Five Common Objections to Biblical Trinitarianism Answered

In Five Simple Proofs That the Father Alone Is the Supreme Being we looked at several ways we can know on the basis of scripture, reason, and natural theology that the Son is not the same individual being as the Father. Here I want to examine the most common objections leveled against the biblical doctrine of the Trinity by semi-modalists, and briefly answer them. The objections are stated as they have frequently appeared in discussions.

Objection #1: If the Son is another distinct individual being besides the Supreme Being, the One God, and He is also called “God”, this makes two Gods, and so destroys monotheism.

Answer #1: This assumes that for monotheism to be true, there must only be one being in the universe to which the title “God” may be accurately applied; yet scripture contradicts this notion. For certainly scripture teaches that there is one God; “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things” 1 Cor 8:6 NASB; but it also teaches that there are many beings that may be called gods, on account of the dominion they possess; “indeed there are many gods and many lords,” 1 Cor 8: 5 NASB. Rulers on Israel were called “gods” (Ex 22:28), Satan is called “the god of this world” for sake of the temporal power he has over the world system (2 Cor 4:4), and men who are enslaved to their appetites are even said to have their appetites as their gods (Phil 3:19). In scripture, to be ‘god’ is always relative; to be god is to be ‘God of’ or ‘God over’ something; and so throughout scripture, to be god, or possess divinity, is simply to possess dominion. And so on this account, the Son of God, being a distinct individual being from the Father, Who shares in the Father’s dominion over the universe, is God over all creation. Yet He Himself is subject to His Father as His God, He Who alone has supreme dominion over all things absolutely, and so on that account is alone styled ‘the one God’, and ‘the only true God’.

And so we know from scripture that there is one sense in which there is only one God, as there is only one Who is absolutely supreme over all, the Father, the Supreme Being; and yet there is another sense in which there are many beings which may be called gods, on account of the lesser dominion they have. Neither the divinity of the Son, or His true existence as a distinct individual being, then, will be found to be an obstacle to biblical monotheism.

Objection #2: The Son, as well as the Father, is called by the name LORD; therefore, They must be one individual being, and so the Son, as well as the Father, is the Supreme Being.

Answer #2: This assumes that there is only one individual being called LORD; an assumption contrary to scripture. For throughout scripture we see two beings called LORD; one supreme, invisible to mortal man (“You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live” Ex 33:20 NASB), and the other subordinate, sent by the former, appearing to men and conversing with them in His own person (“I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” Gen 32:30 NASB). And so scripture speak of two named LORD; “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven” Gen 19:24 NASB.

And the Son, after having laid aside His glory in the days of His humiliation, is expressly said to have been given the name LORD again by the Father: “For this reason also [His humiliation and passion], God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:9-11 NASB. Now we must observe two things here: firstly, that unless the Son were a distinct individual being from the Father, He could not ever be given the name LORD by the Father; and secondly, that if the name LORD denotes the Supreme Being alone, Who some wrongly suppose Christ to be, then Christ would need to have always had the name LORD, even during the incarnation. The fact that it could be laid aside and taken up again shows that it is indeed a name, and is honorific, and does not only denote the very being of the one God, but is a name shared by the one God with another individual being, His Son.

Objection #3: The church has historically taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one individual being or essence; surely the church cannot have erred so grievously for so long, as to have been wrong on that point.

Answer #3: It would be enough to answer simply that knowledge of doctrinal truth is not gained from popularity or the consent of authorities, but by demonstration from the holy scriptures. For we are not to blindly accept whatever doctrines authority endorses, but rather “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” 1 Thess 5:21 NKJV. As second century father Clement of Alexandria said “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.”

The controversy then, will not be decided by popes, councils, or the opinions of theologians in church history, but by the voice of the Lord speaking in the scriptures. But that having been said, it is noteworthy that the orthodox fathers, from the earliest times through the fourth century, held that the Son and Father are two numerically distinct individual beings. For example, Justin Martyr in the second century said “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” (Dialogue, Ch 28). But more than that, even once it was becoming more and more common to insist on a generic unity of nature, in the Nicene and post-nicene eras, the best pro-nicene fathers expressly rejected as Modalism the notion that the Father and Son share the same individual being -the very view which has become so common in later history. For Athanasius declared “For neither do we hold a Son-Father, as do the Sabellians, calling Him of one but not of the same essence, and thus destroying the existence of the Son.” (Statement of Faith). And Basil the Great said “This term [co-essential] also corrects the error of Sabellius, for it removes the idea of the identity of the hypostases, and introduces in perfection the idea of the Persons. For nothing can be of the same substance with itself, but one thing is of same substance with another.” (Letter LII). We see that for these fathers, the co-essentiality of the Trinity was a merely generic one, a sharing of a common nature between multiple individual beings; in their mind the Father and Son shared a common generic being, but were not one individual being, which is said by both these fathers to have been the very heresy of Sabellianism (which is modalism).

Objection #4: The Son shares the moral perfections and likeness of the Father, and all His divine attributes, and also shares in His works; therefore, being united in these things, They must both be one and the same individual being, together the Supreme Being.

Answer #4: Since the only-begotten Son is the very Image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), the brightness of His glory, and the exact representation of His person (Heb 1:1-3), Who shares one common image and likeness with the Father (Gen 1:26), and has life in Himself as the Father has life in Himself (Jn 5:26), through Whom the Supreme Being created all things (Jn 1:1-3), upholds the existence of all things (Col 1:17), rules over all things (Matt 28:18), reconciles all things to Himself (Col 1:20), and shall judge all men (Jn 5:22), it is no surprise that the Son shares in the Father’s moral perfections and actions. Yet none of these things require the Son to be the same individual being as the Father, but rather show the impossibility of such; for the Image and the thing imaged cannot be one and the same individual being, and neither can one work instrumentally through another, unless there really is another being to work through. But the Son, while sharing in many of the Father’s attributes, cannot be said to share in all of them; for the Father is invisible to mortal man, and the Son visible; the Father is uncaused, while the Son is begotten; the Father has supreme authority over all, while the Son is Himself subject to the Father. If then, it will be argued that the Son having all the same attributes as the Father is something in favor or Him being the same individual being as the Father (which has been shown false), then it must be admitted as well that the fact that the Son does not possess all the same attributes as the Supreme Being is a powerful proof that He is not the Supreme being, the one God, but another distinct individual being besides Him.

