Thoughts and Questions on the Councils of Arminium and Seleucia

-The joint councils of Arminium and Seleucia met in 359 to resolve the ongoing trinitarian debates of the fourth century. The council of Nicea had succeeded in largely nullifying the threat of Arianism, but also, by introducing highly philosophical, extra-biblical, controversial language of ‘ousia’, ‘being’, or ‘substance’, had continued to be a source of controversy to the churches of the Roman empire.

-The joint councils of Arminium and Seleucia were called by emperor Constantius to settle the ongoing debates that divided the church. These councils were intended to be ecumenical, and their decision was one. They met in separate locations sheerly for the convenience of the bishops attending. The council of Arminium alone was said to have included 330 bishops, making it larger than Nicea, and over twice as large as the first council of Constantinople.

-The decision of these councils, with the approval of the emperor, was to remove all language of ‘ousia’ from the church’s dogma, and to ban extra-biblical speculation on what the metaphysical relation of the Son’s nature to that of the Father is. The Son was to be described as “like to the Father Who begat Him, according to the scriptures”, and after a brief creed, their decision included this statement: “But the name of ‘essence,’ which was set down by the fathers in simplicity, and, being unknown by the people, caused offense, because the Scriptures do not contain it, it has seemed good to abolish, and for the future to make no mention of it at all; since the divine scriptures have made no mention of the essence of Father and Son. For neither ought ‘subsistence’ to be named concerning Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But we say that the Son is like the Father, as the divine Scriptures say and teach; and all the heresies, both those which have been already condemned, and whatever are of modern date, being contrary to this published statement, be they anathema.”

-Although the council proscribed all previously condemned heresies, and thus that of Arius as well, it has been slandered by the Romans and homoousians as an Arian council, and a victory of Arianism.

Questions:

1) Were not the councils of Arminium and Seleucia faithful to the instruction of the apostle Paul in holding fast to “the pattern of sound words” given in the scriptures?

2) Do not the councils of Arminium and Seleucia constitute a valid second ecumenical council?

3) How can a decision which maintained the anathemas of previous councils against Arianism, and thus continued to proscribe Arians from communion, be Arian? How can the continued excommunication of Arians represent a victory of that heresy?

4) If, as the Romans and homoousians have so been inclined to say, the councils pronounced a sentence in favor of Arianism, did not the churches err in their official teachings?

5) Is a refusal to call the Son ‘homoousias’ with the Father not damnable heresy, as the official decisions of later councils say?

6) If the church then supposedly erred in its official teachings in rejecting the word ‘homoousias’, in a damnable way, did the churches of the Roman empire not, according to that view, go apostate in 359? How can churches not be said to go apostate, if they embrace damnable heresy as their official teaching?

7) If the church then erred, as the homoousians are inclined to say, why then do the Eastern Orthodox, the Romans, the Coptics, and the other ancient communions hold that the church cannot err in its official teaching, since it is guided by the Spirit to be free from error?

8) If it be argued that the pressure of the Roman government on the church is what secured the decision of these councils, and thus they are invalid, why can it not equally be argued that the decisions of Nicea and Constantinople may likewise be disregarded on that same basis, since in both the Emperors were intimately involved?

9) If it will be argued in defense of the councils of Nicea and Constantinople that since the churches could not be compelled to compromise their faith in the face of three hundred years of open and brutal persecutions, therefore they surely would not have bent to the will of the emperors against the true sentiments of the churches, and so the involvement of the emperors in these councils cannot be said to invalidate their decisions, must not the same argument be equally valid when applied to the councils of Arminium and Seleucia?

10) If the churches of the fourth century believed, by way of an apostolic tradition, that ecumenical councils cannot err, as the Eastern Orthodox hold, why then were such a great multitude of bishops from both the eastern and western reaches of the Roman Empire willing to declare that Nicea had erred in introducing the term ‘homoousias’ into the church’s dogma? Does not such a decision manifestly testify that the ancient churches held no such sentiment about ecumenical councils?

11) If the approval of the Pope of Rome were known by the churches to be necessary for the decision of a council to be legitimate, as the papists claim, why then did the churches of the Roman empire give their acceptance to the decision of the councils of Arminium and Seleucia, which the Pope refused to consent to, and was therefore deposed?

12) Is it not conducive to the peace and unity of the churches to impose nothing on them beyond what can be proven from the scriptures, as the councils of Arminium and Seleucia sought to do?

