Questions on the Pseudo-Athanasian Creed

The so-called Athanasian Creed, not authored by Athanasius, but by an anonymous medieval author, gives a long summary of Augustinian trinitarian dogma. It was not the product of, nor received the official sanction of, any of the supposed ‘7 ecumenical councils’. It reads as follows:

1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;

2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

3. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.

8. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.

9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

10. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.

11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.

12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.

13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.

14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.

15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;

16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

17. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;

18. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.

19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;

20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.

21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.

22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.

23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.

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.

27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

30. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.

31. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.

32. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

33. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.

34. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.

35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.

36. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.

37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;

38. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead;

39. He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty;

40. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

41. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;

42. and shall give account of their own works.

43. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

44. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.

 

Questions:

1) Does not the teaching that ‘in the Trinity, none is greater or less than another’, contradict the Lord’s own statement, “My Father is greater than I”?

2) If the response to this is that the statement “My Father is greater than I” must be understood in a nuanced way, so that in once sense the Father is greater than the Son, and in another They are equal, then is the creed not convicted of being too broad in its statement, and in error, since it does not make any such distinction in that place?

3) Does not declaring that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equal contradict the scriptures which say “God is the head of Christ”, and all the passages in the Old and New Testaments in which the Father is said to be the God of the Son, and that the Son acts according to the will of the Father, and can do nothing apart from the Father?

4) Does not declaring that the Son and Holy Spirit are ‘Almighty’ (Ruler over all) together with the Father clearly contradict the scriptures, which only call the Father “God Almighty”, and declare Him alone to be the Head and God of all things, even of His Son and Spirit?

5) Can something which contradicts the scriptures be fairly made to be standard which one must assent to be saved?

6) Does not saying that the Holy Spirit is ‘Lord’ and ‘God’ go beyond what can be proven from the scriptures?

7) Does not saying that the persons of the Trinity share one metaphysical nature go beyond what can be proven from the scriptures?

8) Can something which cannot be either proven nor disproven by the scriptures rightly be set up as a dogmatic standard which on must assent to in order to be saved?

9) Is it in the authority of any earthly man to set up, apart from the scriptures, or against the scriptures, their own opinions as a standard which others must consent to in order to be saved?

10) Does not the Athanasian Creed contradict the creed of the councils of Arminium and Seleucia, which have the approval of an ecumenical council?

11) How can a creed which contradicts the decision of an ecumenical council be counted as the catholic faith?

12) Since the so-called Athanasian creed includes the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but from the Father and the Son, which the churches of East reject, how can the doctrine it teaches be counted catholic, or universal?

13) How can a creed which declares an equality of authority between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by declaring Them to each be equally ‘Almighty’, be said to teach the catholic faith, when this notion contradicts the teaching of the ante-nicenes, who taught that there is a divine monarchy, with the Father, as the one God, at its head? How can a doctrine be called ‘catholic’ or universal, which could not find acceptance among the churches in the first three centuries after the apostles?

14) Does not the creed break with older trinitarian standards when it applies the title of the Son “one Lord”, and the title of the Father “one God” both to the Trinity as a whole instead of those persons individually?

15) How can a creed teaching Chalcedonian christology, which would be neither acceptable to the Gothic and Vandal Homoian churches, the ‘Nestorian’ Oriental Orthodox churches, nor the Coptic Miaphysite churches, be considered to teach the catholic faith? Or what is universal, or catholic, about doctrines which the whole church is not in agreement upon?

16) Is not the language of the Creed that there “the Father is ‘x’, the Son is ‘x’, the Spirit is ‘x’, yet there are not three ‘x’s, but one ‘x'” manifestly paradoxical?

17) Does not such paradoxical language, which is unintelligible to most, constitute a needless stumbling block to the simple and less-educated?

18) If a creed’s use is to express belief, then is it not requisite that for a creed to be useful, it must be believed?

19) How can people be said to believe what they do not understand the meaning of? Merely giving assent to a series of words which one does not comprehend the significance of can hardly be counted as belief, can it?

20) If then the creed, by being needlessly paradoxical and confusing, is unintelligible to the masses, is it not necessarily a useless creed, since it does not make known the actual beliefs of most who are compelled to give assent to it? And if it does accurately represent the beliefs of an elite few, since it fails to meaningfully communicate that view to the masses, is it not also useless on that count?

21) Finally, how can a creed which contains so so many propositions which are contradictory to the scriptures, and so many propositions which are highly controversial among the churches, and rejected by many of them, and which is so confused, paradoxical, and incoherent in what it says, put itself on such a high and lofty pedestal as to say that anyone who holds a different opinion than what it says, or does not think the same way, shall be damned, and is no Christian? Is it not the greatest hubris to put such a creed on the same level with scripture, in making it a standard which must be believed to be saved, although it contains many things not found in the scriptures?

Thoughts and Questions on the Councils of Arminium and Seleucia

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

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

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

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

Questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary on the Pseudo-Athanasian Creed

The Pseudo-Athanasian Creed is quite possibly the most heretical Creed ever officially approved of by church bodies. As I shall show below, far from summing up the Christian faith, it would be more accurately regarded as a creed of antichristian sentiments. That it’s supposed authorship by Athanasius is fraudulent is widely recognised by scholars, and I need not take time here to show what anyone can find with a quick search of the internet.