Objection #5: In cases where the truth is uncertain, we ought to err on the side of safety, by honoring the Son more highly, rather than less highly; and so we ought to believe Him to be, together with the Father, the Supreme Being, the One God.

Answer #5: This incorrectly assumes, firstly, that there is a reasonable ground for uncertainty, where there is not; for scripture has made sufficiently clear, in the Old Testament and the New, that the Son and Father are two distinct individual beings, not one and the same (see Five Simple Proofs That the Father Alone Is the Supreme Being). But moreover, let us consider which view truly honors Christ more- that which by making Him the same individual being as the Father takes away His true existence entirely, and makes Him a mere mode or name of the Father, or that which says that He is another really existing individual being besides the Father, subordinate only to the Father, and superior to everything in all creation. It is evident that the latter view is far more glorifying to Christ, and so indeed is the safer view.

Consubstantiality And Subordinationism In Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Novatian

Four prominent ante-nicene authors -Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Novatian- all speak, on the one hand, of the Son as being of the same substance as the Father; yet, on the other, all of them deny the ontological equality of the Son with the Father, teaching that the Father possesses certain ontological attributes that the Son does not. In this article, I want to examine their particular pre-nicene understanding of co-essentiality, looking at both what it was and was not, and how it drastically differs from the later Athanasian doctrine of co-essentiality.

In sum, the ante-nicene view of co-essentiality found in these fathers entails that the Son is, to speak crudely by way of analogy, composed of the same stuff as the Father. Just as one fire kindled from another, or light from light, are the same thing in their substance, so the Son is taught to be the same generic substance as the Father. Yet substance here is not equivalent to the idea of nature; unlike in Athanasian co-essentiality, the Son being the same substance as the Father, in the theology of these authors, does not entail Him having the same nature as the Father.

Since Athanasian co-essentiality treats ‘substance’ and ‘nature’ as equivalent, this may be a confusing idea for many. But this distinction best explains the teaching of these ante-nicene fathers on the subject. To clarify what we mean here, we must contrast what, according to the ante-nicene conception of the these fathers, a ‘substance’ was, compared to ‘nature’.

A substance, in the idea of these fathers, was, effectively, what something was; what it was composed of. A nature, on the other hand, is effectively a fixed set of properties which define what a thing is ontologically. That means that while there is overlap in these ideas, they were not identical. An illustration will help: a chair, and a boat, may be made of the same wood; and so the substance of both is the same, being composed of the same wood. Yet the nature of the chair and of the boat, will reasonably be considered to be the same by no one, since the properties which define the wooden chair differ significantly from the properties which define the boat made of the same wood.

Similarly, we may use the analogy of the sun and a ray from the Son, as some of the fathers do. Both the sun and the ray, according to their reckoning, are composed of the same thing, the same substance. What the sun is, the ray is. Yet the ray, compared to the sun, is by no means ontologically identical to the sun; and the nature of a ray, compared to the sun, will be found to not be the same, the set of properties which define one differing from the set of properties which define the other. The temperature of the sun, the brightness of its light, how closely one may approach to it without being burned, etc, compared to the ray, will all be different. Yet, according to the reckoning of these fathers, the sun and its ray are both composed of a common substance.

So in the reckoning of the these fathers, the Father and Son share one substance;

“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.” (Justin, Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 128)

When Justin declares that the Son is begotten from the Father like fire kindled from fire, he clearly intimates that the Son is the same substance as the Father, yet without any change to the Father.

“So then the Father is Lord and the Son is Lord, and the Father is God and the Son is God; for that which is begotten of God is God. And so in the substance and power of His being there is shown forth one God; but there is also according to the economy of our redemption both Son and Father. Because to created things the Father of all is invisible and unapproachable, therefore those who are to draw near to God must have their access to the Father through the Son.” (Irenaeus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 47).

So Irenaeus says the Son shows forth that there is one God, because, although He is a distinct person from the Father, yet in sharing in the substance and authority of the Father, He shows forth that the Father is one God, and there is no other, as He (the Son) is of no other substance, and rules with no other power, than that of His Father.

“…especially in the case of this heresy [Modalism], which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person. As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned” (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Ch 2)

And so Tertullian says that while the Son differs from the Father in form, He is one substance with Him.

“And thus by the word of the angel the distinction is made, against the desire of the heretics, between the Son of God and man; yet with their association, by pressing them to understand that Christ the Son of man is man, and also to receive the Son of God and man the Son of God; that is, the Word of God as it is written, as God; and thus to acknowledge that Christ Jesus the Lord, connected on both sides, so to speak, is on both sides woven in and grown together, and associated in the same agreement of both substances, by the binding to one another of a mutual alliance — man and God by the truth of the Scripture which declares this very thing…  The true and eternal Father is manifested as the one God, from whom alone this power of divinity is sent forth, and also given and directed upon the Son, and is again returned by the communion of substance to the Father.” (Novatian, On the Trinity, Ch 24, 31)

And so Novatian ascribes to the Son the substance of God, and that there is a “communion of substance” between the Father and Son.

So while they all saw the Son, as being genuinely and uniquely generated from the Father (not, as a creature, brought into existence out of nothing), as sharing one substance with the Father, yet they did not, for that reason, ever suppose the Son to be ontologically equal to the Father in all His attributes. For all these same fathers teach the ontological subordination of the Son to the Father, in no uncertain terms, ascribing the attributes of infinitude and invisibility solely to the Father. And Novatian does not hesitate to proclaim that the Son is not identical to the Father in nature, but only “of like nature with the Father in some measure” (On the Trinity, Ch 31). This will only make sense, as being congruent with what was quoted of him above, if we recognize that he did not understand substance and nature to be the same thing.

