Numerical Vs Generic Unity of Substance

Semi-modalism is built upon a twisting of the Nicene concept of co-essentiality. In the Nicene era and its creed, for multiple persons to be co-essential meant that nothing more than that they, as truly distinct rational individual beings (that is, persons) shared a common nature or species. A common analogy used by the Nicene fathers to capture their meaning, for example, is of three men being co-essential, in that they, while remaining three distinct individuals, share a common and identical human nature. Although there are three men, there is only one nature between them, human nature. Such was the original meaning of co-essentiality.

For example, Athanasius said:

“Even this is sufficient to dissuade you from blaming those who have said that the Son was coessential with the Father, and yet let us examine the very term ‘Coessential,’ in itself, by way of seeing whether we ought to use it at all, and whether it be a proper term, and is suitable to apply to the Son. For you know yourselves, and no one can dispute it, that Like is not predicated of essence, but of habits, and qualities; for in the case of essences we speak, not of likeness, but of identity. Man, for instance, is said to be like man, not in essence, but according to habit and character; for in essence men are of one nature. And again, man is not said to be unlike dog, but to be of different nature. Accordingly while the former [men] are of one nature and coessential, the latter are different in both.”

Hilary of Poitiers likewise clarified:

“Since, however, we have frequently to mention the words essence and substance, we must determine the meaning of essence, lest in discussing facts we prove ignorant of the signification of our words. Essence is a reality which is, or the reality of those things from which it is, and which subsists inasmuch as it is permanent. Now we can speak of the essence, or nature, or genus, or substance of anything. And the strict reason why the word essence is employed is because it is always. But this is identical with substance, because a thing which is, necessarily subsists in itself, and whatever thus subsists possesses unquestionably a permanent genus, nature or substance. When, therefore, we say that essence signifies nature, or genus, or substance, we mean the essence of that thing which permanently exists in the nature, genus, or substance.

And Basil of Caesarea wrote:

“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)”

This understanding of co-essentiality is likewise required by the council of Chalcedon:

“our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood”

Its clear, then, that the original intent of declaring that the Father, Son, and Spirit share one essence was not to make Them out to all be one person, one individual being, but simply to declare that They shared a common nature or species. This meaning changed, however, and was not kept clear as time went on; the Western churches going to far as to eventually formally change the meaning of co-essentiality in the 4th Lateran council in 1215.  Rather than indicating a generic unity of sharing one nature, now co-essentiality was defined as teaching that the unity the persons shared was of being one single numerically individual reality, one rational individual being- that is, in reality, one person. The ‘essence’ was no longer viewed as a nature, but a single subsistent ‘supreme reality’.

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

This teaching is a drastic departure from the faith of the early church, and represents the culmination of what many in the Nicene era had feared might result from the introduction of ‘essence’ speculation into the church’s dogma. A council of fathers gathered in Antioch in 345 had specified their belief that the Father, Son, and Spirit were not “one supreme reality”, that is, one person, one individual rational being, but rather, three:

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

Later in the same creed they went on to condemn the very view the 4th Lateran would later make dogma for the Roman churches:

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

But one need not wait until the fourth century to find fathers who clearly taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit were not one numerically individual thing, one person. Second century father Justin Martyr, one of the earliest and best of the fathers, clearly understood the Father and Son to be numerically distinct persons, two distinct rational individual beings, not merely two names of or modes of one and the same reality:

“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 29)

“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)

“You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129)

It is clear also, that Justin did not speak of merely his own opinion in these matters, but as an apologist, spoke on behalf of the Christians of his time; and anyone who wishes to, may read his contemporary fathers, and see their agreement.

Semi-modalism, then, in proclaiming the the persons of the Trinity are numerically one substance, one individual, is clearly at odds with both the original dogmatic conception of co-essentiality held by the Nicene fathers, which proclaimed co-essentiality to mean nothing more than a mere generic unity of nature between really distinct individuals, as well as being at odds with the faith of the ante-nicene fathers, going back as close to the apostles as we can find.

For a look at how this semi-modalistic conception of the Trinity is opposed to scripture itself, and the very fundamental tenets of the Christian faith it teaches, see here.

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

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

XVI.

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

See beneath, thesis 17.

XVII.

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

Notes on thesis 17.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XVIII.

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

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

See beneath, theses 22 and 23.

Notes on thesis 18.

