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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same.” (Justin, Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 128)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Justin in taught:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Worship the Same God as Irenaeus?

One of Irenaeus’s main points throughout his writings, that he makes again and again, is that the one God, the Maker of all things, the Almighty, is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. The one God and the Father are the exact same person; just as much as the Son is the Son of the Father, so He is the Son of the one God; just as the Son is not the Father, He is not the one God (although He is God). In the face of the old gnosticism, this was an important point to stress; the prominent heresies of his day denied the identity of the Father and the one God, just as the prominent heresy of our day does as well.

The below quote from Irenaeus, is, to this author, quite striking:

“Wherefore I do also call upon you, Lord God of Abraham, and God of Isaac, and God of Jacob and Israel, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of Your mercy, has had a favour towards us, that we should know You, who has made heaven and earth, who rule over all, who is the only and the true God, above whom there is none other God; grant, by our Lord Jesus Christ, the governing power of the Holy Spirit; give to every reader of this book to know You, that You are God alone, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical, and godless, and impious doctrine.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch 6.)

A question well worth asking is, do you worship the same God Irenaeus here prayed to? Can you pray to the one God as the Father of the Son, and speak of Him granting you the grace of the Holy Spirit through His Son? Or have you been led astray into confusion by false teachers, who make the Father, Son, and Spirit out to be one and the same person, the same one God? Is the person you pray to the same person the early church prayed to, or one they did not know? If the whole Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, is the one God to which you pray, then who will you have to intercede for you? Who will mediate between you and the one to whom you pray, if Christ, the one mediator between God and man, is the very same person you need a mediator by whom to approach? Who will sanctify you to approach the one God, Who will help your weakness in prayer, and intercede for you with deep groanings, if the Holy Spirit is the one you approach in need of such intercession and groanings?

Semi-Modalism & the Rule of Faith

The ancient “rule of faith” was a doctrinal standard employed by the early churches. It was used as a baptismal creed, a creed memorized by new converts and recited prior to baptism (off of which later creeds like that of Nicea and Arminium were based). Following the baptismal formula instituted by Christ, to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the ancient baptismal creed followed this same outline, giving a brief confession of the identities of the Father, Son, and Spirit, coupled with a brief summary of the gospel under the head of the Son’s identity. In this way the ‘rule of faith’ can be seen as a summary of the Christian faith as presented in the scriptures, summarizing the identity of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and the message of the gospel, as Paul said he delivered “as of first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15.

This ancient summary of the faith was held to by the churches as the teaching they had received from the apostles, which they had received from oral tradition, and was confirmed by demonstration from the holy scriptures. Irenaeus of Lyons, for example sets forth this rule as the standard of true Christian doctrine in both his Against Heresies, and his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. In Against Heresies he uses the rule of faith as the standard of Christian orthodoxy, against which the heretical claims of the various pseudo-gnostic sects were set in contradiction. Their contradiction of the rule of faith showed them to be heretics; on the other hand, faithful adherence to the rule would prevent one from falling into heresy. In Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, Irenaeus sets about demonstrating each point of the rule of faith from the holy scriptures, showing thereby that each point is beyond a doubt known to be true.

In Against Heresies, Irenaeus sums up the rule as follows:

“1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and  the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.” (Book 1, Chap 10.)

He goes on to explain:

“2. As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.” (Ibid)

In Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, he sums it up in these words:

“This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building, and the stability of our conversation: God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things: this is the first point of our faith. The second point is: The Word of God, Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was manifested to the prophets according to the form of their prophesying and according to the method of the dispensation of the Father: through whom all things were made; who also at the end of the times, to complete and gather up all things, was made man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death and show forth life and produce a community of union between God and man. And the third point is: The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and the fathers learned the things of God, and the righteous were led forth into the way of righteousness; and who in the end of the times was poured out in a new way upon mankind in all the earth, renewing man unto God.”

He goes on to explain that the rule is grounded in the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:

“And for this reason the baptism of our regeneration proceeds through these three points: God the Father bestowing on us regeneration through His Son by the Holy Spirit. For as many as carry (in them) the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son; and the Son brings them to the Father; and the Father causes them to possess incorruption. Without the Spirit it is not possible to behold the Word of God, nor without the Son can any draw near to the Father: for the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and the knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit; and, according to the good pleasure of the Father, the Son ministers and dispenses the Spirit to whomsoever the Father wills and as He wills.”

Tertullian similarly employed the rule of faith against heretics. He describes the rule of faith as the dogmatic standard of Christianity, a summary of the faith, which was beyond question to true Christians. No contradiction of the rule was to be allowed; such was heresy, and made the one denying the rule no true Christian at all. On the other hand, areas of theology which were not addressed in the rule were regarded as something that Christians were free to search out a knowledge of from the scriptures, to speculate on, and to disagree with one another on. The rule of faith was the standard of Christian doctrine which could not be denied; doctrines not addressed in it were free to be explored. In his book Against Praxeas, Tertullian sums up the rule as follows:

“We, however, as we indeed always have done (and more especially since we have been better instructed by the Paraclete, who leads men indeed into all truth), believe that there is one only God, but under the following dispensation, or οἰκονομία, as it is called, that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the Virgin, and to have been born of her — being both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas, a pretender of yesterday, will be apparent both from the lateness of date which marks all heresies, and also from the absolutely novel character of our new-fangled Praxeas.” (Chapter 2)

In Against Heresies, Tertullian gives the following summary of the rule, and explanation regarding a Christian’s freedom to speculate on other doctrines:

“Now, with regard to this rule of faith— that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend — it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen in diverse manners by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises among ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics. So long, however, as its form exists in its proper order, you may seek and discuss as much as you please, and give full rein to your curiosity, in whatever seems to you to hang in doubt, or to be shrouded in obscurity. You have at hand, no doubt, some learned brother gifted with the grace of knowledge, some one of the experienced class, some one of your close acquaintance who is curious like yourself; although with yourself, a seeker he will, after all, be quite aware that it is better for you to remain in ignorance, lest you should come to know what you ought not, because you have acquired the knowledge of what you ought to know. Your faith, He says, has saved you Luke 18:42 not observe your skill in the Scriptures. Now, faith has been deposited in the rule; it has a law, and (in the observance thereof) salvation.” (Chapter 13-14)

Similarly, the rule of faith was, as mentioned above, used as the baptismal creed of the various churches. The ancient creed of Jerusalem, for example, read thus:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before the ages, true God, by whom all things were made, who was incarnate and made man, crucified and buried, and the third day ascended into the heavens, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and is coming to judge quick and dead.

