Semi-Modalism & the Rule of Faith

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

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

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

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

He goes on to explain:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s examine each point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Samuel Clarke wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Semi-Modalism of Marius Victorinus

Marius Victorinus is not the best-known church father. Of his works, we have his book on the Trinity preserved, authored sometime between 355-364 AD. This puts the authorship of the book right in the middle of the ongoing Nicene controversy, and is a valuable resource in giving us another individual perspective of what the fourth-century ecclesiastical melee looked like.

Marius Victorinus was a Homoousian, which is valuable for a number of reasons. He is also one of the earliest examples of semi-modalism this author is aware of. Besides advocating such radical departures from previous church tradition as defining the Trinity as the one God, rather than the Father in particular, Victorinus also provides us an excellent example of what the Homoians of the fourth century were trying to avoid when they eschewed the term ‘homoousias’.

Marius Victorinus goes much farther than other more moderate and orthodox Homoousians like Athanasius and Basil, who carefully defined what they meant by ‘homoousias’ as indicating that the persons of the Trinity share a generic unity of metaphysical nature. Marius Victorinus provides yet another example in a long list of fourth century fathers such as Marcellus of Ancyra and Scotinus of Galatia who advocated the term ‘homoousias’ while insisting on a modalistic or semi-modalistic trinitarianism. The Homoian and Homoiousian opposition to the term ‘homoousias’ can be better understood in light of the startlingly modalistic way several contemporary advocates of ‘homoousias’ meant the term to be understood. The idea that the term was modalistic was not merely some distant memory of ante-nicene Sabellian usage of the term, nor an insightful prediction of how the term could eventually be taken wrongly in the future- it was right before the eyes of the fourth century moderates who advocated the use of other terminology.

The following sampling of quotes is taken from: Victorinus, M. (1981). Theological Treatises on the Trinity. (H. Dressler, Ed., M. T. Clark, Trans.) (Vol. 69, p. 334). Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

“But Christ irrigates the whole universe, both visible and invisible; with the river of life he waters every substance among the existents. Yet insofar as he is life, he is Christ; insofar as he waters, he is the Holy Spirit; insofar as he is the power of vitality, he is Father and God, but the whole is one God.”

Here we have pretty blatant semi-modalism. In other parts of the book, he distinguishes the persons as distinct individuals, as we shall see, or else we should be inclined to call this simply out-and-out modalism altogether. His theology is also subject to extreme over-philosophization, something the Homoian movement was keen to avoid by sticking to strictly scriptural terminology. For Victorinus, some of this over-phisophizing took the form of seemingly regarding each person individually as being in themselves a Trinity of three as well. This bizarre belief exceeds even semi-modalism, but many of the same ideas are present.

“But although we confess two individuals, nevertheless we affirm one God and that both are one God, because both the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father.”

“That is why the Father and the Son and the Spirit are not only one reality, but also one God.”

“O God, you are limitless, infinite, invisible, but to some limitless, infinite, and to others invisible, to thyself limited, finite, visible;
Hence, then, you also have form; therefore you are identical with Logos because Logos is form;
And because to you form is knowledge, but knowledge is Holy Spirit, therefore you are God and Logos and Holy Spirit.
O Blessed Trinity.”

In saying, “You are God and Logos and Holy Spirit”, Victorinus anticipates the Augustinian tradition’s later semi-modalistic articulation of the Trinity, since the persons together are spoken of and related to as if They form a single person.

“You also O Holy Spirit are knowledge;
But all knowledge is knowledge of form and substance; therefore you know God and have the form of God;
Hence you are God and Son, O Holy Spirit;
O Blessed Trinity.”

Here we see and example of each person being a sort of Trinity within the Trinity. While calling this “insanity” seems harsh, I am at a loss of what else could well-describe this.

“One substance therefore is God, Logos and Spirit, dwelling in three and existing thrice in all three;
But this is both form and knowledge;
So every simple singularity is tripled;
O Blessed Trinity.”

So we see again each person is a Trinity within a Trinity.

“The three are therefore one,
And three times over,
Thrice are the three one,
O Blessed Trinity”

Some moderns wonder at why anyone would object to a Nicene understanding of the term ‘Homoousias”, and the concept of co-essentiality, especially when it is carefully defined as Athanasius meant it. People saying things like the above quote are a major part of the answer to that question. Not all Homoousians were Athanasius- within the ranks of this vocal minority were some whose theology should make anyone reconsider the wisdom of making the term dogma.

Finally we come to this:

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

To him we all pray,
The one whom we implore,
The one who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
O Blessed Trinity.”