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

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

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

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

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

XIX.

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

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

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

XX.

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

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

See above, theses 3 and 15.

XXI.

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

See the texts, No 1148, 1154.

See above, thesis 13.

Notes on thesis 21.

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

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

XXII.

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

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

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

XXIII.

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

See above, theses 18 and 22.

Notes on thesis 23.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XXIV.

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

See the texts, No 533-545.

See below, theses 25 and 27.

XXV.

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

See the texts, No 533—-545.

See beneath, thesis 51.

Notes on thesis 25.

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

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

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

XXVI.

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

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

Notes on thesis 26.

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

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

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

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

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

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

XXVII.

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

Notes on thesis 27.

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

See the texts, which declare;

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

That he knows things distant, No 571.

That he knows all things, No 606, 613.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That he is greater than the temple, No 556.

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

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

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

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

That he is the Prince of Life, No 615.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That he was before Abraham, No 591.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also the texts, wherein are joined together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XXVIII.

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

See the texts, wherein he is declared to be:

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

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

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

XXIX.

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

See the texts, No 1024—-1073.

XXX.

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

See the texts, No 1074—-1120.

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

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

The

Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity.

Part II.

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

I.

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

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

* See beneath, thesis 7.

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

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

# See beneath, thesis 6.

II.

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

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

* See beneath, thesis 15.

+ See beneath, thesis 18.

III.

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

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

# See beneath, thesis 20.

+ See beneath, thesis 22.

IV.

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

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

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

V.

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

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

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

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

VI.

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

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

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

VII.

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

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

See beneath, these 34 & 40.

VIII.

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

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

+ No 356.

# No 338.

++ No 441.

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

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

IX.

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

See the texts, No 1—-17.

See beneath, thesis 39.

Notes on thesis 9.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X.

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

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

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

The God of Israel, No 338.

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

The Good God, No 340.

The Power, No 342.

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

The Blessed, No 344.

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

The Mighty One, No 347.

Who is above all, No 382**.

The Invisible God, 384, 389, 402.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God of Glory, No 359.

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

Which doth or maketh all things, No 363.

The incorruptible God, No 367.

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

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

The Lord of Hosts, No 371, 405.

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

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

The Everlasting God, No 375.

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

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

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

The Blessed God, No 388.

The King eternal, immortal, etc. No 389.

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

The Great God, No 395, 437.

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

The excellent Glory, No 407.

The Holy One, No 408.

The Only Supreme Governor, No 411.

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

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

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

Supreme, Holy, and True, No 420.

The God of heaven, No 426, 433.

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

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

The Lord God of the Holy Prophets, No 441.

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

XI.

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

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

See the texts No 18—-336.

Notes on thesis 11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XII.

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

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

Notes on thesis 12.

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

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

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

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

XIII.

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

See the texts, No 619, 658.

See beneath, thesis 21.

Notes on thesis 13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XIV.

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

Notes on thesis 14.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XV.

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

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

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

Sola Scriptura And the Trinity

The idea of sola scriptura is, simply put, that every point of Christian doctrine must be demonstrated to be true, and every practice must be demonstrated to be legitimate, from the holy scriptures in order to be accepted as true and legitimate and binding on Christians.

The logic of this stems from scripture itself: “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21 NKJV). This command, given to believers in the scriptures themselves, is short yet clear; all things are to be tested, and those which are good we are to hold fast to. When doctrine is presented to us, we must test it, and if it is shown to be good, we must hold fast to it; if a practice is suggested to us we must likewise test, and hold fast to those shown to be good.

What, then, is “good” doctrine? What is “good” practice? Simply, good doctrine is that which is true. Good practice is that which is legitimate and acceptable in God’s eyes. How then, do we know what doctrines are true, and what practices are legitimate?

Second century church father Clement of Alexandria explains well:

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

The way by which we as Christians can know that a doctrine is true, or a practice legitimate, then, is by seeing it demonstrated from the holy scriptures, which, as Clement says, are for us a first principle which we as Christians take on faith, as the infallible and inerrant word of God. From this infallible first principle, other knowledge can be safely attained by way of demonstration. The way in which we arrive at a knowledge then of what is good doctrine and practice is by way of demonstration from the scriptures- that which we see proven, we know is good.

