding that the Son is like in essence to Him whose Son He is admitted to be, says that the Son is the same as the Father, or part of the Father, or that it is through an emanation or any such passion as is necessary for the procreation of corporeal children that the incorporeal Son draws His life from the incorporeal Father: let him be anathema.

21. We have always to beware of the vices of particular perversions, and countenance no opportunity for delusion. For many heretics say that the Son is like the Father in divinity in order to support the theory that in virtue of this similarity the Son is the same Person as the Father: for this undivided similarity appears to countenance a belief in a single monad. For what does not differ in kind seems to retain identity of nature.

22. But birth does not countenance this vain imagination; for such identity without differentiation excludes birth. For what is born has a father who caused its birth. Nor because the divinity of Him who is being born is inseparable from that of Him who begets, are the Begetter and the Begotten the same Person; while on the other hand He who is born and He who begets cannot be unlike.” (De Synodis)

Cyril of Jerusalem

“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. For the Father begot the Son Very God, called Emmanuel; and Emmanuel being interpreted is, God with us Matthew 1:23 .” (Catechetical Lecture 11)

“For the Father being Very God begot the Son like Himself, Very God…” (Catechetical Lecture 11)

Justin Martyr

“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, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled [It must be noted that in the examples he gives, Justin assumes the identicality of the nature of the Word to the Father in respect to His divinity, as a word expressed is in essence identical to the internal idea expressed, and one fire kindled of another is of no other nature than the fire from which it is kindled. So also, the Son begotten of the Father is of no other nature than that of the Father Himself, having the same divine nature as He.]. The Word of Wisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, and Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon the following…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

“And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 128)

 

Quotes from Eusebius taken from: Eusebius Pamphilius, On Ecclesiastical Theology, trans. Kelly McCarthy Sproerl and Markus Vinzent (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2017).

 

Why There is Only One God: One Supreme Cause

Scripture is explicit in equating the one God with the person of the Father:

“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 have examined the identity of the one God as the person of the Father in some depth here. We can also see that this was the clear teaching of the orthodox church fathers of the ante-nicene and nicene eras, as can be seen here.

In this article we continue our series on ‘Why There is Only One God’. The question of how there is only one God comes to mind in light of the fact that while the Father is the one God, the Son and Spirit are also of the same divine nature as the Father. There are then three persons who are God, that is, Who possess the same divine nature; yet there are not three Gods, but only one, the person of the Father.

In light of this, why do the Son and Holy Spirit not constitute second and third Gods in addition to the Father, Who alone is the one God? The answer to this question is multifaceted. The person of the Father alone is the one God because He alone is the ‘uncaused Cause’ and ‘Head without a head’. Additionally, we may point to the unity of the Son and Spirit with the Father in respect to both their divine nature and their relationship to Him as reasons why They cannot be said to constitute second and third Gods. In this article, we will examine the first part of the answer given, that the Father alone is the uncaused Cause.

Firstly, what is meant by ‘uncaused Cause’? When we say that the one God alone is the uncaused Cause, we refer to the fact that He alone is without cause, origin, or source, while He Himself is the Cause, Source, and Origin of all else that exists. The one God is not only the cause and source of all creation, but also of His own Son by eternal generation and of His Holy Spirit by eternal procession. Being an ‘uncaused Cause’ then is unique to the person of the Father.

Another way to put this is that the Father alone is the First Cause of all. But by ‘First Cause’ we do not mean that the Father is in any way chronologically anterior to His Son and Spirit, but rather that He is logically first in that He is the Supreme Cause of all, to Whom everything that exists may be traced as its Source, including the Son and Holy Spirit through Whom God created all creation.

In showing this doctrine from scripture, let us begin by showing that God is the source of His Son and Holy Spirit, and after this that He Himself is entirely uncaused.

