The Scholastic Scheme of the Trinity Refuted

The scholastic scheme of the Trinity is ultimately modalistic. I hope to briefly shed light on this here.

The scholastic scheme of the Trinity, following Augustine, the Fourth Lateran Council, and medieval scholastic thought, can be summed up as follows: There is one simple Supreme Being, the one God, Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are ‘persons’ within this Supreme Being, a ‘person’ not being what is normally meant by the word ‘person’, but rather ‘a mode of subsistence’. These three modes of subsistence within the Supreme Reality are individually co-essential (sharing the same individual numerical being) but are distinguished by their causal relations, namely that the Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten from the Father, and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. The ‘persons’ share one will, mind, consciousness, etc, as these are all proper to the Supreme Being Himself, rather than the ‘persons’ within (ad intra) the Supreme Being.

The problems with this view are many. Firstly, making the Supreme Being both caused and uncaused (even if that causality is ad intra, not ad extra) is to deny the first principle of natural theology, that there is one Supreme Being Who is the uncaused Cause of all else that exists. While the scholastic view maintains that the Supreme Being the is Cause of all else that exists, they are unable to confess the Supreme Being to be wholly uncaused, as the subsistences of the Son and Spirit are caused, and are only distinguished within the Supreme Being by those causal relations.

Secondly, this is ultimately pure modalism, dressed up a bit to sound trinitarian. Because the Thomistic doctrine of divine simplicity says that everything within God is identical to itself, there is no ability for true distinction with the Supreme Being. God’s love and God’s wrath, for example, due to divine simplicity, are said to be the same thing, each being coterminous with the other. While this may sound relatively innocuous when applied to attributes, logically, since it applies to all that is within the Supreme Being, it must also extend to the ‘persons’ within the Supreme Being as well. Thus, just as much as God’s attributes are not truly distinct but all one and the same thing, merely talked about under different names for our convenience, so to the ‘persons’ of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must be individually identical to one another, and so, not truly distinct at all, only spoken of under different names. The causal relations that are supposed to distinguish the persons are incapable of doing so, because these causal relations are all ‘ad intra’, that is, internal to the Supreme Being, where all things are identical to one another according to Thomistic simplicity. Thus the causal relations must logically be identical to one another, and therefore wholly fail to distinguish the persons.

This modalism can also be seen another way: each ‘person’ is said to be coterminous with not a part of, but the entirety of, the Supreme Being. Thus, each person is individually equal to the same Supreme Being; and thus, each person must be individually equated with one another. For if the Father is the whole Being, and the Son is the same whole Being, They are equated with one another, on the logic of ‘If A=C, and B=C, then A=B’. Scholastic ‘trinitarianism’, then, is in fact not trinitarian at all, but modalism, only slightly modified from that of Sabellius and Noetus, at the end of the day.

Thirdly, the ‘essence’ shared by the ‘persons’ is actually a person, while the ‘persons’ are not. That is, the Supreme Being, in which Father, Son, and Spirit are supposed to subsist, meets the actual definition of a ‘person’, which is a rational individual being. But the Father, Son, and Spirit, being only modes of subsistences within that Supreme Being, are not individuated, and so, are not persons, according to the standard definition of the term. To put scholastic conceptions of the Trinity into 21st century language, then, would be to state a belief in ‘one person with three internal modes of being’. This is modalism.

Having shown, then, that the scholastic scheme of the doctrine of the Trinity is modalism, then, it is sufficiently refuted by that fact. It fails to live up to the name ‘trinitarianism’, and falls into all of the same damning errors as modalism. Ultimately it is all the same individual Supreme Being, the same person, according to the normal usage of ‘person’, Who created the world and died on the cross and rose from the dead. There is no Father and Son; the Supreme Being has no eternal Son, and so the existence of the Son is denied outright, and the Supreme Being, Who we would otherwise call Father, is the one who died on the cross. The thing called ‘Son’ is merely a mode within this Supreme Being, this sole person, and not in fact the Son of God, but merely a mode within God, incapable of being called ‘the Son of God’ with any truthfulness.

The solution to this long-standing problem is to reject scholastic ‘trinitarianism’ as the modalistic heresy it is, and believe in the Supreme Being, the one God, as scripture and natural theology would have us, as the one supreme uncaused Cause of all else that exists, as the Father alone (for He alone is uncaused); not believing that is one Supreme Being, the Father, is alone and solitary, but that He eternally has His only-begotten Son with Him, Who He begat from Himself before creation, as a distinct (really existing) individual being besides Himself, through Whom the Supreme Being created all things, rules over all things, and reconciles all things to Himself; and in one Holy Spirit, a third distinct individual being or person. We must return to and embrace a biblical (and, incidentally, patristic) doctrine of the Trinity; believing not that the Supreme Being is somehow Father, Son, and Spirit Himself, but believing, as the scriptures teach, that the Supreme Being is in truth Father to a Son, another distinct individual being besides Himself.

Hippolytus of Rome on the Earliest Modalists

Hippolytus of Rome relates the events of his own time in the late second and early third century in his work Refutation of All Heresies. Among the other heresies of his day, he devotes a great deal of attention to the then new heresy of Modalism, also known as Sabellianism or Patripassionism. This heresy, by teaching that the Father and Son are together the same individual being, both mere modes and names of one and the same Supreme Being, sets out to, in effect, crucify the Father, and deny the real existence of the Son. There is much that is very noteworthy in Hippolytus’s coverage of the origins of modalism, the account of which I will quote at full length below.

A few very noteworthy observations from the following: 1) Hippolytus notes that the modalists believed the Father and Son were one individual substance under different names and modes. In contrast, Hippolytus asserts a generic unity of substance between the Father and Son, that the Son as a distinct individual being from the Father, the Supreme Being, is of the same ‘stuff’ as the Father. The former modalistic belief is indiscernably different from much of modern “trinitarianism”. 2) The Popes of Rome, which by this time had a monepiscopate, were modalists, namely Callixtus and Zephyrinus. This is very noteworthy as a contemporary theologian understood the papacy to have fallen into damnable heresy and extreme corruption by the early third century. So much for papal infallibility, if Hippolytus is given any credence. This should be kept in mind when examining the development of events and theology in the west following this time, for while the Romanists like to present the Roman church as a bastion of orthodoxy against heresies in the following centuries and the trinitarian conflicts that later occurred, we will find that they entered into such controversies not as predisposed to, or defenders of orthodoxy at all, but as modalists.

Below are quoted at length, first, a section from Book 9, which recounts in great detail the history of modalism and especially its finding a home at Rome. It goes into greater detail than may be of interest to some. The next section quoted from book 10 gives much of the same information in a more concise manner, worth skipping to if the great detail given in book 9 is not desired. Finally, I quote a section from the end of book 10 where Hippolytus gives his summary of true Christian doctrine, such as stands in contrast to modalism.

