Against Generic Co-essentiality

Having dealt a lot with the heretical doctrine of numerical or individual coessentiality in past articles, I want to address in this post the doctrine of generic or natural co-essentiality. This doctrine differs enormously from the former; while the former teaches that the Father and Son are the same individual substance, that is, the same individual being or person, the latter which we shall address here pertains to the notion that the Father and Son, as two genuinely distinct individual beings, or persons, share one and the same generic nature.

This idea was the view which prevailed, thanks to Emperor Theodosius, within the Roman Empire at the close of the fourth century, becoming the official dogma of the Eastern churches under Byzantine rule (the Western churches only very briefly, if at all, held to this view, instead embracing the Sabellian doctrine of numerical coessentiality). Such notable Homoousians as Athanasius and Basil the Great held and promoted this doctrine of generic coessentiality, which to this day, despite modalistic influence, has a continued following in Eastern Christianity and among some Protestants.

The idea of generic co-essentiality is that of a shared nature, genus, or species; Basil summed it up as “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); 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.”

The idea, then, is of a nature shared among multiple distinct persons or individual beings (hypostases); just as three men share a common human nature, a set of communicable ontological properties possessed by all men, which define a given being as “human”, so the persons of the Trinity, these fathers taught, share a common nature which makes them ontologically identical. The Son in comparison to the Father is often summed up, in this view, to be ‘everything that the Father is, except that He is begotten, not unbegotten’. He is then equal to and identical to the Father in all attributes, except the causal relation of having been begotten by the Father, rather than being unbegotten, as the Father is.

This doctrine simply does not work; it contradicts the holy scriptures, our divine, inspired source of knowledge in such matters.

The holy scriptures teach us that God (the one God, the Father) is omniscient; He knows all things perfectly and unchangingly. “God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” 1 John 3:20 NASB. “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” Psalm 147:5 NASB. The Son, on the other hand, evidently did not know all things when He said “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Matthew 24:36 NASB. Someone might object that the Son only said this in reference to His human nature, and that while His human nature did not know, His divine nature did; to this I respond that natures do not know anything, nor do they possess any consciousness or mind of their own, but rather, persons do. So long then, as it is acknowledged that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, is one person, not two, it must be admitted that He, that is, the person Himself, did not know all things, while the Father in His own person always does know all things.

The holy scriptures also teach us to believe that God is immutable; He does not change. “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” Malachi 3:6 NASB. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17 NASB. The Son, however, has often changed since the foundation of the world, although He has now come to change no more, as having been perfected. For the Son changed to take on various forms to appear to men in the Old Testament, as the Angel (that is, Messenger) of the Lord. He appeared as a man to Abraham; He appeared in fire to Moses at the burning bush; in the form of man He again wrestled with Jacob; and in the form of God He was seen by Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel on Sinai, and again, in that same glory, by Isaiah. But more on these appearances later. And at last, He took on human flesh from the virgin Mary, and in that flesh grew, and matured, and died, and rose from the dead.

Surely no thinking man can regard such actions as not involving change in the Son’s own person; who will be so insane as to say that He is the same, and unchanged, after He has taken a human body into the unity of His person, as He was before, when he had no flesh? One might respond that the Logos Himself, considered in His capacity as Logos specifically, did not suffer change in taking on flesh. To which I say, such may well be the case; yet when we consider not merely the part of Him that was the Logos, but His person on the whole, it cannot be avoided that, as a person, to go from having no body, to having a body, is a change. The Son then, was capable of changing, and did so, only upon His perfection coming finally to the state of immutability of which it is said that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrew 13:8 NASB.

The Father then, is entirely unchanging and immutable, always and eternally being the same without any change or alteration; while the Son indeed, having first been begotten by the Father before the world was, changed into various forms to appear to men, and then for our salvation even took human flesh into the unity of His person, finally coming to change no more once He had risen from the dead. The Father, as being unchanging, would never have appeared to men under various forms, nor would He have taken on flesh; and so there is manifestly a great difference in the attributes of God and His Son shown here by the holy scriptures.

We may also note that the scriptures reveal that the Father is invisible; “Who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” 1 Tim 6:16 NASB. “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” 1 John 1:18 NASB. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:17 NASB. The Son, the only-begotten God, on the other hand, as we have already mentioned above, was often seen by men; He is the visible Image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). As the Angel of the Lord He was the one by Whom God spoke with Abraham (Gen 18), Who rained fire from His Father on Sodom and the surrounding cities (Gen 19:24), Who wrestled with Jacob (Gen 32:22-40), Who spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Ex 3:2), and from the pillar of cloud and of fire (Num 14:14), Who appeared to Joshua as the Captain of the Lord’s hosts (Josh 5:13-15), Who spoke to Hagar (Gen 16:7-14), Gideon (Jud 6:22), Manoah (Jud 13:9-23), and other saints of old (Jud 2:1-6), the Word of the Lord Who came to the prophets and spoke with them (1 Kings 9:9, Isa 38:4, Jer 1:1-2, Ezek 1:3), Whose glory was seen by Isaiah (Isa 6, John 12:41). He was seen then, not only in His incarnation, and after His resurrection, but also beforehand. There is a clear difference then between the Father and the Son, that the one, no one can see or has seen, and the other was seen at many times under different forms, and finally, when He took on flesh for our salvation.

The Father, we read in the scriptures, is absolutely Almighty; the term ‘Almighty’ only ever being used for Him in the whole New Testament, and meaning, literally ‘Ruler over all’ (Gr. ‘Pantokrator’). He is “the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev 4:8). He, the living God, the Father of His people, is alone Almighty; “For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 NASB. And it is clear from the very nature of things, that only one person, one individual being, can be Ruler over all, Almighty, absolutely. For if that one had an equal, neither one having higher authority than the other, and so, neither one ruling over the other, neither would be found Almighty, since neither would truly rule over all, and there would be no supreme Ruler over all at all. If then it is acknowledged that the Father alone is Almighty absolutely, as having dominion not only over the whole universe, but even over the Son (1 Cor 11:3, 1 Cor 15:28), then the Son is not equal to Him in this respect, but subject to Him as to His own God and Father (Rom 15:6). And while the Son, as sharing in the Father’s dominion over the universe, may even be said to be ‘almighty’ in that lesser respect, as He, subordinate to the Father, rules over the universe according to the Father’s will and on His behalf, yet only one of Them is Almighty absolutely, as ruling over all things without exception, namely, the Father, and so, this is shown to be a difference between the Father and the Son also.

