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.

Was Arianism Ever Really A Serious Threat to the Church?

As we examined in Athanasius Contra Mundum? and Homoian Creeds, much of the common popular modern narrative of the church in the fourth century being overrun by Arian bishops and emperors, with only Athanasius standing in the gap against the onslaught of heresy, is not historically accurate. Certainly, Athanasius played an important role in the trinitarian controversies of the fourth century, and there is much good he contributed. He was certainly one of the strongest and most relentless opponents of Arianism, and enjoyed good success against it. But at no point was the church truly overrun by Arianism, nor were there any emperors who accepted Arius’s teaching or would be willing to call themselves Arian. Rather, we observed, a great many church councils in the decades following Nicea which met to deal with trinitarian issues, often overseen by an emperor, fully and unequivocally rejected and condemned Arianism.

This strong rejection, however, did not keep them from getting labeled ‘Arian’ and semi-arian by their more radical counterparts, the minority of bishops committed to the Nicene articulation of the Trinity and especially the word “homoousias’. When we seek to understand the so-called semi-arians, we see that they did not accept Arianism at all, but rather received this derogatory label for their opposition to the word ‘homoousias’- a word which they rejected not because they supported Arianism, which they strongly condemned, but because the word was feared to carry a modalistic meaning. Thus the reaction against the Nicene articulation is best seen not as pro-Arian but anti-homoousian. As we saw in the previous posts mentioned, this led the church at large to find other ways to articulate the same doctrine of the Trinity which Nicea sought to communicate, but in different language which would not be so easily misunderstood.

Understanding this provides us with a much different view of the immediate post-nicene church than is often presented; rather than Arianism running rampant and enjoying both political and theological ascendency, it was roundly condemned by all but a small minority of actual Arians.

The so-called Arian councils, then, were mostly not really Arian. The homoiousian and homoian councils held after Nicea rejected Arianism strongly. We cannot then, on the basis of any historical evidence, conclude that Arianism at its most successful in the Roman empire was but a minority of quickly condemned individuals in the fourth century church. Whats more, it did not even truly flourish prior to Nicea, as some have presented the matter.

Prior to Nicea, Arius began the controversy by accusing his bishop, Alexander of Alexandria, of teaching modalism. Arius began espousing his heresy in response, and was quickly condemned, not just by the church in Alexandria, but by a regional synod which represented the broader African churches. When Arius did not experience success there, he and his small group of associates traveled elsewhere, and were condemned elsewhere. In 325, the year the council of Nicea met, another council met prior to Nicea in Syria which had broad representation of bishops from Syria and the surrounding regions. This council of Antioch condemned Arianism strongly, and called those bishops who supported Arius to repentance. Arius and his followers, then, had already been formally condemned and excommunicated by large portions of the church before the council of Nicea ever even met. When it did meet, the entire church condemned Arius and his heretical teachings. From this we see that Arianism never truly flourished in the established churches of the Roman empire, for as we have discussed above already, the church’s rejection of his false teaching continued through the post nicene era.

One must wonder why then is Arianism so frequently presented as having flourished, and gained ascendency? A brief search of the internet will have you believe that prior to Nicea, Arianism spread throughout the church like wildfire, and that after Nicea nearly the entire Roman empire and the churches within it were unashamedly Arian; and yet the historical evidence, not the least of which are the creeds composed by the church during this era, show that this was not at all the case. Why do so many throughout history since find it important to label so much of the trinitarian teaching of the fourth century church “Arian” when it could not be more explicitly opposed to Arianism?

It would be easy to wonder if this is not in large part because while the councils of the mid-fourth century were not Arian, they were not semi-modalists either. They confess classical trinitarianism in their Creeds, the same trinitarianism we can find in the writings of the Ante-Nicene fathers, and in the holy scriptures themselves. They never make the persons of the Trinity out to be a single person, and didn’t use the term ‘homoousias’, that would later be redefined by the semi-modalists to support their heresy (see The Grievous Error of the Fourth Lateran Council). The Nicene creed the semi-modalists could twist; but the Macrostich leaves them no room to bring in their false teaching. One must wonder how much this motivates them to label the one orthodox and the other Arian, even though they both teach the same exact doctrine.

