A Homoian Sermon

The following sermon or discourse dates from the late fourth or early fifth century, and was preserved among the writings of Augustine of Hippo, who wrote a work against the sermon. This may have served as a tract or catechism of sorts used by Homoians, and provides a fairly detailed account of their very scriptural understanding of the Trinity. This post is not an endorsement of everything the sermon says, however; read with discernment, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21 NKJV).

 

  1. “Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten God, the firstborn of all creation,
  2. was established before all ages by the will of his God and Father.
  3. At the Father’s will and command, but by his own power, he made heavenly and earthly things, visible and invisible things, bodies and spirits, to exist out of non-existing things.
  4. Before he made all things, he was established as God and Lord, King and Creator of all things that were going to be. In his nature, he had foreknowledge of all things that were going to be, and awaited the order of the Father for every detail in making them. At the will and command of the Father, he came down from heaven and came into this world. As he said, “I have not come on my own, but he has sent me (Jn 8:42).
  5. Among all the spiritual and rational grades of being, human beings were obviously inferior, on account of the fragile condition of their body, for they were made a little less than the angels. So that they would not regard themselves as without value and despair of their salvation, the Lord Jesus honored what he had made and deigned to assume human flesh, and show that human beings are not without value, but precious. As scripture says, “A human being is great, and a man is precious (Prov 20:6 LXX). And therefore, he deigned to make human beings alone heirs to his Father and his coheirs so that they might have more in honor, though they had received less in their nature.
  6. “When the fulness of time came”, it says, “God sent his Son born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). He, who at the will of the Father assumed flesh, lived in the body at the will and command of the Father. As he said, “I came down from heaven, not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:38). At the will of the Father he was baptized at thirty years of age, and he was revealed by the voice and testimony of the Father. At the will and command of the Father, he preached the good news of the kingdom of heaven. As he said, “I must preach the good news to other cities, since I was sent for this purpose” (Lk 4:43), and “he gave me a command as to what I should say or what I should speak”(Jn 12:49). Thus, at the will and command of the Father, he hurried toward his suffering and death. As he said, “Father, let this chalice pass from me, but not what I want, but what you want” (Mt 26:39). And as the apostle states, “He became obedient to the Father even to death, death upon the cross” (Phil 2:8).
  7. While hanging upon the cross, at the will and command of the Father, he also abandoned into the hands of men the human flesh which he assumed from the holy virgin, Mary, and commended his divinity into the hands of his Father, saying “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). For Mary gave birth to the body which was destined to die, but the immortal God begot the immortal Son. Hence, the death of Christ is not a lessening of his divinity, but the laying aside of the body. For, just as his generation from the virgin did not mean the corruption of his divinity, but the assumption of a body, so in his death his divinity did not suffer and fail, but only was separated from his flesh. For, just as one who tears a garment injures its wearer, so those who crucified his flesh offended his divinity.
  8. He, who at the will and command of the Father fulfilled the whole plan of salvation, raised his own body from the dead at the will and command of the Father, as he was taken up by the Father into glory with his body, as a shepherd with his sheep, as a priest with his sacrifice, as a king with his purple, as God with his temple.
  9. He, who at the will and command of the Father came down and ascended, at the will and command of the Father is seated at his right hand. He hears the Father saying to him, “Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet” (Ps 109:1). He, who at the will and command of the Father is seated at his right hand, will come at the end of the world at the will and command of the Father. As the apostle cries out and says, “At the word of command, at the word of an archangel, and at the trumpet of God, the Lord will come down from heaven” (1 Thes 4:15). He, who will come at the will and command of the Father, will judge the whole world with justice at the will and command of the Father. And he will repay individuals in accord with their faith and works. As he says, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son” (Jn 5:22). So too, he says, “As I hear, so I judge, and my judgement is true, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 5:30). Hence, in judging he gives first place to the Father and ranks his own divine honor and power second, when he says, “Come, blessed ones of my Father” (Mt 25:34). Hence, the Son is the just judge. Honor and authority belong to the one who judges; the imperial laws belong to the Father. Just as solicitous intercession and consolation belong to the Holy Spirit, so the dignity of the just judge belongs to the only-begotten God.
  10. Hence, the Son was born of the Father; the Holy Spirit was made through the Son.
  11. The Son proclaims the Father; the Holy Spirit makes known the Son.
  12. The first and principle work of the Son is to reveal the glory of the Father; and the first and principle work of the Holy Spirit is to disclose the dignity of Christ to the souls of human beings.
  13. The Son is witness to the Father; the Spirit is witness to the Son.
  14. The Son is sent by the Father; the Spirit is sent by the Son.
  15. The Son is the minister of the Father; the Holy Spirit is the minister of the Son.
  16. The Son receives orders from the Father; the Holy Spirit receives orders from the Son.
  17. The Son is subject to the Father; the Holy Spirit is subject to the Son.
  18. The Son does what the Father orders; the Holy Spirit speaks what the Son commands.
  19. The Son adores and honors the Father; the Holy Spirit adores and honors the Son. The Son himself says, “Father, I have honored you on earth; I have completed the task you gave me” (Jn 17:4). Of the Holy Spirit he says, “He will honor me, because he will receive from what is mine and announce it to you” (Jn 16:14).
  20. The Son can do nothing by himself, but awaits a sign from the Father fro every detail. The Spirit does not speak on his own, but awaits the Son’s command for everything. “He will not speak on his own”, he says, “But will speak whatever he will hear, and he will announce to you what is to come” (Jn 16:13).
  21. The Son pleads for us with the Father; the Spirit petitions the Son on our behalf.
  22. The Son is the living and true, proper and worthy image of the whole goodness and wisdom and power of God; the Spirit is the manifestation of the whole wisdom and power of the Son.
  23. The Son is not a part or a portion of the Father, but the proper and beloved, perfect and full, only-begotten Son. Nor is the Spirit a part or portion of the Son, but the first and principal work of the Son before all the others.
  24. The Father is greater than his Son; the Son is incomparably greater and better than the Spirit.