The Creed is still hailed by some as an ‘Ecumenical Creed’, an assertion which is quite laughable itself. The Creed is not used by the East, and by its inclusion of the filoque can be considered quite repugnant to Eastern orthodox thought. Its late authorship in medieval Europe is reflected in its doctrine, and cannot be considered representative of the theology of either its feigned author, Athanasius, or of any of the Eastern communions of churches. It belongs to the Roman Catholic church and its Protestant descendants only- making the claim that it is ecumenical obviously false, unless only those churches which one agrees with are included in the definition of ‘ecumenical’, in which case nearly any doctrine however obscure, so long as some small body of churches holds it, may be considered ‘ecumenical’.

The Creed itself touts that it is a summary of the catholic faith, which a person must believe to be saved. To a Protestant, or any real Christian, this statement is quite ridiculous, as the Creed well exceeds the holy scriptures in what it affirms, and downright contradicts them, as we shall see. Men are left with a choice, then, upon reading this bully of a creed, whether they will forsake the scriptures out of fear of its empty threats, or whether they will forsake the “catholic faith” of a medieval heretic for the true catholic faith taught by the holy and infallible scriptures, which alone are suited to be the ordinary rule of Christian faith.

Even church councils do not have the authority to bind our consciences beyond scripture, with doctrines and practices which have not been revealed by God, and thus cannot be ordinarily known to be legitimate. Yet this Creed is not the result of any council, or of any notable individual even, but of some anonymous author, summing up his own private opinion of what ought to be enforced on everyone else. That the Creed stands in need of both idle threats and a pretended authorship by Athanasius to gain adherents is itself a testament to how uncompelling its doctrines are. Only by threats and lies pertaining to its authorship, and the authority of the Pope, the antichrist of Rome, has this miserable blasphemy been forced upon the churches of the west.

The creed reads thus:

1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;

2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

3. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.

8. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.

9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

10. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.

11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.

12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.

13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.

14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.

15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;

16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

17. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;

18. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.

19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;

20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.

21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.

22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.

23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.

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.

27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

30. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.

31. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.

32. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

33. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.

34. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.

35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.

36. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.

37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;

38. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead;

39. He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty;

40. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

41. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;

42. and shall give account of their own works.

43. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

44. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.

Lines 1-2 of the Creed have already been addressed- this anonymous Creed has no authority over any man, and its threats are as idle as its nonsensical propositions.

Line 3 begins the actual doctrinal meat of the creed, with the now sadly-famous phrase “That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity”. The one God, according to the scriptures, is the person of the Father in particular, not the Trinity. The Trinity is never even expressly mentioned as such in scripture. The one God, rather, throughout scripture, is always identified as the self-same person as the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The testimony of the early church also agrees with this; see: We Believe in One God, the Father Almighty for both scriptural proof and patristic witness to this truth.

The one God, is, according to the earlier standard of the church, the Nicene Creed, “the Father Almighty”. This is an accurate definition. It maintains scripture’s teaching that the one God is one person, the Father, and that He is the “Almighty”, or in Greek “Pantokrator”. This word and its meaning are important; it does not, like the English word “almighty” suggest unlimited ability or strength. Rather the word literally means “Ruler over all”- it denotes supreme headship and dominion over all, absolutely. Thus the term is applied exclusively to the Father, “the blessed and only Potentate” (1 Tim 6:15), Who “is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3) and “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6).

That the Father is the one God is important to know, for scripture reveals it; but it is important to know not only that these words are true, but what they mean according to the scriptures. How, after all, can the Father be the “one God”, while the Son is also called God?

To answer this question it is important to understand what the term “God” even means in itself. It is a term used very frequently throughout the scriptures, not only for the Supreme God, the Father, the “Lord God Pantokrator” (Rev 4:8), but also for being as low as men and angels. As Jesus noted in John 10:35 “He [God] called them gods, to whom the word of God came”, speaking of a psalm where the men of Israel were called “gods”. In Psalm 82:1 “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods”, calling created angels gods. Paul is well aware of this when he writes “For even if there are many called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”

Scripture then presents the word “God” as something which may be ascribed to many persons. What’s more, scripture treats the word “God” as a relative word, denoting relation rather than some absolute quality. Thus all throughout scripture we have statements where phrases like “my God”, “your God”, and “our God” are used. Sir Isaac Newton comments well on this point:

“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 a signifies 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)

Newton’s observations well account for how scripture uses the term “God”. To be “God” therefore is to have dominion, and Godhood is dominion. Thus scripture can justly call the judges of Israel and holy angels “gods” without this in any way blaspheming the one supreme God, the Father. That the Father is the one God then does not tell us something about His nature, but rather tells us that He is the one Who alone has supreme dominion over all, absolutely. Thus on the one hand, as Paul and other scriptures said, there are many gods, and yet in another sense, the highest sense, there is only one God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who alone has dominion over all things absolutely. This dominion (or Godhood) extends not only over all creation, but also over His own only-begotten Son, as we saw above. Thus Christ could say to His disciples, looking forward to His ascension “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

That the Son, although He is another individual person from the Father, the one God, is also called “God” should be no surprise at all. For the Lord said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Having thus received Godhood over all creation from His Father, “in Him the fulness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). Nor was this deity something the Son merely received upon His exaltation to the right hand of the Father, but from the beginning, as the only-begotten Son of God begotten prior to creation and all time, the “the Word was God”. And thus the Son is called “Mighty God” (Isa 9:6), and thus the Psalmist says to the Son “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. 7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Ps 45:6-7 KJV).

The Son is then God and true God, but this does not make Him the Lord God Almighty, the one God, the only true God- for these titles belong to His Father alone, as His Father alone has Godhood over all things absolutely, including over the Son Himself; while the Son has Godhood over all creation which was made through Him, given to Him by the Father, which He exercises according to the Father’s will, on His behalf (John 5:30).