These fathers draw an ontological distinction between the Father and the Son, in proving that the Angel of the Lord is the Son, not the Father, as they employ the argument that the Father could not have appeared to the men of old, because of His infinitude and invisibility. Being infinite and invisible, it would be impossible to have been seen by men in a certain space; but the Son could do so. The obvious and unavoidable implication of the argument being that the Son did not possess these attributes equally with the Father, or else the same actions would have been equally impossible for Him to undertake, on account of Him having those same attributes of invisibility and infinitude.

So Justin in taught:

“Moses, then, the blessed and faithful servant of God, declares that He who appeared to Abraham under the oak in Mamre is God, sent with the two angels in His company to judge Sodom by Another who remains ever in the supercelestial places, invisible to all men, holding personal intercourse with none, whom we believe to be Maker and Father of all things…  Even if this were so, my friends, that an angel and God were together in the vision seen by Moses, yet, as has already been proved to you by the passages previously quoted, it will not be the Creator of all things that is the God that said to Moses that He was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, but it will be He who has been proved to you to have appeared to Abraham, ministering to the will of the Maker of all things, and likewise carrying into execution His counsel in the judgment of Sodom; so that, even though it be as you say, that there were two–an angel and God–he who has but the smallest intelligence will not venture to assert that the Maker and Father of all things, having left all supercelestial matters, was visible on a little portion of the earth.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 56, 60)

And in chapter 127 of his Dialogue With Trypho, Justin says:

“These and other such sayings are recorded by the lawgiver and by the prophets; and I suppose that I have stated sufficiently, that wherever God says, ‘God went up from Abraham,’ or, ‘The Lord spake to Moses,’ and ‘The Lord came down to behold the tower which the sons of men had built,’ or when ‘God shut Noah into the ark,’ you must not imagine that the unbegotten God Himself came down or went up from any place. For the ineffable Father and Lord of all neither has come to any place, nor walks, nor sleeps, nor rises up, but remains in His own place, wherever that is, quick to behold and quick to hear, having neither eyes nor ears, but being of indescribable might; and He sees all things, and knows all things, and none of us escapes His observation; and He is not moved or confined to a spot in the whole world, for He existed before the world was made. How, then, could He talk with any one, or be seen by any one, or appear on the smallest portion of the earth, when the people at Sinai were not able to look even on the glory of Him who was sent from Him; and Moses himself could not enter into the tabernacle which he had erected, when it was filled with the glory of God; and the priest could not endure to stand before the temple when Solomon conveyed the ark into the house in Jerusalem which he had built for it? Therefore neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob, nor any other man, saw the Father and ineffable Lord of all, and also of Christ, but [saw] Him who was according to His will His Son, being God, and the Angel because He ministered to His will; whom also it pleased Him to be born man by the Virgin; who also was fire when He conversed with Moses from the bush.”

So Justin treats it as impossible that the Father could have done the things the Angel of the Lord did; so, he reasons, the Angel must have been the Son. He says we must not imagine that God moved from place to place, because He is immense and omnipresent; yet He ascribes to the Son being a certain place; the very thing that he argues would be impossible for the Father due to His very nature, He says was done by the Son, clearly indicating that He did not believe the Son shared the attributes under discussion with His Father. For had the Son shared these attributes equally, on account of which it was impossible for the Father to do such things, it would have been equally impossible for the Son to perform them.

And Irenaeus, in his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, employed the same argument, to show that the Angel of the Lord was the Son, and could not have been the Father:

“For it was not the Father of all, who is not seen by the world, the Maker of all who said: Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me, or what is the place of my rest? and who comprehendeth the earth with his hand, and with his span the heaven —-it was not He that came and stood in a very small space and spake with Abraham; but the Word of God, who was ever with mankind, and made known beforehand what should come to pass in the future, and taught men the things of God.”

Irenaeus here is not so explicit as Justin, but it is clear that the argument is one and the same, and so, the logic of it is also the same. If he does not intend to show a difference between the Father and Son, as Justin did, then we must wonder what purpose quoting passages about God’s immensity and infinitude would be, other than that to say that on account of these it is impossible that He is the one Who appeared in a “very small space”. Whereas for the Son it was possible, which can only be so if He is not thought to be equally infinite with the Father.

Irenaeus also says, “to created things the Father of all is invisible and unapproachable, therefore those who are to draw near to God must have their access to the Father through the Son.” (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 47); thus declaring that the Father in invisible and unapproachable to created things, while the Son is not, and so declares a difference between them; men drawing near to the Father through the Son, not only after the Son’s incarnation, but also prior to the incarnation.

And Tertullian, in Chapter 16 of Against Praxeas, wrote along the same lines:

Moreover, how comes it to pass, that the Almighty Invisible God, whom no man has seen nor can see; He who dwells in light unapproachable; 1 Timothy 6:16 He who dwells not in temples made with hands; Acts 17:24 from before whose sight the earth trembles, and the mountains melt like wax; who holds the whole world in His hand like a nest; Isaiah 10:14 whose throne is heaven, and earth His footstool; Isaiah 66:1 in whom is every place, but Himself is in no place; who is the utmost bound of the universe — how happens it, I say, that He (who, though) the Most High, should yet have walked in paradise towards the cool of the evening, in quest of Adam; and should have shut up the ark after Noah had entered it; and at Abraham’s tent should have refreshed Himself under an oak; and have called to Moses out of the burning bush; and have appeared as the fourth in the furnace of the Babylonian monarch (although He is there called the Son of man) — unless all these events had happened as an image, as a mirror, as an enigma (of the future incarnation)? Surely even these things could not have been believed even of the Son of God, unless they had been given us in the Scriptures; possibly also they could not have been believed of the Father, even if they had been given in the Scriptures, since these men bring Him down into Mary’s womb, and set Him before Pilate’s judgment-seat, and bury Him in the sepulchre of Joseph. Hence, therefore, their error becomes manifest; for, being ignorant that the entire order of the divine administration has from the very first had its course through the agency of the Son, they believe that the Father Himself was actually seen, and held converse with men, and worked, and was thirsty, and suffered hunger (in spite of the prophet who says: The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, shall never thirst at all, nor be hungry; Isaiah 40:28 much more, shall neither die at any time, nor be buried!), and therefore that it was uniformly one God, even the Father, who at all times did Himself the things which were really done by Him through the agency of the Son.”

