Anglican Bishop George Bull On the Person of the Father in Particular Being the “One God”

Bishop George Bull authored an excellent work on patristic theology Defensio Fidei Nicaenae, wherein he sets out to show that the orthodoxy laid out by the Council of Nicea was actually in full agreement with the church fathers of the Ante-Nicene era. Ultimately, he strains to prove his thesis; modern scholarship since has tended to disagree with his conclusions in favor of admitting a greater diversity of thought prior to the Council of Nicea. But even if he overstates the agreement between earlier fathers and Nicea, he also provides a helpful corrective to those who would assert that Nicea’s conclusions were unprecedented, or that they were contrary to the traditional view of the previous centuries. I highly recommend the book to the interested reader.

In his treatment of patristic theology, and his bringing it to bear on what were the contemporary controversies of his time, he makes mention of the church fathers’ nearly unanimous teaching that the person of the Father in particular is the one God of the Christian faith, several times:

“When He [Socinius] affirms that all the Antients, ’till the time of the Nicene Council, believed the Father of Jesus Christ to be Alone the One True God; if This be understood of That Preheminence of the Father, by which He Alone is of Himself the True God; we confess that this assertion is most True. But This makes nothing in favour of Socinius: And ’tis certain that This doctrine continued in the Church of Christ, not only ’till the Council of Nice, or a little after; but Always.”

“Which subordination of the Son to the Father, is expressed by the Nicene Fathers two ways: First, in their calling the Father, the One God; and then in their stiling the Son, God of God, Light of Light.”

“To an Arian Writer, who alleged that Polycarp, in his Prayer, manifestly stiles the Father only, the True God and Maker of all things; and that he invoked him through the Son, whom he calls only our High-Priest; and lastly, that he so speaks, as to seem to acknowledge the Father only, to be the Supreme God: He replies: We readily grant, that the Father alone is in some respect the Supreme God: namely because, as Athanasius speaks, He is the Fountain of Divinity; that is, He alone is of Himself God, from whom the Son and Holy Spirit derive their Divinity: And that for this cause the Father is properly stiled The True God, both in the Holy Scriptures, and in the Writings of the Ancients; especially where the divine Persons are mentioned Together.”

“Justin Martyr in his Dialogue With Trypho, expressly affirms, that the Father is the Cause of the Son’s Being. Upon which account, both Justin and the other Ante-Nicene Writers commonly call God the Father, by way of distinction, sometimes GOD absolutely, sometimes The One God, sometimes The God and Father of All, (according to the Texts, 1Cor. 8,4; Eph. 4,6 Joh.17,3;) Namely, because Alone is God of Himself; but the Son, is only God of God.”

“Lastly the Antients, because the Father is the Origin, Cause, Author, and Fountain of the Son; made no scruple to call Him the One and Only God: For thus even the Nicene Fathers themselves begin their Creed; I believe in One God, the Father Almighty…”

Bishop George Bull on the Subordination of the Son to the Father as His Cause

Bishop George Bull, an Anglican, showed himself an important patristic scholar of his era with his books in defense of the Nicene creed, in which he attempts to prove that the Nicene Creed’s articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity is in essential agreement with those of the earlier church fathers. In his books, he makes some valuable observations about how the ancients spoke of the Father in relation to the Son:

From Book IV of Defensio Fidei Nicaenae, Chapter 1:

“Respecting the subordination of the Son to the Father, as to His origin and principle, we have incidentally, when engaged on other points, spoken not a little in the preceding books; it is, however, an argument not unworthy of a more careful discussion by itself in a separate book; especially as at the beginning of our work we put it forward as a distinct head of doctrine delivered in the Nicene Creed, and which we proposed to establish by testimonies out of the ancients. Respecting this subordination, then, let the following be our first proposition:

The First Proposition

That decree of the Council of Nice, in which it is laid down that the Son of God is ‘God of God,’ is confirmed by the voice of the catholic doctors, both those who wrote before, and those who wrote after, that council. For they all with one accord taught, that the divine nature and perfections belong to the Father and the Son, not colaterally or co-ordinately, but subordinately; that is to say, that the Son has indeed the same divine nature in common with the Father; in such sense, that is, that the Father alone hath the divine nature from Himself, in other words, from no other, but the Son from the Father; consequently that the Father is the fountain, origin, and principle, of the Divinity, which is in the Son.”