Godhood then is dominion, not a nature, and to be “God” is to have this dominion. For Christians then there is one God, the Father, the one Supreme Ruler over all, and His Son is also God, because the Father has given Him a share in that dominion over all creation, while the Son Himself is still subject to the Father as His God.

This understanding is an important basis for any discussion of theology or the Trinity. Without knowing what we mean by the term “God” and what it means for there to be “one God”, and without knowing what “Godhood” is, we cannot hope to accurately evaluate the pseudo-Athanasian Creed.

For the Creed then to say that there is one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, is, according to the later sections of the Creed, seemingly meant to be equivalent to saying that there is one God in three persons, and three persons in one God. This is a fair reading since “Trinity” is historically a term that applies to three united persons.

We must ask then what is meant by saying that one God is in three persons? The one God, as we saw from scripture, is the person of the Father, one person. This one person is one of the three persons of the Trinity. One might guess that perhaps this phrase could be taken as referring to the Father indwelling the Son and Spirit, and They the Father, yet this cannot account for the phrase either, since the one God is not described here as one person in unity with two other by way of mutual indwelling, but as a distinct entity entirely which dwells in all three persons, including the Father.

This last observation should give us pause- the one God dwells in the Father? Such absurd blasphemy is reminiscent of the gnostic heresies of the second century, by which Satan sought to create an identity crisis surrounding the identity of God by making out as though the God who created all things and the Father, the God of the New Testament, are two different beings. Perish such a blasphemous thought! Yet this same blasphemy is revived in Augustinian trinitarianism such as is seen in this Creed.

The entire creed begins then by pretentiously summing up under the name under the name of “the catholic faith” a blasphemy and falsehood as great as that of Marcion and the gnostics. The one God does not dwell in the Father, but is the Father. We see then that the whole Creed starts off on a heretical note.

But what is the one God, according to the Creed? We are not told, except that this one God includes in itself the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and is in Them. As we shall see later, the author of the creed has no recognition of the biblical usage of the term God, but instead treats Godhood as a nature or metaphysical essence.

Lines 4-6 read “4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. 5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. 6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.” In these lines we see that “substance” and “Godhead” seem to be equated. While the “persons” are three, the substance is one, and noted as being undivided.

Here it is crucial to note that “substance” is being used in a way that potentially equivocates with its usage in the Nicene Creed. At first glance this is Nicene, like Nicea proclaiming that the persons of the Trinity share a common genus or nature or substance. But this Creed was authored in Latin, and in the Latin usage of “substance”, there were two possible meanings of the term. One, “secondary substance” is that of Nicea- genus, species, or kind. The second, “primary substance” was the more common usage, and refers to an individual, such as when a person is defined as “a rational substance”. The pseudo-Athanasian Creed is ambiguous, but likely uses the latter meaning.

This is likely at the very least from our knowledge of the historical context; in latin trinitarianism, the one God is a person, who in turn is the three real persons of the Trinity. Thus Augustine prayed to this person as “God the Trinity”. The Trinity as a whole, the “one God” of Augustine, is the one substance shared by the persons of the Trinity. At one time this substance is spoken of as though a genus, like at Nicea; at another, as a person, as Sabellius taught. Given this context, the ambiguity may be intentional; but certainly, if we read this creed in congruence with its medieval environment, it is fair to assume that the “one substance” here is in fact an individual, a primary substance.

The creed also sets out to distinguish the persons, saying that they must not be confounded with one another; the three persons are, according to the creed, truly distinct. This is important to remember, as later this true point is contradicted.

It then proclaims that the Godhead is one, the glory equal, and the majesty co-eternal among the three distinct persons. “Godhead”, as per line 35 of the Creed, is clearly meant as secondary substance, metaphysical essence, or nature. This is in keeping with Nicea, although the point is not one that can be proven to a certainty from the holy scriptures, which are to be the true source of our doctrine. The Father’s metaphysical nature is never fully disclosed to us; neither is that of His Son. Rather scripture reveals many attributes, actions, and offices of these persons, without giving us a platonic breakdown of their respective metaphysical natures. Thus such assertions, while plausible, are left to the realm of extra-biblical speculation. Thus to make them a rule of faith, and set them up as a standard which all men must believe to be saved, is to go well beyond scripture, and to say that men must assent to mere theories and plausibilities in order to be saved.

Such is not the teaching of the scriptures. We are told what we must hold to by the scriptures: “Test everything, and hold fast to that which is good.” (1 Thess 5:21). We are to test all doctrines that men suggest to us as being true, and even those which authorities insist upon us, by the scriptures, which are for us a precious and infallible first principle, which we, receiving by God-given faith, may test all other propositions by. Those doctrines then which are demonstrated from the scriptures are good, and we must hold fast to them, according to the command of scripture. But those which are, although not disproven, not absolutely proven either, we must leave within the realm of plausibilities and theories, and not, as though they were known with certainty to be true, enforce them upon others as a standard for communion.

The glory being “equal” among the persons is another statement found nowhere in scripture, again constituting conjecture which cannot be proven. Certainly the Son is proclaimed to be the only-begotten Son of the one God, the brightness of His glory, the exact representation of His person, and the image of Him, the invisible God, the Wisdom and Power of His Father, Who has life in Himself and the Father has life in Himself. Certainly the Son is like the Father and is very glorious. Yet we are not told that the glory of the Father and the Son is equal; much less is the Holy Spirit’s glory compared by scripture.