Unlike even most contemporary Homoousians, Marius Victorinus could not be more emphatic that the one God of Christianity is the Trinity as a whole, (and as a Trinity of Trinities, apparently). While we have limited access to early sources, the fact that it is in the modalistic ravings of a nutcase like this that we first begin to see monotheism’s emphasis shifted from the person of the Father as the one God to the Trinity as the one God should be deeply worrying to those who favor the same language. We also see the Trinity being treated as a single person, being called collectively by single personal pronouns, and having worship directed to it as a single entity.

It would take a while for Victorinus’s emphases to work their way into the mainstream of Homoousian thought. Eventually Augustine would adopt very similar language in his treatment of the Trinity; in the meantime, other prominent Homoousians like Hilary of Poitiers and Basil of Caesarea would remain on the more moderate side of the Homousian party, and continue to generally stick to more traditional-sounding formulations.

The similarity between Marius Victorinus’s articulations of (what I shudder to refer to as) the Trinity and that of Augustine later are no simple co-incidence. According to Augustine, in his Confessions (Book 8, 2, 3-6), Marius had a significant influence on Ambrose, and by extension, his student Augustine. According to Augustine’s account of Victorinus’s conversion from paganism, Victorinus, originally from Africa, went to the Roman church to convert, where he seems to have enjoyed great prestige. It seems then that the tradition of ‘latin trinitarianism’, ‘Augustinian trinitarianism’, or semi-modalism, does not truly begin with Augustine, but with Victorinus, a half-century earlier, at least.

Moody Bible Institute Trades Blatant Semi-Modalism For Ambiguity

The Moody Bible Institute made an official change to article 1 of their doctrinal statement earlier this year. The statement from Moody can be read here: https://www.moodybible.org/news/global/2018/moodyleadershipdoctrinalannouncement/.

As the statement briefly outlines, the old version, in use since 1928, reads:

“God is a Person who has revealed Himself as a Trinity in unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit—three Persons and yet one God.”

This was replaced with the following:

“God is triune, one Being eternally existing in three co-equal Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; these divine Persons, together possessing the same eternal perfections, work inseparably and harmoniously in creating, sustaining, and redeeming the world.”

The former version was rightly criticized as inaccurate, and it is encouraging to see that some change has come from that criticism. It blatantly treats the Trinity of three persons as being a single person, which is itself not unusual. What is remarkable about it is rather that it openly uses the specific term “person” for the Trinity, rather than something more ambiguous. Despite the fact that the prominent version of the doctrine of the Trinity in the west for over a millennia has been one which presents the Trinity as a person, it seems it is still considered a theological faux pas to actually come out and use the word “person” for the Trinity as a whole, even among those who in concept believe precisely that.

The original version, however, bears a ring of frank honesty about what its author, and presumably those in charge of the Institute at that time, believed. Like Cornelius Van Til, the original statement is both noteworthy and commendable for coming out and honestly stating the belief of those it represented. Usually the alternative of equivocating over the term ‘person’ is chosen instead, and so such honesty stands out. To believe that the Trinity is a person is rank heresy, but it is more commendable to at least come out in the open about such a belief than it is to attempt to hide it away under the guise of ambiguous and highly philosophical language, as many do.

Unfortunately, it is precisely that sort of ambiguity that marks the new version of the statement. The new versions rightly identifies that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons. However, the language with which it replaces the statement that “God is a Person” is quite ambiguous itself. God is now instead defined as “triune”, and “one Being”. This language can be used in reference to an abstract metaphysical nature shared by the persons, as in a Cappadocian view of co-essentiality, although the word “triune” is still ultimately unfitting even in that case. The metaphysical essence that the persons of the Trinity are supposed to share, after all, is not ‘three in one’ (triune), but simply conceived of as being ‘one’.

Calling God a “Being” is extremely ambiguous, since “being” has two significantly different possible meanings in trinitarian thought. “Being” can refer to an individual being, or a generic being. An individual being, if that being is of a rational nature, as the persons of the Trinity are, is a person. A common example of this is that we may call a human person “a human being”. This is used to refer to an individual human, not a generic concept of humanity in general. But, on the other hand, we can speak of “being” as a general concept of a nature as well, such as if one were to say that men in their very being are inclined towards evil. In such a statement about being, “being” is used to denote man’s metaphysical nature in general, not a specific human person.

Similarly, in discussions regarding a co-essential view of the Trinity, “being”, used in a bare and undefined way, is far too ambiguous a term to be helpful. This is because in historic thought on a co-essential Trinity, generic metaphysical essence has been distinguished from individual persons Who possess that nature. Thus the famous slogan, ‘one essence, three persons’. In that slogan that which is one is distinguished from that which is three; essence and person are distinct metaphysical categories.