We may also note that the scriptures declare that the Father is the one from Whom are all things, as He is the supreme uncaused Cause of all things. “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NASB. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36 NASB. Yet all things are not from the Son in this same way, but are through Him. For the Father is the supreme Cause of all things, having made all things through the Son. Their functions, then, are clearly distinct; the Father acts towards the universe through the mediation of the Son, and not the other way around.

Scripture further reveals to us that God (the Father) is infinite. To be infinite is to be without external bound or limitation; and as God is, as we have said above, the Supreme Ruler over all, and further, the Supreme Cause of all. If then, He is entirely uncaused, and simply eternally and unchangingly is, and is absolutely sovereign over all, it follows that God is subject to no external bound or limitation whatsoever, in either His ontological being, nor in His actions. That He is not bound by anything external to Him in His being and attributes necessarily follows from the fact that as the Cause of all else that exists, He Himself is uncaused; thus no one ever determined what God’s attributed and being would be. He was not made, caused, or begotten according to the will or design of another, but rather He simply is, and is as He is, eternally and unchangingly, without any cause, source, or origin. This is a respect in which God is totally unique compared to everything else in existence, for everything else, including His own Son, does owe its cause and origin, and thus, its being and attributes, to Him. All that God caused has its being and attributes according to His will. Likewise, since God is sovereign over all, there is nothing external to Him binding His actions; He is not subject to another, so as to have anything required of Him by another, but is totally free. “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.” Psalm 135:6 NASB. There is none to place Him under obligation or law; His future is not predestined by another.

God’s absolute freedom and infinitude in these respects is unique to Him, as we have said, and so, is not shared by His Son. While of the Father is is written “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Psalm 115:3 NASB, the Son declares “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. He says, “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. The Son clearly teaches us to believe that He is limited by the Father’s will. In this the Son clearly stands in contrast to the Father then, that while the Father is absolutely free and infinite, not bound or subject to the will of another, the Son is indeed limited by the Father, as respects both His being and attributes, which He has from the Father, and as respects His actions.

What more shall we say? Scripture teaches that the Father is alone good (Mark 10:18), alone holy (Rev 15:4), “the only wise God” (Rom 16:27), “the blessed and only Sovereign” (1 Tim 6:15), “the only true God” (Jn 17:3). It says these things on account the the surpassing and incomparable greatness of God, for in contrast to all else which is good, and holy, and wise, and which possesses sovereignty, and divinity, it is as though He alone is such things, and that all else is as nothing in these things, in comparison to Him Who is incomparably greater than all. Not only does the Son declare that His Father is “greater than all” (Jn 10:29), and “greater than I” (Jn 14:28), but even declares Him to be incomparably greater than all; for He says to the Father in the Psalm “There is none to compare with You” Psalm 40:5 NASB. God then has no equal, and the Son is not equal to Him in these attributes, as He is greater than the Son in goodness, and holiness, and wisdom, and sovereignty, and divinity -not that the Son is not very great in all these things- but His Father is still greater, as being incomparably greater than all, even greater than His Son. For as the Son says “There is none to compare with You.” Psalm 40:5 NASB. And God testifies Himself, saying “To whom then will you liken Me, That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.” Isaiah 40:25 NASB, and “To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike?” Isaiah 46:5 NASB.

Who then will make the Son equal with the Father, in contradiction to the words of both the Father and the Son, Who both testify to the truth that God has no equal, but is incomparably greater than all? Where is this teaching that there is another Who is identical to God and equal with Him in all respects and in all attributes, except that He is begotten while God the Father is unbegotten? Who can read these things and not recognize that rightly did Ulfilas characterize this a “devilish invention and doctrine of demons”, on account of how blasphemous these things are to God? For in supposing that they exalt the Son with this doctrine, really, they give the Son a false and empty honor (as no honor not founded in truth has any weight to it) and rather blaspheme the one the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to call “the only true God”, by making Him Who is incomparably greater than all out to merely be one of two or three of a kind.

The doctrine of generic co-essentiality, then, that ‘the Son is identical to the Father in all His attributes, except that He is begotten rather than unbegotten’, is shown to be quite unbiblical, and ultimately, quite blasphemous. I do not say that it is heresy, for it does not violate that ancient rule of faith; but it is a false and harmful doctrine, nonetheless, and one quite clearly opposed to the teaching of the scriptures themselves.

The Incomparable Greatness of God

“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;” (Novatian, On the Trinity, Ch 31).

“Concerning Him, therefore, and concerning those things which are of Himself, and are in Him, neither can the mind of man worthily conceive what they are, how great they are, and what they are like; nor does the eloquence of human discourse set forth a power that approaches the level of His majesty. For to conceive and to speak of His majesty, as well all eloquence is with reason mute, as all mind poor. For He is greater than mind itself; nor can it be conceived how great He is, seeing that, if He could be conceived, He would be smaller than the human mind wherein He could be conceived. He is greater, moreover, than all discourse, nor can He be declared; for if He could be declared, He would be less than human discourse, whereby being declared, He can both be encompassed and contained. For whatever could be thought concerning Him must be less than Himself; and whatever could be declared must be less than He, when compared in respect of Himself. Moreover, we can in some degree be conscious of Him in silence, but we cannot in discourse unfold Him as He is. For should you call Him Light, you would be speaking of His creature rather than of Himself — you would not declare Him; or should you call Him Strength, you would rather be speaking of and bringing out His power than speaking of Himself; or should you call Him Majesty, you would rather be describing His honour than Himself. And why should I make a long business of going through His attributes one by one? I will at once unfold the whole. Whatever in any respect you might declare of Him, you would rather be unfolding some condition and power of His than Himself. For what can you fittingly either say or think concerning Him who is greater than all discourses and thoughts? Except that in one manner — and how can we do this? How can we by possibility conceive how we may grasp these very things?— we shall mentally grasp what God is, if we shall consider that He is that which cannot be understood either in quality or quantity, nor, indeed, can come even into the thought itself. For if the keenness of our eyes grows dull on looking at the sun, so that the gaze, overcome by the brightness of the rays that meet it, cannot look upon the orb itself, the keenness of our mental perception suffers the same thing in all our thinking about God, and in proportion as we give our endeavours more directly to consider God, so much the more the mind itself is blinded by the light of its own thought. For — to repeat once more — what can you worthily say of Him, who is loftier than all sublimity, and higher than all height, and deeper than all depth, and clearer than all light, and brighter than all brightness, more brilliant than all splendour, stronger than all strength, more powerful than all power, and more mighty than all might, and greater than all majesty, and more potent than all potency, and richer than all riches, more wise than all wisdom, and more benignant than all kindness, better than all goodness, juster than all justice, more merciful than all clemency? For all kinds of virtues must needs be less than Himself, who is both God and Parent of all virtues, so that it may truly be said that God is that, which is such that nothing can be compared to Him. For He is above all that can be said. For He is a certain Mind generating and filling all things, which, without any beginning or end of time, controls, by the highest and most perfect reason, the naturally linked causes of things, so as to result in benefit to all.” (Novatian, On the Trinity, Ch 22)

The Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples to believe that the one God, His Father, is “greater than all” (Jn 10:29); and this “all” did not exclude Himself, for He also said “the Father is greater than I.” (Jn 14:28). It is well established then that the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the only one Christ teaches us to believe to be “the only true God” (Jn 17:3), is greater than all.