And in the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, who spake by the prophets;

And in one holy catholic Church; and resurrection of the flesh; and in life everlasting.”

All of these summaries of the Christian faith contain, as Irenaeus said, a skeleton of three articles: 1) the identity of the Father, 2) the identity of the Son, and 3) the identity of the Holy Spirit. The ancient heresies the church faced were considered heresies precisely because they contradicted this rule in one way or another. The Ebionites, for example, ancient unitarians, who denied the pre-existence of the Son, and regarded Him as a mere man, taught a different Christ, and so denied the second article of the faith. The gnostic heresies denied the identity of the Maker of all things and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, thus denying the first article of the faith. The Modalists, by teaching that all three persons of the Trinity were one God, one person, denied the second and third articles of the faith by seeking to take away the distinct existence of the Son and Spirit as distinct persons from the Father, and so denied the first as well by denying the true fatherhood of God. When Arianism later came along, it was likewise condemned for contradicting the second article of the faith, by teaching that the Son, through Whom all things were made, was actually a creature Himself, and so taught a false Christ. All these heresies had in common that they struck at the true identities of the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; by doing so, they set themselves in opposition to true Christianity.

A critical examination of semi-modalism (as summed up, for instance, in the Pseudo-Athanasian Creed) in relation to the rule of faith shows that like the aforementioned heresies, semi-modalism denies the rule of faith as well. A complex and self-contradictory idea in itself, semi-modalism contradicts the rule of faith on multiple points. Semi-modalism is the belief that the Trinity is one person who is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the three persons are confessed to be equal in authority, and to together be “one God”. This one God, the Trinity, is deemed to be the Almighty, and the Maker of all things.

In sum, semi-modalism denies the rule of faith in the following ways:

1) Semi-modalism denies the first article of the faith by teaching the non-identity of the Father and the one God.

2) Semi-modalism denies the first article of the faith by denying that the Father is the Almighty.

3) Semi-modalism, by making all three persons of the Trinity into a single person, denies the second and third articles of the faith by taking away the distinct existence of the Son and Spirit as two distinct persons besides the one God.

4) Semi-modalism denies the second article of the faith by denying that Christ is the Son of the one God.

Let’s examine each point:

Firstly, semi-modalism denies the first article of the faith by teaching the non-identity of the Father and the one God. This is the most immediately obvious way that semi-modalism contradicts the rule of faith; while the ancient rule of faith begins by confessing with the scriptures that the one God is the Father particularly (1 Cor 8:6, Eph 4:6), semi-modalism defines the one God as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together. This difference is highly significant when we recall that the purpose of these statements is to correctly identify the persons of the Trinity; who is the Father? The rule of faith answers, ‘the one God, the Almighty, the Maker of all things’. Or asked conversely, Who is the one God? The rule of faith answers clearly: the Father, the Almighty, the Maker of all. Semi-modalism changes these answers, and takes these prerogatives away from the Father, applying them instead to the Trinity conceived of as a single person.

Since this first point focuses on the Father’s identity as the one God, let’s begin there. Godhood, biblically, is dominion; to be God is to possess dominion. As Sir Isaac Newton observed:

“This Being [God] governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator [Greek word usually translated “Almighty”], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually signifies a Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

For the Father to be God, then, denotes His dominion; that He is called simply “God” without qualification, and “the one God” (1 Cor 8:6), and “the only true God” (John 17:3), then, is on account of His supreme dominion over all, as Eph 4:6 says, “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (NASB) That He is called the “one God” and “only true God” are not said to deny that the word “God” may be used of other persons, but by way of eminence, as denoting that He is supreme over all. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor 8:5-6, “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (KJV). It is clear, then, that the rule of faith is wholly correct in declaring that the one God is the Father in particular.

Semi-modalism, on the other hand, denies this title to the Father, and gives it to a person who does not in reality exist, the Trinity conceived of as a person. That the Trinity is believed to be a person is clear from, among other things, the very fact that the title “one God” is applied to it. For let us consider what the significance of the phrase is: as we have said, Godhood, or deity, is dominion; corresponding to this, a God, then, is by definition a person who possesses Godhood; just as a Lord is a person who possesses lordship, and a King is a person who possesses regal authority. To call something a “God”, then, denotes that it is a person who possesses Godhood, that is, dominion (for which reason judges and saints in the Old Testament, could be called “gods”, and Satan, as the wicked ruler of this world, and as possessing a degree of dominion over the world, is called “the god of this world”). To call the Trinity a God, “one God”, then, is to declare the Trinity, according to the very meaning of the term “God”, to be a person who possesses Godhood (or dominion). To declare the Trinity to be one God is to take a personal title, which can only be used of a single person, and apply it to the Trinity: thus in declaring the Trinity to be “one God” semi-modalism necessarily confesses the Trinity to be a single person.