Book 9, Ch 1-7.

A lengthened conflict, then, having been maintained concerning all heresies by us who, at all events, have not left any unrefuted, the greatest struggle now remains behind, viz., to furnish an account and refutation of those heresies that have sprung up in our own day, by which certain ignorant and presumptuous men have attempted to scatter abroad the Church, and have introduced the greatest confusion among all the faithful throughout the entire world. For it seems expedient that we, making an onslaught upon the opinion which constitutes the prime source of (contemporaneous) evils, should prove what are the originating principles of this (opinion), in order that its offshoots, becoming a matter of general notoriety, may be made the object of universal scorn.

There has appeared one, Noetus by name, and by birth a native of Smyrna. This person introduced a heresy from the tenets of Heraclitus. Now a certain man called Epigonus becomes his minister and pupil, and this person during his sojourn at Rome disseminated his godless opinion. But Cleomenes, who had become his disciple, an alien both in way of life and habits from the Church, was wont to corroborate the (Noetian) doctrine. At that time, [Pope] Zephyrinus imagines that he administers the affairs of the Church—an uninformed and shamefully corrupt man. And he, being persuaded by proffered gain, was accustomed to connive at those who were present for the purpose of becoming disciples of Cleomenes. But (Zephyrinus) himself, being in process of time enticed away, hurried headlong into the same opinions; and he had Callistus [who was Pope after him] as his adviser, and a fellow-champion of these wicked tenets. But the life of this (Callistus), and the heresy invented by him, I shall after a little explain. The school of these heretics during the succession of such bishops, continued to acquire strength and augmentation, from the fact that Zephyrinus and Callistus helped them to prevail. Never at any time, however, have we [the orthodox Christians at Rome] been guilty of collusion with them; but we have frequently offered them opposition, and have refuted them, and have forced them reluctantly to acknowledge the truth. And they, abashed and constrained by the truth, have confessed their errors for a short period, but after a little, wallow once again in the same mire.

But since we have exhibited the succession of their genealogy, it seems expedient next that we should also explain the depraved teaching involved in their doctrines. For this purpose we shall first adduce the opinions advanced by Heraclitus “the Obscure,” and we shall next make manifest what are the portions of these opinions that are of Heraclitean origin. Such parts of their system its present champions are not aware belong to the “Obscure” philosopher, but they imagine them to belong to Christ. But if they might happen to fall in with the following observations, perhaps they thus might be put out of countenance, and induced to desist from this godless blasphemy of theirs. Now, even though the opinion of Heraclitus has been expounded by us previously in the Philosophumena, it nevertheless seems expedient now also to set down side by side in contrast the two systems, in order that by this closer refutation they may be evidently instructed. I mean the followers of this (heretic), who imagine themselves to be disciples of Christ, when in reality they are not so, but of “the Obscure.”

Heraclitus then says that the universe is one, divisible and indivisible; generated and ungenerated; mortal and immortal; reason, eternity; Father, Son, and justice, God. “For those who hearken not to me, but the doctrine, it is wise that they acknowledge all things to be one,” says Heraclitus; and because all do not know or confess this, he utters a reproof somewhat in the following terms: “People do not understand how what is diverse (nevertheless) coincides with itself, just like the inverse harmony of a bow and lyre.” But that Reason always exists, inasmuch as it constitutes the universe, and as it pervades all things, he affirms in this manner. “But in regard of this Reason, which always exists, men are continually devoid of understanding, both before they have heard of it and in first hearing of it. For though all things take place according to this Reason, they seem like persons devoid of any experience regarding it. Still they attempt both words and works of such a description as I am giving an account of, by making a division according to nature, and declaring how things are.” And that a Son is the universe and throughout endless ages an eternal king of all things, he thus asserts: “A sporting child, playing at his dice, is eternity; the kingdom is that of a child.” And that the Father of all things that have been generated is an unbegotten creature who is creator, let us hear Heraclitus affirming in these words: “Contrariety is a progenitor of all things, and king of all; and it exhibited some as gods, but others as men, and made some slaves, whereas others free.” And (he likewise affirms) that there is “a harmony, as in a bow and lyre.” That obscure harmony (is better), though unknown and invisible to men, he asserts in these words: “An obscure harmony is preferable to an obvious one.” He commends and admires before what is known, that which is unknown and invisible in regard of its power. And that harmony visible to men, and not incapable of being discovered, is better, he asserts in these words: “Whatever things are objects of vision, hearing, and intelligence, these I pre-eminently honour,” he says; that is, he prefers things visible to those that are invisible. From such expressions of his it is easy to understand the spirit of his philosophy. “Men,” he says, “are deceived in reference to the knowledge of manifest things similarly with Homer, who was wiser than all the Greeks. For even children killing vermin deceived him, when they said, ‘What we have seen and seized, these we leave behind; whereas what we neither have seen nor seized, these we carry away.’”

In this manner Heraclitus assigns to the visible an equality of position and honour with the invisible, as if what was visible and what was invisible were confessedly some one thing. For he says, “An obscure harmony is preferable to an obvious one;” and, “Whatsoever things are objects of vision, hearing, and intelligence,” that is, of the (corporeal) organs,—“these,” he says, “I pre-eminently honour,” not (on this occasion, though previously), having pre-eminently honoured invisible things. Therefore neither darkness, nor light, nor evil, nor good, Heraclitus affirms, is different, but one and the same thing. At all events, he censures Hesiod because he knew not day and night. For day, he says, and night are one, expressing himself somehow thus: “The teacher, however, of a vast amount of information is Hesiod, and people suppose this poet to be possessed of an exceedingly large store of knowledge, and yet he did not know (the nature of) day and night, for they are one.” As regards both what is good and what is bad, (they are, according to Heraclitus, likewise) one. “Physicians, undoubtedly,” says Heraclitus, “when they make incisions and cauterize, though in every respect they wickedly torture the sick, complain that they do not receive fitting remuneration from their patients, notwithstanding that they perform these salutary operations upon diseases.” And both straight and twisted are, he says, the same. “The way is straight and curved of the carders of wool;” and the circular movement of an instrument in the fuller’s shop called “a screw” is straight and curved, for it revolves up and circularly at the same time. “One and the same,” he says, “are, therefore, straight and curved.” And upward and downward, he says, are one and the same. “The way up and the way down are the same.” And he says that what is filthy and what is pure are one and the same, and what is drinkable and unfit for drink are one and the same. “Sea,” he says, “is water very pure and very foul, drinkable to fishes no doubt, and salutary for them, but not fit to be used as drink by men, and (for them) pernicious.” And, confessedly, he asserts that what is immortal is mortal, and that what is mortal is immortal, in the following expressions: “Immortals are mortal, and mortals are immortal, that is, when the one derive life from death, and the other death from life.” And he affirms also that there is a resurrection of this palpable flesh in which we have been born; and he knows God to be the cause of this resurrection, expressing himself in this manner: “Those that are here will God enable to arise and become guardians of quick and dead.” And he likewise affirms that a judgment of the world and all things in it takes place by fire, expressing himself thus: “Now, thunder pilots all things,” that is, directs them, meaning by the thunder everlasting fire. But he also asserts that this fire is endued with intelligence, and a cause of the management of the Universe, and he denominates it craving and satiety. Now craving is, according to him, the arrangement of the world, whereas satiety its destruction. “For,” says he, “the fire, coming upon the earth, will judge and seize all things.”