What we do know is that when Moses asked to see God’s glory, He was only allowed to see it partly and obscurely, for “No one can see my face and live” (Ex 33:20), God said to Him. No man then, we are assured has ever seen God’s glory, for “no man has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). Yet the Son was seen “face to face” (Gen 32:30) by men prior to the incarnation when He appeared as the Angel (or Messenger) of the Lord, ministering to the will of His Father prior to the incarnation. Likewise Isaiah saw Him in a vision in Isa 6, which John refers to in John 12:41 “These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.” (NKJV). The glory of the Son, then, was seen by mortal men, and they lived, yet the glory of the Father is such that “No one can see my face and live”. The one God is invisible, that is, unseeable, to mortal man, because to see God’s glory would kill us, we are told (Ex 33). Yet the Son’s glory, we are told, was seen, and though extremely great, was not deadly.

This certainly gives the appearance of some difference between the glory of the Father and that of the Son; between Him Who is invisible, and Him Who is the Image of that Invisible Person. Yet the matter is left open to conjecture; there may be ways to explain this apparent difference which allow for there to be, in some sense, an equality of glory and an identicality of essence. Two fires, for example, may share the same essence, both being truly fire by definition, and yet one may be larger than the other, and therefore brighter and hotter than the other. The difference in such a case can be viewed as one of magnitude, not one of kind. So perhaps something similar is true in respect to God and His Son, such that although the Son is visible and the Father invisible, yet this may arise from some other factor than a difference in essence or inequality of glory. Scripture does not specify, nor offer any reward or encouragement for digging into deep mysteries and things which God has not revealed to us.

This Creed, however, taking no heed of these things, seeks to be the corrector of scripture rather than its disciple. Let us not follow its bad example.

As far as the majesty being “co-eternal”, that the Son and Spirit are co-eternal with the Father is beyond doubt. The Son was begotten before the ages, and the ages and all time were created through Him (Heb 1:2, John 1:1-3, Prov 8:22-31). The Holy Spirit is called “the eternal Spirit” (Heb 9:14).

Next we come to line 7, which reads “7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.” This is flatly false. If one believes that the three persons share a common metaphysical nature, then certainly within that scope one could fairly assert that the Son and Holy Spirit are identical to the Father, but only in respect to Their nature. When we look at the persons on the whole, we must take into account their personal properties as well as their nature. The Father, for example, is unbegotten, uncaused, Father, and head over all things absolutely as the Supreme God. The Son and Spirit do not share any of these qualities with the Father. They do not beget Sons. They are not uncaused, but have the Father as Their Cause and Source. And it is manifestly obvious that by the very nature of being Supreme God, this quality cannot be communicated to another; and the Son and Spirit are under the Godhood of the Father, as we have already seen.

Line 7 of the creed then is shown to be utterly unbiblical and unpalatable to any true Christian. Had this been limited to the scope of essence, it could be reasonable, but the creed simply leaves the statement unqualified.

In the next lines the creed goes through a list of attributes and tries to demonstrate this principle given in line 7 with them each, stating that they are shared by the Father and the Son, and yet there is only one subject of that attribute. In this endeavor it repeatedly attempts to overthrow arithmetic, to no avail. One and one and one is three, not one. God did not send His Logos to teach men to abandon the rationality He gave us, but to save us. Yet the author of this Creed attempts a futile war against numbers, which, were he not serious, would be nearly comical.

Lines 8-9 read “The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. 9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.” That all three persons are uncreated is biblical. The Son was begotten, not created, and this mode of origination, whatever the difference may be between that and creation, is certainly unique to the Son, as He is “only-begotten” (John 3:16). All creatures, on the other hand, were made through Him (John 1:3), and thus the Son is categorically excluded from creation. The Holy Spirit likewise is said to have been the instrument of God in the creation of all angelic and heavenly spirits (Ps 33:6), and thus is excluded from possibly being a creature.

As to the Father, Son, and Spirit being incomprehensible, the term can be translated as “immeasurable”, “infinite”, or “illimitable”. Each of these carries somewhat different but related ideas. Such a confession follows logically from co-essentiality if an essential attribute is in view here.

Lines 10-12 continue “The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. 11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal. 12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.”

The eternality of the persons of the Trinity has already been addressed and affirmed. As three distinct persons, each person is eternal. Yet the Creed goes further than this biblical assertion to affirm the heresy of modalism, in a deviant form. There are three eternal persons- the creed just admitted as much. To then turn and say that there is only one is to deny arithmetic, or to deny the proposition itself. It denies that there are three eternals- yet it has just confessed that there are three. Here we see the self-contradiction inherent in the Augustinian system of semi-modalism. There are three eternal persons in reality, and not one only. The assertion that there is only one, if given more weight, must be a denial that there are three truly; or else the assertion that there are really three must be a denial that there is only one.

One way to understand this in a somewhat less contradictory fashion is to suppose that one of these clauses is meant in a real and literal way, and the other merely nominal. The question is, if this were so, which is nominal? The weight of emphasis seems to be placed on the singularity, and so, in such an understanding the creed could only be understood to assert that there are nominally three persons, but not really. Yet such is the nature of these self-contradictory statements that one could forever wonder which half of the proposition the creed really supports, and never find an answer.

The qualities of being uncreated and incomprehensible get the same nonsensical treatment. If there are three eternal persons, then there is not only one eternal person. If there are three uncreated persons, then there is not only one uncreated person. Yet this creed nonsensically affirms mutually exclusive ideas. The idea that such statements consititute the catholic faith, and must be believed to be saved, is utter nonsense, without either logical or scriptural support.

We may wonder if these self-contradictory statements were not given out of a dishonest intent, with a view to be able to confound any opponent by always agreeing with what they might say, while also affirming the opposite.