This person is treated as such; he is also called “one Lord” according to the pseudo-Athanasian Creed, another title that properly denotes a single person who possess lordship, thus again affirming the personhood of the Trinity as a whole. Likewise, in semi-modalism the Trinity is treated as a person by the ubiquitous usage of singular personal pronouns for the Trinity as a whole, and the Trinity, spoken of under such language, even receives prayer and hymns directed to it as its own person; for example:

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

To him we all pray,
The one whom we implore,
The one who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
O Blessed Trinity.” (3rd Hymn of Marius Victorinus)

The identity of the person who has supreme dominion over all, as is denoted by the phrase, “one God”, then, is according to semi-modalism a person never mentioned in the scriptures, a person who is the Trinity itself as a whole. This is contrary to the scriptural claim of the rule of faith, which expressly identifies the “one God”, that person who possesses dominion over all, as the Father in particular. Semi-modalism seeks to take this unique prerogative away from the Father, and give it to another person; it is clear then, that semi-modalism here contradicts the ancient rule of faith.

The second point upon which semi-modalism contradicts the rule of faith is very similar to the first: Semi-modalism denies the first article of the faith by denying that the Father is the Almighty.

The ancient rule of faith almost always includes this detail, that not only is there one God, the Father, but that He is Almighty. To modern ears this may seem strange; our conception of what is signified by “Almighty” usually pertains to strength in the sense of ability; it is one of many divine attributes, and its constant inclusion in the first article of the rule of faith can seem out of place. Why only list one of many attributes, and always that one?

The reason for this is because “Almighty” in its original meaning was not talking about ability or strength, but authority; the Greek word rendered “Almighty” is ‘Pantokrator’, which literally means, ‘Ruler over all’, or ‘Supreme Ruler’. Not talking about innate or natural ability at all, but about authority, this term is limited by scripture to the person of the Father alone, and the early church, likewise kept this association. Its inclusion in the rule of faith can be seen as an explanation of what is meant by “One God”: there is one God, because there is one Almighty, one Pantokrator, only one person Who has supreme dominion and authority over all absolutely- the Father.

As we said above, this is the essence of Christian monotheism; while there are many to whom the word “god” can be applied to in a limited sense, there is only one, according to the scriptures, who has dominion over all absolutely, and so, one God, the Father. As all things are from the Father, and He has dominion over all that is from Him, so He rightly has dominion over all things. As Irenaeus said “God is not ruler and Lord over the things of another, but over His own; and all things are God’s; and therefore God is Almighty, and all things are of God.” (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

The theological significance of the term “Almighty” then, has to do primarily with authority, not natural ability. Since this term then signifies a ‘Supreme Ruler’, it is firstly evident that the title must belong to a person, since all rulers are necessarily persons; and secondly, it is evident that this title can belong to only one person, and no more, by the very nature of its meaning. To be Ruler over all, or Supreme Ruler, Almighty, is to have dominion over all absolutely; this then admits of no equal, since if there were another with equal authority, then the original subject, not being Ruler over His equal, would not be Ruler over all. If there is an Almighty, a Pantokrator, then, He alone can be such, by the very definition of the term; and the rule of faith, like scripture, clearly tells us this is the Father, Who is the One God.

Semi-modalism, however, insists on making all three persons of the Trinity equal in authority:

“13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty…. 25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another. 26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.” (Pseudo-Athanasian Creed)

This declaration that the Son and Spirit have equal authority with the Father, then, is a denial that the Father is Almighty. It is not possible to have three with equal authority, and yet have a supreme authority; none having greater authority over the other, none is supreme over the others, and so there is no absolutely supreme authority. If the three persons are equal, none of them rules over all, none is Pantokrator, none is Almighty. Semi-modalism is then, on this point squarely opposed to the rule of faith.

But semi-modalism, nonetheless, being self-contradictory, claims nonetheless that there is one Almighty- the Trinity as a person.

“14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one Almighty.” (Pseudo-Athanasian Creed)

Again, the Trinity is clearly treated as a single person in this case, since it is being declared to be the Supreme Ruler over all. If the Trinity is then a ruler of any kind, then it is, according to the meaning of the words, a person who rules; no ruler is not a person. Semi-modalism then once again attempts to rob the Father of one of his prerogatives and apply it instead to the Trinity conceived of as a person.

In sum, semi-modalism, when it declares the Trinity to be one person who is Almighty, declares the Almighty to be a different person than the rule of faith does; on the other hand, if a semi-modalist objects that they do not think the Trinity is a person, yet make the persons out to be equal in authority, they will still deny the rule of faith, by denying not only that the Father is Almighty, but that there is any Almighty, any Supreme Ruler over all, at all. All-in-all, semi-modalism shows itself to be irreconcilably at odds with the rule of faith on both the identity of the one God, and the identity of the Supreme Ruler over all, both of Whom the rule declares to be one and the same person, the Father.

In our third point, we consider that semi-modalism denies the second and third articles of the faith by taking away the distinct existence of the Son and Spirit as two distinct persons besides the one God, by making all three persons of the Trinity into a single person. By making the Trinity out to be a single person, as classical modalism did, semi-modalism denies the real identities of the Son and Holy Spirit. To put the matter simply: in the rule of faith, the Son and Spirit are two distinct persons besides the one God; in semi-modalism, the Son and Spirit are effectively part of the one God as “persons of” or “within” the one God.

We see this come to bear especially clearly in scholastic articulations of semi-modalism. In short, the Father, Son, and Spirit are defined as not being three individual realities (that is three persons), but as only one individual reality, as per the Fourth Lateran Council.