Whatever the motivation for the popular narrative is, it has indeed been effective at hiding a large portion of the fourth century church’s official teaching on the Trinity from the majority of Christians for a long time. A person cannot learn Arianism from the Macrostich, the Creed of Sirmium of 351, or the Homoian Creed; but they will learn classical trinitarianism, as the scriptures teach, from such statements of faith. One must wonder then how much the attack on such Creeds and their authors really comes from opposition to Arianism, versus how much is motivated by an opposition to classical trinitarianism itself.

While the real threat Arianism itself posed to the church, then, can be seen to actually have been relatively small, it has done far more damage than perhaps most realize. Arianism never threatened to become the dominant theology of the church; but in a much more indirect way, it has done unspeakably great damage nonetheless. This is because Arianism can really be seen as a catalyst that aided in the widespread acceptance semi-modalism in place of classical trinitarianism in the post-nicene era. Arianism was and is constantly painted as a sort of theological boogeyman, lurking in the dark shadows of church history, which anyone we disagree with on christology must surely be in very near danger of falling into, even if they are not.

By painting Arianism as the opposite end of the spectrum from semi-modalism, any move away from semi-modalism, however legitimate it may be, is easily painted as a move in the direction of Arianism, even when no tenet of Arianism is accepted. Classical trinitarianism in the fourth century can be labeled “semi-arian”, and therefore be so completely discredited that no one will seriously consider that it just might be what scripture teaches. In truth, without the largely imaginary threat of Arianism, semi-modalism may have never have experienced the success it has, for the fear of Arianism was a great factor in its success.

The continued existence of Arianism outside the bounds of the Roman empire among the barbarian tribes of Europe only further strengthened these fears in the post-nicene era, allowing Arianism to continually be painted as a serious threat for centuries to come, especially in the western churches. Such fear is can be a powerful tool in pushing people all the way to the opposite end of the theological spectrum, running them away from Arianism right past orthodoxy and into error in the opposite direction, semi-modalism.

Arianism’s acceptance and emphasis of certain doctrinal elements of classical trinitarianism (such as the Father being the “one God”, see I believe in one God, the Father Almighty and Why Are We Monotheists?) served to successfully stigmatize these points of doctrine in such a way that while the church never officially rejected them, they have been greatly de-emphasized from Christian doctrine. This has left holes in the church’s trinitarianism, where important parts of classical and biblical trinitarianism have been left out, and not without dire consequences. Moving forward this left the church with a mutilated trinitarianism, or really, semi-modalism (see Semi-modalism as the Greatest Problem Facing the Church Today).

Because of the role Arianism has played in semi-modalism’s success, it is important for the church to treat the history of Arianism more realistically. Arianism is undoubtedly a great evil and a damnable heresy, but the way its history gets distorted by semi-modalists to promote their own false teaching must be recognized. The church will also greatly be helped by learning from the orthodox fathers of the fourth century who did not accept ‘homoousias’ and yet believed and taught classical trinitarianism using other modes of expression. Finally and most importantly we must not allow Arianism’s acceptance of certain points of biblical doctrine cause us to reject them on the grounds of that association. All heresy blends truth with error, and Arianism is no different. If we allow that blending to cause us to reject part of the truth, we have given the Devil a victory despite our rejection of Arianism.

Were the Homoiousians Right?

“Homoi-ousias”, which means “like essence” was the Greek word favored by the conservative majority of bishops during the Arian controversy of the fourth century to describe the essential relationship between the Son and the Father. It was put forward as a suggested alternative to the word employed by the Council of Nicea “Homo-ousias”, which means “same essence”, and to the Arian term “Heteroousias”, meaning “different essence”. As Hilary of Poitiers explains in De Synodis (see Hilary of Poitiers on Correct and Incorrect Understandings of Co-essentiality), both ‘Homoiousias’ and ‘Homoousias’, when understood in an orthodox fashion, mean the same thing. If the Son and Father have the same divine nature, or essence, as scripture teaches, then certainly “homoousias” is a fitting word; yet likewise, saying that the Son is like the Father in His essence, meaning, that He is exactly like the Father in His essence, or identical to Him, as can be indicated by “homoiousias”, means the same thing.