In lines 13-14 the nonsense continues “So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. 14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.” There is indeed only one Almighty, according to scripture, for as we saw above, the term translated “Almighty” is the Greek word “Pantokrator” in the scriptures, which means “Ruler over all”. So it was translated into Latin “Omnipotent” which can be understood the same way. As we also discussed, only the Father is called “Almighty” in the scriptures, for the reason that only the person of the Father is “Lord God Pantokrator”, the one Supreme Authority over all.

That this blasphemous creed calls the Son and Spirit also “Almighty” is just as much a confounding of persons as if it had called Them both “Father”- there is only one Supreme Ruler over all, the Father, Who has dominion or Godhood not only over all creation but also over His own only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit. The assertion of three “Almighties” then is the assertion that there are three Supreme Gods, and thus is a denial of monotheism as taught by the scriptures. But this wretched creed can be counted on to contradict itself, which it does.

Line 15-16 continue saying “15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; 16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.”

The Holy Spirit is never to the knowledge of this author called “God” in the scriptures. In this respect, the Creed seemingly goes beyond what can be known from the scriptures and is said by them. It is accurate to the teaching of scripture that Father and Son are both God. Yet it is unbiblical in saying that They together are one God. The one God is not the Father and the Son, but the Father, as we said above. The Son also has been given a share in the Father’s godhood over all creation, and so, is not an independent or rival God, but rather participates in the Father’s monarchy, as the instrument by which the Father rules over all things through the Son. So there is only one Supreme God, the Father, and His Son is God, but subordinate to His Father, the one God. So although both persons are God, since the Son is under the Godhood of His Father, a monarchy is preserved, and there is one Supreme God, the Father. Such is the scriptural and early patristic reckoning of monotheism.

It continues “17. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; 18. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.” I am unaware of the Holy Spirit being called “Lord” in the scriptures. That the Son is Lord, and the Father Lord, is abundantly clear. Yet the way that the term is used in the scriptures has a special significance as a title special to the Son, by which His subordinate headship over all creation, while being under the Godhood of the Father, is denoted. Thus 1 Cor 8:6 says “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). In this special sense, in which being “Lord” denotes the Son’s subordinate role to the Father in governing the universe, the term cannot be fittingly applied to the Father. However, in a more general term , simply denoting dominion, it may fittingly be applied to the Father as well as the Son. The special sense which belongs to the Son is denoted by Him being called our “one Lord”. This convention is also common in the early church fathers.

To say that the three persons of the Trinity are together “one Lord” is not only to go against the teaching of scripture concerning this being a special title for the Son, but also approaches modalism. To say that three persons are one Lord comes very close to asserting that three persons are one person.

In lines 19-20 continue: “19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; 20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.”

True Christians are compelled to follow the scriptures, whatever they teach, and strive to be the disciples of the same. Yet this creed blasphemously sets out to be the corrector of the scriptures, constantly going beyond what they teach in what it affirms, and sometimes contradicting them blatantly. That there is one God and one Lord we have already examined, as well as in what sense this is the case. 1 Cor 8:6 says “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). In contrast to scripture and the Nicene Creed, this Creed represents clear degeneration in the western church’s understanding of these matters.

In lines 21-24 there is finally something reminiscent of Nicene theology: “21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. 22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. 23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. 24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.” Line 21-22 are accurate, as is 24. Line 23 includes the filoque so hated by the churches of the East, proving that this Creed is anything but ecumenical. It serves as just one more example of teaching that goes beyond what is revealed in scripture. The statement that the Holy Spirit is “proceeding” requires the interpretation that the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father in John 15:26 is ontological, rather than economic.

Line 25-26 read “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.” These statements are contrary to the plain teaching of the scriptures “If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28 KJV). That all three persons are co-eternal is indeed taught by the scriptures, but that the Son and Spirit are equal to the Father is contradictory to biblical monotheism altogether, and to the plain sense of so many passages of scripture. The Son and Holy Spirit are under the headship and authority of the Father, the one God, and so, the Father is greater than the Son and Spirit in respect to authority. Also, as this Creed itself has acknowledged, the Son and Spirit are from the Father, the Father being the Source, Cause, and Origin of both the Son and the Holy Spirit, and so in respect to causality, the Father Who is alone without Cause, Source, or Origin, must be considered greater than the Son and the Holy Spirit. To speculate in respect to essence here is to go beyond scripture’s revelation. But the fact stands, that while the Son of God freely taught, without giving qualification, that His Father is greater than He, this creed of antichrist outright denies this same truth.

Thus at this juncture the reader of the pseudo-Athanasian Creed is posed with a choice, as to whether they will allow themselves to be bullied into denying the true catholic faith by denying the holy scriptures, or if they will instead hold fast to scripture, and reject the creed. For with statements so openly contradictory to scripture, the creed forces a choice between the pretended “catholic faith” of its author, and the holy scriptures themselves.

To declare the Son equal with the Father, without qualification, is to imply that He is equal to the Father in authority and dominion; such a doctrine not only explicitly contradicts the scriptures, but also, by making two, or in this case three persons who are equally supreme in dominion and authority, makes there out to be three Gods, destroying biblical monotheism, which as we have said, is that there is only one Supreme Ruler over all absolutely, the Father, the one “Lord God Pantokrator”.

This doctrine of a Trinity of three co-equal persons then is a denial of monotheism, and the teaching of scripture, and the Christian faith.

Articles 27-28 finish off the section on the Trinity, saying “27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. 28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.” This is merely a repetition of the idle threats and foolish blasphemies the Creed began with, and need not be addressed again.