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

In this defining of Father, Son, and Spirit as one individual reality, semi-modalism is no different than classical Sabellianism. The Trinity itself is defined as a single supreme reality or being which is the principle of all things. If the Father, Son, and Spirit are all one rational individual Being (the very definition of a person), then the true distinct existence of the Son and Spirit as two other distinct rational Beings (that is, two distinct persons) in addition to the first is denied. The Son and Spirit are made to no longer be the Son of the one God and the Spirit of the one God, but mere “modes of subsistence” within him. The reality of both the Son and Spirit’s distinct existence from the Father is consumed into a single “supreme reality” which is all three. Rather than being worshipped as the Son of the Almighty, Christ is worshipped as the Almighty, as being, ultimately, the self-same person with the Father. Rather than being worshipped as the Son of the one God, the Son and Spirit are worshipped as themselves being the one God, as being one person with the Father.

As Samuel Clarke wrote:

“They who are not careful to maintain these personal characters and distinctions, but while they are solicitous (on the one hand) to avoid the errors of the Arians, affirm (in the contrary extreme) the Son and Holy Spirit to be (individually with the Father) the Self-existent Being: These, seeming in the Words to magnify the Name of the Son and Holy Spirit, in reality take away their very Existence; and so fall unawares into Sabellianism, (which is the same with Socinianism.)” (Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, Thesis 23)

This is quite at odds with the ancient rule of faith, which everywhere treats the Son and Spirit as truly distinct persons besides the Father. The Son in being Son, must necessarily be a distinct person; likewise, in being our “one Lord” He most clearly is a person, for a Lord is a person who possess lordship. The rule of faith, likewise, in teaching that the Spirit spoke through the prophets and was sent by the Son unto believers, teaches His existence as a third distinct person. Semi-modalism’s denial, then, of the distinct personal existence of the Son and Spirit, constitutes a clear denial of the second and third articles of the rule of faith.

Finally, let us examine our fourth point, related to the last, that semi-modalism denies the second article of the faith by denying that Christ is the Son of the one God. This is quite simple; if Christ is merely a person of the one God, a mere mode of subsistence of the one God, the Trinity conceived of as a person, as semi-modalism makes Him out to be, then He is not Himself the Son of the one God. For a Son, anyone will admit, is a distinct person from the person whose Son they are. They must be another besides the one whose Son they are, who relates to that person as a Father. If Christ is a mere subsistence of the one God, as semi-modalism says, then He relates to the one God as a mode of His subsistence, not as His Son; He is not begotten of Him, but rather is Him. On the other hand, if He were the Son of the one God, as the rule of faith says, then He must be another distinct individual being besides the one God, begotten from Him. He will no longer then be considered a mode of subsistence of the one God, but His Son. In short, Christ can either be the Son of the one God, or a mode of subsistence of one God, a person of God. The rule of faith teaches the former, semi-modalism the latter; their teachings are mutually exclusive.

In the end, then, we are forced to the conclusion that semi-modalism constitutes a rejection of the rule of faith; in total, it denies all three articles, and strikes at the very heart of what the rule of faith sets out to clearly confess: the identities of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. While the rule of faith, with scripture, says that the Father is the one God, the Almighty, Ruler over all, semi-modalism denies this, assigning these prerogatives to another person neither mentioned in the rule of faith nor scripture, “God the Trinity”, “the triune God”, the Trinity conceived of as a person, a god every bit as fictitious as those of Marcion and the gnostics of old, against which the same rule of faith was asserted to convict them of heresy. Likewise, while scripture and the rule of faith teach us to believe in the Son and Holy Spirit as two distinct persons in addition to the one God, semi-modalism ultimately denies the very existence of the Son and Spirit along with Sabellius and Praxeas of old, by making them out to be one and the same individual reality or being with the Father. Finally, while the rule of faith, like scripture, declares Jesus Christ to be the Son of the one God, semi-modalism denies this by making Him out to be nothing more than a subsistence or ‘person’ of the one God, denying that the Son relates to the one God as a Son.

To anyone willing to look at these matters objectively, it should be clear that semi-modalism blatantly contradicts the rule of faith at several points. That those who expound semi-modalism do not admit the contradiction between their heresy and the rule of faith should be of no surprise, and does nothing to lessen the real contradiction between these two opposing systems of doctrine. Arians too, we may recall, would not admit to violating the rule of faith with their heresy either; but sought to cunningly evade detection by means of equivocation. So semi-modalists do the same, yet, as in the case of the Arians, in truth it is inescapable that their doctrine contradicts the rule of faith, when their beliefs are brought out into the open.

In the end, one must choose between that ancient faith handed down once for all, as taught by the scriptures and preserved by the early church in the rule of faith, and semi-modalism. By the standards of that ancient rule, semi-modalism is every bit as much heresy as Sabellianism and Gnosticism; in its elaborate speculative denials of the first article of the faith, it bears a strong resemblance to gnosticism indeed; one might say semi-modalism is the new gnosticism. And like gnosticism of old, Christians will do well to shun it as the heresy it is, and instead hold fast to that apostolic rule of faith, that ancient and scriptural safeguard against heresy.

 

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

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

XVI.

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

See beneath, thesis 17.

XVII.

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

Notes on thesis 17.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XVIII.

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

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

See beneath, theses 22 and 23.

Notes on thesis 18.

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

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

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

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

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

XIX.

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

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

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

XX.

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

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

See above, theses 3 and 15.

XXI.

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

See the texts, No 1148, 1154.

See above, thesis 13.

Notes on thesis 21.

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

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

XXII.

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

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

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

XXIII.

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

See above, theses 18 and 22.

Notes on thesis 23.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XXIV.

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

See the texts, No 533-545.

See below, theses 25 and 27.

XXV.

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

See the texts, No 533—-545.

See beneath, thesis 51.

Notes on thesis 25.

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

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

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

XXVI.

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

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

Notes on thesis 26.

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

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

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

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

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

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

XXVII.

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

Notes on thesis 27.

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

See the texts, which declare;

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

That he knows things distant, No 571.