  25. The Father is God and Lord for his Son; the Son is God and Lord for the Spirit.
  26. The Father by his will begot the Son without changing or being changed; the Son made the Spirit by his power alone without toil or weariness.
  27. As priest, the Son adores his God, and he is adored by all as God and Creator of all. The Father alone adores no one, because he has no one greater or equal to adore; he thanks no one, because he has received a benefit from no one. Out of his goodness he has given being to all things; he has received his being from no one. There is, then, a distinction of the three substances, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and there is a difference of three realities, the unbegotten God, the only-begotten God, and the advocate Spirit. The Father is God and Lord for his Son and over all the things which by his will have been made through the power of the Son. The Son is the minister and high priest of his Father, but he is Lord and God of all his works, because that is what the Father wills.
  28. As no one can pass to the Father without the Son, so no one can adore the Son in truth without the Holy Spirit. Hence, the Son is adored in the Holy Spirit.
  29. The Father is glorified through the Son.
  30. The work and concern of the Holy Spirit is to make holy and protect the holy –to make holy, not merely rational beings, as some suppose, but also man beings lacking reason. It is to recall those who have fallen through their own negligence to their former state, to teach the ignorant, to admonish the forgetful, to rebuke sinners, to rouse the lazy to think of and to have concern for their salvation, to bring back the straying to the path of truth, to cure the sick, to check bodily weakness with strength of soul, to strengthen all in the love of piety and chastity, and to enlighten all. It is, above all, to bestow faith and charity on individuals in accord with their desire and concern, in accord with their simplicity and sincerity of mind, in accord with the measure of faith and the merit of their way of life; it is to distribute grace as it is needed and to place each individual in the work and vocation for which he is suited.
  31. He is different from the Son in nature and condition, rank and will, dignity and power, virtue and activity, just as the Son, the only-begotten God, is different from the Unbegotten in nature and condition, rank and will, divine dignity and power.
  32. Hence, the same one cannot be both Father and the Son, the one who generates and the one who is born, the one to whom witness is given and the one who gives witness, the greater and the one who confesses that he is greater. The same one cannot be the one who sits or stands at the right and the one who bestows the honor of that place, the one who was sent and the one who sent. The same one cannot be disciple and teacher, as he himself taught when he said, “As the Father has taught me, so I speak” (Jn 8:28). The same one cannot be both like and the one to whom he is like, the imitator and the one whom he imitates, the one who prays and the one who hears prayers, the one who gives thanks and the one who blesses, the one who receives the command and the one who gave the command, the minister and the commander, the supplicant and the sovereign, the subject and the superior, the only-begotten and the unbegotten, the priest and God.
  33. But God without beginning had foreknowledge that he was going to be the Father of the only-begotten God, his Son. He never had foreknowledge that he himself was going to be God, because he is unbegotten and never began to have foreknowledge or knowledge. What is foreknowledge but knowledge of what is going to be? Because he generated the Son, he was called Father by the Son, and because the Son has revealed him, he is known by all Christians as the God and Father of the only-begotten God, and he had been revealed as greater than the great and better than the good God.
  34. The Homoousians say that it was out of humility that our Savior said all these things concerning the foreknowledge of the Father and concerning his own subjection. We Christians believe that he said all these things because the Father commanded him and the Son obeyed. We state and prove that the heretics are refuted and trapped by their own statements. For if he humbled himself, this humility of his proves his obedience, while the obedience shows that the one tower above and that the other stands beneath and in subjection. As the apostle says, “He humbled himself, having become obedient even to death” (Phil 2:8). His humility is the truth, not a pretense. Is any wise man ever content to humble himself, unless he has someone greater and better whom he is anxious to please by his humility? He says, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (Jn 8:29). He was born once before all ages by the will of the Father and does all things at his will. Heaven forbid that he humbled himself and lied! If the Truth lied -which is impossible- where may one look for the truth? But the Truth neither lied, nor does he change who came for the purpose of teaching the truth. He is not an instructor in ignorance, but the teacher of truth, as he said, “Do not allow yourselves to be called teachers on earth; you have one teacher, Christ” (Mt 23:10). But if they say that, in humbling himself on earth on account of his incarnation, he spoke these things on account of human beings, we shall show them that there are testimonies found in the scriptures concerning the subjection of the Son that are greater and stronger than those found in the gospel. After all, if he humbled himself on earth on account of human beings and did not, as the obedient and submissive Son, obey his Father with incomparable love and thanksgiving, why did he obey when commanded before he assumed flesh? After all, he is as humble in obedience as he is lofty in power. Why, now that he is sitting at the right hand of God, does he make intercession on our behalf? And why, when he was in the body on earth did he promise that he would in heaven ask the Father, saying “I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate” (Jn 14:16)? And if on all these points, on account of the hardness and blindness of their heart, they are still unwilling to believe, but dare to say that all these things were done out of humility, why would he humble himself after the end of the world when humility is not necessary on account of human beings, unless he knew that he was subject and obedient by nature and will? After the end of the world, all things will be subject to him, since even now all things are subject to him by nature, as creation is subject to the Creator, but we see that all things are not subject to him on account of free choice. Then, however, on the day of judgement, when at the name of Jesus every knee will bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue will confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father, all things will without end be subject to him both by will and by nature. And after all things are subject to him, he himself will remain in that subjection and love in which he always is, and as the Son he will be subject to him who has made all things subject to him [1 Cor 15:28]. No Christian who hears this can fail to know it, because faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Thus God will be all things in all things, ever having monarchy and power over all. To him be glory and honor, praise and thanksgiving through his only-begotten Son, our Lord and Savior, in the Holy Spirit, now and for age upon age. Amen.”