The rest of the Creed focuses on the incarnation, but I will not toil over that section of it. It is enough to show that it is no orthodox creed, and a denial of the Christian faith. No attempt at explaining the incarnation of the Lord on that foundation can have any hopeful prospect.

 

Significant Changes in Homoousian Creeds in the Post-Nicene Era

The ‘Homoousian’ fathers were those church fathers who during the trinitarian controversies of the fourth century favored the Greek word ‘homoousias’, to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father. This word was employed in this manner by the Nicene Creed, and was highly controversial. To understand why the word was controversial we must first understand that it was a philosophical term not understood the same way by everyone.

Secondly we must note that its meaning prior to the trinitarian controversies of the fourth century was effectively equivalent to the modern English word “being”. Just as “being” in English can  be used in significantly different ways, to indicate either a nature/genus, or an individual (such a “human being”), so ‘ousia’ could be understood to indicate an individual, or a nature shared by many individuals. Therefore, when initially introduced to theological discussion, the word “ousia” was actually used to indicate an individual, with Sabellius, an early classical modalist, using the term ‘homoousias’ (same ousia) to say that the Father and Son were the same person. Similarly, Paul of Samosata used the term ‘homoousias’ to portray the Son as a part of the Father’s person, and thus the same person, or ‘homoousias’. This idea, and the word itself, were therefore condemned by church council, which rather proclaimed that Christ was ‘heteroousias’ or a different ousia, that is, in this usage, a distinct person.

When the Nicene Council used the term to describe the Son’s relationship to the Father, it was intended by its authors to be understood differently. Now, instead of ‘ousia’ indicating person, it was intended to indicate nature. Athanasius and the Nicene Council intended the word as used in the Creed to communicate that the Son of God, as His true Son and not merely a creature, shares His Father’s divine nature, and has the same divine nature as He. Thus ‘homoousias’ was intended to mean ‘same nature’, not ‘same person’ as heretics had previously used it.

While the intention behind the Nicene council’s use of the word was a good and orthodox one, changing the way the word was being used, and using a word that had been condemned as heretical, understandably resulted in widespread controversy, with the vast majority of Eastern bishops opposing the usage of the word for these reasons. They initially proposed the term ‘homoiousias’ instead, meaning “like ousia”; this was largely motivated not by thinking that the Son’s nature was not the same as that of the Father, but out of concern that saying the Son was the same ousia would be to say that the Son was the same person; therefore, they would declare that the person of the Son was like the person of the Father by the term ‘homoiousias’. They agreed that the Son had the same divine nature as the Father, but viewed ousia the same way it had previously been used, as equivalent to person. Therefore, it was blatantly modalistic in their thinking.

To add further difficulty, some of those who supported the Nicene Creed and use of the word ‘homoousias’ actually did intend it in a modalistic way, such as Marcellus of Ancyra, who was condemned for teaching modalism. The heretical usage of the term, therefore, was by no means a thing of the past. Just as many homoousian bishops, therefore, suspected those who rejected the term of Arian tendencies, the majority of orthodox Eastern bishops likewise suspected those who favored ‘homoousias’ of modalism.

With all these difficulties surrounding the terminology of ‘ousia’, which is not used in scripture, it is easy to see why eventually the church opted to give up the language of ‘ousia’ altogether and simply say that the Son was “like” (homoi) the Father. This likeness was understood to include that the Son had the same divine nature as the Father, although He is a distinct person from Him. This language prevailed for some twenty years until emperor Theodosius I purged the church of bishops who would not accept ‘homoousias’, and insisted that the Nicene formula be the lone confession of the church. After these decisions were made by the emperor without the consent of the church, the emperor called the council of Constantinople in 381 to make his decision official for the church, those who disagreed with his decision not being allowed to participate.

The church was now wholly homoousian, and things quickly went in a modalistic direction, although this was not how men like Athanasius and Hilary of Poitier had intended the word. By observing Creeds accepted by the homoousians after 381, we can see how things changed over the next few decades.

Whereas the first two ‘homoousian’ creeds, those of Nicea in 325 and Constantinople in 381, had both shared in common that they began by acknowledging “one God, the Father Almighty”, this important first article of the faith quickly disappears from later Creeds and confessions, despite the fact that this is not only the language and teaching of scripture, but was also the clear teaching of the ante-nicene fathers (see I believe in one God, the Father Almighty).

That the one God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, is an important point of Christian doctrine, and an integral part of classical trinitarianism as taught by scripture and witnessed to by the early church. But both due to semi-modalism’s emphasis on the “one essence”, or one divine nature shared by the persons as “one God”, as well as the association of the doctrine that ‘the one God is the Father in particular’ with Arianism, which had blended that scriptural truth with its errors, later Homoousian theologians greatly de-emphasized the church’s historic belief that the one God is the person of the Father in particular. Thus when we come to these creeds, we find a very lacking trinitarianism, and something that cannot be considered classical trinitarianism at all.

First let us examine an excerpt from the decision of the Council of Rome held in the same year as that of Constantinople, 381:

“If anyone shall think aright about the Father and the Son but does not hold aright about the Holy Ghost, anathema, because he is a heretic, for all the heretics who do not think aright about God the Son and about the Holy Ghost are convicted of being involved in the unbelief of the Jews and the heathen; and if anyone shall divide the Godhead, saying that the Father is God apart and the Son God, and the Holy Ghost God, and should persist that they are called Gods and not God, on account of the one Godhead and sovereignty which we believe and know there to be of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost -one God- or withdrawing the Son and the Holy Ghost so as to suggest that the Father alone is called God and believed in as one God, let him be anathema…

…This is the salvation of the Christians, that believing in the Trinity, that is in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and being baptized into the same one Godhead and power and divinity and substance, in Him we may trust.”