But if we may ask “how much greater than all is God?”, scripture answers us, “incomparably greater than all”:

“Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done,
And Your thoughts toward us;
There is none to compare with You.
If I would declare and speak of them,
They would be too numerous to count.” Psalm 40:5 NASB

Here the scripture, declaring God’s greatness, proclaims that He is so great that there is none to compare with Him. This incomparability to all is absolute; there is in some real sense, none Who compares with God- even His Son; for these words are spoken from the person of the Son Himself. We know this because in the New Testament, Hebrews quotes from this Psalm as Christ speaking to His Father:

“5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,

“Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But a body You have prepared for Me;
6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.
7 “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come
(In the scroll of the book it is written of Me)
To do Your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:5-7 NASB)

These last lines are directly quoted from Psalm 40:6-8, and so, we can most appropriately see Psalm 40 as a prayer of the Son to the Father; a prayer in which, in proclaiming the glory and greatness of God, the Son declares that there is none who compares with Him.

This is not to say that there is literally no comparison to be made between God and His creatures; scripture is full of comparisons for our benefit, and even man is said to be made in the image and likeness of God, and we are commanded to imitate God -to be like Him- to His glory. Rather it is to say that if we compare God with all else, God is so much greater than all else, that it is as though, in comparison to Him, all else is nothing and less than nothing:

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
13 Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
14 With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.
16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn,
Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
18 To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?” Isaiah 40:12-18 NASB

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
23 He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
24 Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
25 “To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.” Isaiah 40:21-25 NASB

These are important truths scripture reveals about God. Scripture declares God’s glory- God proclaims His own glory- in terms of His being incomparably greater than all; so much greater is He than all else, that in comparison, even the greatest nations are as nothing and less than nothing in contrast to Him. This is something to be grasped and believed by faith as revealed by God; this is something to worship God for, as His own Son also did, Who has taught us to follow His example.

This truth about God is not one readily accepted by many professing Christians. In the name of the entirely unbiblical concept of a “co-equal” Trinity, it is professed that God is not truly incomparably greater than all; instead, it is taught, in contradiction to scripture, that there are two others Who may so closely be compared to God, that They may be proclaimed His equals. But God makes the point, especially in contrast to idols, the gods of the ancient world that men attempted to rival Him with, that He has no equal:

“To whom would you liken Me
And make Me equal and compare Me,
That we would be alike?
6 “Those who lavish gold from the purse
And weigh silver on the scale
Hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
They bow down, indeed they worship it.
7 “They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it;
They set it in its place and it stands there.
It does not move from its place.
Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer;
It cannot deliver him from his distress.

8 “Remember this, and be assured;
Recall it to mind, you transgressors.
9 “Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;” Isaiah 46:5-10 NASB

God then has no equal, and the prevailing doctrine that God is merely one of three of a kind is shown a blasphemous lie; we are forced to choose if we will believe the very words of the Son to the Father, “There is none to compare with You” (Ps 40:5), or the extra-biblical traditions of men, of Whom God declared “But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” (Matt 15:9 NASB).

We see this same truth of God’s incomparable greatness taught in the New Testament so many times as well; for so many of God’s glorious attributes, are attributed to Him exclusively:

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:4 NASB)

“And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 NASB)

“which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,” (1 Timothy 6:15 NASB)

“who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:16 NASB)

“to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27 NASB)

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17 NASB)

We read that God (the one God, the Father) is alone holy, good, wise, immortal, sovereign, and God; these things are spoken of in this way, not to exclude these descriptors to all other beings, but to declare the incomparable greatness of God in these things. For God Himself declared all creation to be good; the Temple of Solomon was holy, as are the saints; Solomon was wise; men are blessed by God with immortality; and even the judges of Israel were called “gods”; it is absurd, then, to suppose that such qualities being ascribed to God alone, then, are meant to declare all other beings void of them. Rather, we must understand that God alone is holy, good, wise, immortal, sovereign, and God, inasmuch as in all these things, He is incomparably greater than all others; and so, when contrasted to all others, it is as though God alone is these things. For the goodness, the wisdom, the holiness, etc, of all else, however great it may be, in comparison with that of God Himself, is as nothing and less than nothing; and so, by way of this incomparable contrast, it is as though God alone is these things.

For God is what He is originally, absolutely, and supremely; while all else that exists is from God, participating in such qualities, which properly and originally belong to God, according to God’s grace and will. God simply is, and is as He is, eternally, and unchangingly, without cause, source, or origin; while all other beings which possess such qualities receive them from God Himself. God’s divinity, for instance, His dominion over all things, He possesses originally, as having it from Himself and no other; absolutely, as there is no exception or qualification to God’s divinity or dominion over all things; and supremely, as God alone is Most High over all, having supreme dominion over all. And so God is “the only God” in contrast to all others, even while others, and especially His only-begotten Son, are also properly called “God” on account of the divinity they have from Him.

Such exclusive language then, is indicative of the same thing taught elsewhere by scripture, that God is incomparably greater than all, such that all else in contrast to Him is as nothing; and so in contrast to all else that is good, and holy, and god, He alone is good, and holy, and God, as being incomparably greater than all else in such things, than whatever else may be described by such terms. For as the Son says of Him “There is none to compare with You.” (Ps 40:5).

One may then reasonably ask, what of the Son of God? Is He not like the Father? Indeed, He is; He is the Son of this one Who is incomparably greater than all; He is the Image of that Invisible God, the exact representation of His person, the brightness of His glory, His Word, and Wisdom, and only-begotten Son; God over, and greater than, everything else in the universe, but Himself having the Father, the one God, as His God, and confessing Him as greater than Himself. He is not equal to the Father, but subordinate to the Father; He does not make the Father one of several equal beings, but as the beloved and obedient Son and Image of the one Supreme Being, the only true God, makes His Father’s glory known, Himself being properly like the Father, but not equal with Him.