 

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Letter of Auxentius On Bishop Ulfilas

This letter, preserved by Maximinus in the margin of a manuscript of Ambrose’s De Fide, provides a firsthand account of the life, ministry, and theology of Ulfilas, Homoian Bishop of the Goths, written by his own adopted Son, Auxentius of Durostorum.

Auxentius of Durostorum on Wulfila:

Now the letter declares that the aforementioned bishops, along with Bishop Wulfila had proceeded to the East to the court of Theodosius, the emperor …

… [Wulfila was] of great propriety, verily a confessor of Christ, a teacher of piety and a preacher of truth. He never hesitated to preach quite openly and very clearly to willing and unwilling alike the one true God, the Father of Christ, and the second rank of this same Christ, knowing this one true God to be alone unbegotten, without beginning, without end, eternal, exalted, sublime, excellent, most high creator, epitome of all excellence, better than all good, infinite, uncontainable, invisible, immense, immortal, incorruptible, incommunicable, an incorporeal being, uncomposite, simple, immutable, undivided, immovable, lacking in nothing, inaccessible, undivided, not subject to rule, uncreated, unmade, perfect in singular existence, incomparably greater and better than all. Who being alone, not to the division or diminution of His divinity, but to the display of His goodness and power, by His will and power alone, passionless Himself impassible, indestructibly Himself indestructible, and immovably Himself unmoved, did create and beget, make and establish the only-begotten God.

He never concealed that, according to the authority and tradition of the Holy scriptures, this second God and Author of all things existed from the Father, after the Father, for the Father, and for the glory of the Father; rather he always set forth according to the Blessed Gospels that He was both great God and great Lord and great King, and great Mystery, great Light and great Pontifex, the Lord who is Provider and Law-giver, Redeemer, Savior… born before all ages, Creator of all creation, just Judge of the quick and the dead, having a greater God, His Father, for he (Wulfila) despised and trampled on the odious and abominable, depraved and perverse confession of the Homoousians as a devilish invention and doctrine of demons. He himself knowing and handing down to us that, if the indefatigable power of the only-begotten God is reliably said to be capable of having made all things celestial and terrestrial, invisible and visible, and is believed rightly and faithfully by us Christians, why is it not believed that the passionless power of God the Father might create His only-begotten Son? But he also deplored and shunned the error and impiety of the Homoiousians, being himself most carefully instructed out of the Holy Scriptures, and confirmed earnestly therein in many councils of saintly bishops, as he spread abroad by his sermons and tracts, the difference of divinity between the Father and the Son, between the unbegotten and the only-begotten God, that the Father was Creator of the Creator, that the Son was truly Creator of all creation; and the Father was the God of the Lord, that the Son was then God of all creation.

Wherefore he scattered the sect of the Homoousians, because he believed not in confused and compounded persons, but in discrete and distinct ones. The Homoiousians, however, he put to flight, because he passionately defended the idea that They are not comparable things, but different from one another. The Son is like the Father, and not according to the fraudulent Macedonian depravities and perversities contrary to the Scriptures, but according to the Divine Scriptures and traditions.

In his preaching and exposition he asserted that all heretics were not Christians, but Antichrists; not pious, but impious; not religious, but irreligious; not timid but bold; not in hope but without hope; not worshipers of God, but without God, not teachers, but seducers; not preachers, but liars; be they Manichaeans, Marcinonists, Montanists, Paulinians, Sabellians, Antropians, Patripassians, Photinians, Novatians, Donatists, Homoousians, Homoiousians, and Macedonians. Verily, as an imitator of the apostles and an imitator of the Martyrs, his work repelled the false doctrine of the heretics and edified the people of God, put to flight the hungry wolves and evil dogs and preserved the flock of Christ by His grace as a good shepherd with all prudence and diligence.

He also subscribed to the concept that the Holy Ghost was neither Father nor Son, but created by the Father through the Son before all things, that he is not first nor second, but placed by the first through the second in third rank; that he is not unbegotten nor begotten, but created by the Unbegotten through the Begotten in the third rank, according to the evangelical preaching and apostolic tradition of St. John, who says: “All things were made by Him and without Him not any thing was made;” (John 1.1) and by blessed Paul who asserted: “[there is] but one God the Father, of whom are all things … and one Lord Jesus Christ through whom all things are.” (1 Cor. 8.6)

For since there exists one unbegotten God, and there subsists one Lord the only-begotten God, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, can neither be said to be God nor Lord, but is fixed by God through the Lord to be: not the creator nor the author; but the illuminator and sanctifier, teacher and leader, helper and postulant, … and informer, minister of Christ and dispenser of grace, the pledge we have been sealed with for the day of redemption, without whom no one can say that Jesus is the Lord, as the apostle says: “No one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12.3) and as Christ says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6)

Therefore, they are Christians who worship Christ in the spirit and the truth … and through Christ with love offer thanks to God the Father.

Following this and similar doctrines for 40 years flourishing splendidly in the bishopric through apostolic grace, he preached in the Greek, Latin, and Gothic tongues without ceasing in the one and only Church of Christ; because the Church of the Living God is one, the pillar and column of Truth; and he affirmed and witnessed that the flock of Christ, our Lord and God, was one, one the worship and one the house; one the Virgin, one the Spouse, one the Queen; that there was only one vine, temple, congregation of the Christians; that all other places of congregation were not Churches of God, but Synagogues of Satan.

And whoever reads this, let him know that he taught and expounded to us all this concerning the Sacred Scriptures. He also left behind in those very three languages several treatises and many interpretations, for the use and edification of the willing, for his own eternal memory and grace.

Whom I am unable to praise sufficiently; yet I cannot be silent, who more than all others am in his debt, in that he worked more richly on me, taking me in early years from my parents as his student, he taught me the Holy Scriptures and made manifest to me the truth. And by the kindness of God and the grace of Christ he reared me bodily and spiritually as a son in the faith.