See his argument, that it is absurd and impossible to suppose that God the Father could have been seen, and been present in a particular location, and have, as the Angel of the Lord, in his view, even suffered hunger and thirst, and yet all these things he readily ascribes to the Son. He does not say anything along the lines of that the Son is equally invisible, and infinite, and impassible, but instead treats it as to be expected that the Son was not defined by these qualities, while the Father is.

And Novatian, in chapters 17-18 of his treatise on the Trinity, is even more explicit than the rest:

“What if the same Moses everywhere introduces God the Father infinite and without end, not as being enclosed in any place, but as one who includes every place; nor as one who is in a place, but rather one in whom every place is, containing all things and embracing all things, so that with reason He can neither descend nor ascend, because He Himself both contains and fills all things, and yet nevertheless introduces God descending to consider the tower which the sons of men were building, asking and saying, Come; and then, Let us go down and there confound their tongues, that each one may not understand the words of his neighbour. Whom do they pretend here to have been the God who descended to that tower, and asking to visit those men at that time? God the Father? Then thus He is enclosed in a place; and how does He embrace all things? Or does He say that it is an angel descending with angels, and saying, Come; and subsequently, Let us go down and there confound their tongues? And yet in Deuteronomy we observe that God told these things, and that God said, where it is written, When He scattered abroad the children of Adam, He determined the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God. Neither, therefore, did the Father descend, as the subject itself indicates; nor did an angel command these things, as the fact shows. Then it remains that He must have descended, of whom the Apostle Paul says, He who descended is the same who ascended above all the heavens, that He might fill all things, that is, the Son of God, the Word of God. But the Word of God was made flesh, and dwelt among us. This must be Christ. Therefore Christ must be declared to be God.

Behold, the same Moses tells us in another place that God was seen of Abraham. And yet the same Moses hears from God, that no man can see God and live. If God cannot be seen, how was God seen? Or if He was seen, how is it that He cannot be seen? For John also says, No man has seen God at any time; and the Apostle Paul, Whom no man has seen, nor can see. But certainly the Scripture does not lie; therefore, truly, God was seen. Whence it may be understood that it was not the Father who was seen, seeing that He never was seen; but the Son, who has both been accustomed to descend, and to be seen because He has descended. For He is the image of the invisible God, as the imperfection and frailty of the human condition was accustomed sometimes even then to see God the Father in the image of God, that is, in the Son of God. For gradually and by progression human frailty was to be strengthened by the image to that glory of being able one day to see God the Father. For the things that are great are dangerous if they are sudden. For even the sudden light of the sun after darkness, with its too great splendour, will not make manifest the light of day to unaccustomed eyes, but will rather strike them with blindness.

And lest this should occur to the injury of human eyes, the darkness is broken up and scattered by degrees; and the rising of that luminary, mounting by small and unperceived increments, gently accustoms men’s eyes to bear its full orb by the gentle increase of its rays. Thus, therefore, Christ also — that is, the image of God, and the Son of God— is looked upon by men, inasmuch as He could be seen. And thus the weakness and imperfection of the human destiny is nourished, led up, and educated by Him; so that, being accustomed to look upon the Son, it may one day be able to see God the Father Himself also as He is, that it may not be stricken by His sudden and intolerable brightness, and be hindered from being able to see God the Father, whom it has always desired. Wherefore it is the Son who is seen; but the Son of God is the Word of God: and the Word of God was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and this is Christ.”

The Father, then, according to Novatian, is invisible to mortal men, and infinite, and immense; and for these reasons it is absurd and impossible to suppose that He appeared to the patriarchs, but it must rather have been the Son; Who he then pre-supposes is different than the Father in those respects, or else his argument makes no sense. But a little while later, Novatian specifies that the Son is ontologically subordinate to the Father even more clearly, in chapter 31 of the same treatise:

“And He [the Son] is always in the Father, unless the Father be not always Father, only that the Father also precedes Him — in a certain sense — since it is necessary — in some degree — that He should be before He is Father. Because it is essential that He who knows no beginning must go before Him who has a beginning; even as He is the less as knowing that He is in Him, having an origin because He is born, and of like nature with the Father in some measure by His nativity… Assuredly God proceeding from God, causing a person second to the Father as being the Son, but not taking from the Father that characteristic that He is one God. For if He had not been born — compared with Him who was unborn, an equality being manifested in both — He would make two unborn beings, and thus would make two Gods. If He had not been begotten — compared with Him who was not begotten, and as being found equal — they not being begotten, would have reasonably given two Gods, and thus Christ would have been the cause of two Gods. Had He been formed without beginning as the Father, and He Himself the beginning of all things as is the Father, this would have made two beginnings, and consequently would have shown to us two Gods also. Or if He also were not the Son, but the Father begetting from Himself another Son, reasonably, as compared with the Father, and designated as great as He, He would have caused two Fathers, and thus also He would have proved the existence of two Gods. Had He been invisible, as compared with the Invisible, and declared equal, He would have shown forth two Invisibles, and thus also He would have proved them to be two Gods. If incomprehensible, if also whatever other attributes belong to the Father, reasonably we say, He would have given rise to the allegation of two Gods, as these people feign.”

It is clear, then, that of these fathers, some of the most eminent Christian writers of the second and third centuries, all believed that the Son is not ontologically equal with the Father, the Father alone being infinite and invisible, according to them.

And their teaching on this point will be observed to be both scripturally sound and reasonable; for the scriptures again and again teach that no man can see the Father and live (Exodus 33:20), and that no man has seen God at any time (John 1:18), and that no man has seen or can see the Father, Who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16); yet the Son was seen face to face by many men of old prior to the incarnation, as these fathers have said; and John tells us that Isaiah saw his glory (John 12:41).