That he knows all things, No 606, 613.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That he is greater than the temple, No 556.

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

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

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

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

That he is the Prince of Life, No 615.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That he was before Abraham, No 591.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also the texts, wherein are joined together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XXVIII.

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

See the texts, wherein he is declared to be:

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

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

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

XXIX.

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

See the texts, No 1024—-1073.

XXX.

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

See the texts, No 1074—-1120.

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

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

The

Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity.

Part II.

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

I.

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

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

* See beneath, thesis 7.

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

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

# See beneath, thesis 6.

II.

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

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

* See beneath, thesis 15.

+ See beneath, thesis 18.

III.

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

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

# See beneath, thesis 20.

+ See beneath, thesis 22.

IV.

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

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

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

V.

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

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

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

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

VI.

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

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

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

VII.

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

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

See beneath, these 34 & 40.

VIII.

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

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

+ No 356.

# No 338.

++ No 441.

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

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

IX.

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

See the texts, No 1—-17.

See beneath, thesis 39.

Notes on thesis 9.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X.

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

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

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

The God of Israel, No 338.

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

The Good God, No 340.

The Power, No 342.

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

The Blessed, No 344.

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

The Mighty One, No 347.

Who is above all, No 382**.

The Invisible God, 384, 389, 402.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God of Glory, No 359.

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

Which doth or maketh all things, No 363.

The incorruptible God, No 367.

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

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

The Lord of Hosts, No 371, 405.

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

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

The Everlasting God, No 375.

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

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

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

The Blessed God, No 388.

The King eternal, immortal, etc. No 389.

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

The Great God, No 395, 437.

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

The excellent Glory, No 407.

The Holy One, No 408.

The Only Supreme Governor, No 411.

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

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

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

Supreme, Holy, and True, No 420.

The God of heaven, No 426, 433.

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

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

The Lord God of the Holy Prophets, No 441.

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

XI.

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

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

See the texts No 18—-336.

Notes on thesis 11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XII.

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

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

Notes on thesis 12.

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

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

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

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

XIII.

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

See the texts, No 619, 658.

See beneath, thesis 21.

Notes on thesis 13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XIV.

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

Notes on thesis 14.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XV.

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

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

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

What is Classical Trinitarianism?

When it comes to Christian doctrine, nearly everyone knows of importance of the doctrine of the Trinity. And yet, not everyone is equally aware that throughout history, and throughout different parts of the church, the doctrine of the Trinity has been understood in various different ways. “Classical Trinitarianism” is the term I use to refer to the doctrine of the Trinity as articulated by the orthodox church fathers who lived both prior to and during the time of the Council of Nicea. This understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is faithfully set forth in the writings of such church fathers as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Cyril of Jerusalem, those assembled at the Council of Antioch in 345, and those assembled at the Councils of Arminium and Seleucia in 359.

Classical trinitarianism can be summed up as teaching that there are three (and only three) distinct and inseparable divine persons, each sharing the same eternity: the one God, the Father Almighty, His only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit.

This is the most ancient articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity the church has, dating back to an era before the politics of the Roman government played a major role in the doctrinal positions of the churches, to a time when the teaching of the apostles was still ringing freshly in the ears of their students, the first generation of church fathers.

While this view can be historically established as the ancient view of Christianity received by tradition from the apostles, far more importantly this understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity entirely biblical. Every part of it can be proven from the holy and infallible scriptures, and unlike many later articulations that describe the Trinity in unbiblical terms, or add things to the doctrine of the Trinity which cannot be found in scripture, classical trinitarianism simply says what the scriptures say about the persons of God, His only-begotten Son, and His Holy Spirit.

Many rival formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity make the issues involved extremely complex, philosophical, esoteric, and paradoxical. While certainly some aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity are beyond our comprehension, the scriptural doctrine of the Trinity is far less complicated and confusing than many theologians have made it out to be.

Following the great commission given in Matthew 28, and the apostle Paul’s summary of what unites Christians in Ephesians 4:4-6, the biblical doctrine of the Trinity can be summed up as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and “one Spirit… one Lord… and one God and Father Who is over all and through all and in all.” Similarly we receive a beautiful symbolic picture of the Trinity in Revelation chapters 4-5, which describe “the Lord God Almighty” seated on His throne, “the Lamb” of God standing at His right hand, and the “Spirit of God” pictured before the throne of God as the fire of seven lamps burning.

What we see from each of these passages is that the doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately the doctrine of what we believe about three persons: the one God, the Father Almighty, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ the Lord, and His Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. Thus the ancient Creeds of the church have delivered the doctrine of the Christian faith as summed up in three points, firstly, pertaining to the “one God”, the Father, the Almighty, secondly, pertaining to His Son, Who is His eternal Word and Wisdom, begotten of Him before time, Who took on a human nature and came to earth for our salvation in the incarnation, and thirdly, pertaining to the Holy Spirit, with Whom believers are sealed.

Thus we see one of the earliest summaries of Christian doctrine from Irenaeus of Lyons sums up the Christian faith:

“This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building, and the stability of our conversation: God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things: this is the first point of our faith. The second point is: The Word of God, Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was manifested to the prophets according to the form of their prophesying and according to the method of the dispensation of the Father: through whom all things were made; who also at the end of the times, to complete and gather up all things, was made man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death and show forth life and produce a community of union between God and man. And the third point is: The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and the fathers learned the things of God, and the righteous were led forth into the way of righteousness; and who in the end of the times was poured out in a new way upon mankind in all the earth, renewing man unto God.” (Irenaeus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

We can also observe the same structure in the ancient baptismal Creeds of the church, which served as local summaries of Christian doctrine for new converts to recite at their baptism. The baptismal Creed of Jerusalem read:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before the ages, true God, by whom all things were made, who was incarnate and made man, crucified and buried, and the third day ascended into the heavens, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and is coming to judge quick and dead.