According to God’s providence and Christ’s kindness he was ordained — for the salvation of many — bishop among the people of the Goths at the age of 30 from the position of lector, so that he might not only be heir of God and co-heir of Christ, but through the grace of Christ also an imitator of Christ and His Saints, in that the holy David was set as King and Prophet at the age of thirty in order to both lead and teach the people of God and the children of Israel, so also this blessed man was revealed as it were as a prophet and set as a priest of Christ, in order to lead and better the people of the Goths, to teach them and edify them, and according to the will of God and with the help of Christ this was fulfilled through his activity (ministry) in a remarkable manner. And just as Joseph was made manifest (as God’s minister) in Egypt at the age of thirty … and as the Son of God, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, was constituted at the age of thirty according to the flesh and baptized and began to preach the Gospel and to feed the souls of men, so did this Saint upon the command of Christ himself and His direction better and teach the people of the Goths, who were living in hunger and deprivation of preaching indifferently; he made manifest to them and taught them to live in accord with the rule of the Gospel, the Apostles and the Prophets, and as Christians to be truly Christians, and thus increased the number of Christians.

At which point by the envy and the machinations of the Enemy (Satan) a persecution of the Christians in the countries of the barbarians (trans-Danubian Goths) was set in motion with tyrannic terror by the godless and blasphemous chief of the Goths, so that Satan, who wanted to do evil, did good against his will; he wanted to make sinners and apostates of them; but with Christ’s aid and help, they became martyrs and confessors, that the persecutor might be confounded and those who suffered persecution be crowned. He who sought to conquer, blushed as vanquished, and they who were tempted rejoiced as victors.

Then after the glorious martyrdom of many servants and handmaidens of Christ, the most holy man, the blessed Ulfilas, having completed seven years in the office of bishop, was driven out by the vehemently threatening persecution from the country of the barbarians with a great host of confessors onto Roman soil and here honorably received by the Prince Constantius, of blessed memory. Just as God freed His people through Moses from the power and might of Pharaoh and the Egyptians and caused them to walk through the sea, and provided for his Own service, just so did God free the Goths through the often named confessor of his Holy Only-begotten Son out of the lands of the barbarians and cause them to cross the Danube and to serve Him in the mountains according to the example of the saints.

Remaining with his people, not counting those 7 years, 33 years on Roman soil, he preached the truth — just as he was also an imitator of certain ancient Saints in this matter too — he completed a space of 40 years, so that he left this life at the age of 70 after the completion of many deeds.

After 40 years had been completed, he departed at the imperial behest to Constantinople to a disputation against the Pneumatachi, and he insisted on going, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that they might not teach and infest the churches of Christ dedicated by him to Christ. … Having entered into the above city, he immediately began to fall ill, since the impious ones had again reconsidered the situation of the council, so that the more to be pitied as miserable might not be shown to be condemned by their own judgement and be shown to be punishable by the eternal judgement. In which sickness he was taken away in the manner of the Prophet Elisha.

It is now fitting to consider the merit of the man, who went by the leadership of the Lord to Constantinople, nay Christianople, where the holy and unspotted priest of Christ might receive such wondrous and splendid honors from the saints and his fellow priests, the worthy one from worthy ones worthily in such a multitude of Christians. And he, moreover, at his leave-taking, at the very moment of his death, left through his testament a statement of his faith for the people committed to him, saying thus:

I, Wulfila, Bishop and Confessor, have always believed thus, and in this sole and true faith I make my journey to my Lord:

I believe that there is only one God, the Father, alone unbegotten and invisible, and in His only-begotten Son, our Lord and God, creator and maker of all things, not having any like unto Him. Therefore there is one God of all, who is also God of our God. And I believe in one Holy Spirit, an enlightening and sanctifying power. As Christ says after the resurrection to his Apostles: “Behold I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24.49) And again: “And ye shall receive power coming upon you by the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1.8) Neither God nor Lord, but the faithful minister of Christ; not equal, but subject and obedient in all things to the Son. And I believe the Son to be subject and obedient in all things to God the Father.

Based on translations by Jim Marchand and R.P.C. Hanson, and the latin text available here.

Speaking of the Son as a Creature

“This [the Word] was His counsellor, the very way of His wisdom and knowledge. Of this He made all things, making them through It, and making them with It. When He prepared the heavens, so says (the Scripture ), I was present with Him; and when He strengthened above the winds the lofty clouds, and when He secured the fountains which are under the heaven, I was present, compacting these things along with Him. I was He in whom He took delight; moreover, I daily rejoiced in His presence: for He rejoiced when He had finished the world, and among the sons of men did He show forth His pleasure. Proverbs 8:27-31 Now, who would not rather approve of this as the fountain and origin of all things — of this as, in very deed, the Matter of all Matter, not liable to any end, not diverse in condition, not restless in motion, not ungraceful in form, but natural, and proper, and duly proportioned, and beautiful, such truly as even God might well have required, who requires His own and not another’s? Indeed, as soon as He perceived It to be necessary for His creation of the world, He immediately creates It, and generates It in Himself. The Lord, says the Scripture, possessed me, the beginning of His ways for the creation of His works. Before the worlds He founded me; before He made the earth, before the mountains were settled in their places; moreover, before the hills He generated me, and prior to the depths was I begotten. Let Hermogenes then confess that the very Wisdom of God is declared to be born and created, for the special reason that we should not suppose that there is any other being than God alone who is unbegotten and uncreated. For if that, which from its being inherent in the Lord was of Him and in Him, was yet not without a beginning — I mean His Wisdom, which was then born and created, when in the thought of God It began to assume motion for the arrangement of His creative works — how much more impossible is it that anything should have been without a beginning which was extrinsic to the Lord! But if this same Wisdom is the Word of God, in the capacity of Wisdom, and (as being He) without whom nothing was made, just as also (nothing) was set in order without Wisdom, how can it be that anything, except the Father, should be older, and on this account indeed nobler, than the Son of God, the only-begotten and first-begotten Word? Not to mention that what is unbegotten is stronger than that which is born, and what is not made more powerful than that which is made. Because that which did not require a Maker to give it existence, will be much more elevated in rank than that which had an author to bring it into being.” Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, Ch 18.