The Father, also, is infinite, not being limited by anything, knowing no external bounds, being beyond all measure and limitation. For “Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised, And His greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3 NASB). And “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33 NASB). “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.” (Psalm 135:6 NASB). God then is infinite, beyond all measure and all limitation. And this includes having a beginning; for to have an origin is itself to experience some limitation; and the Father has no beginning, no origin, or cause, or source. But the Son, on the other hand, has the Father Himself as the Author of His being, and the Beginning of His life, and the Cause of His person. The Father alone then, is infinite, as Novatian also testifies:

“And thus He is declared to be one, having no equal. For whatever can be God, must as God be of necessity the Highest. But whatever is the Highest, must certainly be the Highest in such sense as to be without any equal. And thus that must needs be alone and one on which nothing can be conferred, having no peer; because there cannot be two infinites, as the very nature of things dictates. And that is infinite which neither has any sort of beginning nor end. For whatever has occupied the whole excludes the beginning of another. Because if He does not contain all which is, whatever it is — seeing that what is found in that whereby it is contained is found to be less than that whereby it is contained — He will cease to be God; being reduced into the power of another, in whose greatness He, being smaller, shall have been included. And therefore what contained Him would then rather claim to be God. Whence it results that God’s own name also cannot be declared, because He cannot be conceived. For that is contained in a name which is, in any way, comprehended from the condition of His nature. For the name is the signification of that thing which could be comprehended from a name. But when that which is treated of is such that it cannot be worthily gathered into one form by the very understanding itself, how shall it be set forth fittingly in the one word of an appellation, seeing that as it is beyond the intellect, it must also of necessity be above the significancy of the appellation?” (On the Trinity, Ch 4)

And as Novatian says, there cannot, according to the nature of things, be two infinite beings or persons; for if one were greater than the other, the greater would be a limit to the other, and only one would in fact be infinite. Of if we were to conceive of two equally infinite, this would be an impossibility, as each would constitute a certain limit to, and measure of, the other. There can then only be one infinite person; and this we know is the Father. The Son is manifestly limited by the Father, when He says “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19 NASB); and again “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:30 NASB). And if anyone will simply believe the words of Christ, rather than seek to explain them away so that they may vindicate the opinions of Athanasius, the truth of the matter will appear plain to them, that the Son, being ever willingly and lovingly subject to the will of the Father, is limited in some sense, by the Father; while the Father, being Himself under the authority of none, is absolutely unlimited. For it is always the Father Who works through the Son, and not the other way around, showing that the Son always does the Father’s will, being subject to Him as an obedient and perfect Son, while the Father is subject to none, being Himself supreme over all.

And from this it will appear, that since there cannot be two infinite persons (a person being a rational individual being), that either the Father alone is absolutely infinite, and the Son is not, or else the Son is infinite, by being the same person as the Father. For it is clear that in this matter, the Father can have no equal. So either the Son will be equal with the Father by being the Father Himself, which is the demonic heresy of Sabellianism, or else the Son is Himself, as a truly distinct person from the Father (that is, as a true Son), not infinite as the Father is. The idea then, that the Son may be, as a distinct person from the Father, ontologically equal to Him, is shown to be nothing more than an inconsistent fiction; hear the Father say “To whom would you liken Me, And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike?” (Isaiah 46:5 NASB). God has no ontological equal; and while His Son transcends all creation, as the one through Whom all things were made, and through Whom their existence is upheld, yet we must then believe His own words when He says “the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28 NASB).

Those then, who seek to make the Son ontologically identical to His Father in all His attributes, on account of His being generated from the Father before the ages, neglect God’s utter uniqueness, and that not all of His ontological attributes are communicable to another person, by the very nature of things.

The reasoning of Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Novatian, then, is vindicated by the scriptures, that the Father alone is invisible and infinite; and so, not only in respect to causality and authority, but also ontologically, is greater than the Son. Yet as we have shown above, they did not, for this reason, think that the Son was of any other substance than that of the Father. And so it sufficiently shown that these fathers distinguished between substance, and nature and attributes; ascribing to the Son that He is of one substance with the Father, while He is also ontologically subordinate to the Father in some of His attributes.

And so the Son is the true Son of the Father, begotten of Him before creation, as fire from fire, as light from light; and that one is light is infinite, the other only transcendent of creation, will not take away from the fact that both the infinite light and the transcendent light begotten from it are both light; and yet, no one will on account of that fact, rightly make that which merely transcends creation, equal with that which is absolutely infinite. And though the ray and the sun are both rightly regarded as sun, and reckoned to be of one and the same substance, no one will consider the ray identical to the sun in all its attributes. But these things, being lesser, bear the image of that which is greater by their common substance. And so the unbegotten God, the Father, will rightly be regarded as ontologically greater than the only-begotten God, His Son.

This ante-nicene reckoning of consubstantiality, then, is shown to be consistent with the holy scriptures and the best logic; resolving the difficulties that arose from the later, Athanasian view of co-essentiality, which, in declaring the Son of the same substance as the Father, make Him out to be entirely identical to Him ontologically; and so deny that the Son was seen by men prior to the incarnation, as the scriptures teach, and introduce the absurdity of two infinite beings. For in proclaiming that the Son is invisible and infinite, equally with the Father, the Athanasian view sets itself irreconcilably opposed to scripture, and dooms itself to resort to modalism, inasmuch as the Son can never be maintained to be equally infinite with the father, unless He is made to be the very person of the Father Himself. And for this reason, an Athanasian view of co-essentiality has never been held for very long, except that it results in semi-modalism.

Observations of Novatian of Rome’s Trinitarianism

Novatian of Rome famously authored a treatise on the Trinity in the early third century, about a hundred years prior to the Nicene controversy. This work is of much interest as a relative rarity- the ante-nicenes did not write as much on the Trinity overall as later fathers would, nor did their writing that dealt with the Trinity usually appear in a treatise directed specifically toward that subject, rather than as part of an overview of Christian doctrine.

Novatian’s treatise gives us a detailed account of what third century trinitarian orthodoxy looked like, and as such is interesting to compare with what would become the orthodoxies of the Nicene and post-nicene eras. We can assume that the views expressed in his treatise were considered orthodox by the church at the time he wrote, both because of the way he himself speaks in the treatise, as representing the orthodoxy of the catholic church, and also because, due to the fact that Novatian was already a highly controversial figure during his time, had what he wrote fallen short of the orthodoxy of his era, his numerous and powerful opponents would have had both ample reason and ability to expose and condemn what he wrote as heretical.

Understanding Novatian’s trinitarian theology, then, helps us understand what would have been considered within the bounds of trinitarian orthodoxy of the church a century prior to Nicea.