And in the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, who spake by the prophets;

And in one holy catholic Church; and resurrection of the flesh; and in life everlasting.”

Finally the ‘Homoian Creed’ of Arminium and Seleucia is structured in fundamentally the same way, following the pattern set in scripture in Ephesians 4:4-6 and 1 Corinthians 8:6, saying:

“We believe in one only true God, the Father Almighty, of whom are all things.

And in the only-begotten Son of God, who before all ages and before every beginning was begotten of God, through whom all things were made, both visible and invisible; alone begotten, only-begotten of the Father alone, God of God; like the Father that begat Him, according to the Scriptures, whose generation no one knows except only the Father that begat Him. This only-begotten Son of God, sent by His Father, we know to have come down from heaven, as it is written, for the destruction of sin and death; begotten of the Holy Ghost and the virgin Mary, as it is written, according to the flesh. Who companied with His disciples, and when the dispensation was fulfilled, according to the Father’s will, was crucified, died and was buried, and descended to the world below, at whom Hell himself trembled. On the third day He rose from the dead and companied with His disciples forty days. He was taken up into Heaven, and sits on the right hand of His Father, and is coming at the last day of the Resurrection, in His Father’s glory, to render to everyone according to his works.

And we believe in the Holy Ghost, which the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, both God and Lord, promised to send to man, the Comforter, as it is written, the Spirit of Truth. This Spirit He Himself sent after He had ascended into Heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father, from there to come to judge both the living and the dead.

But the word ‘substance,’ which was too simply inserted by the Fathers, and, not being understood by the people, was a cause of scandal through its not being found in the Scriptures, it has seemed good to us to remove, and that for the future no mention whatever be permitted of the ‘substance’ of the Father and the Son. Nor must one ‘essence’ be named in relation to the person of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And we call the Son like the Father, as the Holy Scriptures call Him and teach; but all the heresies, both those already condemned, and any, if such there be, which have risen against the document thus put forth, let them be anathema.”

All these summaries of faith are clear on several important points of trinitarian doctrine, identifying each person of the Trinity in the way the scriptures describe Them. The Father is the one God, the Almighty; the Son is our one Lord, only-begotten of the Father before all time, thus being a distinct person from the Father Who is co-eternal with Him, Who is also God and Lord, as sharing in the Father’s authority and dominion the universe. Likewise the Holy Spirit of God is identified as a third distinct person, God’s Spirit.

Yet these statements of faith, while wholly biblical, can leave us with some questions: Why is the Father identified as the “one God”, when the Son is also taught to be “God of God”, sharing the same divinity as the Father? And while each person of the Trinity is identified distinctly in these statements, in what sense are these three persons “one”?

The answers to these questions are ultimately not as mysterious and paradoxical as heretics or Latin medieval scholastics would have you believe.

The early church fathers taught that there was only one God because there is only one supreme uncaused Cause of all things, the one supreme authority over all things, the person of the Father. Whereas the Son is described by scripture as eternally “begotten” of the Father, and the Spirit as eternal and “proceeding” from Him, the Father simply is, existing as He is without any cause or origin whatsoever. He Himself is the Cause not only of all creation, but also of His own Son and Holy Spirit through Whom He made all things. Likewise, the Father alone is the Supreme Authority over all absolutely, having authority over not only over all creation, but also over His own Son and Holy Spirit. For scriptural proof and patristic quotes on these topics, see Why There is Only One God: One Supreme Cause and Why There is Only One God: Headship.

The three persons of the Trinity are never explicitly described as being “one” anywhere in scripture; the one verse that says that has been nearly universally recognised as a later interpolation of the text, and does not appear in most Bibles. Even so, the sense of that verse is the same as other passages of scripture, which teach that the Father and Son are “one”. A cursory examination of the passages quickly reveals their meaning: most of them speak of the perfect agreement between the persons, in which respect they are “one” in will and mind, just as many individual believers in the book of Acts are described as being of “one mind” (Acts 2:46) and “one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32):

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are… that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:11, 21 NKJV)

So we see then that the close relational unity of the persons, and the perfect agreement They share, is spoken of as unity, a unity that believers are said to be able to share in. While this unity between God, His Son, and His Spirit includes this unity of perfect agreement, it extends beyond that; the persons are described by scripture as mutually indwelling each other, and being inseparable from each other. Thus John 1:18 says “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”(NKJV). The Son, then, is eternally in the bosom of the Father, distinct from Him, and yet inseparable from Him.

Related to this inseparability of the persons, we often see in scripture that God works though His Son and Holy Spirit. In the creation, sustenance, redemption, and the judgement of the world, scripture tells us that God works through His Son and Holy Spirit.

We also read in the scriptures that the Son is the “Image of the invisible God”, to Whom the Father said in the beginning “Let us make man in Our Image, after Our likeness”. So God and His Son are revealed to share a common image and likeness, as They also are revealed to share one will, one kingdom, one divinity, one Spirit, and to be united in Their actions.

For a more detailed explanation of what it means that the Son is God, sharing in His Father’s divinity, see The Meaning of the Term ‘God’.

We see, then, that the answers to these questions are not beyond the scope of what God has revealed to us in the scriptures. There is one God because the Father is one (Who alone is called by scripture the “one God” and “only God”). The Father alone is the supreme uncaused Cause of all and Supreme Authority over all (the idea carried by the Greek word often translated “Almighty”, Pantokrator). His Son and Holy Spirit, however, are united with Him, or one with Him, in the close unity that the persons share in action and in will.

