In the midst of the raging Arian controversy, much was made of the Greek word ‘ousia’; the pro-Nicene Homoousian bishops, such as Athanasius arguing that the Son must be confessed as ‘homoousias’ (of the same essence) with the Father, and the conservative majority of bishops favoring instead the term ‘homoiousias’ (like in essence) to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father.
Both terms can be understood identically to mean that the Son’s essence is identical to and equal with that of the Father; the point of such emphasis was to declare the true divinity of the Son over and against Arians, who argued that the Son was merely a creature. Both the Homoousian and Homoiousian bishops held the opposite term in suspicion; those who favored ‘homoiousias’ rejecting ‘homoousias’ as a modalistic term which implied that the Son was the same person as the Father, as Sabellius had used it, while the Homoousians rejected ‘homoiousias’ as too vague of a term that would ultimately allow moderate Arians to agree with the church’s confession. Thus the church of the fourth century was strongly divided over these modes of expression.
Into the mix came a more moderate proposition which quickly gained widespread acceptance; that the highly controversial philosophical terminology of ‘ousia’ ought to be abandoned altogether, in favor of using scriptural expressions to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father. Instead of using philosophical terms that were not understood the same way by all parties, and were difficult for the average Christian to understand, these bishops urged that instead the Son ought to simply be described as being “like” the Father, as scripture says. These bishops readily confessed that the Son was of the same divine nature as the Father, thus granting what the Homoousians ostensibly wanted to signify by the term, as well as what the orthodox Homoiousians intended to signify by the term.
These bishops were labeled “Homoians” by their opponents; from the Greek word “homoi”, meaning “like”. They argued that the best course was to describe the Trinity in the same terminology as scripture did, and that it was prudent to eschew the language of “ousia” altogether, instead describing the Son’s co-divinity with the Father in other language, as the scriptures and the pre-Nicene church fathers had successfully done.
The Homoian description of the Son as “like” the Father is shown completely accurate upon examination; the person of the Son is not entirely identical to the person of the Father, as the Son is distinguished by His personal properties from the Father; namely, the Son is begotten of the Father, whereas the Father is entirely unbegotten and uncaused. The Son, however, is the “image of the invisible God” and “like” the Father because as the only-begotten Son of God He eternally has the same divine nature as the Father. By confessing that the Son is “like the Father is all things” with the exception of the Father’s personal properties, they confessed that the Son had the same divine nature as the Father, since likeness in “all things” must necessarily include divinity.
After the eventual political success of the Homoousian party, the Homoians and the councils in which they expressed their beliefs were slandered as being Arian, down to our own time. This label is completely inaccurate; the Creeds composed by the “Homoians” expressly reject Arianism, as is proven from their own statements below. They simply express classical orthodox trinitarianism without using the word ‘homoousias’, as scripture also does.
The first Creed to examine is the Macrostich (or long-lined) Creed composed by the Council of Antioch in 345. The authors of the Creed took great pains to ensure that they excluded Arianism entirely, as can be seen from their own words, in which, just as the Nicene Creed did, they reject the tenets of Arianism that the Son was a creature and that He was not eternal with the Father. Likewise, they express their belief in the co-divinity of the Son with the Father:
“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 one 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 endured 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 ingenerate, 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 Ingenerate and Unbegone, 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-ingenerate with the Father; for no one can be properly called Father or Son of one who is co-unbegun and co-ingenerate with Him. But we acknowledge that the Father who alone is unbegun and ingenerate, has generated inconceivably and incomprehensibly to all; and that the Son has been generated before ages, and in no wise to be ingenerate 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 ingenerate 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 ingenerate, 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 self, 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 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.”
Notice that Christ is described as “God of God” and as sharing “one dignity of Godhead” with the Father. That there is any difference between the Father and Son in time is explicitly denied, as is the notion that the Son is a creature. Arianism, Modalism, and tritheism are all rejected explicitly by this so-called “Arian” council. It should be obvious therefore to anyone with a knowledge of actual Arianism that this council cannot possibly be considered Arian. Rather, in the Macrostich we find one of the best statements of classical trinitarianism produced in the fourth century.