13) If it is to be counted as a great sin to charge the churches with having apostatized, as some count it, are not those then who, while accepting the 7 so-called ecumenical councils, denounce those of Arminium  and Seleucia as Arian, guilty of the same supposed impiety they charge others with, since they must regard the churches as having apostatized for over twenty years following the councils of Arminium and Seleucia?

14) Is it not manifestly an impossible position to say that the church cannot err in its official teaching, when at Nicea, the church officially taught that the Son is ‘homoousias’ with the Father, and yet also officially taught at the councils of Arminium and Seleucia that it is improper to teach that the Son is ‘homoousias’ with the Father, and banned such speculation? Likewise is it not a manifest contradiction when the church officially taught at Arminium and Seleucia that Nicea had erred in introducing ‘homoousias’, while about twenty years later the churches officially taught that Nicea was correct in doing so, and made ‘homoousias’ a dogmatic standard again? How can two mutually exclusive positions be officially taught by the churches at different times, and it not require that in at least one of those decisions, the churches erred?

15) Are not those churches which hold sola scriptura, while requiring a dogmatic confession of ‘homoousias’ from their members, manifestly acting in self-contradiction?

16) Did not the Homoians who held to the decision of the councils of Arminium and Seleucia faithfully hold and teach a form of sola scriptura some one thousand years before the Protestant Reformation, and apply that principle more consistently than the latter?

17) According to the standard of the holy scriptures alone, can there be any insufficiency ascribed to describing the Son as “like the Father as the scriptures say and teach”?

18) If the Son is homoousias with the Father, and does by virtue of His divine nativity before the ages share one and the same metaphysical nature and essence with the Father, is He not “like the Father”? For He is another person from the Father; begotten, not unbegotten; Son, not Father. And so He cannot be said to be the same person, nor a completely identical person, but a like person.

19) Is not the confession of the Son being “like the Father, according to the scriptures”, without any mention of metaphysical nature, a more scriptural confession than describing the Son as homoousias?

20) Is it not better suited to the capacity of the simple and less-educated to describe the Son as being like the Father, as the scriptures teach, than to demand that the simple must learn platonic or aristotelian metaphysics to be good Christians?

21) Is it not better suited to the teaching of scripture, that while the Son is the exact representation of the Father’s person, the brightness of His glory, Who has life in Himself as He has life in Himself, Who is eternal and before all creation with the Father, through Whom all creation was made, and is the Image of the invisible God, and so not invisible as His Father is, to simply describe the Son as being “like the Father, according to the scriptures”, than to demand a philosophical confession which seems to contradict that the Son is from eternity the visible Image of the invisible God?

22) Has not the historic teaching of most, if not all homoousians, such as Hilary and Augustine, been that since the Son is of the same divine metaphysical nature as the Father, He must according to that nature be invisible?

23) And is not such teaching manifestly contradictory not only to the plain sense of the scriptures, but to the ecclesiastical tradition of the ante-nicene church, which taught that the Son, as the Angel of the Lord, was visible in His pre-incarnate nature? Did not those same ante-nicenes argue for the identity of the Angel of the Lord being the Son on the very basis of there being a difference between the Father and the Son, that the Father cannot be seen, but the Son can be, and on that very basis argue that the Son was the Angel of the Lord?

These questions are more intended to be rhetorical than to solicit an answer; answers and comments, however, are welcome.

Semi-modalism in the Liturgy of St. James

The Liturgy of St. James is renowned as being one of the oldest liturgies in Christianity, supposedly going back all the way to the apostle James the brother of the Lord. Although the liturgy is reputed to have an apostolic origin, it continued to see modification for several centuries, the version used today perhaps dating back to the fifth or sixth centuries.

Because of such modifications to an ancient document, it is of course difficult to ever say with absolute certainty what is original and what is not. Certain things can easily be conjectured to be additions however as they bear the mark of later theological controversies that a first century liturgy would not have spoken to. The language in many places is seen to date from the post-nicene era.

One such instance of an anachronism in the liturgy is that its second paragraph is expressly semi-modalistic, something otherwise unheard of in orthodox churches in the ante-nicene era. It says:

“II Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, the triune light of the Godhead, which is unity subsisting in trinity, divided, yet indivisible: for the Trinity is the one God Almighty, whose glory the heavens declare, and the earth His dominion, and the sea His might, and every sentient and intellectual creature at all times proclaims His majesty: for all glory becomes Him, and honour and might, greatness and magnificence, now and ever, and to all eternity. Amen.”