To conclude this introduction to classical trinitarianism, let us close with the Creed composed at Antioch in 345, known as the Macrostich (or “long-lined creed”). This ancient Creed includes a great deal of detail, proclaiming the truth of classical trinitarianism and providing detailed explanations of the points of doctrine it confesses, and carefully distinguishing classical trinitarianism from the various heresies, specifically rejecting Arianism, Modalism, and Tritheism:

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the Creator and Maker of all things, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.

And in His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, by whom all things were made, in heaven and on the earth, visible and invisible, being Word and Wisdom and Power and Life and True Light, who in the last days was made man for us, and was born of the Holy Virgin, crucified and died and was buried, and rose again from the dead on the third day, and was taken up into heaven, and sat down on the right hand of the Father, and is coming at the consummation of the age to judge the living and the dead, and to render to everyone according to his works; whose kingdom endures unceasingly unto all the ages; for He sits on the right hand of the Father, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come.

And we believe in the Holy Ghost, that is, the Paraclete, which, having promised to the apostles, He sent forth after the ascension into heaven, to teach them and to remind of all things; through whom also shall be sanctified the souls of those who sincerely believe in Him.

But those who say that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God; and that there was a time or age when He was not, the catholic and holy church regards as aliens. Likewise those who say that there are three Gods, or that Christ is not God, or that before the ages He was neither Christ nor Son of God, or that Father and Son or Holy Ghost are the same, or that the Son is unbegotten, or that the Father begat the Son not by choice or will: the holy and catholic church anathematizes.

1. For neither is it safe to say that the Son is from nothing, (since this is no where spoken of Him in divinely inspired Scripture,) nor again of any other subsistence before existing beside the Father, but from God alone do we define Him genuinely to be generated. For the divine Word teaches that the Unbegotten and Unbegun, the Father of Christ, is One.

2. Nor may we, adopting the hazardous position, ‘There was once when He was not,’ from unscriptural sources, imagine any interval of time before Him, but only the God who has generated Him apart from time; for through Him both times and ages came to be. Yet we must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun and co-unbegotten with the Father; for no one can be properly called Father or Son of one who is co-unbegun and co-unbegotten with Him. But we acknowledge that the Father who alone is unbegun and unbegotten, has generated inconceivably and incomprehensibly to all; and that the Son has been generated before ages, and in no wise to be unbegotten Himself like the Father, but to have the Father who generated Him as His beginning; for ‘the head of Christ is God’ (1 Corinthians 11:3).

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

4. Nor again, in saying that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one only God, the only unbegotten, do we therefore deny that Christ also is God before ages; as the disciples of Paul of Samosata, who say that after the incarnation He was by advance made God, from being made by nature a mere man. For we acknowledge, that though He be subordinate to His Father and God, yet, being before ages begotten of God, He is God perfect according to nature and true, and not first man and then God, but first God and then becoming man for us, and never having been deprived of being.

5. We abhor besides, and anathematize those who make a pretence of saying that He is but the mere word of God and unexisting, having His being in another – now as if pronounced, as some speak, now as mental – holding that He was not Christ or Son of God or mediator or image of God before ages; but that He first became Christ and Son of God, when He took our flesh from the virgin, not quite four hundred years ago. For they will have it that then Christ began His kingdom, and that it will have an end after the consummation of all and the judgment. Such are the disciples of Marcellus and Scotinus of Galatian Ancyra, who, equally with Jews, rejected Christ’s existence before ages, and His Godhead, and unending kingdom, upon pretence of supporting the divine monarchy. We, on the contrary, regard Him not as simply God’s pronounced word or mental, but as Living God and Word, existing in Himself, and Son of God and Christ; being and abiding with His Father before ages, and that not in foreknowledge only, and ministering to Him for the whole framing whether of things visible or invisible. For it is He to whom the Father said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ (Genesis 1:26), who also was seen in His own person by the patriarchs, gave the law, was spoken by the prophets, and at last became man and manifested His own Father to all men, and reigns to never-ending ages. For Christ has taken no recent dignity, but we have believed Him to be perfect from the first and like in all things to the Father.

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

7. And at the same time those who irreverently say that the Son has been generated not by choice or will, thus encompassing God with a necessity which excludes choice and purpose, so that He begat the Son unwillingly, we account as most irreligious and alien to the Church; in that they have dared to define such things concerning God, beside the common notions concerning Him, so, beside the intention of divinely inspired Scripture. For we, knowing that God is absolute and sovereign over Himself, have a religious judgment that He generated the Son voluntarily and freely. Yet, as we have a reverent belief in the Son’s words concerning Himself (Proverbs 8:22), ‘The Lord created me a beginning of His ways for His works,’ we do not understand Him to have been originated like the creatures or works which through Him came to be. For it is irreligious and alien to the ecclesiastical faith, to compare the Creator with handiworks created by Him, and to think that He has the same manner of origination with the rest. For divine Scripture teaches us assuredly and truly that the Only-begotten Son was generated sole and solely. Yet, in saying that the Son is in Himself, and both lives and exists like the Father, we do not on that account separate Him from the Father, imagining place and interval between their union in the way of bodies. For we believe that they are united with each other without mediation or distance, and that they exist inseparably. All the Father encompassing the Son, and all the Son hanging and adhering to the Father, and alone resting on the Father’s breast continually. Believing then in the all-perfect triad, the most holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods, but one dignity of Godhead, and one exact harmony of dominion, the Father alone being head over the whole universe wholly, and over the Son Himself, and the Son subordinated to the Father; but, excepting Him, ruling over all things after Him which through Himself have come to be, and granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will. For that such is the account of the Divine Monarchy towards Christ, the sacred oracles have delivered to us.

Thus much, in addition to the faith before published in epitome, we have been compelled to draw forth at length, not in any officious display, but to clear away all unjust suspicion concerning our opinions among those who are ignorant of our affairs; and that all in the West may know, both the audacity of the slanders of the heterodox, and as to the Orientals, their ecclesiastical mind in the Lord, to which the divinely inspired Scriptures bear witness without violence, where men are not perverse.”