Would you desire to know the wisdom of the only wise God? Look to His Son, Who is His Wisdom, created by Him as the beginning of His ways for His works (Prov 8:22). Would you desire to know His goodness? Behold the good Word He begat (Ps 45:1), the Good Shepherd of His sheep (Jn 10:11). Would you desire to see His character, His actions, His dominion, His will? Look to the Son and you will see them in Him Who is the Image of the Invisible God, through Whom God performs His great works of creating, sustaining, ruling, redeeming, and judging the universe, for the Father and He are one in the unity of their actions toward the universe, the unity of Their will, and in the moral likeness to the Father which the Son shares (Jn 10:30).

And in this very expression “the Image of the Invisible God” (Col 1:15) we see at once the Son’s likeness to the Father, and subordination to the Father; for certainly to be the Image of Father, He must bear the Father’s likeness; and yet, there is an obvious inequality between a thing and its image, the image being derived from the original, and serving to reflect the original, not the other way around. And in the case of Christ we see this difference also, that obviously, as Image, He is visible; for nothing which cannot be seen is properly regarded as an Image, and we have testimony from the scriptures that not only was He seen by men when He took on flesh, but also prior to this, as the Messenger of the LORD. Yet the one God, Whose Image He is, the “the invisible God”, “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16 NASB) is invisible, and mortal men are wholly incapable of viewing Him except through the mediation of this one Who is His visible Image, His Son. And so the Son declares “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9 NASB). For by seeing that glorious being Who is the Son of the one and only God, and His proper Image, we behold the incomprehensible glory of the invisible only true God, in and through His Son.

The Son then is truly like the Father; but not so as to deny the very thing which He praises the Father for, that He is “greater than all”, and “greater than I”, and “There is none to compare with You”; He shows Himself to be good, and wise, and holy, and far greater and better than the universe which He has made at the will and command of the Father, yet never to the denial that His Father is alone good, is alone holy, is the only wise God, is alone sovereign, and that the His Father is “the only true God”, but rather He declares the incomparable greatness of His Father.

Was the Council of Ariminum Arian?

Jerome famously quipped that upon the churches of world accepting the decision of the joint-councils of Ariminum & Seleucia (the real second ecumenical council), “the whole world groaned to find itself Arian”.

Yet ironically, it is in the very writings of Jerome, that slanderer of the brethren, that we find a very clear testimony to the fact that the council and its decision were not truly Arian. The following is from Jerome’s ‘Dialogue with the Luciferians‘:

“17. O. When Constantius was on the throne and Eusebius and Hypatius were Consuls, there was composed, under the pretext of unity and faith, an unfaithful creed, as it is now acknowledged to have been [he refers to the Homoian Creed, not without his characteristic slander of what is good]. For at that time, nothing seemed so characteristic of piety, nothing so befitting a servant of God, as to follow after unity, and to shun separation from communion with the rest of the world. And all the more because the current profession of faith no longer exhibited on the face of it anything profane. We believe, said they, in one true God, the Father Almighty. This we also confess: We believe in the only begotten Son of God, who, before all worlds, and before all their origins, was born of God. The only-begotten Son, moreover, we believe to be born alone of the Father alone, God of God, like to his Father who begot Him, according to the Scriptures; whose birth no one knows, but the Father alone who begot Him. Do we find any such words inserted here as There was a time, when he was not? Or, The Son of God is a creature though not made of things which exist. No. This is surely the perfection of faith to say we believe Him to be God of God. Moreover, they called Him the only begotten, born alone of the Father. What is the meaning of born? Surely, not made. His birth removed all suspicion of His being a creature. They added further, Who came down from heaven, was conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified by Pontius Pilate, rose again the third day from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, who will come to judge the quick and the dead. There was the ring of piety in the words, and no one thought that poison was mingled with the honey of such a proclamation.

18. As regards the term ‘ousia’, it was not rejected without a show of reason for so doing. Because it is not found in the Scriptures, they said, and its novelty is a stumbling-block to many, we have thought it best to dispense with it. The bishops were not anxious about the name, so long as that which it implied was secured. Lastly, at the very time when rumour was rife that there had been some insincerity in the statement of the faith, Valens, bishop of Mursa, who had drawn it up, in the presence of Taurus the pretorian prefect who attended the Synod by imperial command, declared that he was not an Arian, and that he utterly abhorred their blasphemies. However, the thing had been done in secret, and it had not extinguished the general feeling. So on another day, when crowds of bishops and laymen came together in the Church at Ariminum, Muzonius, bishop of the province of Byzacena, to whom by reason of seniority the first rank was assigned by all, spoke as follows: One of our number has been authorized to read to you, reverend fathers, what reports are being spread and have reached us, so that the evil opinions which ought to grate upon our ears and be banished from our hearts may be condemned with one voice by us all. The whole body of bishops replied, Agreed. And so when Claudius, bishop of the province of Picenum, at the request of all present, began to read the blasphemies attributed to Valens, Valens denied they were his and cried aloud, “If anyone denies Christ our Lord, the Son of God, begotten of the Father before the worlds, let him be anathema”. There was a general chorus of approval, “Let him be anathema”. “If anyone denies that the Son is like the Father according to the Scriptures, let him be anathema.” All replied, “Let him be anathema”. “If anyone does not say that the Son of God is co-everlasting with the Father, let him be anathema”. There was again a chorus of approval, “Let him be anathema”. “If anyone says that the Son of God is a creature, like other creatures, let him be anathema”. The answer was the same, “Let him be anathema”. “If anyone says that the Son was of non-existing things, and not of God the Father, let him be anathema”. All shouted together, “Let him be anathema. If anyone says, There was a time when the Son was not, let him be anathema”. At this point all the bishops and the whole Church together received the words of Valens with clapping of hands and stamping of feet. And if anyone thinks we have invented the story let him examine the public records. At all events the muniment-boxes of the Churches are full of it, and the circumstance is fresh in men’s memory. Some of those who took part in the Synod are still alive, and the Arians themselves (a fact which may put the truth beyond dispute) do not deny the accuracy of our account. When, therefore, all extolled Valens to the sky and penitently condemned themselves for having suspected him, the same Claudius who before had begun to read, said There are still a few points which have escaped the notice of my lord and brother Valens; if it seem good to you, let us, in order to remove all scruples, pass a general vote of censure upon them. “If anyone says that the Son of God was indeed before all worlds but was by no means before all time, so that he puts some thing before Him, let him be anathema.” And many other things which had a suspicious look were condemned by Valens when Claudius recited them. If anyone wishes to learn more about them he will find the account in the acts of the Synod of Ariminum, the source from which I have myself drawn them.