But both of these words (as nearly all words do) have a variety of possible meanings; they can each be taken in multiple different ways. For this reason, they were not always meant or understood in an orthodox fashion in the Nicene controversy; both words had ways they could be understood that are heretical. ‘Homoiousias’ allowed for moderate Arians to accept the term because ultimately saying that the Son is of ‘like essence’ with the Father can be taken either as ‘exactly alike’ (which is orthodox), or merely ‘similar, with minor differences’ (which is Arian). For this reason the pro-Nicene, and thus pro-‘homoousian’ minority frequently leveled the charge against the homoiousians that they were semi-arian (even while many of them, ultimately, were not).

Likewise “homoousias” could also be taken in a heretical way, in a modalistic fashion, in which “same essence” was not intended to mean that the Father and Son were distinct persons who shared a common divine nature, but rather that the Father and Son were somehow one subsistent or personal thing.

“Essence” or Greek ‘ousia’ in general was not spoken of nearly as much in the pre-nicene era; it was once the Nicene Council introduced ‘homoousias’ into the Creed that the alternative ‘homoiousias’ became popular. Why? Because not only was it possible to misunderstand ‘homoousias’ in such a way that it would mean that the Father and Son were ultimately a single person, but the word actually already had a history of being used that way by the time of the Arian controversy. Thus, many orthodox bishops desired another term to use.

“Homoousias” was associated with Sabellius, an early modalist, and was also used by later ante-nicene modalist Paul of Samosata. The local council which condemned his teaching as heretical actually condemned the word “homoousias” as heretical, as well, on the basis of its modalistic usage. For this reason when this word which had a strong association with modalism, and tendency to be understood in a modalistic way, was employed by the Nicene Council, many of the church fathers at the time objected, although the orthodox ‘Homoousian’ fathers made efforts to explain to orthodox meaning of the word which they intended to communicate by it.

Eventually, with much explaining, “homoousias”, despite the grave concern by many that the word was modalistic, won the day, eventually being accepted at the Council to Constantinople in 381. “Homoiousias” came to be associated with the “semi-arians”, and eventually with Arianism at large, as time went on, in large part thanks to the polemics of semi-modalists in centuries following. From the time of the Nicene controversy onward, it has been a popular polemic against anyone not favorable term ‘homoousias’ to label them as being in some way Arian, even when the difference is merely one of terminology and not meaning.

However, this language of the Son being “homoousias” with the Father did not take long to again take on an ultimately modalistic meaning, as semi-modalism redefined the entire concept of consubstantiality which the word stood for to mean that the Father and Son were ultimately a single person, “God the Trinity”. Such redefining can be seen in the Fourth Lateran Council, as well as in the influential writings of Augustine (see Augustine’s Trinitarian Heresy). The concept of co-essentiality was twisted to no longer mean that the persons of the Son and Holy Spirit have the same divine nature as the Father, but rather to say that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all one subsistent thing, or person. Thus a term that had indicated generic unity, or identicality of nature, was now altered to indicate that the three persons of the Trinity were numerically one, or one person.

Those homoiousian Christians of the fourth century then, as well as those who favored the term “homoian” (which sought to leave the unscriptural term “essence” or “ousia” out of the discussion altogether, and merely confess that the Son is “like” the Father) were ultimately vindicated in their misgivings about the term “homoousias”. They protested it for fear it was Sabellian- that was its history, and it was worried that it would again be taken in such a way in the future. The Homoiousians and Homoians (who were slandered as being Arian by the Homoousian minority) were right; this is exactly what happened.

Although they are often slandered for their misgivings about the word, the Homoian and Homoiousian bishops of the fourth century have ultimately been vindicated in respect to their distrust of the word ‘homoousias’. The very thing they warned could happen did, in the post-nicene era.