We must then see every point of doctrine and every practice proven from the scriptures, in order to know that they are good. To seek demonstration of a given point from the scriptures then is the way which we can “test all things, and hold fast that which is good”. Upon which demonstration, any point of doctrine will appear more to us than mere opinion, but is known with certainty to be true and good; and any practice will no longer appear merely a human invention, but a practice genuinely given by God for His church.

It is worth noting here that what is proven good is to be accepted and held fast to, according to the command of scripture. This is not the same thing as simply saying that that which is proven bad- that which is proven to be false from the scriptures- is to be rejected, for in that case, any opinion which is not disproven might be accepted, even if it also lacks positive proof. What we are commanded to hold fast to is that which we know is good- which is exclusively that which we see proven from the scriptures.

This view has grown very uncommon among most Christian traditions. Even those which hold sola scriptura in name frequently insist that those traditional doctrines their churches teach should be accepted on the basis of tradition, despite lacking positive proof from the scriptures. Yet in the early church, there were more than a few who understood the importance of sola scriptura. Clement of Alexandria has already been mentioned; Cyril of Jerusalem will also bear witness when he says:

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

The view of both Clement and Cyril is clear; a doctrine stated without demonstration from the scriptures, even if given from an ecclesiastical authority, is to be regarded as mere opinion until proven from the scriptures. This is to safeguard believers from, like those in the world, simply building their beliefs off of mere opinions of men, and holding mere plausibilities as truth. “Ingenious reasoning” is not enough- demonstration from the holy scriptures is required, and by this means we “test all things, and hold fast to that which is good”.

What about the command given by the apostle to keep the traditions he had given the church, whether in writing or by spoken word? 2 Thess 2:15 NKJV says “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” Is this a contradiction? Is there an oral tradition in the church which scripture tells us to regard as authoritative?

The answer is ‘no’. The command given does not mention a tradition passed down from generation to generation, but the oral and written instruction that first century believers received from the apostles directly. The written part is clear; the oral part, some wish to present as more than it is. But what is actually said here must be admitted to be simply that believers are to regard instructions they receive *from the apostles* as authoritative, whether those be received by writing or by word. After the apostles fell asleep, however, no one in the church is ordinarily receiving instruction from the apostles by any means other than their writings in the holy scriptures. Were we able to learn orally from the apostles, we should for reason of this verse regard what they say as a standard, as we do with the written scriptures; but we do not have their oral instruction today, and so the only ordinary standard we have is the holy scriptures.

From the scriptures we may learn what the apostles taught, and what traditions they handed down. Most are not truly interested in their traditions- “apostolic tradition” is simply an excuse to shoehorn into the Christian faith doctrines and practices which we have no knowledge of being legitimate. From the scriptures we have an actual knowledge of apostolic tradition. But beyond the scriptures, we have no knowledge of it.

Many are inclined to point to the earliest fathers as a source for this oral tradition. However, there is no legitimate grounds for taking what the church fathers say as though it were the words of the apostles. The fathers do not share their authority, and we have no way of knowing the accuracy with which their traditions reflect those taught by the apostles. Reading the church fathers is probably the most profitable exercise one can undertake besides reading the scriptures in a study of Christian doctrine; this is not meant in any way to denigrate the fathers or their teachings- I highly recommend them.  But we must be realistic about their limits- their teaching is not infallible, and cannot be made a standard the way scripture can. Scripture is our infallible first principle by which we must test all things- including the teachings of the fathers. Indeed, as we read above, some of them very clearly wanted those who learned from them to test what they said by the scriptures.

The fact is, traditions found recorded in the writings of the fathers, ascribed to the apostles, can only be regarded as mere plausibilities, until they are demonstrated to be apostolic traditions from the scriptures. For even well-intentioned and godly men err; they make honest mistakes, and are not wholly free from sin. They can be deceived, and they can misunderstand. This does not mean we should cast aside their teaching, which is such a valuable resource as a help to understanding the scriptures, as any good teacher is, but we cannot make their teaching into more than it is by treating it as a first principle or rule of faith, when it is rightly neither, but is rather subject to being tested by the holy scriptures.

Having then examined ‘sola scriptura’, and seen it itself demonstrated from the scriptures, let us then examine the role this doctrine played in the trinitarian controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries.