The Macrostich, however, was by no means the only Council of the fourth century to express its belief in classical trinitarianism in a “Homoian” manner; the Council of Thrace in 359 authored the following statement:
“We believe in one only true God, 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.”
We see here the anathemas of earlier councils upheld, and thus, Arianism is excluded.
The Council of Selucia in the same year wrote:
“We decline not to bring forward the authentic faith published at the Dedication at Antioch; though certainly our fathers at the time met together for a particular subject under investigation. But since ‘coessential’ and ‘like-in-essence,’ have troubled many persons in times past and up to this day, and since moreover some are said recently to have devised the Son’s ‘unlikeness’ to the Father, on their account we reject ‘coessential’ and ‘like-in-essence,’ as alien to the Scriptures, but ‘unlike’ we anathematize, and account all who profess it as aliens from the Church. And we distinctly confess the ‘likeness’ of the Son to the Father, according to the Apostle, who says of the Son, ‘Who is the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15)
And we confess and believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
And we believe also in our Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, generated from Him impassibly before all the ages, God the Word, God from God, Only-begotten, Light, Life, Truth, Wisdom, Power, through whom all things were made, in the heavens and on the earth, whether visible or invisible. He, as we believe, at the end of the world, for the abolishment of sin, took flesh of the holy virgin, and was made man, and suffered for our sins, and rose again, and was taken up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, and is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
We believe also in the Holy Ghost, which our Savior and Lord named Paraclete, having promised to send Him to the disciples after His own departure, as He did send; through whom He sanctifies those in the Church who believe, and are baptized in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
But those who preach anything beside this faith the catholic Church regards as aliens. And that to this faith that is equivalent which was published lately at Sirmium, under sanction of his religiousness the Emperor, is plain to all who read it.”
That Creed of the Council of Sirmium in 359 reads as follows:
“The catholic faith was published in the presence of our master, the most religious and gloriously victorious Emperor, Constantius, Augustus, the eternal and august, in the consulate of the most illustrious Flavii, Eusebius and Hypatius, in Sirmium on the eleventh of the Calends of June
We believe in One only and true God, the Father Almighty, creator and framer of all things.
And in one only-begotten Son of God, who, before all ages, and before all origin, and before all conceivable time, and before all comprehensible essence, was begotten impassibly from God; through whom the ages were disposed and all things were made; and Him begotten as the only-begotten, only from the only Father, God from God. Like to the Father who begat Him, according to the Scriptures; whose origin no one knows save the Father alone who begat Him. We know that He, the only-begotten Son of God, at the Father’s bidding came from the heavens for the abolishment of sin, and was born of the virgin Mary, and conversed with the disciples, and fulfilled the Economy according to the Father’s will, and was crucified, and died and descended into the parts beneath the earth, and regulated the things there, whom the gate-keepers of hell saw (Job 38:17) and shuddered; and He rose from the dead the third day, and conversed with the disciples, and fulfilled all the Economy, and when the forty days were full, ascended into the heavens, and sits on the right hand of the Father, and is coming in the last day of the resurrection in the glory of the Father, to render to everyone according to his works.
And in the Holy Ghost, whom the only-begotten of God Himself, Jesus Christ, had promised to send to the race of men, the Paraclete, as it is written, ‘I go to my Father, and I will ask the Father, and He shall send unto you another Paraclete, even the Spirit of truth He shall take of mine and shall teach and bring to your remembrance all things’ (John 14:16, 17, 26, 16:14)
But whereas the term ‘essence,’ has been adopted by the Fathers in simplicity, and gives offence as being misconceived by the people, and is not contained in the Scriptures, it has seemed good to remove it, that it be never in any case used of God again, because the divine Scriptures nowhere use it of Father and Son. But we say that the Son is like the Father in all things, as also the Holy Scriptures say and teach.”