But in this chapter Heraclitus simultaneously explains the entire peculiarity of his mode of thinking, but at the same time the (characteristic quality) of the heresy of Noetus. And I have briefly demonstrated Noetus to be not a disciple of Christ, but of Heraclitus. For this philosopher asserts that the primal world is itself the Demiurge and creator of itself in the following passage: “God is day, night; winter, summer; war, peace; surfeit, famine.” All things are contraries—this appears his meaning—“but an alteration takes place, just as if incense were mixed with other sorts of incense, but denominated according to the pleasurable sensation produced by each sort. Now it is evident to all that the silly successors of Noetus, and the champions of his heresy, even though they have not been hearers of the discourses of Heraclitus, nevertheless, at any rate when they adopt the opinions of Noetus, undisguisedly acknowledge these (Heraclitean) tenets. For they advance statements after this manner—that one and the same God is the Creator and Father of all things; and that when it pleased Him, He nevertheless appeared, (though invisible,) to just men of old. For when He is not seen He is invisible; and He is incomprehensible when He does not wish to be comprehended, but comprehensible when he is comprehended. Wherefore it is that, according to the same account, He is invincible and vincible, unbegotten and begotten, immortal and mortal. How shall not persons holding this description of opinions be proved to be disciples of Heraclitus? Did not (Heraclitus) the Obscure anticipate Noetus in framing a system of philosophy, according to identical modes of expression?

Now, that Noetus affirms that the Son and Father are the same, no one is ignorant. But he makes his statement thus: “When indeed, then, the Father had not been born, He yet was justly styled Father; and when it pleased Him to undergo generation, having been begotten, He Himself became His own Son, not another’s.” For in this manner he thinks to establish the sovereignty of God, alleging that Father and Son, so called, are one and the same (substance), not one individual produced from a different one, but Himself from Himself; and that He is styled by name Father and Son, according to vicissitude of times. But that He is one who has appeared (amongst us), both having submitted to generation from a virgin, and as a man having held converse among men. And, on account of the birth that had taken place, He confessed Himself to those beholding Him a Son, no doubt; yet He made no secret to those who could comprehend Him of His being a Father. That this person suffered by being fastened to the tree, and that He commended His spirit unto Himself, having died to appearance, and not being (in reality) dead. And He raised Himself up the third day, after having been interred in a sepulchre, and wounded with a spear, and perforated with nails. Cleomenes asserts, in common with his band of followers, that this person is God and Father of the universe, and thus introduces among many an obscurity (of thought) such as we find in the philosophy of Heraclitus.

[Pope] Callistus attempted to confirm this heresy,—a man cunning in wickedness, and subtle where deceit was concerned, (and) who was impelled by restless ambition to mount the episcopal throne. Now this man moulded to his purpose Zephyrinus [who became Pope after him], an ignorant and illiterate individual, and one unskilled in ecclesiastical definitions. And inasmuch as Zephyrinus was accessible to bribes, and covetous, Callistus, by luring him through presents, and by illicit demands, was enabled to seduce him into whatever course of action he pleased. And so it was that Callistus succeeded in inducing Zephyrinus to create continually disturbances among the brethren, while he himself took care subsequently, by knavish words, to attach both factions in good-will to himself. And, at one time, to those who entertained true opinions, he would in private allege that they held similar doctrines (with himself), and thus make them his dupes; while at another time he would act similarly towards those (who embraced) the tenets of Sabellius. But Callistus perverted Sabellius himself, and this, too, though he had the ability of rectifying this heretic’s error. For (at any time) during our admonition Sabellius did not evince obduracy; but as long as he continued alone with Callistus, he was wrought upon to relapse into the system of Cleomenes by this very Callistus, who alleges that he entertains similar opinions to Cleomenes. Sabellius, however, did not then perceive the knavery of Callistus; but he afterwards came to be aware of it, as I shall narrate presently.

Now Callistus brought forward Zephyrinus himself, and induced him publicly to avow the following sentiments: “I know that there is one God, Jesus Christ; nor except Him do I know any other that is begotten and amenable to suffering.” And on another occasion, when he would make the following statement: “The Father did not die, but the Son.” Zephyrinus would in this way continue to keep up ceaseless disturbance among the people. And we, becoming aware of his sentiments, did not give place to him, but reproved and withstood him for the truth’s sake. And he hurried headlong into folly, from the fact that all consented to his hypocrisy—we, however, did not do so—and called us worshippers of two gods, disgorging, independent of compulsion, the venom lurking within him. It would seem to us desirable to explain the life of this heretic, inasmuch as he was born about the same time with ourselves, in order that, by the exposure of the habits of a person of this description, the heresy attempted to be established by him may be easily known, and may perchance be regarded as silly, by those endued with intelligence. This Callistus became a “martyr” at the period when Fuscianus was prefect of Rome, and the mode of his “martyrdom” was as follows.

Callistus happened to be a domestic of one Carpophorus, a man of the faith belonging to the household of Cæsar. To this Callistus, as being of the faith, Carpophorus committed no inconsiderable amount of money, and directed him to bring in profitable returns from the banking business. And he, receiving the money, tried (the experiment of) a bank in what is called the Piscina Publica. And in process of time were entrusted to him not a few deposits by widows and brethren, under the ostensive cause of lodging their money with Carpophorus. Callistus, however, made away with all (the moneys committed to him), and became involved in pecuniary difficulties. And after having practised such conduct as this, there was not wanting one to tell Carpophorus, and the latter stated that he would require an account from him. Callistus, perceiving these things, and suspecting danger from his master, escaped away by stealth, directing his flight towards the sea. And finding a vessel in Portus ready for a voyage, he went on board, intending to sail wherever she happened to be bound for. But not even in this way could he avoid detection, for there was not wanting one who conveyed to Carpophorus intelligence of what had taken place. But Carpophorus, in accordance with the information he had received, at once repaired to the harbour (Portus), and made an effort to hurry into the vessel after Callistus. The boat, however, was anchored in the middle of the harbour; and as the ferryman was slow in his movements, Callistus, who was in the ship, had time to descry his master at a distance. And knowing that himself would be inevitably captured, he became reckless of life; and, considering his affairs to be in a desperate condition, he proceeded to cast himself into the sea. But the sailors leaped into boats and drew him out, unwilling to come, while those on shore were raising a loud cry. And thus Callistus was handed over to his master, and brought to Rome, and his master lodged him in the Pistrinum.