We already saw a quote from Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures on the topic. Cyril is a noteworthy fourth-century bishop, whose theology is marked by a clear commitment to scripture as its source, which is reflected in how biblical the doctrines he teaches are. His lectures on the persons of the Trinity are among the best treatments of the Trinity we have from this era. Avoiding the extra-biblical speculation that marked both the Arian and Homoousian camps during the Arian controversy, Cyril’s lectures both reject Arianism and Sabellianism, clearly, and biblically, without needing to bring the extra-biblical language of ‘ousia’ into the discussion at all. His beliefs on the Trinity can be summed up:

“There is One God, the Father, Lord of the Old and of the New Testament: and One Lord, Jesus Christ, who was prophesied of in the Old Testament, and came in the New; and One Holy Ghost, who through the Prophets preached of Christ, and when Christ was come, descended, and manifested Him.” On the Article, And In One Holy Ghost, the Comforter, Which Spake In the Prophets. (Lecture XVI)

Cyril’s commitment to sola scriptura can be seen again in Lecture 16, when he says, speaking of the Holy Spirit “And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into His nature or substance : for had it been written, we would have spoken of it; what is not written, let us not venture on; it is sufficient for our salvation to know, that there is Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost.”

Thus Cyril’s basic approach to the intense controversies of his time can be seen; rather than siding with one side or the other in “ingenious reasonings”, he insists on sticking to “demonstration from the scriptures”, and purposefully avoids going beyond the scriptures. Thus questions of the Spirit’s metaphysical substance are not to be entertained, because scripture does not treat the subject.

Cyril’s methods, of avoiding unscriptural language, and attempting to stick closely to what could be demonstrated from scripture without going beyond it, were shared by others as well.

The ‘Homoians’ were a party that came to prominence in the late 350s. They sought to resolve the Nicene controversy by returning to scriptural language and leaving the metaphysical speculation that had both caused the controversy, and characterized the major parties in it. Rather than insisting on a dogmatic assertion of the Son’s metaphysical essence in relation to that of the Father, the Homoian position advocated sticking to scriptural language about the person of the Trinity. Thus rather than using “homoousias” or “Homoiousias” they advocated simply “homoi” (like) from which they took their name. Their confession was a simple and unoffending one- that the Son is “like the Father according to the scriptures”. This embraces the scriptural teaching that the Son, as a distinct individual from the Father (Who is the one God) is the ‘brightness of the Father’s glory’, the ‘exact representation of His person’, and ‘the image of Him, the invisible God’, without getting into questions of metaphysics.

On the subject of “ousia”, the Homoian position was articulated thus:

“But the name of ‘essence,’ which was set down by the Fathers in simplicity, and, being unknown by the people, caused offense, because the Scriptures do not contain it, it has seemed good to abolish, and for the future to make no mention of it at all; since the divine scriptures have made no mention of the essence of Father and Son. For neither ought ‘subsistence’ to be named concerning Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But we say that the Son is like the Father, as the divine Scriptures say and teach; and all the heresies, both those which have been already condemned, and whatever are of modern date, being contrary to this published statement, be they anathema.” (Creed of Constantinople, 360)

Old heresies, like Arianism, were still anathematized. But the decision of Nicea to include ‘homoousias’ in the Creed was regarded as a mistake, as going beyond scriptural revelation. This exceeding of scriptural revelation was the cause of the doctrinal controversies of the fourth century; the way to heal them, it was felt, was to return to a strictly scriptural doctrine of the Trinity.

But the Homoians were not merely an obscure party in the Nicene controversy. Their position gained imperial favor, and in 359, became the official position of all the churches in the Roman empire, and beyond. The emperor, setting about to resolve the ongoing doctrinal disputes surrounding the Trinity which had only grown more intense after Nicea, sought to call a second ecumenical council to end the controversy and bring the whole church to agreement. In order to make this practically easier, the council was to be held in two locations, one in the West at Arminium, and one in the East at Seleucia.

The second ecumenical council, then, met in the joint sessions of Arminium and Selucia in 359. It is reported that over 400 bishops attended the western council. The details of the council are obscure; most of the reports of it we have are from the standpoint of extreme hostility to the Homoian confession, after the Homoousians gained ascendency in 381. Such reports regard the councils as secretly Arian, and all Homoians as Arians in disguise; not because of actual evidence that suggests the Homoian confession was an insincere cover for Arianism, but because the polemic of the homoousians was to slander every opposing viewpoint as Arian in an attempt to discredit them. That the Homoian creed left Arianism anathematized gives firm enough evidence for any moderately fair-minded observer to understand that the Homoians were not Arians, and the Councils of Arminium and Seleucia were no Arian victory.