We see the Father demonstrated to be the Cause of the Son in the following passages of scripture:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 NKJV)

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

“No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18 KJV)

“Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loves Him that begat loves Him also that is begotten of Him.” (1 John 5:21)

“The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. 23 I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. 24 When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:” (Proverbs 8:22-25 KJV)

“For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;” (John 5:26 KJV)

Likewise scripture testifies the the Father is the source of His Holy Spirit:

“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:” (John 15:26 KJV)

So we see scripture’s clear teaching that the persons of the Son and Spirit have the person of the Father as Their source; thus the Father is unique among the persons of the Trinity as being personally the First Cause of all. And having the Father as Their own Cause and Source, the Son and Holy Spirit of God have no other nature than that of the only true God Whose Son and Spirit They are, eternally having the paternal divinity from the Father, the Son by His eternal generation, and the Holy Spirit as He eternally proceeds from the Father.

While we have shown that the Son and Holy Spirit have Their Source as the Father, the scriptures also clearly teach that the Father is alone without cause or source of any kind:

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! 34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? 35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? 36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36 KJV)

“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)

These verses demonstrate what is already clear. It is obvious and self-evident that God is uncaused and without source; for He Himself being the supreme cause of all cannot have a cause or source of His own. For as we have seen above, He is the Source of not only all creation, but also of His Son and Holy Spirit; He is then, the Source of all, as it says above “from Whom are all things”. For if the Father were originate and caused, He would be from something else; yet scripture declares that all things are from Him. He then, if He is the Cause of all, cannot Himself be caused, for if He Himself were caused and from another, then all things would not be caused by Him and be from Him, since He Himself would be caused by another. But all that is caused, and all that finds a source or origin can be traced back to the Father as its ultimate source, cause and origin; He then alone is the uncaused Cause of all, and unoriginate Origin of all.

This unique quality of the Father distinguishes Him from the other persons of the Trinity, and accounts for why scripture teaches that He in particular is “the only true God”, even though His Son and Spirit have the very same divine nature as He. It is not on the basis of His divinity that the Father in particular is the “one God”, for this divinity is shared by all three persons of the Trinity. Rather, it is because of the unique qualities the Father has of alone being the uncaused Cause of all, and of alone being the ‘Head without a head’, which we shall defer until the next post to discuss.

Now, we have seen proved from the scriptures that the person of the Father alone, Who is the only true God, is the uncaused Cause of all; not only of all creation, but we have also demonstrated from the scriptures that He is the Cause and Source of His only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit. We shall now conclude with testimonies witnessing to these truths from the ancient fathers of the church:

Eusebius of Caesarea

“Well then, rightly did the divine evangelist say that he was in the beginning, having attributed to him a source, that is to say, the begetting from the Father. For everything that is begotten from something has the one who has begotten him as source. And surely likewise he added, not “and the Word was in God,” but “and the Word was with God,” teaching that the one who was begotten, having also possessed the Father as source, is not somehow far from the Father, nor has been separated or moved to some great distance from him, but that he is present to him and exists together with him.” (On Ecclesiastical Theology, Book 2, Chapter 14)

“For the excellent and unique character of the ingenerate [that is, unbegotten or uncaused] and divine life of the Father, on account of which “he alone has immortality,” as was said by the holy Apostle, the Son alone could have, seeing as he was the image of the Father even in this respect. But he has the aforementioned life not like the Father, not without source nor ingenerate nor acquired by himself, but has received [this immortal life] from the Father. For thus he says, “For as the Father has life in himself, so also he has given the Son to have life in himself.” Therefore, the one has given, the other received.” (On Ecclesiastical Theology, Book 1, Chapter 20)

“But are you afraid, man, lest, having confessed that there are two hypostases, you introduce two sources and cast aside the monarchical divinity? Well then, learn that because there is one God who is without source and unbegotten, but the Son has been begotten from him, there will be one source and a single monarchy and kingship, since even the Son himself acknowledges his Father as source. “The head of Christ is God,” according to the Apostle. But are you anxious that one might have to accept that there are two gods if you confess that there are two hypostases of Father and Son? But know this too: that the man who grants that there are two hypostases of Father and Son is not compelled to say there are two Fathers, nor that there are two Sons, but will grant that one is the Father and the other is the Son. Thus, in the same way, it is not necessary for the man who posits two hypostases to grant that there are two gods. For we neither deem them equally worthy of honor, nor both without source and unbegotten, but deem the one [hypostasis] as unbegotten  and without source, while [we deem] the other as begotten and having the Father as his source. For this reason, even the Son himself teaches that his Father is also his God, when he says, “I go to my Father and to your Father and to my God and to your God.” Thus God is shown to be both Father and God of the Son himself.” (On Ecclesiastical Theology Book 2, Chapter 7)