Such statements would as the above must be alarming to many, who are scandalized by the term ‘created’ being used of Christ. Tertullian is not alone among the ante-nicene fathers in calling the Son a creature; Origen, Novatian, Eusebius, Irenaeus, Methodius, and others, seemed willing to speak quite freely of the Son not only as being begotten by the Father before the world was, but as having been created by Him, and of the Father alone as being uncreated.

The question must be addressed: were these church fathers Arians before Arius? Does the fact that they used the term ‘create’ in reference to the Son’s generation from the Father mean that Arianism is the theology of the ante-nicene church? The answer, from the writings of these fathers themselves, is a clear ‘No’; for they not only have in common that they refer to the Son as a creature, and as having been made, but also that they specify this important point: that the Son is produced by the Father, not after the manner of other creatures, from nothing, but from the Father Himself. The Son is said by them to be ‘created’, not on account of being, like other creatures (and as Arius had taught), from nothing, but merely on account of His being caused; for according to the natural meaning of the terms, to ‘create’ is to ’cause’; the terms ‘create’ and ’cause’ are synonyms.

Since, then, the Father alone is uncaused, and the Son is caused by the Father as having been uniquely and atemporally begotten from Him before the ages, the Father alone can be called uncreated, and the Son may be accurately said to have been created by the Father. The Son’s mode of origination from the Father is totally unique, in being generated from the Father Himself. But since this means that the Son is caused, the word ‘Creature’ may still reasonably be applied to Him, on that account.

We see this, for instance, in Tertullian’s quote above. The Word’s generation from the Father (or creation by the Father) is simply the Word’s coming forth from ‘within’ the Father Himself; this is contrasted with other creatures, which He describes ‘extrinsic’ to God; that is, they are not from God Himself, but are caused to exist by Him out of nothing. We see this same idea clearly highlighted by Hippolytus:

“The first and only (one God), both Creator and Lord of all, had nothing coeval with Himself; not infinite chaos, nor measureless water, nor solid earth, nor dense air, not warm fire, nor refined spirit, nor the azure canopy of the stupendous firmament. But He was One, alone in Himself. By an exercise of His will He created things that are, which antecedently had no existence, except that He willed to make them…. Therefore this solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos first; not the word in the sense of being articulated by voice, but as a ratiocination of the universe, conceived and residing in the divine mind. Him alone He produced from existing things; for the Father Himself constituted existence, and the being born from Him was the cause of all things that are produced. The Logos was in the Father Himself, bearing the will of His progenitor, and not being unacquainted with the mind of the Father. For simultaneously with His procession from His Progenitor, inasmuch as He is this Progenitor’s first-born, He has, as a voice in Himself, the ideas conceived in the Father. And so it was, that when the Father ordered the world to come into existence, the Logos one by one completed each object of creation, thus pleasing God…. For as many things as He willed, God made from time to time. These things He created through the Logos, it not being possible for things to be generated otherwise than as they were produced. But when, according as He willed, He also formed (objects), He called them by names, and thus notified His creative effort. And making these, He formed the ruler of all, and fashioned him out of all composite substances. The Creator did not wish to make him a god, and failed in His aim; nor an angel — be not deceived, — but a man. For if He had willed to make you a god, He could have done so. You have the example of the Logos [that is, He made the Logos a God]. His will, however, was, that you should be a man, and He has made you a man… The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God. Now the world was made from nothing; wherefore it is not God; as also because this world admits of dissolution whenever the Creator so wishes it.” (Refutation of All Heresies, 10)

Here we see, among other details, this distinction between the world, which was made “from nothing”, and the Son, Who the Father made from Himself; whereas the world was caused to exist where nothing had existed previously, the Son was made from the Father’s own substance; that is, He is made from what the Father Himself is, of the same ‘stuff’ as the Father, to put it crudely. And so the Word, or Son, is the only-begotten of the Father, as alone being generated immediately by the Father from His own person.

Justin Martyr gives two excellent analogies of the Son’s generation from the Father in this manner:

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled. The Word of Wisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, and Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon the following:

If I shall declare to you what happens daily, I shall call to mind events from everlasting, and review them. The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 61)

According to Justin, the Son is generated from the Father, not as a part of the Father cut off from Him, or in any other way that would involve change in God, Who is unchanging, but as fire kindled from fire, the Son was generated, not from nothing, but from the Father Himself.

It is not then, distinctly Arian to say that the Son is created; but we may ask what is meant by the word, just as when we hear that the Son is caused, we may inquire into what way He was caused, or created: from nothing, which is the heresy of Arius, or from the Father Himself, which is the opinion of the fathers who spoke of the Son as a creature prior to the council of Nicea, as well as of many after.

For it is noteworthy that many Homoian fathers, while rejecting Arianism, and anathematizing the Arian doctrine that the Son is ‘from nothing’, and instead defining Him to have been genuinely begotten from the Father, freely spoke of Him as having been created by the Father. For example, Maximinus said during his debate with Augustine:

“Do you want to know how great is the wisdom of the Father? Look at the Son, and you will see the wisdom of the Father. For this reason Christ himself said, One who has seen me has also seen the Father (Jn 14:9). That is, in me he sees his wisdom; he praises his might; he glorifies the Father who, one and alone, has begotten me, one and alone, so great and so good before all ages. He did not look for material out of which to make him, nor did he take someone as an assistant. Rather, in the way he knew, he begot the Son by his power and his wisdom. We do not profess, as you say when you falsely accuse us, that, just as the rest of creation was made from nothing, so the Son was made from nothing like a creature. Listen to the authority of statement of the Synod; for our fathers in Ariminum said this among other things, ‘If anyone says that the Son is from nothing and not from God the Father, let him be anathema.’