For some time, these councils provided a greater degree of peace to the churches. For almost 20 years this remained ‘the second ecumenical council’ and its creed, with its rescinding of the Nicene ‘homoousias’, remained the official doctrine of the whole church. The churches among the Gothic tribes also subscribed to this Creed; bishop Ulfilias was present at the Council of Constantinople in 360 when the Homoian Creed was officially ratified.

That the church agreed to this confession is significant. For a time, at least, the church was officially committed to a position resembling sola scriptura.

After the Council of Constantinople sought to invalidate and replace the councils of Arminium and Seleucia as the next ‘second ecumenical council’ in 381, making the homoousian confession in the form a modified Nicene Creed the dogma of all the churches within the Roman Empire, the Homoians did not simply disappear. When they were kicked out of the churches, and their bishops banned from their offices to be replaced by homoousians, they continued meeting in private.

Outside the Roman Empire the Homoians did not need to hide, however. The Gothic and vandal churches were still committed to the confession ratified at Arminium; as time passed and distance grew between the semi-modalism of the Latin homoousians and the Homoian faith of the barbarian churches, the homoousian position would become known to them at the “Roman Religion”, while they continued to see themselves as holding “the catholic faith” (E.A. Thompson, The Goths in Spain (Oxford, 1969), 40).

As to the view of the Homoians on sola scriptura, we have a debate between a Homoian bishop named Maximinus, and Augustine of Hippo, which shows quite well the Homoian commitment to sola scriptura. Maximinus’s statements give us quite a bit of detail. He said:

“If you produce from the divine scriptures something that we all share, we shall have to listen. But those words which are not found in the scriptures are under no circumstance accepted by us, especially since the Lord warns us, saying, In vain they worship me, teaching human commandments and precepts” (Mt 15:9).”

“I wanted the decree of the Council of Ariminum to be present, not to excuse myself, but to show the authority of those fathers who handed on to us in accord with the divine scriptures the faith which they learned from the divine scriptures.”

“My reply is clear: I believe that there is one God the Father who has received life from no one and that there is one Son who has received from the Father his being and his life so that he exists and that there is one Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who enlightens and sanctifies our souls. I state this on the basis of the scriptures. At your bidding, I will follow up with testimonies.”

“The authors of religion never resort to false accusations. You asked for testimonies in order that I might show by testimonies what I have professed, and you yourself have professed three that are the same and equal, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And, though you professed that the three are equal, you now turn around and produce the testimony of the divine scriptures that pertains not to their equality, but to the singleness of the omnipotent God, that there is one author of all things.†28 You take precedence by your age and have greater authority; hence, go first and show by testimonies that there are three equals, three omnipotents, three unbegottens, three invisibles, three incomprehensibles. Then we would have to yield to these testimonies. But if you cannot give an account of this from the divine scriptures, then I must produce testimonies to the extent that you want for everything I have said in the foregoing: either that the Father alone receives his life from no one or that the Son†29 has received his life from the Father, as I have professed, or what I have said of the Holy Spirit.”

“You yourself are caught doing what you blamed in us. It is certain, as the divine scripture warns us, that with much talking you will not escape sin, but that you will be wise, if you spare your lips. Even if one produces testimonies from the divine scriptures all day long, it will not be truly counted against one as wordiness. But if one uses some literary skill or cleverness of mind and makes up words which the holy scriptures do not contain, they are both idle and superfluous.”

“Hear†57 him as he cries out, speaking of the invisibility of the omnipotent God, that no one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son who is in the embrace of the Father has revealed him (Jn 1:18). Instructed by this, Paul cries out and says, The blessed and alone powerful, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in inaccessible light. No human has seen or can see him; to him be honor and power forever. Amen (1 Tm 6:15-16). Again he says of him, To God who alone is wise, through Jesus Christ, to him be glory forever. Amen (Rom 16:27). And so, we speak of one God, because there is one God above all, unborn, unmade, as we went on to say.†58 But if you do not believe Paul when he calls the Son born, the firstborn of all creation, at least believe the Son when he speaks to Pilate who asked him, Are you then a king? Christ says, For this was I born (Jn 18:37). I read born; I profess what I read. I read firstborn; I do not disbelieve.†59 I read only-begotten; even if I am tortured on the rack, I will not say otherwise. I profess what the holy scriptures teach us.”