Alexander of Alexandria

We have learnt that the Son is immutable and unchangeable, all-sufficient and perfect, like the Father, lacking only His “unbegotten.” He is the exact and precisely similar image of His Father. For it is clear that the image fully contains everything by which the greater likeness exists, as the Lord taught us when He said, ‘My Father is greater than I.’ And in accordance with this we believe that the Son always existed of the Father ; for he is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Father’s Person.’ But let no one be led by the word ‘always’ to imagine that the Son is unbegotten, as is thought by some who have their intellects blinded : for to say that He was, that He has always been, and, that before all ages, is not to say that He is unbegotten…

Therefore His own individual dignity must be reserved to the Father as the Unbegotten One, no one being called the cause of His existence : to the Son likewise must be given the honour which befits Him, there being to Him a generation from the Father which has no beginning ; we must render Him worship, as we have already said, only piously and religiously ascribing to Him the ‘was’ and the ‘ever,’ and the ‘before all ages ;’ not however rejecting His divinity, but ascribing to Him a perfect likeness in all things to His Father, while at the same time we ascribe to the Father alone His own proper glory of ‘the unbegotten,’ even as the Saviour Himself says, ‘My Father is greater than I.’ (Epistle of Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, to Alexander, Bishop of Constantinople, from Theodoret’s, Ecclesiastical History, I.III – NPNF 3.39, 40.)

“Not that the Word is unbegotten, for the Father alone is unbegotten, but because the inexplicable subsistence of the only-begotten Son transcends the acute comprehension of the evangelists, and perhaps also of angels.” (Epistles on Arianism and the Deposition of Arius)

“Concerning whom we thus believe, even as the Apostolic Church believes. In one Father unbegotten, who has from no one the cause of His being, who is unchangeable and immutable, who is always the same, and admits of no increase or diminution; who gave to us the Law, the prophets, and the Gospels; who is Lord of the patriarchs and apostles, and all the saints. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; not begotten of things which are not, but of Him who is the Father; not in a corporeal manner, by excision or division as Sabellius and Valentinus thought, but in a certain inexplicable and unspeakable manner, according to the words of the prophet cited above: Who shall declare His generation? Isaiah 53:8 Since that His subsistence no nature which is begotten can investigate, even as the Father can be investigated by none; because that the nature of rational beings cannot receive the knowledge of His divine generation by the Father. But men who are moved by the Spirit of truth, have no need to learn these things from me, for in our ears are sounding the words before uttered by Christ on this very thing, No man knows the Father, save the Son; and no man knows who the Son is, save the Father. Matthew 11:27 That He is equally with the Father unchangeable and immutable, wanting in nothing, and the perfect Son, and like to the Father, we have learned; in this alone is He inferior to the Father, that He is not unbegotten. For He is the very exact image of the Father, and in nothing differing from Him. For it is clear that He is the image fully containing all things by which the greatest similitude is declared, as the Lord Himself has taught us, when He says, My Father is greater than I.” (Epistles on Arianism and the Deposition of Arius)

Athanasius

“We believe in one Unbegotten God, Father Almighty, maker of all things both visible and invisible, that hath His being from Himself. And in one Only-begotten Word, Wisdom, Son, begotten of the Father without beginning and eternally; word not pronounced nor mental, nor an effluence of the Perfect, nor a dividing of the impassible Essence, nor an issue; but absolutely perfect Son, living and powerful (Heb. iv. 12), the true Image of the Father, equal in honour and glory. ” (Statement of Faith)

“For the Son is in the Father, as it is allowed us to know, because the whole Being of the Son is proper to the Father’s essence, as radiance from light, and stream from fountain; so that whoso sees the Son, sees what is proper to the Father, and knows that the Son’s Being, because from the Father, is therefore in the Father. For the Father is in the Son, since the Son is what is from the Father and proper to Him, as in the radiance the sun, and in the word the thought, and in the stream the fountain: for whoso thus contemplates the Son, contemplates what is proper to the Father’s Essence, and knows that the Father is in the Son. For whereas the Form and Godhead of the Father is the Being of the Son, it follows that the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son.” (Discourse 3, Against the Arians)