19. After these proceedings the Council was dissolved. All returned in gladness to their own provinces. For the Emperor and all good men had one and the same aim, that the East and West should be knit together by the bond of fellowship. But wickedness does not long lie hidden, and the sore that is healed superficially before the bad humour has been worked off breaks out again. Valens and Ursacius and others associated with them in their wickedness, eminent Christian bishops of course, began to wave their palms, and to say they had not denied that He was a creature, but that He was like other creatures. At that moment the term ousia was abolished: the Nicene Faith stood condemned by acclamation. The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.”

Here, amid the slander of Jerome, we find an extremely strong testimony to the fact that the council of Ariminum, its creed, and its supporters, the Homoians, were not Arians, as they have so been slandered, but wholly rejected Arianism. He himself testifies to the fact that a homoousian like himself could assent to the faith set forth at Ariminum in good conscience; even he is forced to admit that the creed he slanders as Arian has “a ring of piety”. And then, he sets forth at length a great many anathemas agreed to by the council, which are so thorough in their rejection of Arianism, that no fair-minded observer can for a minute believe that the council and its creed were Arian. These anathemas reject and proscribe Arius’s errors as strongly as Nicea, without insisting on going beyond the language of scripture into philosophical speculation on the matter of substance.

Lest someone claim, in an attempt to falsely paint the ancient Homoians as Arians, that the Homoians, following this council, simply ignored these anathemas, let us note that several decades later, in his debate with Augustine, Maximinus the Homoian cites one of the anathemas of the council as descriptive of his own belief (and by extension, that of the Homoians generally):

“Do you want to know how great is the wisdom of the Father? Look at the Son, and you will see the wisdom of the Father. For this reason Christ himself said, One who has seen me has also seen the Father (Jn 14:9). That is, in me he sees his wisdom; he praises his might; he glorifies the Father who, one and alone, has begotten me, one and alone, so great and so good before all ages. He did not look for material out of which to make him, nor did he take someone as an assistant. Rather, in the way he knew, he begot the Son by his power and his wisdom.†127 We do not profess, as you say when you falsely accuse us, that, just as the rest of creation was made from nothing, so the Son was made from nothing like a creature. Listen to the authority of statement of the Synod; for our fathers in Ariminum said this among other things, ‘If anyone says that the Son is from nothing and not from God the Father, let him be anathema.’

Here we have it then, from Jerome himself, certainly an opponent of the Homoians, and one who falsely slandered them as Arians, a strong testimony to the fact that they utterly rejected Arianism. And Jerome claimed that these anathemas against Arianism were readily available, and could be verified, by the acts of the councils, by the memory of pro-nicene bishops who had taken part in them, and even by the Homoians themselves; altogether a very strong claim to their authenticity. And then it has also been shown, by the testimony of Maximinus, that the Homoians continued to see these anathemas as binding, even long after the churches of the Roman Empire had abandoned the decision of Ariminum and Seleucia in 381. The Homoians, then, cannot reasonably be regarded as Arians.

Speaking of the Son as a Creature

“This [the Word] was His counsellor, the very way of His wisdom and knowledge. Of this He made all things, making them through It, and making them with It. When He prepared the heavens, so says (the Scripture ), I was present with Him; and when He strengthened above the winds the lofty clouds, and when He secured the fountains which are under the heaven, I was present, compacting these things along with Him. I was He in whom He took delight; moreover, I daily rejoiced in His presence: for He rejoiced when He had finished the world, and among the sons of men did He show forth His pleasure. Proverbs 8:27-31 Now, who would not rather approve of this as the fountain and origin of all things — of this as, in very deed, the Matter of all Matter, not liable to any end, not diverse in condition, not restless in motion, not ungraceful in form, but natural, and proper, and duly proportioned, and beautiful, such truly as even God might well have required, who requires His own and not another’s? Indeed, as soon as He perceived It to be necessary for His creation of the world, He immediately creates It, and generates It in Himself. The Lord, says the Scripture, possessed me, the beginning of His ways for the creation of His works. Before the worlds He founded me; before He made the earth, before the mountains were settled in their places; moreover, before the hills He generated me, and prior to the depths was I begotten. Let Hermogenes then confess that the very Wisdom of God is declared to be born and created, for the special reason that we should not suppose that there is any other being than God alone who is unbegotten and uncreated. For if that, which from its being inherent in the Lord was of Him and in Him, was yet not without a beginning — I mean His Wisdom, which was then born and created, when in the thought of God It began to assume motion for the arrangement of His creative works — how much more impossible is it that anything should have been without a beginning which was extrinsic to the Lord! But if this same Wisdom is the Word of God, in the capacity of Wisdom, and (as being He) without whom nothing was made, just as also (nothing) was set in order without Wisdom, how can it be that anything, except the Father, should be older, and on this account indeed nobler, than the Son of God, the only-begotten and first-begotten Word? Not to mention that what is unbegotten is stronger than that which is born, and what is not made more powerful than that which is made. Because that which did not require a Maker to give it existence, will be much more elevated in rank than that which had an author to bring it into being.” Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, Ch 18.

Such statements would as the above must be alarming to many, who are scandalized by the term ‘created’ being used of Christ. Tertullian is not alone among the ante-nicene fathers in calling the Son a creature; Origen, Novatian, Eusebius, Irenaeus, Methodius, and others, seemed willing to speak quite freely of the Son not only as being begotten by the Father before the world was, but as having been created by Him, and of the Father alone as being uncreated.

The Son is said by them to be ‘created’ merely on account of His being caused; for according to the natural meaning of the terms, to ‘create’ is to ’cause’; the terms ‘create’ and ’cause’ are synonyms.

Since, then, the Father alone is uncaused, and the Son is caused by the Father as having been uniquely and atemporally begotten from Him before the ages, the Father alone can be called uncreated, and the Son may be accurately said to have been created by the Father. The Son’s mode of origination from the Father is totally unique, in being generated directly from the Father Himself. But since this means that the Son is caused, the word ‘Creature’ may still reasonably be applied to Him, on that account.