Yet these same Homoians who subscribed to this anathema against those who said, like Arius, that the Son was produced by the Father out of nothing, also spoke as follows:

“He never hesitated to preach … one sole true God the Father of Christ according to Christ’s own teaching, knowing that this sole true God is solely ingenerate… And when he was alone, not to create division or reduction of his Godhead but for the revelation of his goodness and power, by his will and power alone, impassibly himself impassible, indestructibly himself indestructible, and immovably himself unmoved, He created and begot, made and founded the Only-begotten God… and that the Father is the creator of the whole creator, but the Son the creator of the whole creation, and the Father is the God of the Lord, but the Son the God of the whole of creation.” (Auxentius’s Summary of Ulfilas’s Preaching)

Whereas one might here accuse Ulfilas of having preached Arianism, in light of the anathema of the Creed to which he subscribed, must this not be better, and more consistently, understood to mean nothing different than what the ante-nicene fathers meant, when they said that the Son was created by the Father? Indeed, it is most reasonable, in the case of both the former and the latter, to understand their language the same way: that the Son is created, and made, inasmuch as He is caused by the Father (that being all that is signified by these words), in having been begotten by Him; yet this creation is not from nothing, as Arius taught, but is immediate generation from the Father Himself, and so, totally unique from other creatures’ origin.

The Nicene anathema against those who call the Son a creature, then, remains to be addressed: and on the basis of the ante-nicene fathers, the best post-nicene fathers (namely, the Homoians), the bare meaning of the terms, sound reasoning, and the language of scripture, we must conclude that these anathemas, while being well intended to eradicate the heresy of Arius, are in error; for the term ‘create’, merely being, according to its natural meaning, a synonym of the term ’cause’, bears no inherently Arian meaning, but rather, when understood in this sense, may be very rightly applied to the Son, on account of His generation from the Father before the ages. For to say that the Son was begotten by God, and then deny that He is caused by God, is the greatest absurdity; refuted by the most basic logic, the testimony of the fathers, and most importantly, by the scriptures themselves. For the Word declared “I live because of the Father”; and from this alone it may be clearly understood that He has the Father as the Cause of His life and existence (see here for more detail on this point).

If then, the Father is the Cause of the Son, then He is the Creator of the Son; not from nothing, but from Himself. And so the Son is the only-begotten Son of God, as alone being begotten, alone generated directly and immediately from the Father Himself, rather than from nothing.

Such passages of scripture then, as these, will seem to bear a much clearer and less convoluted meaning than those committed to the Nicene definition will allow them to bear, which seem to speak of the Son as a creature:

“The Lord created me the beginning of his ways for his works. He established me before time in the beginning, before he made the earth: even before he made the depths; before the fountains of water came forth: before the mountains were settled, and before all hills, he begets me.” (Proverbs 8:22-25 LXX)

“He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15 NASB)

“He was faithful to the one Who made Him, as Moses was in all His house.” (Hebrews 3:2)

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness [Christ], the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:” (Revelation 3:14 NASB)

Finally, I leave the reader with several other relevant quotes from other church fathers mentioned above:

We consider, therefore, that there are three hypostases, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and at the same time we believe nothing to be uncreated but the Father. We admit, as more pious and as true, that the Holy Spirit is the most honored of all things made through the Word, and that he is [first] in rank of all the things which have been made by the Father through Christ. Perhaps this is the reason the Spirit too is not called son of God, since the only begotten alone is by nature a son from the beginning. The Holy Spirit seems to have need of the Son ministering to his hypostasis, not only for it to exist, but also for it to be wise, and rational, and just, and whatever other thing we ought to understand it to be by participation in the aspects of Christ which we mentioned previously.” (Origen, Commentary on John)

For the Son of God, the First-born of all creation, although He seemed recently to have become incarnate, is not by any means on that account recent. For the holy Scriptures know Him to be the most ancient of all the works of creation; for it was to Him that God said regarding the creation of man, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”” (Origen, Against Celsus, Book 5 Ch 37)

“Well, then, I do not suppose you are ignorant that it is impossible for two uncreated things to exist together, although you seem to have expressed nearly as much as this in an earlier part of the conversation. Assuredly we must of necessity say one of two things: either that God is separate from matter, or, on the other hand, that He is inseparable from it. If, then, one would say that they are united, he will say that that which is uncreated is one only, for each of the things spoken of will be a part of the other; and as they are parts of each other, there will not be two uncreated things, but one composed of different elements. For we do not, because a man has different members, break him up into many beings. But, as the demands of reason require, we say that a single being, man, of many parts, has been created by God. So it is necessary, if God be not separate from matter, to say that that which is uncreated is one only; but if one shall say that He is separate, there must necessarily be something intermediate between the two, which makes their separation evident. For it is impossible to estimate the distance of one thing from another, unless there be something else with which the distance between them may be compared. And this holds good, not only as far as the instance before us, but also to any number of others. For the argument which we advanced in the case of two uncreated things would of necessity be of equal force, were the uncreated things granted to be three in number. For I should ask also respecting them, whether they are separate from each other, or, on the other hand, are united each to its neighbour. For if any one resolve to say that they are united, he will be told the same as before; if, again, that they are separate, he will not escape the necessary existence of that which separates them.” (Methodius, On Free Will 5)