“1. The Word is God from God; for ‘the Word was God,’ and again, ‘Of whom are the Fathers, and of whom Christ, who is God over all, blessed for ever. Amen.’ And since Christ is God from God, and God’s Word, Wisdom, Son, and Power, therefore but One God is declared in the divine Scriptures. 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. For, according to John, ‘in’ that ‘Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,’ for the Beginning was God; and since He is from It, therefore also ‘the Word was God.’ And as there is one Beginning and therefore one God, so one is that Essence and Subsistence which indeed and truly and really is, and which said ‘I am that I am,’ and not two, that there be not two Beginnings; and from the One, a Son in nature and truth, is Its own Word, Its Wisdom, Its Power, and inseparable from It. And as there is not another essence, lest there be two Beginnings, so the Word which is from that One Essence has no dissolution, nor is a sound significative, but is an essential Word and essential Wisdom, which is the true Son. For were He not essential, God will be speaking into the air, and having a body, in nothing differently from men; but since He is not man, neither is His Word according to the infirmity of man. For as the Beginning is one Essence, so Its Word is one, essential, and subsisting, and Its Wisdom. For as He is God from God, and Wisdom from the Wise, and Word from the Rational, and Son from Father, so is He from Subsistence Subsistent, and from Essence Essential and Substantive, and Being from Being.” (Discourse 4, Against the Arians)

Hilary of Poitiers

“He will be safe in asserting the one substance if he has first said that the Father is unbegotten, that the Son is born, that He draws His personal subsistence from the Father, that He is like the Father in might, honour and nature, that He is subject to the Father as to the Author of His being…” (De Synodis)

“And if any one hearing this text, For as the Father has life in Himself so also He has given to the Son to have life in Himself John 5:26; denies that the Son is like the Father even in essence, though He testifies that it is even as He has said; let him be anathema. For it is plain that since the life which is understood to exist in the Father signifies substance, and the life of the Only-begotten which was begotten of the Father is also understood to mean substance or essence, He there signifies a likeness of essence to essence.

16. With the Son’s origin as thus stated is connected the perfect birth of the undivided nature. For what in each is life, that in each is signified by essence. And in the life which is begotten of life, i.e. in the essence which is born of essence, seeing that it is not born unlike (and that because life is of life), He keeps in Himself a nature wholly similar to His original, because there is no diversity in the likeness of the essence that is born and that begets, that is, of the life which is possessed and which has been given. For though God begot Him of Himself, in likeness to His own nature, He in whom is the unbegotten likeness did not relinquish the property of His natural substance.” (De Synodis)

“For the same reason we have of one substance, not to teach that there is one solitary divine Person, but that the Son is born of the substance of God and subsists from no other source, nor in any diversity caused by a difference of substance. Surely again this is our faith, that He subsists from no other source, and He is not unlike the Father. 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.” (De Synodis)

“We deny that there are two incapable of birth, because God is one through the prerogative of being incapable of birth” (De Synodis)

“XXVI. If any man says that the Son is incapable of birth and without beginning, speaking as though there were two incapable of birth and unborn and without beginning, and makes two Gods: let him be anathema. For the Head, which is the beginning of all things, is the Son; but the Head or beginning of Christ is God: for so to One who is without beginning and is the beginning of all things, we refer the whole world through Christ.

60. To declare the Son to be incapable of birth is the height of impiety. God would no longer be One: for the nature of the one Unborn God demands that we should confess that God is one. Since therefore God is one, there cannot be two incapable of birth: because God is one (although both the Father is God and the Son of God is God) for the very reason that incapability of birth is the only quality that can belong to one Person only. The Son is God for the very reason that He derives His birth from that essence which cannot be born. Therefore our holy faith rejects the idea that the Son is incapable of birth in order to predicate one God incapable of birth and consequently one God, and in order to embrace the Only-begotten nature, begotten from the unborn essence, in the one name of the Unborn God. For the Head of all things is the Son: but the Head of the Son is God. And to one God through this stepping-stone and by this confession all things are referred, since the whole world takes its beginning from Him to whom God Himself is the beginning.” (De Synodis, Quoting and commenting on the decision of the Council of Sirmium against Photinius)