We see this, for instance, in Tertullian’s quote above. The Word’s generation from the Father (or creation by the Father) is simply the Word’s coming forth from ‘within’ the Father Himself; this is contrasted with other creatures, which He describes ‘extrinsic’ to God; that is, they are not from God Himself, but are caused to exist by Him out of nothing. We see this same idea clearly highlighted by Hippolytus:

“The first and only (one God), both Creator and Lord of all, had nothing coeval with Himself; not infinite chaos, nor measureless water, nor solid earth, nor dense air, not warm fire, nor refined spirit, nor the azure canopy of the stupendous firmament. But He was One, alone in Himself. By an exercise of His will He created things that are, which antecedently had no existence, except that He willed to make them…. Therefore this solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos first; not the word in the sense of being articulated by voice, but as a ratiocination of the universe, conceived and residing in the divine mind. Him alone He produced from existing things; for the Father Himself constituted existence, and the being born from Him was the cause of all things that are produced. The Logos was in the Father Himself, bearing the will of His progenitor, and not being unacquainted with the mind of the Father. For simultaneously with His procession from His Progenitor, inasmuch as He is this Progenitor’s first-born, He has, as a voice in Himself, the ideas conceived in the Father. And so it was, that when the Father ordered the world to come into existence, the Logos one by one completed each object of creation, thus pleasing God…. For as many things as He willed, God made from time to time. These things He created through the Logos, it not being possible for things to be generated otherwise than as they were produced. But when, according as He willed, He also formed (objects), He called them by names, and thus notified His creative effort. And making these, He formed the ruler of all, and fashioned him out of all composite substances. The Creator did not wish to make him a god, and failed in His aim; nor an angel — be not deceived, — but a man. For if He had willed to make you a god, He could have done so. You have the example of the Logos [that is, He made the Logos a God]. His will, however, was, that you should be a man, and He has made you a man… The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God. Now the world was made from nothing; wherefore it is not God; as also because this world admits of dissolution whenever the Creator so wishes it.” (Refutation of All Heresies, 10)

Here we see, among other details, this distinction between the world, which was made “from nothing”, and the Son, Who the Father made from Himself; whereas the world was caused to exist where nothing had existed previously, the Son was made from the Father’s own substance; that is, He is made from what the Father Himself is, of the same ‘stuff’ as the Father, to put it crudely. And so the Word, or Son, is the only-begotten of the Father, as alone being generated immediately by the Father from His own person.

Justin Martyr gives two excellent analogies of the Son’s generation from the Father in this manner:

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled. The Word of Wisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, and Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon the following:

If I shall declare to you what happens daily, I shall call to mind events from everlasting, and review them. The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 61)

According to Justin, the Son is generated from the Father, not as a part of the Father cut off from Him, or in any other way that would involve change in God, Who is unchanging, but as fire kindled from fire, the Son was generated, not from nothing, but from the Father Himself.

It is not then, distinctly Arian to say that the Son is created; but we may ask what is meant by the word, just as when we hear that the Son is caused, we may inquire into what way He was caused, or created: from nothing, which is the doctrine of Arius, or from the Father Himself, which is the opinion of many of the fathers who spoke of the Son as a creature prior to the council of Nicea.

For it is noteworthy that many Homoian fathers, while rejecting Arian dogma, freely spoke of Him as having been created by the Father. For example, Maximinus said during his debate with Augustine:

“Do you want to know how great is the wisdom of the Father? Look at the Son, and you will see the wisdom of the Father. For this reason Christ himself said, One who has seen me has also seen the Father (Jn 14:9). That is, in me he sees his wisdom; he praises his might; he glorifies the Father who, one and alone, has begotten me, one and alone, so great and so good before all ages. He did not look for material out of which to make him, nor did he take someone as an assistant. Rather, in the way he knew, he begot the Son by his power and his wisdom. We do not profess, as you say when you falsely accuse us, that, just as the rest of creation was made from nothing, so the Son was made from nothing like a creature. Listen to the authority of statement of the Synod; for our fathers in Ariminum said this among other things, ‘If anyone says that the Son is from nothing and not from God the Father, let him be anathema.’

Yet these same Homoians who subscribed to this anathema against those who held as dogma, like Arius, that the Son was produced by the Father out of nothing, also spoke as follows:

“He never hesitated to preach … one sole true God the Father of Christ according to Christ’s own teaching, knowing that this sole true God is solely ingenerate… And when he was alone, not to create division or reduction of his Godhead but for the revelation of his goodness and power, by his will and power alone, impassibly himself impassible, indestructibly himself indestructible, and immovably himself unmoved, He created and begot, made and founded the Only-begotten God… and that the Father is the creator of the whole creator, but the Son the creator of the whole creation, and the Father is the God of the Lord, but the Son the God of the whole of creation.” (Auxentius’s Summary of Ulfilas’s Preaching)

Whereas one might here accuse Ulfilas of having preached Arianism, in light of the anathema of the Creed to which he subscribed, such is not a reasonable conclusion to draw. Rather than endorsing either the Arian or Homoousian dogma, the Homoians proscribed being dogmatic about either theory. the details of which extend beyond scriptural revelation into the area of speculation.

The Nicene anathema against those who call the Son a creature, then, remains to be addressed: and on the basis of the ante-nicene fathers, the best post-nicene fathers (namely, the Homoians), the bare meaning of the terms, sound reasoning, and the language of scripture, we must conclude that these anathemas, while being well intended to eradicate the heresy of Arius, are in error; for the term ‘create’, merely being, according to its natural meaning, a synonym of the term ’cause’, bears no inherently Arian meaning, but rather, when understood in this sense, may be very rightly applied to the Son, on account of His generation from the Father before the ages. For to say that the Son was begotten by God, and then deny that He is caused by God, is the greatest absurdity; refuted by the most basic logic, the testimony of the fathers, and most importantly, by the scriptures themselves. For the Word declared “I live because of the Father”; and from this alone it may be clearly understood that He has the Father as the Cause of His life and existence (see here for more detail on this point).

If then, the Father is the Cause of the Son, then He is the Creator of the Son. And so the Son is the only-begotten Son of God, as alone being begotten, alone generated directly and immediately from the Father Himself.