Since “being”, however, can be used a a synonym for either “essence” or “person”, it confounds this meaningful and necessary distinction, unless it is further clarified. Simple saying that there is one “being” in three persons leaves wide open the possibility that “being” there is to be understood merely as a synonym for “person”, thus being no better than the original statement which it replaces. Rather than being an improvement, if the term “being” is used here as a synonym for “person”, it is rather a dishonest attempt to preserve the sound of orthodoxy while denying it conceptually. If, on the other hand, essence is intended to be denoted, one must wonder what value can be found in leaving the language so ambiguous rather than simply saying what is meant outright in unambiguous language. At the very least, the use of such ambiguous language appears to be there to allow for a heretical reading, even if it is now ambiguous enough to not require a heretical reading.

 

Do You Believe in the Son of God?

“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:9-12 NKJV)

The truth laid out in these verses is simple- he who has the Son has life; he who does not believe in the Son of God, does not have life. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5), and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

To believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, then, is manifestly required for salvation. The confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is central to the true Christian faith (Matt 16:16).

Yet tragically, many professing Christians deny the Son of God. They do this by embracing Augustinian trinitarianism.

Surely such a statement must seem shocking to many. But consider this- if one believes that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Supreme God, the one God, the Almighty, rather than His Son, then a person does not truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

You see, to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God requires more than that we simply repeat the words “Son of God”. We must believe what scripture means by the phrase, or it profits us nothing. And scripturally, the Son of God is a distinct individual from the one God, the Supreme God, the Father. To believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God requires us to believe that He is a different person than the God whose Son He is.

Most modern trinitarians simply do not believe this. They are quick to confess their faith that Jesus Christ is not the Father, but the Son of the Father; yet by denying the identity of the one God with the person of the Father, their confession that Christ is the Son of the Father does not equate to a confession of Him as the Son of God.

Rather, they view the one God as the Trinity of three ‘persons’. This Trinity is, in their thinking, the one God, the Supreme God, the Almighty. This person is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The problems with this anti-scriptural view are manifold; but one of the most alarming is that it severely alters the relationship of the Son with God. Rather than the Son being the Son of God, and a distinct person from Him, this view presents the Son as part of God -a person out of three who is the one God- rather than the Son of God.

This view is still able to maintain the Son’s identity as Son of the Father, since within this “tri-personal God” the ‘person’ of the Son relates to the ‘person’ of the Father as a distinguishable entity, which is begotten by the Father. Thus a Father-Son distinction is maintained, at least at a certain limited level. But since the God is not synonymous with the Father in this view, this in no way equals believing that Christ is the Son of God. This Father-Son distinction is all deemed to be “within God”. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ is confessed to be the Son of the Father, yet denied to be the Son of God.

This all stems from the root problem of denying the historic first article of the Christian faith- that there is “one God, the Father Almighty”, as so many ancient creeds begin. Both the scriptures and the Christians of the first several centuries of church history are clear in stating the identity of the one God with the Father (see here). As Paul the apostle wrote, “For us there is one God, the Father, from Whom are all things” (1 Cor 8:6). And the Lord Jesus Christ defined eternal life, saying “this is eternal life, that they may know You [the Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NKJV).

Those then who deny that the one God is the Father Almighty in particular, set themselves not only at odds with classical Christianity as seen in the writings of the church fathers, but more importantly deny a central truth taught by the holy scriptures. In doing so God’s glory is obscured, and the church is harmed, being deprived of important truth. But worse still, such a denial ultimately results in a denial of the basic and necessary Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Augustinian trinitarianism, then, or semi-modalism, as I prefer to call it, is not simply some innocuous error. It does not only work against the glory of God and the good of His people- it is, if held sincerely, a damnable denial of the Christian faith, by constituting a denial of Christ Himself. By denying the identity of the Father and the Supreme God, the one God, the Almighty, this heresy makes Jesus Christ out to not truly be the Son of God, but merely a part of His own self. Confessing that Jesus is the Son of the Father is not enough- He must be believed in as the Son of God. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:9-12 NKJV)

Commentary on the Pseudo-Athanasian Creed

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

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

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

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

The creed reads thus:

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

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

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

4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.

26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

42. and shall give account of their own works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Line 25-26 read “25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another. 26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.” These statements are contrary to the plain teaching of the scriptures “If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28 KJV). That all three persons are co-eternal is indeed taught by the scriptures, but that the Son and Spirit are equal to the Father is contradictory to biblical monotheism altogether, and to the plain sense of so many passages of scripture. The Son and Holy Spirit are under the headship and authority of the Father, the one God, and so, the Father is greater than the Son and Spirit in respect to authority. Also, as this Creed itself has acknowledged, the Son and Spirit are from the Father, the Father being the Source, Cause, and Origin of both the Son and the Holy Spirit, and so in respect to causality, the Father Who is alone without Cause, Source, or Origin, must be considered greater than the Son and the Holy Spirit. To speculate in respect to essence here is to go beyond scripture’s revelation. But the fact stands, that while the Son of God freely taught, without giving qualification, that His Father is greater than He, this creed of antichrist outright denies this same truth.