But as time wore on, as happens to take place in such cases, brethren repaired to Carpophorus, and entreated him that he would release the fugitive serf from punishment, on the plea of their alleging that Callistus acknowledged himself to have money lying to his credit with certain persons. But Carpophorus, as a devout man, said he was indifferent regarding his own property, but that he felt a concern for the deposits; for many shed tears as they remarked to him, that they had committed what they had entrusted to Callistus, under the ostensive cause of lodging the money with himself. And Carpophorus yielded to their persuasions, and gave directions for the liberation of Callistus. The latter, however, having nothing to pay, and not being able again to abscond, from the fact of his being watched, planned an artifice by which he hoped to meet death. Now, pretending that he was repairing as it were to his creditors, he hurried on their Sabbath-day to the synagogue of the Jews, who were congregated, and took his stand, and created a disturbance among them. They, however, being disturbed by him, offered him insult, and inflicted blows upon him, and dragged him before Fuscianus, who was prefect of the city. And (on being asked the cause of such treatment), they replied in the following terms: “Romans have conceded to us the privilege of publicly reading those laws of ours that have been handed down from our fathers. This person, however, by coming into (our place of worship), prevented (us so doing), by creating a disturbance among us, alleging that he is a Christian.” And Fuscianus happens at the time to be on the judgment-seat; and on intimating his indignation against Callistus, on account of the statements made by the Jews, there was not wanting one to go and acquaint Carpophorus concerning these transactions. And he, hastening to the judgment-seat of the prefect, exclaimed, “I implore of you, my lord Fuscianus, believe not thou this fellow; for he is not a Christian, but seeks occasion of death, having made away with a quantity of my money, as I shall prove.” The Jews, however, supposing that this was a stratagem, as if Carpophorus were seeking under this pretext to liberate Callistus, with the greater enmity clamoured against him in presence of the prefect. Fuscianus, however, was swayed by these Jews, and having scourged Callistus, he gave him to be sent to a mine in Sardinia.

But after a time, there being in that place other martyrs, Marcia, a concubine of Commodus, who was a God-loving female, and desirous of performing some good work, invited into her presence the blessed Victor, who was at that time a bishop of the Church, and inquired of him what martyrs were in Sardinia. And he delivered to her the names of all, but did not give the name of Callistus, knowing the villanous acts he had ventured upon. Marcia, obtaining her request from Commodus, hands the letter of emancipation to Hyacinthus, a certain eunuch, rather advanced in life. And he, on receiving it, sailed away into Sardinia, and having delivered the letter to the person who at that time was governor of the territory, he succeeded in having the martyrs released, with the exception of Callistus. But Callistus himself, dropping on his knees, and weeping, entreated that he likewise might obtain a release. Hyacinthus, therefore, overcome by the captive’s importunity, requests the governor to grant a release, alleging that permission had been given to himself from Marcia (to liberate Callistus), and that he would make arrangements that there should be no risk in this to him. Now (the governor) was persuaded, and liberated Callistus also. And when the latter arrived at Rome, Victor was very much grieved at what had taken place; but since he was a compassionate man, he took no action in the matter. Guarding, however, against the reproach (uttered) by many,—for the attempts made by this Callistus were not distant occurrences,—and because Carpophorus also still continued adverse, Victor sends Callistus to take up his abode in Antium, having settled on him a certain monthly allowance for food. And after Victor’s death, Zephyrinus, having had Callistus as a fellow-worker in the management of his clergy, paid him respect to his own damage; and transferring this person from Antium, appointed him over the cemetery.

And Callistus, who was in the habit of always associating with Zephyrinus, and, as I have previously stated, of paying him hypocritical service, disclosed, by force of contrast, Zephyrinus to be a person able neither to form a judgment of things said, nor discerning the design of Callistus, who was accustomed to converse with Zephyrinus on topics which yielded satisfaction to the latter. Thus, after the death of Zephyrinus, supposing that he had obtained (the position) after which he so eagerly pursued, he excommunicated Sabellius, as not entertaining orthodox opinions. He acted thus from apprehension of me, and imagining that he could in this manner obliterate the charge against him among the churches, as if he did not entertain strange opinions. He was then an impostor and knave, and in process of time hurried away many with him. And having even venom imbedded in his heart, and forming no correct opinion on any subject, and yet withal being ashamed to speak the truth, this Callistus, not only on account of his publicly saying in the way of reproach to us, “Ye are Ditheists,” but also on account of his being frequently accused by Sabellius, as one that had transgressed his first faith, devised some such heresy as the following. Callistus alleges that the Logos Himself is Son, and that Himself is Father; and that though denominated by a different title, yet that in reality He is one indivisible spirit. And he maintains that the Father is not one person and the Son another, but that they are one and the same; and that all things are full of the Divine Spirit, both those above and those below. And he affirms that the Spirit, which became incarnate in the virgin, is not different from the Father, but one and the same. And he adds, that this is what has been declared by the Saviour: “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” For that which is seen, which is man, he considers to be the Son; whereas the Spirit, which was contained in the Son, to be the Father. “For,” says (Callistus), “I will not profess belief in two Gods, Father and Son, but in one. For the Father, who subsisted in the Son Himself, after He had taken unto Himself our flesh, raised it to the nature of Deity, by bringing it into union with Himself, and made it one; so that Father and Son must be styled one God, and that this Person being one, cannot be two.” And in this way Callistus contends that the Father suffered along with the Son; for he does not wish to assert that the Father suffered, and is one Person, being careful to avoid blasphemy against the Father. (How careful he is!) senseless and knavish fellow, who improvises blasphemies in every direction, only that he may not seem to speak in violation of the truth, and is not abashed at being at one time betrayed into the tenet of Sabellius, whereas at another into the doctrine of Theodotus.