Examining Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4 “the Shema”- the Father, or the Trinity?

Deuteronomy 6:4 is a famous verse: “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord.” (LXX Bible). It is used not only by Christians, but also Jews and various other sects to prove that the scriptures teach monotheism, the belief that there is only one God.

This is of course true; but it is also noteworthy that this passage of scripture tells us that God is one and does not include an explanation of what is meant by this in relation to the Trinity. Revelation was progressive, and at this point in history, not as much detail had been revealed about the Trinity in the scriptures. That said, this verse is not primarily intended to teach us about the doctrine of the Trinity; it is a blanket statement of monotheism.

As previously discussed in The Priority of the New Testament in Trinitarian Doctrine, we must read less clear passages of scripture with the aid of those which are more clear. When a given passage of scripture reveals that there is only one God, and does not speak in further detail to how this fits with the doctrine of the Trinity, our first response should be to seek clarification on this topic from other passages of scripture that speak to this point. It is unwise to simply jump to trying to invent our own custom interpretation of the passage without examining it in light of other related passages of scripture.

When we look at New Testament passages related to Deut. 6:4, we find several. Firstly let us note that it is quoted in Mark 12:28-34:

“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”

29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

But after that no one dared question Him.” (NKJV)

This whole exchange is admittedly vague enough to say that it does not speak with certainty as to who the person Deuteronomy 6:4 refers to is, but it is noteworthy at the very least that the Lord gives no indication whatsoever that he views that verse as referring to Himself. This is significant, because if the Trinity in totality were being referenced there, as semi-modalists suggest, then it would refer to Christ, along with the Father and the Spirit. The lack of any indication this is the case leaves no support for interpreting Deuteronomy 6:4 as referring to the whole Trinity in this passage.

Let us then examine other passages which could be considered parallel in the New Testament, inasmuch as they also speak of the fact that there is only one God:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5 NAS)

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NAS)

“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 NAS)

Unlike Deuteronomy 6:4, these passages not only state clearly that there is only one God, but also explicit identify Who is referred to by that title: the person of the Father in particular. Theses passages, unlike Deuteronomy 6:4 go beyond merely affirming monotheism to include detail on how these statements fit with the doctrine of the Trinity, by identifying the one God as the first person of the Trinity.

If then we are willing to read the less-clear passage, Deuteronomy 6:4, with the assistance of these more-clear passages, we will be forced to admit that the most reasonable interpretation of Who Deuteronomy 6:4 is referring to is the person of the Father alone. This is to read the less-clear passage in light of the more-clear, and to read both Testaments in tandem with each other, assuming that when scripture speaks of there being one God in the Old Testament it means the same thing, and refers to the same person, as the the New does when it speaks of the “one God”.

That Deuteronomy 6:4 is most reasonably taken, then, as speaking of the person of the Father, I have now shown. And on the basis of sound reasoning from the scriptures, this conclusion ought to be accepted. Yet I am aware that many throughout church history have insisted that this verse refers to the entire Trinity, or even to the person of the Son in some stranger interpretations. Because of this, I think it useful to include a few quotes here from the church fathers, showing that several of them also regarded this as an acceptable interpretation:

 

Ignatius of Antioch:

“For Moses, the faithful servant of God, when he said, “The Lord thy God is one Lord,” and thus proclaimed that there was only one God, did yet forthwith confess also our Lord when he said, “The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone from the Lord.”” (Epistle to the Antiochenes, Chapter 2)

“There is then one God and Father, and not two or three; One who is; and there is no
other besides Him, the only true [God]. For “the Lord thy God,” saith [the Scripture], “is
one Lord.” And again, “Hath not one God created us? Have we not all one Father?
And there is also one Son, God the Word…” (Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2)

Irenaeus of Lyons:

“…or shall it be (what is really the case) the Maker of heaven and earth, whom also the prophets proclaimed,—whom Christ, too, confesses as His Father,— whom also the law announces, saying: “Hear, O Israel; The Lord thy God is one God?”” (Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 2)

Apostolic Constitutions:

“For He did not take away the law of nature, but confirmed it. For He that said
in the law, “The Lord thy God is one Lord;”1168 the same says in the Gospel, “That they might know Thee, the only true God.”” (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6, Section 4, Chapter 23)

Athanasius:

“Has then the divine teaching, which abolished the godlessness of the heathen or the
idols, passed over in silence, and left the race of mankind to go entirely unprovided with
the knowledge of God? Not so: rather it anticipates their understanding when it says:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God;” and again, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy
God with all thy heart and with all thy strength;” and again, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve, and shalt cleave to Him.” 2. But that the providence and ordering power of the Word also, over all and toward all, is attested by all inspired Scripture, this passage suffices to confirm our argument, where men who speak of God say: “Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth and it abideth. The day continueth according to Thine ordinance.” And again: “Sing to our God upon the harp, that covereth the heaven with clouds, that prepareth rain for the earth, that bringeth forth grass upon the mountains, and green herb for the service of man, and giveth food to the cattle.” 3. But by whom does He give it, save by Him through Whom all things were made? For the providence over all things belongs naturally to Him by Whom they were made; and who is this save the Word of God, concerning Whom in another psalm182 he says: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth.”” (Contra the Heathen, Part 3)

And of the Father it is written, ‘The Lord thy God is One Lord,’ and, ‘The God of gods, the Lord, hath spoken, and hath called the earth;’ and of the Son, ‘The Lord God hath shined upon us,’ and, ‘The God of gods shall be seen in Sion.’ And again of God, Isaiah says, ‘Who is a God like unto Thee, taking away iniquities and passing over unrighteousness?’” (De Synodis, Part 3)