“Those who read can test whether I made this point on my own authority and with many words, as you charge, or whether I have answered with the authority of the divine scriptures.”

““You say that the Holy Spirit is equal to the Son.†91 Provide the scripture passages in which the Holy Spirit is adored, in which those beings in heaven and on earth and under the earth bend their knee to him. We have learned that God the Father is to be adored from the exclamation of blessed Paul, Therefore, I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all fatherhood in the heavens and on earth has its name (Eph 3:14-15). By the authority of the holy scriptures we adore the Father; likewise, taught by these divine scriptures we worship and adore Christ as God. Do the scriptures anywhere say that the Holy Spirit should be adored? If the Father bore witness to him to that effect, if the Son did so, if he himself has made such claims concerning himself, read it from the scriptures against what we have said.”

“We believe the scriptures, and we venerate the divine scriptures. We do not want a single particle of a letter to perish, for we fear the threat that is stated in these divine scriptures, Woe to those who take away or add! (Dt 4:2).”

“We ought to accept all the things that are brought forth from the holy scriptures with full veneration. The divine scripture has not come as a source of our instruction so that we might correct it. How I wish that we may prove to be worthy disciples of the scriptures!”

“I pray and desire to be a disciple of the divine scriptures; I believe that Your Holiness recalls that I earlier gave the response that, if you produced the evidence that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one power, one substance, one deity, one majesty, one glory, that, if you state this from the divine scriptures, if you produce any passage of scripture, we are eager to be found disciples of the divine scriptures.”

From these quotes, Homoian reliance on the scriptures, and the insistence that systematized doctrine should not exceed the scripture, can be seen clearly.

Once the Homoian position fell out of favor and was replaced by the homoousian position, however, sola scriptura seems to have been abandoned by the churches in the Roman Empire. The rejection of Homoian theology and the Homoian creeds, and the ongoing association of sola scriptura with the Homoians, led to the Roman churches to seemingly entirely abandon sola scriptura and instead place a newfound emphasis on tradition and ecclesiastical authority.

For instance, rather than, like Cyril of Jerusalem and the Homoians, leaving the Holy Spirit’s substance in the realm of mystery as something not spoken of in scripture, the churches embraced the position of Basil of Caesarea, which affirmed the co-essentiality of the Holy Spirit, and the need to worship the Spirit- not on the basis of scripture alone, but “ingenious reasoning” and appeals to tradition, as Basil famously appealed to the traditional benedictions and doxologies as support for the worship of the Holy Spirit in the apparent absence of sufficient scriptural data.

It is interesting then to note that there was indeed significant support for a ‘sola scriptura’ approach to the doctrine of the Trinity in the fourth and fifth centuries. Sola scriptura is so far from being a novel doctrine of Protestantism that it was effectively the official position of the churches for nearly 20 years in the fourth century. Prior to that, and after that, testimony is mixed of course. But from scripture itself, and plain reasoning, we may understand both the importance of sola scriptura, and its application to our understanding of the Trinity, with the Homoians of old giving us a useful though imperfect pattern of what an understanding of the Trinity built upon the foundation of ‘sola scriptura’ looks like. Once the Protestant reformation did come, and with it a return to sola scriptura, there was a revival of Homoian views, including in the church of England among such men as Sir Isaac Newton and Samuel Clarke.

“The Father is greater than I”?

The view that the Father is eternally greater than the Son, although scriptural, rubs many the wrong way. This is primarily because of the misuse of that biblical expression to try to dishonor the Son and and make Him out to be a mere creature, or a mere man, by heretics. But many modern Christians might be surprised to find that this interpretation of the passage, viz, that it refers to the Father as the eternal origin of the Son, is actually quite common even among the pro-nicene church fathers.

We find a several instances of this interpretation even in the post-nicene ‘Cappadocian fathers’, as well as in the teachings of Alexander of Alexandria (Athanasius’s predecessor in the episcopate), and even Hilary of Poitiers:

Alexander, Bishop 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.)

Basil the Great

“For since the Son’s beginning/origin (ἡ ảρχή) is from the Father, according to this, the Father is greater, as cause (ἀίτιος) and beginning/origin (ảρχή). Therefore the Lord said, My Father is greater than I, clearly because He is Father. Indeed, what else does the word Father mean unless the cause (τὸ αἰτία) to be/exist [Latin: esse] (εἶναι) and beginning/origin (ἀρχὴ) of that which is begotten of Him?” (Against Eunomius, I.25 – translation by David Waltz.)