Novatian’s treatise is thirty-one chapters long, beginning with a description of God, dealing with His attributes and roles, in which Novatian makes it clear that this one God is both Father and Creator. He emphasizes God’s uniqueness and transcendence, with special focus given to God’s utter uniqueness in being without origin, cause, or beginning. From God’s ‘unoriginateness’, Novatian argues in chapter four that He is immutable, since that which is without birth or creation cannot change. From this He argues that God is simple, immortal, and incorruptible. This may be noted to strongly resemble the arguments that Arius would later make, emphasizing the Father’s uniqueness in contrast even with the Son, and proclaiming that the Son, since He was begotten, was mutable.

In the same chapter Novatian argues that God (the Father) alone is infinite, because it is impossible that there should be two infinites.

After spending considerable time on the one God, the Father, Novatian turns to examine the Son beginning in chapter nine, giving a detailed examination of His manhood and Godhood. Novatian does not follow the same train of thought Arius later would; despite having proclaimed that only that which was without origin is immutable and immortal, proclaims that the Son according to His divinity was immortal and incorruptible. Thus we see in the trinitarianism of the early third century the seeds of each party of the fourth century, at once saying things that would later be applauded by both Arians and Homoousians, which neither side would consider compatible.

In the respect to the incarnation Novation in chapter twenty-four Novatian expressly mentions that the Son, as being both God and man, has two substances. In this respect he foreshadows Chalcedonian christology nicely. Yet Novatian goes about declaring the Son to have both a human substance and a divine substance, one from His human mother, and one from God His Father, in a way that later ‘orthodoxy’ would utterly reject.

Firstly we may note that Novatian strongly implies that the Son was human and had a human nature inasmuch that He had a human body- yet by all appearances, he seems to have thought that in Christ the pre-existent Logos took the place of a human soul. We see this in chapter 25:

“When, therefore, Christ is understood to be mingled and associated as well of that which God is, as of that which man is — for the Word was made flesh, and dwelt in us— who cannot easily apprehend of himself, without any teacher and interpreter, that it was not that in Christ that died which is God, but that in Him died which is man? For what if the divinity in Christ does not die, but the substance of the flesh only is destroyed, when in other men also, who are not flesh only, but flesh and soul, the flesh indeed alone suffers the inroads of wasting and death, while the soul is seen to be uncorrupted, and beyond the laws of destruction and death?”

Other men, Novatian says, have both flesh and soul, in contrast to the Son, Who was the Word and flesh, apparently lacking a human soul.

This carries heavy implications of course for Novatian’s understanding of the Son’s divine nature as well. If the Son were homoousias with the Father, ontologically identical to Him in essence, one would expect that the Son would be infinite and transcendent like the Father, not able to merely take the place of a human soul in a human body, but in some inexplicable way being united to a whole human being.

But Novatian does not leave us to wonder based on this if he thinks the Son’s divine nature is identical to that of the Father. After briefly turning attention to the Holy Spirit as a third distinct person in chapter twenty-nine, and enumerating His operations, Novatian spends the remaining two chapters giving a detailed apology to both Modalists and Ebionites, as to how the Son can be a second person Who is God in addition to the Father, while there is only one God.

In it, in chapter thirty-one which I will quote at full length below, Novatian adds a great deal of clarity to his christology. The Father is the one God, the Son is a distinct person (rational individual being), begotten of Him before creation, through Whom creation was made. The Son is thus co-eternal with the Father, yet is from the Father as His Cause and Beginning. The Son is subordinate to the Father, the one God, and thus does not in any way make a second God.

In respect to causality, the Son is subordinate as being caused by the Father, Who is Himself the uncaused Cause of all. The Son is also subordinate to the Father in authority, a divine monarchy being laid out as in the other ante-nicenes, in which monotheism is argued to consist not so much in their being one ontological nature shared by the persons of the Trinity, but by the fact that the Father, the one God, has authority (that is, Godhood) over all things, both His Son, and over the whole created universe made through Him, even while the Son, as the firstborn Son of the Father through Whom are all things, enjoys God-given authority over the created universe.

Additionally, according to Novatian the Son is subordinate to the Father in ontological attributes. His nature is not “the same nature”, ‘homoousias’, with the Father, but is described as being of “like nature with the Father in some measure” (Ch 31). Simply saying ‘like nature’ would be somewhat ambiguous, and allow for some essential differences. But when it is added that His nature is like that of the Father not entirely or completely, but “in some measure”, it is clear that Novatian does not believe the Son to be ontologically equal with the Father. Or perhaps better said, as noted earlier, it appears third century ante-nicene ‘orthodoxy’ did not assert that the Son was ontologically equal with the Father.

A bit later in the same chapter, Novatian specifies again that the Son is not ontologically equal with His Father in His divine attributes, in his thinking. Novatian declares that the Son does not make a second God because while the Father is invisible, the Son is visible, thus proclaiming an inequality. Likewise Novatian says the Son does not share the attribute of incomprehensibility with the Father, nor whatever other attributes belong to the Father specifically. For all this, see chapter thirty-one quoted in full at the end of this article.

In conclusion, for Novatian, the Son is God and man, not merely “God” in respect to dominion (although he does give focus to that), but also in substance. Yet this is not consubstantiality, but the assertion that the Son is of a similar nature to the Father. As to the Son being “God” in reference to the Son’s authority, much attention is also given. Novatian says that the Son was begotten of the Father for the very purpose that He might be God and Lord (both there terms signifying dominion and authority, not nature), and deals with this relationship of authority in detail at the end of chapter thirty-one, where he teaches that the Son is subject to the Father as His God, being under His authority, while the Father has given the Son Godhood (dominion) over all creation, which the Son exercises according to the Father’s will, and on His behalf.

In this context, divinity is clearly being spoken of as authority. Novatian declares that there is no inequality or dissonance between the divinity of the Father and the Son relative to creation; both are God over creation, the authority the Son exercises over creation being the Father’s own authority. The reason given for this equality is not essence, but is given: “For all things being subjected to Him as the Son by the Father, while He Himself, with those things which are subjected to Him, is subjected to His Father, He is indeed proved to be Son of His Father; but He is found to be both Lord and God of all else.” A little later Novatian goes on to speak of the Son “remit[ting] to the Father the whole authority of His divinity”. The Father glorifies the Son with divinity (that is, dominion) over creation, while the Son continually refers that authority back to His own Father, Who is also His God.