The impostor Callistus, having ventured on such opinions, established a school of theology in antagonism to the Church, adopting the foregoing system of instruction. And he first invented the device of conniving with men in regard of their indulgence in sensual pleasures, saying that all had their sins forgiven by himself. For he who is in the habit of attending the congregation of any one else, and is called a Christian, should he commit any transgression; the sin, they say, is not reckoned unto him, provided only he hurries off and attaches himself to the school of Callistus. And many persons were gratified with his regulation, as being stricken in conscience, and at the same time having been rejected by numerous sects; while also some of them, in accordance with our condemnatory sentence, had been by us forcibly ejected from the Church. Now such disciples as these passed over to these followers of Callistus, and served to crowd his school. This one propounded the opinion, that, if a bishop was guilty of any sin, if even a sin unto death, he ought not to be deposed. About the time of this man, bishops, priests, and deacons, who had been twice married, and thrice married, began to be allowed to retain their place among the clergy. If also, however, any one who is in holy orders should become married, Callistus permitted such a one to continue in holy orders as if he had not sinned. And in justification, he alleges that what has been spoken by the Apostle has been declared in reference to this person: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?” But he asserted that likewise the parable of the tares is uttered in reference to this one: “Let the tares grow along with the wheat;” or, in other words, let those who in the Church are guilty of sin remain in it. But also he affirmed that the ark of Noe was made for a symbol of the Church, in which were both dogs, and wolves, and ravens, and all things clean and unclean; and so he alleges that the case should stand in like manner with the Church. And as many parts of Scripture bearing on this view of the subject as he could collect, he so interpreted.

And the hearers of Callistus being delighted with his tenets, continue with him, thus mocking both themselves as well as many others, and crowds of these dupes stream together into his school. Wherefore also his pupils are multiplied, and they plume themselves upon the crowds (attending the school) for the sake of pleasures which Christ did not permit. But in contempt of Him, they place restraint on the commission of no sin, alleging that they pardon those who acquiesce (in Callistus’ opinions). For even also he permitted females, if they were unwedded, and burned with passion at an age at all events unbecoming, or if they were not disposed to overturn their own dignity through a legal marriage, that they might have whomsoever they would choose as a bedfellow, whether a slave or free, and that a woman, though not legally married, might consider such a companion as a husband. Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church! [from such the Roman Catholic church traces its lineage] And some, under the supposition that they will attain prosperity, concur with them. During the episcopate of this one, second baptism was for the first time presumptuously attempted by them. These, then, (are the practices and opinions which) that most astonishing Callistus established, whose school continues, preserving its customs and tradition, not discerning with whom they ought to communicate, but indiscriminately offering communion to all. And from him they have derived the denomination of their cognomen; so that, on account of Callistus being a foremost champion of such practices, they should be called Callistians.

From Book 10, Ch 22-23.

But others of them [the Montanists], being attached to the heresy of the Noetians, entertain similar opinions to those relating to the silly women of the Phrygians, and to Montanus. As regards, however, the truths appertaining to the Father of the entirety of existing things, they are guilty of blasphemy, because they assert that He is Son and Father, visible and invisible, begotten and unbegotten, mortal and immortal. These have taken occasion from a certain Noetus to put forward their heresy.

But in like manner, also, Noetus, being by birth a native of Smyrna, and a fellow addicted to reckless babbling, as well as crafty withal, introduced (among us) this heresy which originated from one Epigonus. It reached Rome, and was adopted by Cleomenes, and so has continued to this day among his successors. Noetus asserts that there is one Father and God of the universe, and that He made all things, and was imperceptible to those that exist when He might so desire. Noetus maintained that the Father then appeared when He wished; and He is invisible when He is not seen, but visible when He is seen. And this heretic also alleges that the Father is unbegotten when He is not generated, but begotten when He is born of a virgin; as also that He is not subject to suffering, and is immortal when He does not suffer or die. When, however, His passion came upon Him, Noetus allows that the Father suffers and dies. And the Noetians suppose that this Father Himself is called Son, (and vice versa,) in reference to the events which at their own proper periods happen to them severally.

Callistus corroborated the heresy of these Noetians, but we have already carefully explained the details of his life. And Callistus himself produced likewise a heresy, and derived its starting-points from these Noetians,—namely, so far as he acknowledges that there is one Father and God, viz., the Creator of the universe, and that this (God) is spoken of, and called by the name of Son, yet that in substance He is one Spirit [that is, the same individual substance or being]. For Spirit, as the Deity, is, he says, not any being different from the Logos, or the Logos from the Deity; therefore this one person, (according to Callistus,) is divided nominally, but substantially not so. He supposes this one Logos to be God, and affirms that there was in the case of the Word an incarnation. And he is disposed (to maintain), that He who was seen in the flesh and was crucified is Son, but that the Father it is who dwells in Him [that is, the body is the Son, the Logos incarnate in that flesh the Father]. Callistus thus at one time branches off into the opinion of Noetus, but at another into that of Theodotus, and holds no sure doctrine. These, then, are the opinions of Callistus.

From Book 10, Ch 28-29.

The first and only (one God), both Creator and Lord of all, had nothing coeval with Himself; not infinite chaos, nor measureless water, nor solid earth, nor dense air, not warm fire, nor refined spirit, nor the azure canopy of the stupendous firmament. But He was One, alone in Himself. By an exercise of His will He created things that are, which antecedently had no existence, except that He willed to make them. For He is fully acquainted with whatever is about to take place, for foreknowledge also is present to Him. The different principles, however, of what will come into existence, He first fabricated, viz., fire and spirit, water and earth, from which diverse elements He proceeded to form His own creation. And some objects He formed of one essence, but others He compounded from two, and others from three, and others from four. And those formed of one substance were immortal, for in their case dissolution does not follow, for what is one will never be dissolved. Those, on the other hand, which are formed out of two, or three, or four substances, are dissoluble; wherefore also are they named mortal. For this has been denominated death; namely, the dissolution of substances connected. I now therefore think that I have sufficiently answered those endued with a sound mind, who, if they are desirous of additional instruction, and are disposed accurately to investigate the substances of these things, and the causes of the entire creation, will become acquainted with these points should they peruse a work of ours comprised (under the title), Concerning the Substance of the Universe. I consider, however, that at present it is enough to elucidate those causes of which the Greeks, not being aware, glorified, in pompous phraseology, the parts of creation, while they remained ignorant of the Creator. And from these the heresiarchs have taken occasion, and have transformed the statements previously made by those Greeks into similar doctrines, and thus have framed ridiculous heresies.