Greek text:

Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἡ ἀρχὴ τῷ Υἱῷ, κατὰ τοῦτο μείζων ὁ Πατὴρ, ὡς αἴτιος καὶ ἀρχή. Διὸ καὶ ὁ Κύριος οὕτως εἶπεν· Ὁ Πατήρ μου μείζων μου ἐστὶ, καθὸ Πατὴρ δηλονότι. Τὸ δὲ, Πατὴρ, τί ἄλλο ση μαίνει ἢ οὐχὶ τὸ αἰτία εἶναι καὶ ἀρχὴ τοῦ ἐξ αὐτοῦ γεννηθέντος; (Migne, PG 29.568)

Gregory Nazianzen –

“As your third point you count the Word Greater ; and as your fourth. To My God and your God. And indeed, if He had been called greater, and the word equal had not occurred, this might perhaps have been a point in their favour. But if we find both words clearly used what will these gentlemen have to say? How will it strengthen their argument ? How will they reconcile the irreconcilable? For that the same thing should be at once greater than and equal to the same thing is an impossibility; and the evident solution is that the Greater refers to origination, while the Equal belongs to the Nature ; and this we acknowledge with much good will. But perhaps some one else will back up our attack on your argument, and assert, that That which is from such a Cause is not inferior to that which has no Cause ; for it would share the glory of the Unoriginate, because it is from the Unoriginate. And there is, besides, the Generation, which is to all men a matter so marvellous and of such Majesty. For to say that he is greater than the Son considered as man, is true indeed, but is no great thing. For what marvel is it if God is greater than man ? Surely that is enough to say in answer to their talk about Greater.” (Orations, 30.7 – NPNF 7.312)

Hilary of Poitiers

“But perhaps some may suppose that He was destitute of that glory for which He prayed, and that His looking to be glorified by a Greater is evidence of want of power. Who, indeed, would deny that the Father is the greater; the Unbegotten greater than the Begotten, the Father than the Son, the Sender than the Sent, He that wills than He that obeys ? He Himself shall be His own witness :—The Father is greater than I. It is a fact which we must recognise, but we must take heed lest with unskilled thinkers the majesty of the Father should obscure the glory of the Son. Such obscuration is forbidden by this same.” (On the Trinity, III.12 – NPNF 9.65.)

“If, then, the Father is greater through His authority to give, is the Son less through the confession of receiving? The Giver is greater : but the Receiver is not less, for to Him it is given to be one with the Giver. If it is not given to Jesus to be confessed in the glory of God the Father, He is less than the Father. But if it is given Him to be in that glory, in which the Father is, we see in the prerogative of giving, that the Giver is greater, and in the confession of the gift, that the Two are One. The Father is, therefore, greater than the Son: for manifestly He is greater, Who makes another to be all that He Himself is, Who imparts to the Son by the mystery of the birth the image of His own unbegotten nature, Who begets Him from Himself into His own form, and restores Him again from the form of a servant to the form of God, Whose work it is that Christ, born God according to the Spirit in the glory of the Father, but now Jesus Christ dead in the flesh, should be once more God in the glory of the Father. When, therefore, Christ says that He is going to the Father, He reveals the reason why they should rejoice if they loved Him, because the Father is greater than He.” (On the Trinity, IX.54 – NPNF 9.174.)

Whatever the shortcomings of these fathers on other points of doctrine, it is at least very noteworthy that prominent Homoousians, who argued for the ontological equality of the Son with the Father, still readily interpreted the Son’s statement of the Father’s superiority over Him as referring to the fact that the Father is the eternal Cause of the Son by eternal generation.

Basil the Great on the Distinction Between Essence and Person

Basil the Great is one of the better-known theologians of the early church. He wrote at the beginning of the post-nicene era, and did much to combat Arianism. Basil wrote a letter to his brother Gregory in which he elucidates the distinction between ‘person’ or ‘hypostasis’ and ‘nature’ or ‘essence’. While the terminology he was using was perhaps somewhat new, the conceptual difference between the person, or the individual, and nature, or essence, which is common to many individuals, is a very old one, logically necessary to articulate a Nicene version of the doctrine of the Trinity. The idea of this distinction is important for sake of understanding the development of trinitarian doctrine over time. The entire letter can be read here: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf208.ix.xxxix.html.