Such passages of scripture then, as these, will seem to bear a much clearer and less convoluted meaning than those committed to the Nicene definition will allow them to bear, which seem to speak of the Son as a creature:

“The Lord created me the beginning of his ways for his works. He established me before time in the beginning, before he made the earth: even before he made the depths; before the fountains of water came forth: before the mountains were settled, and before all hills, he begets me.” (Proverbs 8:22-25 LXX)

“He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15 NASB)

“He was faithful to the one Who made Him, as Moses was in all His house.” (Hebrews 3:2)

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness [Christ], the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:” (Revelation 3:14 NASB)

Finally, I leave the reader with several other relevant quotes from other church fathers mentioned above:

We consider, therefore, that there are three hypostases, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and at the same time we believe nothing to be uncreated but the Father. We admit, as more pious and as true, that the Holy Spirit is the most honored of all things made through the Word, and that he is [first] in rank of all the things which have been made by the Father through Christ. Perhaps this is the reason the Spirit too is not called son of God, since the only begotten alone is by nature a son from the beginning. The Holy Spirit seems to have need of the Son ministering to his hypostasis, not only for it to exist, but also for it to be wise, and rational, and just, and whatever other thing we ought to understand it to be by participation in the aspects of Christ which we mentioned previously.” (Origen, Commentary on John)

For the Son of God, the First-born of all creation, although He seemed recently to have become incarnate, is not by any means on that account recent. For the holy Scriptures know Him to be the most ancient of all the works of creation; for it was to Him that God said regarding the creation of man, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”” (Origen, Against Celsus, Book 5 Ch 37)

“Well, then, I do not suppose you are ignorant that it is impossible for two uncreated things to exist together, although you seem to have expressed nearly as much as this in an earlier part of the conversation. Assuredly we must of necessity say one of two things: either that God is separate from matter, or, on the other hand, that He is inseparable from it. If, then, one would say that they are united, he will say that that which is uncreated is one only, for each of the things spoken of will be a part of the other; and as they are parts of each other, there will not be two uncreated things, but one composed of different elements. For we do not, because a man has different members, break him up into many beings. But, as the demands of reason require, we say that a single being, man, of many parts, has been created by God. So it is necessary, if God be not separate from matter, to say that that which is uncreated is one only; but if one shall say that He is separate, there must necessarily be something intermediate between the two, which makes their separation evident. For it is impossible to estimate the distance of one thing from another, unless there be something else with which the distance between them may be compared. And this holds good, not only as far as the instance before us, but also to any number of others. For the argument which we advanced in the case of two uncreated things would of necessity be of equal force, were the uncreated things granted to be three in number. For I should ask also respecting them, whether they are separate from each other, or, on the other hand, are united each to its neighbour. For if any one resolve to say that they are united, he will be told the same as before; if, again, that they are separate, he will not escape the necessary existence of that which separates them.” (Methodius, On Free Will 5)

“God thus determining all things beforehand for the bringing of man to perfection, for his edification, and for the revelation of His dispensations, that goodness may both be made apparent, and righteousness perfected, and that the Church may be fashioned after the image of His Son, and that man may finally be brought to maturity at some future time, becoming ripe through such privileges to see and comprehend God… If, however, any one say, What then? Could not God have exhibited man as perfect from beginning? let him know that, inasmuch as God is indeed always the same and unbegotten as respects Himself, all things are possible to Him. But created things must be inferior to Him who created them, from the very fact of their later origin; for it was not possible for things recently created to have been uncreated. But inasmuch as they are not uncreated, for this very reason do they come short of the perfect. Because, as these things are of later date, so are they infantile; so are they unaccustomed to, and unexercised in, perfect discipline… With God there are simultaneously exhibited power, wisdom, and goodness. His power and goodness [appear] in this, that of His own will He called into being and fashioned things having no previous existence; His wisdom [is shown] in His having made created things parts of one harmonious and consistent whole; and those things which, through His super-eminent kindness, receive growth and a long period of existence, do reflect the glory of the uncreated One, of that God who bestows what is good ungrudgingly. For from the very fact of these things having been created, [it follows] that they are not uncreated; but by their continuing in being throughout a long course of ages, they shall receive a faculty of the Uncreated, through the gratuitous bestowal of eternal existence upon them by God. And thus in all things God has the pre-eminence, who alone is uncreated, the first of all things, and the primary cause of the existence of all, while all other things remain under God’s subjection [It is clear here from the context, that the one signified here by “God” is none other than the Father]. But being in subjection to God is continuance in immortality, and immortality is the glory of the uncreated One. By this arrangement, therefore, and these harmonies, and a sequence of this nature, man, a created and organized being, is rendered after the image and likeness of the uncreated God — the Father planning everything well and giving His commands, the Son carrying these into execution and performing the work of creating, and the Spirit nourishing and increasing [what is made], but man making progress day by day, and ascending towards the perfect, that is, approximating to the uncreated One. For the Uncreated is perfect, that is, God. Now it was necessary that man should in the first instance be created; and having been created, should receive growth; and having received growth, should be strengthened; and having been strengthened, should abound; and having abounded, should recover [from the disease of sin]; and having recovered, should be glorified; and being glorified, should see his Lord. For God is He who is yet to be seen, and the beholding of God is productive of immortality, but immortality renders one near unto God.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.38.2-3)

“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. For since that is the beginning to other creatures [see, the Son is reckoned by him among 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.” (Novatian of Rome, Ch 31)

“God was in the beginning; but the beginning, we have been taught, is the power of the Logos. For the Lord of the universe, who is Himself the necessary ground (ὑπόστασις) of all being, inasmuch as no creature was yet in existence, was alone; but inasmuch as He was all power, Himself the necessary ground of things visible and invisible, with Him were all things; with Him, by Logos-power (διὰ λογικῆς δυνάμεως), the Logos Himself also, who was in Him, subsists. And by His simple will the Logos springs forth; and the Logos, not coming forth in vain, becomes the first-begotten work of the Father. Him (the Logos) we know to be the beginning of the world. But He came into being by participation, not by abscission; for what is cut off is separated from the original substance, but that which comes by participation, making its choice of function, does not render him deficient from whom it is taken. For just as from one torch many fires are lighted, but the light of the first torch is not lessened by the kindling of many torches, so the Logos, coming forth from the Logos-power of the Father, has not divested of the Logos-power Him who begot Him. I myself, for instance, talk, and you hear; yet, certainly, I who converse do not become destitute of speech (λόγος) by the transmission of speech, but by the utterance of my voice I endeavour to reduce to order the unarranged matter in your minds. And as the Logos, begotten in the beginning, begot in turn our world, having first created for Himself the necessary matter, so also I, in imitation of the Logos, being begotten again, and having become possessed of the truth, am trying to reduce to order the confused matter which is kindred with myself. For matter is not, like God, without beginning, nor, as having no beginning, is of equal power with God; it is begotten, and not produced by any other being, but brought into existence by the Framer of all things alone.” (Tatian, Address to the Greeks)

That the Son Has a Distinct Will From the Father Shown From John 6:38

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 6:38 NASB

The Word came down from heaven, we are told, not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him. Now, this shows that the will of the Father and of the Son, are not only so distinct as that each individually possesses the power to will, and can individually perform the act of willing, but also that what the Father and Son will is not identically the same.

For if the Father and Son did not have distinct operations of will, then the Son could not speak of His own will, and that Him that sent Him; for every action of willing would be identically one and the same, and so the Father willing something, and the Son willing something, could not be distinguished one from another, as they are here.