Therefore this solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos first; not the word in the sense of being articulated by voice, but as a ratiocination of the universe, conceived and residing in the divine mind. Him alone He produced from existing things; for the Father Himself constituted existence, and the being born from Him was the cause of all things that are produced [note, Hippolytus says the Son is a being, that is, individual being, produced from, and so, distinct from, the Supreme Being]. The Logos was in the Father Himself, bearing the will of His progenitor, and not being unacquainted with the mind of the Father. For simultaneously with His procession from His Progenitor, inasmuch as He is this Progenitor’s first-born, He has, as a voice in Himself, the ideas conceived in the Father. And so it was, that when the Father ordered the world to come into existence, the Logos one by one completed each object of creation, thus pleasing God. And some things which multiply by generation He formed male and female; but whatsoever beings were designed for service and ministration He made either male, or not requiring females, or neither male nor female. For even the primary substances of these, which were formed out of nonentities, viz., fire and spirit, water and earth, are neither male nor female; nor could male or female proceed from any one of these, were it not that God, who is the source of all authority, wished that the Logos might render assistance in accomplishing a production of this kind. I confess that angels are of fire, and I maintain that female spirits are not present with them. And I am of opinion that sun and moon and stars, in like manner, are produced from fire and spirit, and are neither male nor female. And the will of the Creator is, that swimming and winged animals are from water, male and female. For so God, whose will it was, ordered that there should exist a moist substance, endued with productive power. And in like manner God commanded, that from earth should arise reptiles and beasts, as well males and females of all sorts of animals; for so the nature of the things produced admitted. For as many things as He willed, God made from time to time. These things He created through the Logos, it not being possible for things to be generated otherwise than as they were produced. But when, according as He willed, He also formed (objects), He called them by names, and thus notified His creative effort. And making these, He formed the ruler of all [that is, man], and fashioned him out of all composite substances. The Creator did not wish to make him a god, and failed in His aim; nor an angel,—be not deceived,—but a man. For if He had willed to make thee a god, He could have done so. Thou hast the example of the Logos [the Logos then, is a god, by this logic]. His will, however, was, that you should be a man, and He has made thee a man. But if thou art desirous of also becoming a god, obey Him that has created thee, and resist not now, in order that, being found faithful in that which is small, you may be enabled to have entrusted to you also that which is great.

The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God [this he has explained in the foregoing in such a way as to specify a strictly generic, and not individual, unity of substance, the later being said by him to be the heresy of Noetus, Sabellius, and Callixtus]. Now the world was made from nothing; wherefore it is not God; as also because this world admits of dissolution whenever the Creator so wishes it. But God, who created it, did not, nor does not, make evil. He makes what is glorious and excellent; for He who makes it is good. Now man, that was brought into existence, was a creature endued with a capacity of self-determination, yet not possessing a sovereign intellect, nor holding sway over all things by reflection, and authority, and power, but a slave to his passions, and comprising all sorts of contrarieties in himself. But man, from the fact of his possessing a capacity of self-determination, brings forth what is evil, that is, accidentally; which evil is not consummated except you actually commit some piece of wickedness. For it is in regard of our desiring anything that is wicked, or our meditating upon it, that what is evil is so denominated. Evil had no existence from the beginning, but came into being subsequently. Since man has free will, a law has been defined for his guidance by the Deity, not without answering a good purpose. For if man did not possess the power to will and not to will, why should a law be established? For a law will not be laid down for an animal devoid of reason, but a bridle and a whip; whereas to man has been given a precept and penalty to perform, or for not carrying into execution what has been enjoined. For man thus constituted has a law been enacted by just men in primitive ages. Nearer our own day was there established a law, full of gravity and justice, by Moses, to whom allusion has been already made, a devout man, and one beloved of God.

Now the Logos of God controls all these; the first begotten Child of the Father, the voice of the Dawn antecedent to the Morning Star. Afterwards just men were born, friends of God; and these have been styled prophets, on account of their foreshowing future events. And the word of prophecy was committed unto them, not for one age only; but also the utterances of events predicted throughout all generations, were vouchsafed in perfect clearness. And this, too, not at the time merely when seers furnished a reply to those present; but also events that would happen throughout all ages, have been manifested beforehand; because, in speaking of incidents gone by, the prophets brought them back to the recollection of humanity; whereas, in showing forth present occurrences, they endeavoured to persuade men not to be remiss; while, by foretelling future events, they have rendered each one of us terrified on beholding events that had been predicted long before, and on expecting likewise those events predicted as still future. Such is our faith, O all ye men,—ours, I say, who are not persuaded by empty expressions, nor caught away by sudden impulses of the heart, nor beguiled by the plausibility of eloquent discourses, yet who do not refuse to obey words that have been uttered by divine power. And these injunctions has God given to the Word. But the Word, by declaring them, promulgated the divine commandments, thereby turning man from disobedience, not bringing him into servitude by force of necessity, but summoning him to liberty through a choice involving spontaneity.

This Logos the Father in the latter days sent forth, no longer to speak by a prophet, and not wishing that the Word, being obscurely proclaimed, should be made the subject of mere conjecture, but that He should be manifested, so that we could see Him with our own eyes. This Logos, I say, the Father sent forth, in order that the world, on beholding Him, might reverence Him who was delivering precepts not by the person of prophets, nor terrifying the soul by an angel, but who was Himself—He that had spoken—corporally present amongst us. This Logos we know to have received a body from a virgin, and to have remodelled the old man by a new creation. And we believe the Logos to have passed through every period in this life, in order that He Himself might serve as a law for every age, and that, by being present (amongst) us, He might exhibit His own manhood as an aim for all men. And that by Himself in person He might prove that God made nothing evil, and that man possesses the capacity of self-determination, inasmuch as he is able to will and not to will, and is endued with power to do both. This Man we know to have been made out of the compound of our humanity. For if He were not of the same nature with ourselves, in vain does He ordain that we should imitate the Teacher. For if that Man happened to be of a different substance from us, why does He lay injunctions similar to those He has received on myself, who am born weak; and how is this the act of one that is good and just? In order, however, that He might not be supposed to be different from us, He even underwent toil, and was willing to endure hunger, and did not refuse to feel thirst, and sunk into the quietude of slumber. He did not protest against His Passion, but became obedient unto death, and manifested His resurrection. Now in all these acts He offered up, as the first-fruits, His own manhood, in order that thou, when thou art in tribulation, mayest not be disheartened, but, confessing thyself to be a man (of like nature with the Redeemer), mayest dwell in expectation of also receiving what the Father has granted unto this Son.


All in all, this is not an endorsement of all Hippolytus said above. But his historical testimony is extremely valuable on this important subject.

Why Individual (or Numerical) Unity of Substance is Damnable Heresy

In a recent dialogue with modalists, I was once again reminded how vile and blasphemous their heresy is. At once they dishonor the Father and nail Him to a cross, and at the same time deny the existence of the Son. For by making the Father and Son one and the same individual being or substance, and making the Father and Son out to each be mere consciousnesses of this one Supreme Being, they deny the true existence of the Son, and crucify the Father.

For by making the Son and Father each one and the same numerically individual being, they make the Son and Father identical. Since they will deny that the Father is one part of this Supreme Being, and the Son another, but will make each to be equal to the whole Supreme Being, it will necessarily follow that the consciousness they call ‘Father’ and the consciousness they call ‘Son’ are identically the same. For if the Father is the whole being, and the Son is the whole being, then it follows of logical necessity, that the Father must be identical with the Son, as surely as it follows that is A=C, and B=C, then A must equal B. They then believe not in Father and Son, but in the Son-Father of Sabellius.