Whatever Novatian believed of did not believe, of course, does not make any given doctrine true. We must ascertain what is true from the holy scriptures, not fallible men. This article is not meant as an endorsement of Novatian’s theology, especially respecting the Son’s essential subordination to the Father. It is, however, of great relevance to historical theology to note the differences between ante-nicene orthodoxy and post-nicene orthodoxy.

Chapter 31:

“Thus God the Father, the Founder and Creator of all things, who only knows no beginning, invisible, infinite, immortal, eternal, is one God; to whose greatness, or majesty, or power, I would not say nothing can be preferred, but nothing can be compared; of whom, when He willed it, the Son, the Word, was born, who is not received5297 in the sound of the stricken air, or in the tone of voice forced from the lungs, but is acknowledged in the substance of the power put forth by God, the mysteries of whose sacred and divine nativity neither an apostle has learnt, nor prophet has discovered, nor angel has known, nor creature has apprehended. To the Son alone they are known, who has known the secrets of the Father. He then, since He was begotten of the Father, is always in the Father. And I thus say always, that I may show Him not to be unborn, but born. But He who is before all time must be said to have been always in the Father; for no time can be assigned to Him who is before all time. And He is always in the Father, unless the Father be not always Father, only that the Father also precedes Him,—in a certain sense,—since it is necessary—in some degree—that He should be before He is Father. Because it is essential that He who knows no beginning must go before Him who has a beginning;5298 even as He is the less as knowing that He is in Him, having an origin because He is born, and of like nature with the Father in some measure by His nativity, although He has a beginning in that He is born, inasmuch as He is born of that Father who alone has no beginning. He, then, when the Father willed it, proceeded from the Father, and He who was in the Father came forth from the Father; and He who was in the Father because He was of the Father, was subsequently with the Father, because He came forth from the Father,—that is to say, that divine substance whose name is the Word, whereby all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. For all things are after Him, because they are by Him. And reasonably, He is before all things, but after the Father, since all things were made by Him, and He proceeded from Him of whose will all things were made. Assuredly God proceeding from God, causing a person second to the Father as being the Son, but not taking from the Father that characteristic that He is one God. For if He had not been born—compared with Him who was unborn, an equality being manifested in both—He would make two unborn beings, and thus would make two Gods. If He had not been begotten—compared with Him who was not begotten, and as being found equal—they not being begotten, would have reasonably given two Gods, and thus Christ would have been the cause of two Gods. Had He been formed without beginning as the Father, and He Himself the beginning of all things as is the Father, this would have made two beginnings, and consequently would have shown to us two Gods also. Or if He also were not the Son, but the Father begetting from Himself another Son, reasonably, as compared with the Father, and designated as great as He, He would have caused two Fathers, and thus also He would have proved the existence of two Gods. Had He been invisible, as compared with the Invisible, and declared equal, He would have shown forth two Invisibles, and thus also He would have proved them to be two Gods. If incomprehensible, if also whatever other attributes belong to the Father, reasonably we say, He would have given rise to the allegation of two Gods, as these people feign. But now, whatever He is, He is not of Himself, because He is not unborn; but He is of the Father, because He is begotten, whether as being the Word, whether as being the Power, or as being the Wisdom, or as being the Light, or as being the Son; and whatever of these He is, in that He is not from any other source, as we have already said before, than from the Father, owing His origin to His Father, He could not make a disagreement in the divinity by the number of two Gods, since He gathered His beginning by being born of Him who is one God. In which kind, being both as well only-begotten as first-begotten of Him who has no beginning, He is the only one, of all things both Source and Head. And therefore He declared that God is one, in that He proved Him to be from no source nor beginning, but rather the beginning and source of all things. Moreover, the Son does nothing of His own will, nor does anything of His own determination; nor does He come from Himself, but obeys all His Father’s commands and precepts; so that, although birth proves Him to be a Son, yet obedience even to death declares Him the minister of the will of His Father, of whom He is. Thus making Himself obedient to His Father in all things, although He also is God, yet He shows the one God the Father by His obedience, from whom also He drew His beginning. And thus He could not make two Gods, because He did not make two beginnings, seeing that from Him who has no beginning He received the source of His nativity before all time.5300 For since that is the beginning to other creatures which is unborn,—which God the Father only is, being beyond a beginning of whom He is who was born,—while He who is born of Him reasonably comes from Him who has no beginning, proving that to be the beginning from which He Himself is, even although He is God who is born, yet He shows Him to be one God whom He who was born proved to be without a beginning. He therefore is God, but begotten for this special result, that He should be God. He is also the Lord, but born for this very purpose of the Father, that He might be Lord. He is also an Angel, but He was destined of the Father as an Angel to announce the Great Counsel of God. And His divinity is thus declared, that it may not appear by any dissonance or inequality of divinity to have caused two Gods. For all things being subjected to Him as the Son by the Father, while He Himself, with those things which are subjected to Him, is subjected to His Father, He is indeed proved to be Son of His Father; but He is found to be both Lord and God of all else. Whence, while all things put under Him are delivered to Him who is God, and all things are subjected to Him, the Son refers all that He has received to the Father, remits again to the Father the whole authority of His divinity. The true and eternal Father is manifested as the one God, from whom alone this power of divinity is sent forth, and also given and directed upon the Son, and is again returned by the communion of substance to the Father. God indeed is shown as the Son, to whom the divinity is beheld to be given and extended. And still, nevertheless, the Father is proved to be one God; while by degrees in reciprocal transfer that majesty and divinity are again returned and reflected as sent by the Son Himself to the Father, who had given them; so that reasonably God the Father is God of all, and the source also of His Son Himself whom He begot as Lord. Moreover, the Son is God of all else, because God the Father put before all Him whom He begot. Thus the Mediator of God and men, Christ Jesus, having the power of every creature subjected to Him by His own Father, inasmuch as He is God; with every creature subdued to Him, found at one with His Father God, has, by abiding in that condition that He moreover “was heard,” briefly proved God His Father to be one and only and true God.”