“God thus determining all things beforehand for the bringing of man to perfection, for his edification, and for the revelation of His dispensations, that goodness may both be made apparent, and righteousness perfected, and that the Church may be fashioned after the image of His Son, and that man may finally be brought to maturity at some future time, becoming ripe through such privileges to see and comprehend God… If, however, any one say, What then? Could not God have exhibited man as perfect from beginning? let him know that, inasmuch as God is indeed always the same and unbegotten as respects Himself, all things are possible to Him. But created things must be inferior to Him who created them, from the very fact of their later origin; for it was not possible for things recently created to have been uncreated. But inasmuch as they are not uncreated, for this very reason do they come short of the perfect. Because, as these things are of later date, so are they infantile; so are they unaccustomed to, and unexercised in, perfect discipline… With God there are simultaneously exhibited power, wisdom, and goodness. His power and goodness [appear] in this, that of His own will He called into being and fashioned things having no previous existence; His wisdom [is shown] in His having made created things parts of one harmonious and consistent whole; and those things which, through His super-eminent kindness, receive growth and a long period of existence, do reflect the glory of the uncreated One, of that God who bestows what is good ungrudgingly. For from the very fact of these things having been created, [it follows] that they are not uncreated; but by their continuing in being throughout a long course of ages, they shall receive a faculty of the Uncreated, through the gratuitous bestowal of eternal existence upon them by God. And thus in all things God has the pre-eminence, who alone is uncreated, the first of all things, and the primary cause of the existence of all, while all other things remain under God’s subjection [It is clear here from the context, that the one signified here by “God” is none other than the Father]. But being in subjection to God is continuance in immortality, and immortality is the glory of the uncreated One. By this arrangement, therefore, and these harmonies, and a sequence of this nature, man, a created and organized being, is rendered after the image and likeness of the uncreated God — the Father planning everything well and giving His commands, the Son carrying these into execution and performing the work of creating, and the Spirit nourishing and increasing [what is made], but man making progress day by day, and ascending towards the perfect, that is, approximating to the uncreated One. For the Uncreated is perfect, that is, God. Now it was necessary that man should in the first instance be created; and having been created, should receive growth; and having received growth, should be strengthened; and having been strengthened, should abound; and having abounded, should recover [from the disease of sin]; and having recovered, should be glorified; and being glorified, should see his Lord. For God is He who is yet to be seen, and the beholding of God is productive of immortality, but immortality renders one near unto God.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.38.2-3)

“Thus making Himself obedient to His Father in all things, although He also is God, yet He shows the one God the Father by His obedience, from whom also He drew His beginning. And thus He could not make two Gods, because He did not make two beginnings, seeing that from Him who has no beginning He received the source of His nativity before all time. For since that is the beginning to other creatures [see, the Son is reckoned by him among creatures] which is unborn — which God the Father only is, being beyond a beginning of whom He is who was born — while He who is born of Him reasonably comes from Him who has no beginning, proving that to be the beginning from which He Himself is, even although He is God who is born, yet He shows Him to be one God whom He who was born proved to be without a beginning.” (Novatian of Rome, Ch 31)

“God was in the beginning; but the beginning, we have been taught, is the power of the Logos. For the Lord of the universe, who is Himself the necessary ground (ὑπόστασις) of all being, inasmuch as no creature was yet in existence, was alone; but inasmuch as He was all power, Himself the necessary ground of things visible and invisible, with Him were all things; with Him, by Logos-power (διὰ λογικῆς δυνάμεως), the Logos Himself also, who was in Him, subsists. And by His simple will the Logos springs forth; and the Logos, not coming forth in vain, becomes the first-begotten work of the Father. Him (the Logos) we know to be the beginning of the world. But He came into being by participation, not by abscission; for what is cut off is separated from the original substance, but that which comes by participation, making its choice of function, does not render him deficient from whom it is taken. For just as from one torch many fires are lighted, but the light of the first torch is not lessened by the kindling of many torches, so the Logos, coming forth from the Logos-power of the Father, has not divested of the Logos-power Him who begot Him. I myself, for instance, talk, and you hear; yet, certainly, I who converse do not become destitute of speech (λόγος) by the transmission of speech, but by the utterance of my voice I endeavour to reduce to order the unarranged matter in your minds. And as the Logos, begotten in the beginning, begot in turn our world, having first created for Himself the necessary matter, so also I, in imitation of the Logos, being begotten again, and having become possessed of the truth, am trying to reduce to order the confused matter which is kindred with myself. For matter is not, like God, without beginning, nor, as having no beginning, is of equal power with God; it is begotten, and not produced by any other being, but brought into existence by the Framer of all things alone.” (Tatian, Address to the Greeks)

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

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

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

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

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

“But the word ‘substance,’ which was too simply inserted by the Fathers, and, not being understood by the people, was a cause of scandal through its not being found in the Scriptures, it has seemed good to us to remove, and that for the future no mention whatever be permitted of the ‘substance’ of the Father and the Son. Nor must one ‘essence’ be named in relation to the person of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And we call the Son like the Father, as the Holy Scriptures call Him and teach; but all the heresies, both those already condemned, and any, if such there be, which have risen against the document thus put forth, let them be anathema.” (Council of Arminium)

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

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

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

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

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

The Creed of Ulfilas

Ulfilas, also known as Wulfia, was an important missionary to the Goths in the fourth century. Having been raised among the Goths as the child of captives taken from within the Roman Empire, he came to Constantinople as part of a Gothic ambassador’s delegation, where he stayed for a time, and was educated. Whether he was already a Christian prior to this, or was converted during his time in Constantinople isn’t known. After being educated there, however, he was sent back to his people as a missionary, an endeavor at which he enjoyed great success.

The spread of Christianity not only to the Gothic tribes, but also to the Gepids, Vandals, and others, is often seen as a result of his missionary endeavors, which included a translation of most of the scriptures into the Goth’s native language.