It follows then (and I have heard them utter these blasphemies with my own ears) that since the Son is the Supreme Being, that the Supreme being died on the cross, having been united to a man and a human nature, that the Supreme Being suffered and died for our sins. And so they say that the uncaused Cause of all, the one Sovereign over all, the Almighty, died on the cross, and not His Son. For to them, ‘Son’ signifies not another Who is the Son of this one God, the Supreme Being, but the Supreme being Himself. And since the Son and Father are, in their incoherent and inconsistent view, the same person (for They cannot in any true way not be said to be one another) it follows that we might just as well say that the Father died on the cross. For the Son and Father being equated with one another, the only difference that can be found is one of name only, so that if we may use the name ‘Son’ for the Supreme Being as He suffered on the cross, we might with equal legitimacy call Him ‘Father’.

Who will not stop their ears at such insanity? This is truly no other heresy than that of Sabellius and Noetus of old, who were likewise rightly declared ‘Patripassionists’ for declaring, by necessary implication of what they taught, that the Father suffered and died on the cross as the man Jesus Christ. One would not expect to find such blasphemy tolerated by any church as being Christianity, perhaps, but I have heard them utter with my own ears, and readily affirm, while pretending to be trinitarians, that the Supreme Being died on the cross.

As as if their vile blasphemy of the Father, the one God, the Supreme Being, Who is alone without cause, source, or origin, and is Himself the Cause, Source, and Origin of all else that exists, and Himself with supreme dominion rules over all else that exists, humbled Himself to die on a cross, was not enough, they have denied the very existence of the Son as well. For they deny the real Son of God, as they make ‘Son’ just another consciousness (or in reality, only another name) for the Supreme Being Himself. In their view then the Supreme being did not atemporally beget another individual being prior to creation, Who is His Son. The Son has no real distinct existence then in their scheme; and so being reduced to nothing more than another name for the Father Himself, they like the Jews deny the very foundation of the Christian faith, that God has a Son, Who he sent for our salvation.

For anyone can plainly see that to be the son of someone requires that the one who is son be another besides the one Whose son they are. Yet these do not confess the Son to be another besides God, but the one God, the Supreme Being Himself. The truth of the matter though, as the scriptures teach, requires us to believe that the Son is not the same individual being as the Father, but another; for it says not merely that Christ is the ‘Son of the Father’, which they might explain my a sort of insanity within the Supreme Being, in which one of His consciousness merely relates to another as though it is its Son, without any ground for so doing, but rather scripture declares that Christ is really the Son of God.

Let us consider this phrase ‘Son of God’ carefully. If one will say it is equivalent to Son of the Father, then it will follow from that, that not only is the Father God, but God is the Father; and so, the point will be proved, that the Supreme Being, the one God, is the Father in particular, and the Father the Supreme Being, their exact identity being confirmed. But if one be inclined to resist this conclusion, then of what God is Christ the Son? Of a false God? Or of the only true God? For this will show that the Son is not the only true God, but another, Who relates to Him as Son. And so it is demonstrated, that to believe that Christ is the Son of God, as the scriptures say and teach, at the most basic of levels requires that we believe that He is not Himself the Supreme Being, the one God (Who is His Father), but another individual being besides the one God, Who is genuinely His Son, not in name only, as a mere mode or consciousness of the Supreme Being, but in real existence as a distinct individual being.

Let it be seen then, as plainly as possible, that the doctrine that the Father and Son are one and the same individual being is soul-damning heresy, the vilest blasphemy, and a total denial of the Christian faith, to be resisted by every true Christian. Such is taught by the wretched scholastics, and worse still, if worse can be imagined, by the Van Tillians; children of Sabellius all of them.

“For neither do we hold a Son-Father, as do the Sabellians, calling Him of one but not of the same essence, and thus destroying the existence of the Son.” Athanasius, Statement of Faith.

The Homoians: Proto-Protestants of the Post-Nicene Era

‘Homoian’ is a term used for those who subscribed to the articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity formulated by the ecumenical councils of Arminium and Seleucia, which were held in 359 AD in an attempt to resolve the ongoing doctrinal controversies of the fourth century. Their theology and practice is marked by several noteworthy traits shared in common with later Protestantism:

1) The translation of the Bible into the vernacular: Ulfilas, the ‘missionary to the Goths’, a prominent Homoian, translated nearly the entirety of the holy scriptures into the ancient Gothic tongue. Martin Luther was not the first to translate the scriptures into a vernacular German language for use by the people.

2) Sola scriptura: The ancient Homoians repeatedly appealed to scripture as the authoritative source of doctrinal knowledge; not merely as one source of many, or one on equal footings with councils, but as the ultimate and only ordinary source from which legitimate Christian doctrine and practice could be known. Bishop Maximinus makes clear, for example, that the Homoians held the council of Arminium to be authoritative as a subordinate authority to the holy scriptures. “I wanted the decree of the Council of Ariminum to be present, not to excuse myself, but to show the authority of those fathers who handed on to us in accord with the divine scriptures the faith which they learned from the divine scriptures.” (Debate with Augustine)

3) That scripture can offer a corrective to errors made by ecumenical councils and popes: This really falls under sola scriptura as well, but it is such a noteworthy point that it really deserves special emphasis. The Homoian councils of Arminium and Seleucia ruled that while the fathers as the council if Nicea thirty-four years earlier had intended the extra-biblical language of ‘co-essentiality’ to have a biblical meaning, the introduction of such ambiguous, ill-understood, and extra-scriptural language had proved too problematic to retain it as dogma. The mistake of the first ecumenical council would be rectified on a scriptural basis:

“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.” (Council of Arminium)

And so we see that a concern of the Homoians was that the church’s dogma be simple enough to be easily understood by the average Christian, as the ancient rule of faith was, and that it not be allowed to become so complicated and esoteric by the introduction of difficult philosophical terms that the average Christian could have no meaningful comprehension of the church’s doctrine.

It is noteworthy here that the fact that the language of Nicea is foreign to scripture is cited as a major aspect of why it should be removed, and replaced with a confession that was indisputably biblical. According to the Homoians, such vague expressions as those of Nicea, when they are ill-understood, need not be retained, even though the have the authority of an ecumenical council behind them. The endorsement of an ecumenical council was not enough to put the ‘homoousian’ articulation of the Trinity beyond question; when the language became a problem, it could be jettisoned, because a council was not enough to make the matter indisputable. Scripture was the standard, and since the problematic terminology was not given in the scriptures, it need not be retained when it had outlived its usefulness. Such an attitude towards the dogmas of councils clearly prefigures that of later Protestantism.