 

The Semi-Modalism of Marius Victorinus

Marius Victorinus is not the best-known church father. Of his works, we have his book on the Trinity preserved, authored sometime between 355-364 AD. This puts the authorship of the book right in the middle of the ongoing Nicene controversy, and is a valuable resource in giving us another individual perspective of what the fourth-century ecclesiastical melee looked like.

Marius Victorinus was a Homoousian, which is valuable for a number of reasons. He is also one of the earliest examples of semi-modalism this author is aware of. Besides advocating such radical departures from previous church tradition as defining the Trinity as the one God, rather than the Father in particular, Victorinus also provides us an excellent example of what the Homoians of the fourth century were trying to avoid when they eschewed the term ‘homoousias’.

Marius Victorinus goes much farther than other more moderate and orthodox Homoousians like Athanasius and Basil, who carefully defined what they meant by ‘homoousias’ as indicating that the persons of the Trinity share a generic unity of metaphysical nature. Marius Victorinus provides yet another example in a long list of fourth century fathers such as Marcellus of Ancyra and Scotinus of Galatia who advocated the term ‘homoousias’ while insisting on a modalistic or semi-modalistic trinitarianism. The Homoian and Homoiousian opposition to the term ‘homoousias’ can be better understood in light of the startlingly modalistic way several contemporary advocates of ‘homoousias’ meant the term to be understood. The idea that the term was modalistic was not merely some distant memory of ante-nicene Sabellian usage of the term, nor an insightful prediction of how the term could eventually be taken wrongly in the future- it was right before the eyes of the fourth century moderates who advocated the use of other terminology.

The following sampling of quotes is taken from: Victorinus, M. (1981). Theological Treatises on the Trinity. (H. Dressler, Ed., M. T. Clark, Trans.) (Vol. 69, p. 334). Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

“But Christ irrigates the whole universe, both visible and invisible; with the river of life he waters every substance among the existents. Yet insofar as he is life, he is Christ; insofar as he waters, he is the Holy Spirit; insofar as he is the power of vitality, he is Father and God, but the whole is one God.”

Here we have pretty blatant semi-modalism. In other parts of the book, he distinguishes the persons as distinct individuals, as we shall see, or else we should be inclined to call this simply out-and-out modalism altogether. His theology is also subject to extreme over-philosophization, something the Homoian movement was keen to avoid by sticking to strictly scriptural terminology. For Victorinus, some of this over-phisophizing took the form of seemingly regarding each person individually as being in themselves a Trinity of three as well. This bizarre belief exceeds even semi-modalism, but many of the same ideas are present.

“But although we confess two individuals, nevertheless we affirm one God and that both are one God, because both the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father.”

“That is why the Father and the Son and the Spirit are not only one reality, but also one God.”

“O God, you are limitless, infinite, invisible, but to some limitless, infinite, and to others invisible, to thyself limited, finite, visible;
Hence, then, you also have form; therefore you are identical with Logos because Logos is form;
And because to you form is knowledge, but knowledge is Holy Spirit, therefore you are God and Logos and Holy Spirit.
O Blessed Trinity.”

In saying, “You are God and Logos and Holy Spirit”, Victorinus anticipates the Augustinian tradition’s later semi-modalistic articulation of the Trinity, since the persons together are spoken of and related to as if They form a single person.

“You also O Holy Spirit are knowledge;
But all knowledge is knowledge of form and substance; therefore you know God and have the form of God;
Hence you are God and Son, O Holy Spirit;
O Blessed Trinity.”

Here we see and example of each person being a sort of Trinity within the Trinity. While calling this “insanity” seems harsh, I am at a loss of what else could well-describe this.

“One substance therefore is God, Logos and Spirit, dwelling in three and existing thrice in all three;
But this is both form and knowledge;
So every simple singularity is tripled;
O Blessed Trinity.”

So we see again each person is a Trinity within a Trinity.

“The three are therefore one,
And three times over,
Thrice are the three one,
O Blessed Trinity”

Some moderns wonder at why anyone would object to a Nicene understanding of the term ‘Homoousias”, and the concept of co-essentiality, especially when it is carefully defined as Athanasius meant it. People saying things like the above quote are a major part of the answer to that question. Not all Homoousians were Athanasius- within the ranks of this vocal minority were some whose theology should make anyone reconsider the wisdom of making the term dogma.

Finally we come to this:

“This is our God;
This is one God;
This is the one and only God;
O Blessed Trinity.

To him we all pray,
The one whom we implore,
The one who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
O Blessed Trinity.”

Unlike even most contemporary Homoousians, Marius Victorinus could not be more emphatic that the one God of Christianity is the Trinity as a whole, (and as a Trinity of Trinities, apparently). While we have limited access to early sources, the fact that it is in the modalistic ravings of a nutcase like this that we first begin to see monotheism’s emphasis shifted from the person of the Father as the one God to the Trinity as the one God should be deeply worrying to those who favor the same language. We also see the Trinity being treated as a single person, being called collectively by single personal pronouns, and having worship directed to it as a single entity.

It would take a while for Victorinus’s emphases to work their way into the mainstream of Homoousian thought. Eventually Augustine would adopt very similar language in his treatment of the Trinity; in the meantime, other prominent Homoousians like Hilary of Poitiers and Basil of Caesarea would remain on the more moderate side of the Homousian party, and continue to generally stick to more traditional-sounding formulations.

The similarity between Marius Victorinus’s articulations of (what I shudder to refer to as) the Trinity and that of Augustine later are no simple co-incidence. According to Augustine, in his Confessions (Book 8, 2, 3-6), Marius had a significant influence on Ambrose, and by extension, his student Augustine. According to Augustine’s account of Victorinus’s conversion from paganism, Victorinus, originally from Africa, went to the Roman church to convert, where he seems to have enjoyed great prestige. It seems then that the tradition of ‘latin trinitarianism’, ‘Augustinian trinitarianism’, or semi-modalism, does not truly begin with Augustine, but with Victorinus, a half-century earlier, at least.