Much could be said on this. Let us note that there is a failure to identify the Father as the one God. The idea of doing so is mentioned only in respect to doing so in denial of the Son and Spirit’s divinity, which is condemned; yet that He is the one God, even while His Son and Spirit share His divine nature and have the same divine nature, is not explained. Not only is this significant change noteworthy, but we see that in place of the traditional grounding of monotheism, namely, the person of the Father as the one supreme uncaused Cause of all and one Supreme Authority over all, the grounding of monotheism is innovated to be the one common divine nature the persons share, and one lordship over creation They share (see Why Are We Monotheists?). Additionally, this is the among the earliest instances of a singular personal pronoun (“Him”) being used for the Trinity as a whole, or for the single divine nature the persons share; such language betrays the semi-modalism of the council.

In the previous centuries Rome had been home to multiple modalist bishops, such as Callixtus. Sabellius had been at Rome, as had Noetus. One must wonder from this and following developments if Rome ever truly supported an orthodox understanding of ‘homoousias’, or if they accepted it so readily during the fourth century controversies as a convenient way to express their own native modalism. Certainly this would not be the last step that Rome took to lead the church away from classical trinitarianism to semi-modalism, as the papal anti-christ later officially redefined the concept of co-essentiality in a semi-modalistic way in the Fourth Lateran Council.

Next we see the Creed of the First Council of Toledo (400 AD):

“1. We believe in one true God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, creator of that which is visible and invisible, through whom everything in heaven and on earth was created.

2. This one God also has one divine name – the Trinity.

3. The Father is not the Son, but he has the Son, who is not the Father.

4. The Son is not the Father, but is by nature the Son of God.

5. Also the Spirit is the Paraclete, who himself is neither the Father nor the Son, but proceeds from the Father.

6. Therefore the Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten, the Paraclete not begotten, but is proceeding from the Father

7. It is the Father whose voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

8. It is the Son who said, “I came forth from the Father and I came into this world from God.”

9. It is the Paraclete himself about whom the Son said, “Unless I go to the Father, the Paraclete will not come to you.”

10. This Trinity is distinct in persons, of one substance, virtue, power and undivided majesty, unable to be differentiated.

11. Besides him there is no one else with a divine nature, neither angel nor spirit nor anything else of excellence which one ought to believe to be God.

12. Therefore, this Son of God, being God, born from the Father before everything, the beginning of all, made holy the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary and assumed true humanity from her without procreation through a man’s seed,

13. that is, the Lord Jesus Christ.

14. His body was neither imaginary nor did it merely have form but had substance.

15. And so he had hunger and thirst and suffered pain and wept and felt every kind of bodily hurt.

16. In the end he was crucified, died and was buried, and rose on the third day;

17. afterwards he spoke with his disciples;

18. he ascended to heaven on the fortieth day.

19. This Son of Man is also named the Son of God; however, the Son of God is God and should not be called a son of man.

10. We truly believe in the resurrection of the human body.

21. However the soul of man is not a divine substance or a part of God, but rather a creation which by divine will is imperishable.

Anathemas:

1. Therefore if anyone should say or believe that this world was not made by the omnipotent God and his instruments, let him be anathema.

2. If anyone should say or believe that God the Father is himself the Son or the Paraclete, let him be anathema.

3. If anyone should say or believe that God the Son is himself the Father or Paraclete, let him be anathema.

4. If anyone should say or believe that the Paraclete, the Spirit, is either the Father or the Son, let him be anathema.

5. If anyone should say or believe that the human Jesus Christ was not assumed by the Son of God, let him be anathema.

6. If anyone should say or believe that the Son of God as God suffered, let him be anathema.

7. If anyone should say or believe that the human Jesus Christ, as a human, was incapable of suffering, let him be anathema.

8. If anyone should say or believe that there is one God of the Old Testament and another of the Gospel, let him be anathema.

9. If anyone should say or believe that the world was made by another God that by the one of whom it is written, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” let him be anathema.

10. If anyone should say or believe that the human body will not rise after death, let him be anathema.

11. If anyone should say or believe that the human soul is a part or substance of God, let him be anathema.

12. If anyone should say or believe that there is another Scripture than that which the Catholic Church accepts or believes to be held as authoritative or has venerated, let him be anathema.” (Translated by GLT and PSAM- source )

Here we see again that the first article of the faith is neglected, and in its place, the Trinity is identified as the one God of Christianity. Rather than identifying the one God with the Father as scripture does, the one God is given the name “Trinity”. Modalism is ostensibly avoided by declaring that the Father, Son, and Spirit are not each other; the issue of making Them out to be a single person, which is the heart of the modalist heresy, is not directly addressed.

Signs of semi-modalism can be found in this Creed, but it is not as explicit as other authors such as Augustine make it. In points 10-11 of the Creed, we see the Trinity get identified as a “him”; which serves to illustrate that when the Trinity is made out to be the one God, conceiving of it as a person is soon to follow, for it is obvious that the one God is a person. The misidentification of the this person with the Trinity as a whole, rather than as the person of the Father as scripture reveals, is heterodox, and indicative of semi-modalism.