Cyril of Jerusalem

“Of One Only Father there is One Only-begotten Son: neither two Unbegotten , nor two Only-begotten; but One Father, Unbegotten (for He is Unbegotten who has no father); and One Son, eternally begotten of the Father; begotten not in time, but before all ages; not increased by advancement, but begotten that which He now is.” (Catechetical Lecture 11)

“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.” (Catechetical Lecture 11)

Novation of Rome

“And He is reasonably affirmed to be in the form of God, in that He Himself, being above all things, and having the divine power over every creature, is also God after the example of the Father. Yet He obtained, this from His own Father, that He should be both God of all and should be Lord, and be begotten and made known from Himself as God in the form of God the Father. He then, although He was in the form of God, thought it not robbery that He should be equal with God. For although He remembered that He was God from God the Father, He never either compared or associated Himself with God the Father, mindful that He was from His Father, and that He possessed that very thing that He is, because the Father had given it Him.” (On the Trinity, Chapter 22)

“Because it is essential that He who knows no beginning must go before Him who has a beginning; even as He is the less as knowing that He is in Him, having an origin because He is born, and of like nature with the Father in some measure by His nativity, although He has a beginning in that He is born, inasmuch as He is born of that Father who alone has no beginning. He, then, when the Father willed it, proceeded from the Father, and He who was in the Father came forth from the Father; and He who was in the Father because He was of the Father, was subsequently with the Father, because He came forth from the Father — that is to say, that divine substance whose name is the Word, whereby all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. For all things are after Him, because they are by Him. And reasonably, He is before all things, but after the Father, since all things were made by Him, and He proceeded from Him of whose will all things were made. 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. For if He had not been born — compared with Him who was unborn, an equality being manifested in both — He would make two unborn beings, and thus would make two Gods. If He had not been begotten — compared with Him who was not begotten, and as being found equal — they not being begotten, would have reasonably given two Gods, and thus Christ would have been the cause of two Gods. Had He been formed without beginning as the Father, and He Himself the beginning of all things as is the Father, this would have made two beginnings, and consequently would have shown to us two Gods also…  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. In which kind, being both as well only-begotten as first-begotten of Him who has no beginning, He is the only one, of all things both Source and Head. And therefore He declared that God is one, in that He proved Him to be from no source nor beginning, but rather the beginning and source of all things.” (On the Trinity, Chapter 31)

Justin Martyr

“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.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129)

“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, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled. The Word of Wisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, and Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon the following…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

“For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 126)

Quote from Eusebius taken from: Eusebius Pamphilius, On Ecclesiastical Theology, trans. Kelly McCarthy Sproerl and Markus Vinzent (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2017).

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.

 

Augustine vs. Athanasius on the Identity of the “One God”

Between Augustine and earlier church fathers like Athanasius of Alexandria there exists a great deal of doctrinal agreement. Both theologians, for instance, worked to defend the divinity of the Son against the attacks of Arianism. But there are also some crucial areas of disagreement between these two influencial theologians.

As has been previously noted on this blog, Augustine was a strong early proponent of the idea that the one God of the Christian faith is the Trinity conceived of as a single person itself. We see this idea expressed in his own writings in the following:

“That one God, therefore, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who will not appear, except for joy which cannot be taken away from the just…” (On the Trinity, Book 1, Ch. 13)

“…neither here does it appear plainly whether it was any person of the Trinity that appeared to Abraham, or God Himself the Trinity, of which one God it is said, You shall fear the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” (Book 2, Ch. 10)

“O Lord the one God, God the Trinity, whatever I have said in these books that is of Yours, may they acknowledge who are Yours; if anything of my own, may it be pardoned both by You and by those who are Yours. Amen.” (Book 15, Ch. 28)

In contrast, Athanasius was clear in affirming the well-established doctrine that the one God of the Christian faith is the person of the Father in particular:

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

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

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

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

Not least of all would be the opening line of the Nicene Creed, a creed which Athanasius not only affirmed, but helped to author, and spent his life defending the truthfulness of its content, which begins by saying:

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible…”

Although Augustine would allege the support of scripture for his position, in light of the language of scripture, it is clear which of these viewpoints actually represents the biblical position:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 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

Athanasius Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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