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

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

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

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

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

 

What Really Constitutes a Rejection of Modalism?

Most Christians are willing to recognize that modalism is heresy; yet at the same time, what passes for a rejection of modalism today is so lacking that many closet modalists can seemingly vindicate themselves of being modalists ( in name, at least) while still holding to the same fundamental doctrines as those who openly hold to modalism.

This is because it has become acceptable to respond to modalism by stating that the persons of the Trinity are not identical to each other; the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and neither of them is the Holy Spirit. And yet, this does not exclude all forms of modalism, nor does it address the fundamental underlying tenet of modalism that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all one person.

As noted in Equivocation Over the Term “Person”, many modern Christians effectively state their belief in trinitarianism as a belief in one person (the Trinity or the essence) who is three persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). This is almost always done by using a synonymous word for “person” in respect to the Trinity as a whole, such as “being”; a word vague enough that it can be used either for an abstract essence or for an individual person, which in most cases like this, is used to mean the latter (a fact often betrayed by the use of singular personal pronouns such as “he” for the “being”). Others will use terms such as “reality”, “thing”, or some other term to describe the person who they conceive of as being three persons; yet using a different word in place of “person” hardly alleviates the problem, since what we ought to primarily be concerned with is not the modes of expression people employ (although these are important), but what is meant by them.

Since, then, the fundamental problem posed by modalism is that it conceives of God as a single individual who somehow is the Father, Son, and Spirit, if we merely require someone to affirm that there is some kind of distinction between “Father”, “Son”, and “Spirit” such as that they are not totally synonymous with each other, we have failed to address the primary issue. Many modalists are willing to affirm such a distinction. While they believe there is only one divine individual, they are also willing to affirm that the names “Father”, “Son”, and “Spirit” refer to three things that are not totally interchangeable with each other.

This distinction may be as shallow as the names themselves; it may extend to seeing them as signifying historically distinct modes by which the one individual manifests himself to the world; or they may view each name as signifying a distinct mode of subsistence within a single individual. Others would view them as effectively signifying different parts of this one individual. All these notions are blasphemous and false; yet by merely accepting the affirmation of some difference between “Father”, “Son”, and “Spirit” as being enough to clear a person of being a modalist, we will have let most modalists pass themselves off as trinitarians with little difficulty.

Even Sabellius himself was willing to say that there were three distinct “personas”, after all. Other early modalists would also try to affirm that while in their minds “Father” and “Son” were the same individual, only the Son died, not the Father. Yet today, it seems we have pushed the threshold of what constitutes trinitarianism so low that those who call the Trinity as a whole a single person, and a single individual, are not regarded as modalists. While they are not given the label they deserve, the underlying beliefs are fundamentally the same. Just as the Sabellians of old taught, if “Father” and “Son” are the same individual, then the Father became man and died on the cross. And yet today this view is tolerated, so long as the person specifies that it was the mode of “Son” that died, not the mode of “Father”.

To really be cleared of modalism, a person must be willing not only to to say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are somehow distinct, but that They are distinct as three individuals, three real persons. A modalist can say that they are somehow distinct, especially if that modalist is willing to equivocate over the term “person”, using it to mean something less than a really distinct individual. A trinitarian must affirm that there are in reality three distinct individuals of one divine nature, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

If we wish to guard against semi-modalism, we must go farther still. A semi-modalist does affirm that there are really three distinct persons; however, the semi-modalist believes these three persons to be one person as well. This view is nonsensical; yet, it is held by many, more often than not as an unconscious inconsistency in their own thinking. Yet, some would venture to hold such a view consciously, being willing to say that they believe in one person who is three persons, and really mean “three persons” by those words. The only way to guard against such an error is to not only require a confession of three distinct persons, three distinct individual realities, but to also require a denial that those three are one person or individual reality.

Thus the ancient Macrostich says:

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

“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.”

It is not enough that someone be willing to say the words “three persons”; they must be willing to affirm that they mean that in the sense it is intended, that they believe in three distinct individual realities, not merely three modes or manifestations termed “persons”. Likewise, a trinitarian must be willing to affirm that there is only three persons; this guards against the semi-modalism that imagines a fourth distinct individual (or person) who is the three persons of Father, Son, and Spirit.

 

Significant Changes in Homoousian Creeds in the Post-Nicene Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13. that is, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

17. afterwards he spoke with his disciples;

18. he ascended to heaven on the fortieth day.

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

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

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

Anathemas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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