And if the content of each person’s will were identically the same, then the Son’s will and the Father’s will could not be distinguished. For the Son says that He came to do the will of Him Who sent Him, and not His own will. But if their wills were identically the same, this would be impossible; for doing what the Father willed, the Son would be equally doing what He Himself willed; and so, He could not say that He did the Father’s will but not His own. He can only have come to do the Father’s will and not His own, if their wills were not identically the same.

This then shows beyond a doubt that the Son has a distinct will from the Father. And such we should expect, since the Son is not the Father, but a distinct person from Him; not the one God, the Supreme Being, but a distinct individual being besides Him.

Yet the heretics, trying to get around the obvious and natural implication that the Father and Son are genuinely distinct individual beings (persons), not merely modes of the same person, vainly imagine that a single person can have multiple wills. This is something foreign to our experience in creation, foreign to the pages of scripture, and utterly contrary to sound reason. For if a single person had two wills, then how could they decide between which will to follow in a given instance? Do they have a third will also, to break the tie, and decide between the two? Or if what is meant is only that they have two distinct conflicting desires, how is this any different from what all men experience? Yet we do not on that account declare that we have two wills. The concept of a single person having two wills, then, is shown to have no merit; it being itself a seemingly incoherent notion, and beyond that, one which, more importantly, we lack any reason to believe in, from either anything in creation, or the scriptures.

Rather the scriptures would have us believe in God, and in His Son, and have eternal life in Them; not in one God in two names or modes, but in one God, and one only-begotten Son of that one God, two distinct persons (that is, two distinct rational individual beings). “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 173 NASB).

 

Do You Know the Only True God, And Christ Jesus Whom He Has Sent?

“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:1-3 NASB

From this rich passage, let us briefly observe this: that eternal life is to believe in the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent. This knowing is far more than a mere intellectual knowledge, but a relational knowledge; it is not to merely know about the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent, but to know Them- both of Them. For we have been told another place, that no one comes to the Father, except through Christ; and so, no one can know the only true God without knowing His Son, and anyone Who knows the Son, shall know the Father, the only true God, through Him.

But it is important for us to observe here one small word, the word “and” in verse three. For the heretics, wanting to deny the existence of the Son by making ‘Son’ merely a another name of mode of the only true God, Whose Son He is, do not believe in the only true God *and* Jesus Christ Whom He has sent, but in a God of their imaginations, Who is Jesus Christ, sent by Himself. But their false teaching is refuted by this one small word; and so all forms of modalism dealt a deathly blow by the clear teaching of scripture here, that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is not the only true God Whose Son He is. For if the Son were the only true God, one could not believe in the only true God and in His Son, for believing in one would be to necessarily believe in the other also, if They are the same person, or the same individual being.

But here we read that there is one “only true God”, and this is clearly the very same one that the Lord Jesus Christ calls His Father, in verse one. This is the Supreme Being, the one God, the Almighty, the uncaused Cause of all; and Jesus Christ is not Him, not this one God, but another, a distinct person and a distinct individual being, Who the only true God sent. Not only here is the Lord Jesus Christ distinguished from the only true God by the word “and”; nor only also by the identification of the only true God with His Father, Who He is manifestly distinct from; but also by the fact that He is sent by the only true God, and so is distinguished from Him by that as well, since it is evident that one is sent by another, not by themselves.

Since, then, it is eternal life to know the Father, Who is the only true God, and Jesus Christ His Son Whom He has sent, this cannot be regarded as any minor point of faith, but a very central and important teaching of scripture. For what is more central and foundational than the identity of the only true God? And alongside that, the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son? And if knowing God and His Son is eternal life, what can be said of those Who do not know, and do not believe, that the only true God is particularly the Father, and the Father the only true God? What life can those Who think that Christ is not sent by the only true God, and is not the Son of the only true God, have? For eternal life is to know the only true God, an Jesus Christ Whom He has sent; and one must doubt that a person knows Them, if he does not even understand their identity, and cannot correctly identify and distinguish one from the other.

Let us then believe the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, which is clear: that He is not Himself the only true God, but is another besides Him, sent by Him, His Son. Through this Son, we know the only true God, His Father; and if we deny these teachings, we deny the teaching of the Lord Himself, and deny ourselves of eternal life.

Modalism Refuted From John 14:1

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” John 14:1 NASB

This brief statement “Believe in God, believe also in Me” shows that the Son has real existence distinct from the Father, and is not merely a mode or name of the same individual being. And one must note that He does not say “Believe in the Father, believe also in Me’, so that one might argue that He is here teaching to believe not only in one mode of the Supreme Being, but two modes, but rather, by not merely distinguishing Himself from the Father, but from “God”, He shows that He is not Himself the God He is distinct from, but another distinct individual being besides Him. And certainly, if one will inquire into which ‘God’ the Lord intended to signify here by the word ‘God’, and enjoined His disciples to trust in, it must be acknowledged to be none other than the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the one and only true God, the Supreme Being, Who alone is the supreme Cause of all things, and supreme Ruler over all things. It is this God that Christ distinguished Himself from; not to deny His own divinity, but to show that He is divine, not as being the Father Himself, but as being the Son of the one and only God.

Now the modalists, including so many who falsely style themselves as trinitarians when they are not, cannot consent to such language as our Lord uses here. For to believe in God, according to them, requires one to believe in the Son and Spirit as well, for they define God as being Father, Son, and Spirit all together. And for this reason, they rage against anyone, for instance, who says that Jews, or Muslims, worship the same God as Christians; for they insist that such is impossible, when the God of Christians is ‘triune’ or ‘tripersonal’, while the God Muslims and Jews try to worship is one person only. And so according to their standards, no one can worship, or believe in, the true God, the Almighty, the God of the Bible, without worshipping and believing in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together; and to believe in God, for them, is to, in the same exercise of faith, believe in the Son, as well. And this is a necessary thing for them to think, who make the Father and Son out to be one and the same individual being.

Yet the Son of God here refutes them with only a few words when he says “Believe in God, believe also in Me”. For He makes clear, by His statement, and especially by the term “also”, that to believe in God and to believe in Him are two distinct things; and so it follows, according to the words of Christ, that one could believe in God, without believing in His Son. Now this shows that God and His Son are two distinct individual beings, or else, it would truly be impossible, as the modalists say, to believe in God without believing in Christ, Christ being the very self-same individual being. It necessary follows, from the words of the Lord here, then, that the Son is a distinct individual being from the Father, not the one God Himself.