While the issue of the Pope’s opinion does not seem to have factored as heavily into these fourth-century disputes as it would in the Reformation, its noteworthy that the Homoian councils of Arminium and Seleucia just as much implied that the Papacy had erred, as it did the council of Nicea. The papacy had strongly supported the Nicene articulation of the Trinity, and the Pope at the time adamantly refused to assent to the decisions of these Homoian ecumenical councils. Yet the Homoians did not see a problem with disagreeing with the Bishop of Rome; scripture was the authority, and the Pope’s opinion could safely be disregarded when it contradicted the scriptures and the best interest of the church. In this way too, the ancient Homoians prefigured later Protestantism.

4) The Homoians ended up separated from the ecclesiastical hierarchies of the Roman churches by no fault of their own: Like later Protestantism, the Homoian position was eventually condemned by a later council, that held in Constantinople in 381, which, despite being local rather than ecumenical in representation, is remembered by many as an ecumenical council. Those bishops within the church hierarchies that fell within the bounds of the Roman Empire who disagreed with the new Emperor Theodosius I’s effectively unilateral doctrinal decisions, were unceremoniously ejected from their episcopates, and replaced by others who would comply with the Emperor’s wishes. Those Homoians who found themselves within the expansive bounds of the Roman Empire found themselves forced to continue on apart from the Imperial hierarchy and the papacy, continuing to meet together for centuries to come in houses and private settings, living as a persecuted minority. Outside the bounds of the Empire, the established churches of the Vandals, Goths, Gepids, and other Germanic peoples continued to be Homoian. For centuries these often existed side-by-side with Roman churches, as these tribes conquered and settled the territories formerly belonging to the Western Roman Empire. Like later Protestantism, the institutional split between Homoians and the Roman churches occurred because the Roman churches wrongly excommunicated them, forcing them to continue on without the fellowship of the Roman hierarchy.

All in all its interesting to consider the many similarities that the Homoians had with Protestantism. This is especially so when we consider the reactive influence that these Homoian traits may have had on the development of the Roman Catholic church; the church that Martin Luther and the Protestant reformers faced was not one that had never dealt with these things in the past, which had never considered such a way of looking at the authority of scripture and councils, etc, but one which had already effectively rejected the Protestant positions on some of the most central issues of the Reformation (such as sola scriptura) some thousand years prior to the Protestant Reformation. It is a shame that Protestantism, instead of examining the theology of their Homoian forefathers, and recognizing it as biblical, have generally remained mostly ignorant of this history, and have generally looked at it from the perspective of the Roman Catholic church, rather than with sympathy for their fourth-century counterparts.

Numerical Vs Generic Unity of Substance

Semi-modalism is built upon a twisting of the Nicene concept of co-essentiality. In the Nicene era and its creed, for multiple persons to be co-essential meant that nothing more than that they, as truly distinct rational individual beings (that is, persons) shared a common nature or species. A common analogy used by the Nicene fathers to capture their meaning, for example, is of three men being co-essential, in that they, while remaining three distinct individuals, share a common and identical human nature. Although there are three men, there is only one nature between them, human nature. Such was the original meaning of co-essentiality.

For example, Athanasius said:

“Even this is sufficient to dissuade you from blaming those who have said that the Son was coessential with the Father, and yet let us examine the very term ‘Coessential,’ in itself, by way of seeing whether we ought to use it at all, and whether it be a proper term, and is suitable to apply to the Son. For you know yourselves, and no one can dispute it, that Like is not predicated of essence, but of habits, and qualities; for in the case of essences we speak, not of likeness, but of identity. Man, for instance, is said to be like man, not in essence, but according to habit and character; for in essence men are of one nature. And again, man is not said to be unlike dog, but to be of different nature. Accordingly while the former [men] are of one nature and coessential, the latter are different in both.”

Hilary of Poitiers likewise clarified:

“Since, however, we have frequently to mention the words essence and substance, we must determine the meaning of essence, lest in discussing facts we prove ignorant of the signification of our words. Essence is a reality which is, or the reality of those things from which it is, and which subsists inasmuch as it is permanent. Now we can speak of the essence, or nature, or genus, or substance of anything. And the strict reason why the word essence is employed is because it is always. But this is identical with substance, because a thing which is, necessarily subsists in itself, and whatever thus subsists possesses unquestionably a permanent genus, nature or substance. When, therefore, we say that essence signifies nature, or genus, or substance, we mean the essence of that thing which permanently exists in the nature, genus, or substance.

And Basil of Caesarea wrote:

“The distinction between οὐσία [essence] and ὑπόστασις [person] is the same as that between the general and the particular ; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man.” (Letter 236)”

This understanding of co-essentiality is likewise required by the council of Chalcedon:

“our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood”

Its clear, then, that the original intent of declaring that the Father, Son, and Spirit share one essence was not to make Them out to all be one person, one individual being, but simply to declare that They shared a common nature or species. This meaning changed, however, and was not kept clear as time went on; the Western churches going to far as to eventually formally change the meaning of co-essentiality in the 4th Lateran council in 1215.  Rather than indicating a generic unity of sharing one nature, now co-essentiality was defined as teaching that the unity the persons shared was of being one single numerically individual reality, one rational individual being- that is, in reality, one person. The ‘essence’ was no longer viewed as a nature, but a single subsistent ‘supreme reality’.

“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 teaching is a drastic departure from the faith of the early church, and represents the culmination of what many in the Nicene era had feared might result from the introduction of ‘essence’ speculation into the church’s dogma. A council of fathers gathered in Antioch in 345 had specified their belief that the Father, Son, and Spirit were not “one supreme reality”, that is, one person, one individual rational being, but rather, three:

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

Later in the same creed they went on to condemn the very view the 4th Lateran would later make dogma for the Roman churches:

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

But one need not wait until the fourth century to find fathers who clearly taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit were not one numerically individual thing, one person. Second century father Justin Martyr, one of the earliest and best of the fathers, clearly understood the Father and Son to be numerically distinct persons, two distinct rational individual beings, not merely two names of or modes of one and the same reality:

“When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 29)

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

“You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129)

It is clear also, that Justin did not speak of merely his own opinion in these matters, but as an apologist, spoke on behalf of the Christians of his time; and anyone who wishes to, may read his contemporary fathers, and see their agreement.

Semi-modalism, then, in proclaiming the the persons of the Trinity are numerically one substance, one individual, is clearly at odds with both the original dogmatic conception of co-essentiality held by the Nicene fathers, which proclaimed co-essentiality to mean nothing more than a mere generic unity of nature between really distinct individuals, as well as being at odds with the faith of the ante-nicene fathers, going back as close to the apostles as we can find.

For a look at how this semi-modalistic conception of the Trinity is opposed to scripture itself, and the very fundamental tenets of the Christian faith it teaches, see here.

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.



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.


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.