The Grievous Error of the Fourth Lateran Council

When doctrinal error is mentioned in respect to the Fourth Lateran Council, a number of issues could be brought up depending on what tradition is examining the council. Protestants reject its teaching on transubstantiation as error; Eastern Orthodox reject its teaching on the Filoque as heretical; the Oriental Orthodox would reject its Chalcedonian articulation of the hypostatic union. Everyone but the papists themselves takes issue with the council’s strong assertion of papal supremacy and authority (written, conveniently, by the Pope himself, as all the canons). But in this article, I want to draw attention to a lesser-known doctrinal error the council did much to promote: the anti-trinitarian doctrine of semi-modalism.

The Fourth Lateran Council is not primarily known today for its decisions regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. The thirteenth-century Papal Council, held in a Roman palace, dealt with a host of issues, including crusades, defining and officially confessing the doctrine of transubstantiation, the filioque, and papal authority. Yet its impact on trinitarian doctrine for Roman Catholicism is actually very great (the council is generally rejected by protestant and Eastern churches, as it took place after the Great Schism, and prior to the Reformation, with significant parts of its rulings being rejected by the Reformers).

The council’s importance to Rome’s views on the Trinity is primarily because of the council’s dealings with Abbot Joachim of Fiore’s treatise on the Trinity, in which Joachim accused Peter Lombard of teaching heresy in his famous Sentences. The heresy Joachim had in view was none other than semi-modalism. Abbot Joachim recognised that teaching that the Trinity was a single conscious thing who is the three real persons of Father, Son, and Spirit, is far different than scripture’s teaching of three distinct persons of one essence, and made efforts to draw attention to this departure from scripture’s teaching. He correctly pointed out that Peter Lombard’s semi-modalism effectively made the Trinity itself into a fourth divine person, ultimately to the destruction of the doctrine of the Trinity.

The bishop of Rome and the council he had called did not agree with Abbot Joachim’s assessment. His teachings on the subject were condemned, and the council affirmed the already well-entrenched error of semi-modalism as the official Roman Catholic belief, as they officially redefined the doctrine of consubstantiality to no longer teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share one and the same divine nature to instead mean than the Father, Son, and Spirit were the same conscious “reality”- in concept, a person. They avoided the language of “person” for this reality, denying Abbot Joachim’s criticism that conceiving of the Trinity this way was to believe in a fourth person of the Trinity, since to admit such would be obviously heretical.

This equivocation on the terminology of “person” and on the subject of consubstantiality have continued down to our own day, as semi-modalists continue to follow the pattern of substituting out another word besides “person” for the singular, personal, conscious, rational reality that they teach is the three persons of the Father, Son, and Spirit. They call this “thing” the “essence” or “substance” which exists in the three persons of the Trinity, while originally the Nicene church fathers introduced this language not to indicate that a person was three persons, but to speak of the single divine nature shared by the three persons of the Trinity. This fact can be seen clearly from their own writings.

Hilary of Poitiers, for example, wrote thus:

“IV. If any one dares to say that the Unborn God, or a part of Him, was born of Mary: let him be anathema.

42. The fact of the essence declared to be one in the Father and the Son having one name on account of their similarity of nature seemed to offer an opportunity to heretics to declare that the Unborn God, or a part of Him, was born of Mary. The danger was met by the wholesome resolution that he who declared this should be anathema. For the unity of the name which religion employs and which is based on the exact similarity of their natural essence, has not repudiated the Person of the begotten essence so as to represent, under cover of the unity of name, that the substance of God is singular and undifferentiated because we predicate one name for the essence of each, that is, predicate one God, on account of the exactly similar substance of the undivided nature in each Person.” (De Synodis)

Even in the post-nicene period, this classical understanding of co-essentiality can be clearly seen in the Chalcedonian Definition when it says:

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in divine nature and also perfect in human nature; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the divine nature, and co-essential with us according to the human nature; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the divine nature, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the human nature…”

Notice Christ is said to be co-essential with man according to his human nature. This is consistent with an understanding of essence as a general nature considered in abstract, such as human nature, or the divine nature. Christ being co-essential with man literally means he is of the same human nature as all other men. By way of parallel, which is obviously drawn by the Definition, Christ is also eternally co-essential with the Father as His Son, in that He has from all eternity the same divine nature as the Father. This same understanding can also be seen articulated by Basil the Great (see: https://contramodalism.com/2018/01/12/basil-the-great-on-the-distinction-between-essence-and-person/ ).

In contrast, the idea that co-essentiality would somehow mean that the subjects were one “thing”, with its own real concrete existence, does not fit at all with the Chalcedonian Definition. Christ is co-essential with man- yet there is no real existence to the human nature considered in abstract. Human nature finds real existence in human persons; but considered in abstract, it is only an idea, lacking concrete existence. Yet if we apply the Fourth Lateran Council’s semi-modalistic re-definition of co-essentiality to the Chalcedonian Definition, this is exactly the way we must understand it. Yet clearly, this idea is nonsensical.

So we are able to see a medieval papal redefinition of co-essentiality:

“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)

This redefinition of co-essentiality is erroneous, as it ultimately makes the Father, Son, and Spirit into a single person who is all three together. This doctrine is mutually exclusive to the classical doctrine of the Trinity taught by scripture and the orthodox church fathers of the Nicene and Ante-Nicene eras which is summed up in the Nicene Creed.

The Roman Catholic Church needs to abandon this grievous error and return to the classical trinitarianism contended for by such Western church fathers as Irenaeus of Lyons and Hilary of Poitiers. Those of other traditions should take heed of this error hidden among the historically more conspicuous problems with the rulings of the Fourth Lateran Council. We may be thankful that both Protestant and Eastern churches are free from commitment to the canons of this council, and thus are not, like the Roman Catholic church, bound to the error of semi-modalism in an official capacity by the ruling of the Papal council.