The authors of this Creed too are slandered as Arians by their opponents; yet they explicitly reject Arianism, and no Arian could agree with the words quoted above. The eternality of the Son, and His divinity, are clearly stated; and if it is Arianism only to not use the word “homoousias” then the Apostles must also have been Arians, seeing as they expressed their belief in the Trinity without the word. But in truth, as can be seen from these statements of faith, the word ‘homoousias’ is not necessary for an accurate expression of what scripture teaches, and classical trinitarianism does not suffer without it. Semi-modalists, however, cannot do without it, for without the word to twist their entire false scheme of doctrine is taken away, and they are left only with three persons of the Trinity, the ousia no longer being given them to make into a fourth person.
In the year 360 we have a Creed from the Council of Constantinople:
“We believe in one God, Father Almighty, from whom are all things.
And in the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from God before all ages and before every beginning, by whom all things were made, visible and invisible, and begotten as only-begotten, only from the Father only, God from God, like to the Father that begat Him according to the Scriptures; whose origin no one knows, except the Father alone who begat Him. He as we acknowledge the only-begotten Son of God, the Father having sent Him, came here from the heavens, as it is written, for the undoing of sin and death, and was born of the Holy Ghost, of Mary the virgin according to the flesh, as it is written, and conversed with the disciples, and having fulfilled the whole Economy according to the Father’s will, was crucified and died and was buried and ascended to the parts below the earth, at whom hades itself shuddered; who also rose from the dead on the third day, and abode with the disciples, and forty days being fulfilled, was taken up into the heavens, and sits on the right hand of the Father to come in the last day of the resurrection in the Father’s glory, that He may render to every man according to his works.
And in the Holy Ghost, whom the only-begotten Son of God Himself, Christ, our Lord and God, promised to send to the race of man, as Paraclete, as it is written, ‘the Spirit of truth’ (John 16:13), which He sent to the them when He had ascended into the heavens.
But the name of ‘essence,’ which was set down by the Fathers in simplicity, and, being unknown by the people, caused offense, because the Scriptures do not contain it, it has seemed good to abolish, and for the future to make no mention of it at all; since the divine scriptures have made no mention of the essence of Father and Son. For neither ought ‘subsistence’ to be named concerning Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But we say that the Son is like the Father, as the divine Scriptures say and teach; and all the heresies, both those which have been already condemned, and whatever are of modern date, being contrary to this published statement, be they anathema.”
If then, all the previously condemned heresies are equally condemned by this council, what will those say who wish to portray every council other than those of Nicea and Constantinople in 381 as Arian? How can Arianism, which is condemned in so many of these councils, be excluded from such a statement which says that all previously condemned heresies are likewise condemned by this council? The subterfuge then that this statement is Arian will not hold; rather we must ask, what motivates one to try to label it so? What do they fear in such councils which condemn Arianism, that they must be pretended to be Arian, so as to stigmatize them and hide their teaching from the eyes of the church?
It is a clever tactic of the semi-modalists to turn away the eyes of the church from such statements of classical trinitarianism, lest the church recognize that the absurd philosophizing of the scholastics is neither biblical nor necessary, and that the doctrine of the Trinity can be stated biblically without them. Such statements are neither paradoxical, nor excessively complicated and impossible for the average Christian to understand, but describe the faith we know from scripture in the language of scripture.
But while these statements, the products of several assembles of very many bishops from all over the world, are hidden away from the church under the label of “Arian” (although they all condemn the Arian heresy), these semi-modalists insist rather that we should accept the so-called “Athanasian Creed”, a statement as ambiguous in its meaning as it is in its authorship, both of which are unknown. Yet this private composition, written in the middle ages and paraded around under the name of a man who never read it, is insisted on as a doctrinal standard of trinitarianism, while these many statements which have the actual authority of many bishops and churches behind them, whose authors are known, are rejected without cause.
The church will be benefitted greatly by learning from these simple confessions, and from recognizing that the true faith can just as easily exist without needing to talk of the “essence” and “substance” of the persons of the Trinity. So long as the orthodox meaning of such expressions as “homoousias” is accepted, and it is understood and believed that God’s Son and Holy Spirit share the same divine nature as He, what difference does it make what combination of words is used to express these truths? For it is not the words themselves which matter, but the thing indicated by them.
Source for Creeds: http://www.fourthcentury.com/conciliar-creeds-of-the-fourth-century/