“1. Many persons, in their study of the sacred dogmas, failing to distinguish between what is common in the essence or substance, and the meaning of the hypostases, arrive at the same notions, and think that it makes no difference whether οὐσία or hypostasis be spoken of. The result is that some of those who accept statements on these subjects without any enquiry, are pleased to speak of “one hypostasis,” just as they do of one “essence” or “substance;” while on the other hand those who accept three hypostases are under the idea that they are bound in accordance with this confession, to assert also, by numerical analogy, three essences or substances. Under these circumstances, lest you fall into similar error, I have composed a short treatise for you by way of memorandum. The meaning of the words, to put it shortly, is as follows:

2. Of all nouns the sense of some, which are predicated of subjects plural and numerically various, is more general; as for instance man. When we so say, we employ the noun to indicate the common nature, and do not confine our meaning to any one man in particular who is known by that name. Peter, for instance is no more man, than Andrew, John, or James. The predicate therefore being common, and extending to all the individuals ranked under the same name, requires some note of distinction whereby we may understand not man in general, but Peter or John in particular.

Of some nouns on the other hand the denotation is more limited; and by the aid of the limitation we have before our minds not the common nature, but a limitation of anything, having, so far as the peculiarity extends, nothing in common with what is of the same kind; as for instance, Paul or Timothy. For, in a word, of this kind there is no extension to what is common in the nature; there is a separation of certain circumscribed conceptions from the general idea, and expression of them by means of their names. Suppose then that two or more are set together, as, for instance, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, and that an enquiry is made into the essence or substance of humanity; no one will give one definition of essence or substance in the case of Paul, a second in that of Silvanus, and a third in that of Timothy; but the same words which have been employed in setting forth the essence or substance of Paul will apply to the others also. Those who are described by the same definition of essence or substance are of the same essence or substance when the enquirer has learned what is common, and turns his attention to the differentiating properties whereby one is distinguished from another, the definition by which each is known will no longer tally in all particulars with the definition of another, even though in some points it be found to agree.

3. My statement, then, is this. That which is spoken of in a special and peculiar manner is indicated by the name of the hypostasis. Suppose we say “a man.” The indefinite meaning of the word strikes a certain vague sense upon the ears. The nature is indicated, but what subsists and is specially and peculiarly indicated by the name is not made plain. Suppose we say “Paul.” We set forth, by what is indicated by the name, the nature subsisting.”

Its noteworthy then that Basil understood ‘essence’ as a generic nature shared by multiple distinct persons. When the Son was confessed to be ‘co-essential’, that is, of the same essence as the Father, then, what was being communicated was the idea that Christ shared a common nature or genus with His Father. Over the following centuries, that view would be replaced by the alternative view that the one essence that the Father and Son share is a person, who is them both; the heresy of semi-modalism.

Fr. John Behr on Basil the Great’s Understanding of the One God

Although Basil and the other Cappadocian fathers lived in the early post-nicene era, and declension from classical trinitarianism can be seen in their works, they in many respects remain faithful to the tradition of classical trinitarianism that others like Augustine in the same era nearly entirely disregarded. The following quote from Fr. John Behr was something I found of interest, commenting on Basil the Great’s understanding of Who the “one God” of the Christian faith is:

“For the Christian faith there is, unequivocally, but one God, and that is the Father: “There is one God the Father.” For Basil, the one God is not the one divine substance, or a notion of “divinity” which is ascribed to each person of the Trinity, nor is it some kind of unity or communion in which they all exist; the one God is the Father. But this “monarchy” of the Father does not undermine the confession of the true divinity of the Son and the Spirit. Jesus Christ is certainly “true God from true God,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, but he is such as the Son of God, the God who is thus the Father. If the term “God” (Θεός) is used of Jesus Christ, not only as a predicate, but also as a proper noun with an article (ὁ Θεός), this is only done on the prior confession of him as “Son of God, and so as other than “the one God” of whom he is the Son; it is necessary to bear in mind this order of Christian theology, lest it collapse in confusion.” (John Behr, The Formation of Christian Theology – Volume 2: The Nicene Faith – Part 2, pp. 307, 308.)

Thanks to David at http://articulifidei.blogspot.com/ for providing the source for this quotation.