While homoousian consubstantiality, as intended by its original authors such as Athanasius, is entirely orthodox, it introduced a shift in emphasis from the persons of the Trinity to the divine nature They share, and an emphasis on this one divine nature being the “one God” of Christianity. Perhaps in overreaction to Arianism, Homoousian Christians eventually gave up the confession that the one God is the Father, and instead emphasized the divine nature as Christianity’s one God.

This shift in language was doomed to result in semi-modalism. In scripture, the “one God” is always a person, and such is the natural way to think of God: as personal. Scripture, however, as the early church did, specifies that this one God is the person of the Father in particular; the Son is His Son, the Holy Spirit, His Spirit (see I believe in one God, the Father Almighty). By shifting the focus onto the essence as the one God of Christianity, Homoousian Christians in the post-nicene era doomed the church to fall into thinking of the essence as a person, therefore, since the one God is a person. Using what was ultimately the title of a single person for the divine nature shared by all three persons led to natural confusion, and what we see down to the present day, a personifying of the divine nature as a fourth person in the Trinity (see Semi-modalism and the Introduction of a Four-Person Trinity).

The homoousians didn’t merely pioneer this change in language, but emphasized conceptually that monotheism depended on the fact that there is one divine nature shared by the persons of the Trinity. While this fact is true, the unity of God does not depend on the fact that there is one divine nature, but on the fact that there is one Father, one supreme uncaused Cause of all, and Supreme Authority over all. For in the case of three men there is also a unity of nature, one human nature being common to all human persons; yet all human persons are not one man, but many men. And besides, even the fact that the persons all share one divine nature is dependent on the person of the Father, since He is in Himself the very definition of that divine nature, without cause or source; and yet is Himself the Source of that divine nature to His Son and Spirit, as They have the divine nature from the Father in eternal generation and procession, respectively.

This emphasis, then, on the divine nature as the unity of God, instead of the Father, has proven detrimental throughout the many centuries since. Semi-modalism easily grows out of such an emphasis, because, as mentioned above, three persons merely being of one nature does not make them “one God”, any more than three men being of one human nature makes them one man. If then, this unity of nature is insisted on as the explanation of Christian monotheism, is necessarily must be altered to mean something beyond a mere unity of nature: a unity of person. To deny the charge of tritheism on the basis of a Nicene understanding of co-essentiality alone is impossible; therefore, since the classical grounding of monotheism was abandoned, the new one developed was to redefine co-essentiality to mean not merely that the three persons share one essence, but are one “being”; a vague term, which, in fact, ends up being conceptually equated with person (see also Equivocation Over the Term “Person”).

Because this is recognized as modalistic to treat the three persons as one person, the language of the three being one “person” was never embraced by the church broadly; yet conceptually, that is what co-essentiality has been redesigned to signify in the post-nicene understanding. Accordingly, the response of those committed to a post-nicene scholastic redefinition of co-essentiality, as can be seen in the Fourth Lateran Council (see The Grievous Error of the Fourth Lateran Council), is to accuse those articulating a classical understanding of co-essentiality of being tritheists, failing to recognize that the grounding of Christian monotheism is not that the Son and Spirit of God share His divine nature (although this is true), but that there is one supreme uncaused Cause of all, Who is one Supreme Authority over all, the Father (see Why There is Only One God: One Supreme Cause and Why There is Only One God: Headship).

It was not, therefore, the emphasis on the persons of the Trinity sharing one essence, or one divine nature, that was the fatal flaw of homoousian theology, so to speak, but the Homoousians’ emphasis of this unity of nature as the grounding of Christian monotheism, combined with the abandonment of the classical grounding of Christian monotheism. This unbiblical shift led directly into the widespread acceptance of semi-modalism, to the destruction of the classical trinitarianism the original Homoousians contended for.