Theologically, historians report that Ulfilias was Homoian in christology, having been present in Constantinople in 360 for the confirmation of the Creed approved by the joint councils of Arminium and Seleucia (which were considered to be the second ecumenical council at the time). He took this understanding of christology with him to the Goths, who along with the other barbarian tribes mentioned, continued to subscribe to this creed even after emperor Theodosius returned the churches of the Roman Empire to a homoousian theology in 381.

Towards the end of his life, in the early 380s, Ulfilas returned to Constantinople again to meet in council to condemn a heretical ‘arian’ view of Holy Spirit. There he is reported to have gotten sick and died. It is reported that he made this confession of faith:

“I, Ulfila, bishop and confessor, have always so believed, and in this, the one true faith, I make the journey to my Lord; I believe that there is only one God, the Father, alone unbegotten and invisible, and in His only-begotten Son, our Lord and God, creator and maker of all things, not having any like unto Him. Therefore there is one God of all, who is also God of our God, And I believe in one Holy Spirit, an enlightening and sanctifying power. As Christ says after the resurrection to his Apostles: “Behold I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) And again: “And ye shall receive power coming upon you by the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:8) Neither the God, nor our Lord, but the faithful minister of Christ; not equal, but subject and obedient in all things to the Son. And I believe the Son to be subject and obedient in all things to God the Father.”

The extra emphasis given to the Holy Spirit is probably specially directed against the heresy he was there to condemn. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the only part of the creed in which he cites scripture at length, and he goes into considerable detail in noting that the Holy Spirit is neither “God” (that is, the Father), nor “our Lord” (that is, the Son), but a third distinct person, who is under the authority of the Son.

The Homoian theology of this creed is of great interest. Of special curiosity is the description of the Son as “not having any like unto Him”, which at first hearing sounds like a denial of the Homoian position in favor of a Eunomian christology. But in light of both the recorded confession of Ulfilas of the Homoian Creed of Arminium, and the continued vehemence the barbarian churches continued to affirm the decisions of these councils with, it is unlikely that the “bishop of the Goths” intended this as a denial of the Homoian position that the Son is “like the Father according to the scriptures”.

More likely this should be read in congruence with the Creed of 359, not as a denial that the Son, as the true “brightness of [God’s] glory”, “the exact representation of His person”, and “the image of the invisible God” is like the Father whose image He is, but should rather be seen as a positive assertion of the Son’s uniqueness as “only-begotten”. The Son, as the only being begotten by God, stands in a totally unique position between God and all creation; neither being unbegotten, as the Father is, nor created, as the creation that God made through Him is. So just as the Father’s ontological uniqueness is denoted by the confession of Him as being “alone unbegotten and invisible”, so the Son is also confessed to be ontologically unique, as the only-begotten Son of God.

This emphasis on the unique ontological qualities of the Father and Son serves to exclude modalism in any form, since this emphasis on personal uniqueness excludes the possibility that the Father and Son could be the same individual.

Also noteworthy is how this creed shows Ulfilas understood the concept of Godhood. Like in scripture, “God” is used in a relative way, denoting dominion and headship, rather than ontological essence or substance. This is interesting to see, as it stands in contrast with the dominant post-nicene western tradition’s tendency to understand Godhood as something ontological, rather than relational.

As such, the Godhood (dominion) of God over His Son is emphasized by referring to the “one God of all”, the Father, as He “who is also God of our God”, and stating that “the Son to be subject and obedient in all things to God the Father”. The Son is described as “our God”, again showing the relative nature of Godhood as dominion/headship in Ulfilas’s thought. Similarly, the Spirit is said to be “the faithful minister of Christ; not equal, but subject and obedient in all things to the Son”, paralleling the Son’s relationship to the Father as His God, in which the Son is “subject and obedient in all things to God the Father”.

A hierarchy of headship and dominion is then laid out in this brief creed, with the one God being defined as the Father, Who alone is God over all, even of the Son, Who in turn has authority over the Holy Spirit, and Godhood over man. This confession matches well with scripture’s teaching that the Father is the one God (1 Cor 8:6, Eph 4:6), the Lord God “Pantokrator” (usually translated “Almighty”), meaning, ‘Ruler over all’ (Rev 4:8), Who “is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3), the God of the Son (Rev 3:12), Who in turn has Godhood over all other things from the Father (1 Cor 15:28), even having authority over the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).

Also noteworthy in comparison to most other trinitarian confessions of faith is the notable absence of any confession of ontological essence or substance. As mentioned above, Ulfilas was Homoian, and therefore eschewed attempts to define the metaphysical ousia of the Son in relation to the Father. Thus Wulfia’s creed, like scripture, focuses on the attributes and roles of the persons of the Trinity, rather than attempting to define Their metaphysical essence(s?).

As we have observed above, then, much of the brief creed’s attention is focused on the hierarchy of authority among the persons of the Trinity, as well as the causal distinctions between God, Who is unbegotten, and His Son, Who is unique in being only-begotten. The one ontological attribute of God that is noted stands out then, and deserves mention- that the Father alone is invisible. Also emphasized by Maximinus, the invisibility of the Father in contrast to the visibility of the Son was seemingly a point frequently made by Homoian trinitarians. This is better understood in reference to the Son being visible even prior to the incarnation, as, for example, when He was seen by Isaiah (John 12:41), and as the Angel of the Lord, rather than in reference to His humanity.

Again we must note the scriptural fidelity of Ulfilas’s confession, as the Father is repeatedly stated to be invisible in the scriptures (“No man can see me and live”, Exodus 33), while the Son is compared and contrasted with Him as “the Image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Noting the Father’s invisibility then serves as another way to distinguish the Father from the Son, contra modalism.

All in all, whatever deficiencies Ulfilas may have had in his overall theology, this creed is noteworthy at once for its fidelity to what scripture teaches as well as its relatively unique emphases for a fourth-century creed.