A more explicitly semi-modalistic statement would only be possible if it came right out and called the Trinity as a whole a “person” (like Cornelius Van Til did: https://contramodalism.com/2018/01/15/van-tils-views-on-the-trinity/ ).

We see that this liturgy expressly contradicts the Nicene Creed, which begins by defining the one God of the Christian faith as the person of the Father saying “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” Instead the Liturgy defines the one God as the Trinity itself.

That the Trinity is treated as a single person is also abundantly clear, as it goes on to use singular personal pronouns such as “his” for the Trinity several times.

It is sad to see semi-modalism encapsulated in the Liturgy which is perhaps in its original form the oldest liturgy we have still in use. The liturgy of St. James is commonly used by various Eastern churches, including the Syriac Orthodox church and occasionally by the Eastern Orthodox Church, which despite this part of its liturgy, is actually making great strides in returning to classical trinitarianism such as that articulated by the Nicene Creed (see: https://contramodalism.com/tag/eastern-orthodox/ ).

Fr. John Behr on the One God being the Person of the Father in Particular

In my last post, I shared quotes from several prominent Eastern Orthodox theologians speaking on the patristic view of the Trinity and the matter of the one God of the Christian faith being the person of the Father in particular (see https://nicenefaith.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/modern-eastern-orthodox-theologians-on-the-one-god-being-the-person-of-the-father/).

I wanted to now share an article written by another Eastern Orthodox theologian, Fr. John Behr: here.

In this article Fr. Behr briefly and clearly sheds some light on the way the Greek church fathers articulated the doctrine of the Trinity, and notes:

“The Father alone is the one true God. This keeps to the structure of the New Testament language about God, where with only a few exceptions, the world “God” (theos) with an article (and so being used, in Greek, as a proper noun) is only applied to the one whom Jesus calls Father, the God spoken of in the scriptures. This same fact is preserved in all ancient creeds, which begin: I believe in one God, the Father…

“For us there is one God, the Father… and one Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 8:6).”

I have found Fr. Behr’s careful and thought-provoking analysis of these issues helpful, and hope you will as well.

 

Modern Eastern Orthodox Theologians on the One God being the Person of the Father

In recent years there has been something of a revival of aspects of classical trinitarianism in Eastern Orthodoxy. Several prominent EO theologians have argued for a return to a Nicene understanding of the Trinity and the belief that the one God is the Father.

As in the last few centuries the Eastern church has undergone what some have referred to as a “patristic renaissance” it is no surprise to see their theology has moving away from a semi-modalistic direction and returning to what the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers articulated regarding the one God being the person of the Father in particular.

I wanted to share a few quotes from some of these theologians below:

John Meyendorff:

The same personalistic emphasis appears in the Greek Fathers’ insistence on the “monarchy” of the Father. Contrary to the concept which prevailed in the post-Augustinian West and in Latin Scholasticism, Greek theology attributes the origin of hypostatic “subsistence” to the hypostasis of the Father—not to the common essence. The Father is the “cause” (aitia) and the “principle” (archē) of the divine nature, which is in the Son and in the Spirit. What is even more striking is the fact that this “monarchy” of the Father is constantly used by the Cappadocian Fathers against those who accuse them of “tritheism”: “God is one,” writes Basil, “because the Father is one.” (Byzantine Theology, 2nd ed, 1983, page 183)

John Zizioulas:

Among the Greek Fathers the unity of God, the one God, and the ontological “principal” or “cause” of the being and life of God does not consist in the one substance of God but in the hypostasis, that is, the person of the Father. The one God is not the one substance but the Father, who is the “cause” both of the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit. (Being As Communion, 1985, pages 40-41)

Thomas Hopko:

“… in the Bible, in the creeds, and in the Liturgy, it’s very important, really critically important, to note and to affirm and to remember that the one God in whom we believe, strictly speaking, is not the Holy Trinity. The one God is God the Father. In the Bible, the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. He is God who sends his only-begotten Son into the world, and Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Then, of course, in a parallel manner, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of God, that the Holy Spirit, being the Spirit of God, is therefore also the Spirit of Christ, the Messiah, because the Christ is the Son of God, upon whom God the Father sends and affirms his Holy Spirit.” (From the online transcript of the podcast, The Holy Trinity)

 
Source:   http://articulifidei.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-monarchy-of-god-father-and-trinity.html