Arianism, with its emphasis on the Father’s role as the one God, the supreme uncaused Cause of All, and the Supreme Authority over all, served as a catalyst for this change, as these ideas naturally became associated with a heretical Christology. The result of this was important aspects of classical trinitarianism being divided up between Arianism and the Homoousians; the Arians emphasizing the Father as the one God, and ground of monotheism, and the Homoousians emphasizing the co-divinity of the persons of the Son and Holy Spirit with the Father. While Arians always rejected the Homoousian emphasis, initially Homoousian Christians accepted the Arian emphasis as an aspect of orthodox trinitarianism. But as time went on, Arian association with these ideas led to a de-emphasizing of these concepts in Homoousian theology, although they were never actually repudiated. Arianism can thus be argued to have done more damage to the cause of classical trinitarianism by stigmatizing elements of classical trinitarianism by association with its heresy than it did by actually promulgating a heretical Christology, which over the scheme of history has ultimately not been successful in maintaining a large following. But by attacking the classical trinitarian doctrine of the Son and Spirit’s co-divinity with the Father, Arianism enticed the church to over-react in the opposite direction by overemphasizing the doctrine of co-essentiality to the eclipsing of other elements of classical trinitarianism.

The first cracks in Homoousian theology can be seen within its first generation, which accepted the classical trinitarian doctrines that the Father is the one God, the supreme uncaused Cause of all, and the Supreme Authority over all, as they shifted emphasis from these doctrines to the fact that the Son and Spirit share the Father’s divine nature. In order to emphasize the truth of the Son and Spirit’s co-essentiality with the Father, otherwise orthodox Homoousian theologians began twisting scripture to read it as speaking of the divine nature, rather than the person of the Father, in certain passages; the first intimations of the semi-modalism that would sweep the church in the following generations.

For example, Athanasius wrote:

“For what is nearer [God] than the Cherubim or the Seraphim? And yet they, not even seeing Him, nor standing on their feet, nor even with bare, but as it were with veiled faces, offer their praises, with untiring lips doing nought else but glorify the divine and ineffable nature with the Trisagion. And nowhere has any one of the divinely speaking prophets, men specially selected for such vision, reported to us that in the first utterance of the word Holy the voice is raised aloud, while in the second it is lower, but in the third, quite low,—and that consequently the first utterance denotes lordship, the second subordination, and the third marks a yet lower degree. But away with the folly of these haters of God and senseless men. For the Triad, praised, reverenced, and adored, is one and indivisible and without degrees (ἀσχηματιστός). It is united without confusion, just as the Monad also is distinguished without separation. For the fact of those venerable living creatures (Isa. vi.; Rev. iv. 8) offering their praises three times, saying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ proves that the Three Subsistences443 are perfect, just as in saying ‘Lord,’ they declare the One Essence.” (Athanasius, On Luke 10:22)

Ambrose of Milan, of the first generation of post-nicene Homoousians, similarly wrote:

“Dominations and powers fall down before Him — you speak evil of His Name! All His Saints adore Him, but the Son of God adores not, nor the Holy Spirit. The seraphim say: Holy, Holy, Holy! Isaiah 6:3

107. What means this threefold utterance of the same name Holy? If thrice repeated, why is it but one act of praise? If one act of praise, why a threefold repetition? Why the threefold repetition, unless that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in holiness? The seraph spoke the name, not once, lest he should exclude the Son; not twice, lest he should pass by the Holy Spirit; not four times, lest he should conjoin created beings [in the praise of the Creator]. Furthermore, to show that the Godhead of the Trinity is One, he, after the threefold Holy, added in the singular number the Lord God of Sabaoth. Holy, therefore, is the Father, holy the Son, holy likewise the Spirit of God, and therefore is the Trinity adored, but adores not, and is praised, but praises not.” (Ambrose of Milan, De Fide, Book 2, Chapter 12)

Both Athanasius and Ambrose explain the vision of Isaiah 6 as pertaining to the whole Trinity, instead of the Father, as can be understood from the parallel passage in Revelation 4 (see Examining Scripture: The “Lord God Almighty” of Revelation Chapter 4). They both read a Homoousian understanding of the Trinity -with its supreme emphasis on the unity of the divine nature- into the passage, explaining the three repetitions of “Holy” as indicating the three persons, and the singular “Lord God” as indicating the singular essence, or divine nature. This interpretation is seriously flawed, choosing to forcibly insert Homoousian theology into scripture where it is not spoken of, contrary to the interpretation offered in the New Testament in Revelation 4 which clarifies this as referring to the person of the Father, “the Lord God Almighty,” alone.

What may also be noted here is that although both Ambrose and Athanasius usually avoid treating the Trinity as a person (unlike later generations of Homoousian theologians), by making this strained interpretation of the passage in order to seemingly provide more biblical support for Nicene trinitarianism, they fall into regarding the Trinity as a single person; for the vision in Isaiah 6 clearly treats the “Lord God” on the throne not as an impersonal essence, as the divine nature considered in abstract is, but as a person, who speaks to Isaiah and sends him as a prophet.

By taking passages of scripture that refer to a single person of the Trinity and saying they speak of the essence, the groundwork for future semi-modalism was laid, which would blatantly treat the essence or Trinity as a whole as a person. Although this misinterpretation can be regarded as a relatively minor mistake on its own, it would be amplified into a completely different theology by later theologians, such as Augustine of Hippo (see Augustine vs. Athanasius on the Identity of the “One God”).

Does the Name ‘LORD’ Being Applied to Multiple Persons of the Trinity Mean They Are All Really One Person?

Semi-modalism is a false doctrine which teaches that God is a person who is three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This belief is as unbiblical as it is absurd; for a general treatment of it see Modalism has evolved and Semi-modalism and the Introduction of a Four-Person Trinity.

A very common line of thinking for semi-modalists and those deceived by them makes an attempt to present a biblical case for the doctrine, which runs as follows: The LORD is the God of the Bible, the one and only God; The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are all each called by the name “LORD”; therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are together all really the one person named ‘LORD’, Who is simultaneously the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

This simple syllogism seems at first glance to present a genuinely biblical case for semi-modalism; but the argument breaks down when we examine it in detail. A major assumption of the argument is that there is ultimately only one person called by the name ‘LORD’; this assumption is easily shown false. The scriptures use the name ‘LORD’ for multiple distinct persons without ever indicating that this is meant to indicate that They are collectively a single person; in fact to draw such a conclusion is to import one’s own idea into scripture without any warrant from the text.

Rather than teaching that the Father and Son are called by the same name ‘LORD’ because They are somehow together a single person, scripture explains this sharing of God’s name with His Son in the following terms:

“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” (John 17:11 NAS)

“While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” (John 17:12 NAS)

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,” (Philippians 2:9 NAS)

“[the Son] having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:4 NAS)

These passages of scripture clearly teach that the Father, Who scripture alone calls the “one God”, gave the Son His own name. This is not the name “Father”, but the name which is described as being “above every name”. Those even a little familiar with the supreme glory ascribed to the Covenant name of God, “LORD”, in the Old Testament scriptures should be able to instantly know which name this refers to. The name “LORD” is this name the Son was given by the Father, to which every knee shall bow.

It is fitting that the Son should share in the glory of the Father’s name, when we consider His identity as His eternal Son, Who eternally reflects His glory in His own distinct person, eternally being of the very same divine nature as the Father, because He is from the Father. Just as the Son is God of the same divinity as the Father, yet not without cause, but owes His divinity to His origin from the Father by eternal generation, and received it from the Father (John 5:26), so also accompanying this the Son has even received the very name of God, “LORD”, from His Father, to be called by it as His own name.

For this reason, we not only see the New Testament apply Old Testament verses that refer to a person named “LORD” in reference to the Son, but even throughout the Old Testament we can clearly see the pre-incarnate Son called by this name; repeatedly the Angel of the LORD is called “LORD” Himself, even while He is clearly distinguished from the LORD in heaven, whose Messenger (or Angel; the Hebrew word is the same for both) He is. Thus as the church fathers pointed out, we read in Genesis 19:24 that “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven,” (NAS); we clearly see the distinct persons of both the Father and the Son being called by the same name “LORD”.

The syllogism employed by the semi-modalists is shown false then, on the grounds of its faulty assumption that the name “LORD” belongs to one person only. For although it belongs properly to the Father, the one God, as His own name, scripture reveals to us that He has bestowed this same glorious name on His own only-begotten Son as well.