Vol. 3, Chapter IX (Cont’d) – Semi-Arianism



The Semi-Arians, or, as they are called, the Homoiousiasts, wavered in theory and conduct between the Nicene orthodoxy and the Arian heresy. Their doctrine makes the impression, not of an internal reconciliation of opposites which in fact were irreconcilable, but of diplomatic evasion, temporizing compromise, flat, half and half juste milieu. They had a strong footing in the subordination of most of the ante-Nicene fathers; but now the time for clear and definite decision had come.

Their doctrine is contained in the confession which was proposed to the council of Nicaea by Eusebius of Caesarea, but rejected, and in the symbols of the councils of Antioch and Sirmium from 340 to 360. Theologically they were best represented first by Eusebius of Caesarea, who adhered more closely to his admired Origen, and later by Cyril of Jerusalem, who approached nearer the orthodoxy of the Nicene party.

The signal term of Semi-Arianism is homoi-ousion, in distinction from homo-ousion and hetero-ousion. The system teaches that Christ if; not a creature, but co-eternal with the Father, though not of the same, but only of like essence, and subordinate to him. It agrees with the Nicene creed in asserting the eternal generation of the Son, and in denying that he was a created being; while, with Arianism, it denies the identity of essence. Hence it satisfied neither of the opposite parties, and was charged by both with logical incoherence. Athanasius and his friends held, against the Semi-Arians, that like attributes and relations might be spoken of, but not like essences or substances; these are either identical or different. It may be said of one man that he is like another, not in respect of substance, but in respect of his exterior and form. If the Son, as the Semi-Arians ad-mit, is of the essence of the Father, he must be also of the same essence. The Arians argued: There is no middle being between created and uncreated being; if God the Father alone is uncreated, everything out of him, including the Son, is created, and consequently of different essence, and unlike him.

Thus pressed from both sides, Semi-Arianism could not long withstand; and even before the council of Constantinople it passed over, in the main, to the camp of orthodoxy.


126. Revived Sabellianism. Marcellus and Photinus

I. Eusebius Caesar.: Two books contra Marcellum (κατὰ Μαρκέλλου), and three books De ecclesiastica theologia (after his Demonstratio evang.). Hilary: Fragmenta, 1-3. Basil the Great: Epist. 52. Epiphanius: Haeres. 72. Retberg: Marcelliana. Gött. 1794 (a collection of the Fragments of Marcellus).

II. Montfaucon: Diatribe de causa Marcelli Ancyr. (in Collect. nova Patr. tom. ii. Par. 1707). Klose: Geschichte u. Lehre des Marcellus u. Photinus. Hamb. 1837. Möhler: Athanasius der Gr. Buch iv. p. 318 sqq. (aiming to vindicate Marcellus, as Neander also does). Baur: l.c. vol. i. pp. 525-558. Dorner: l.c. i. pp. 864-882. (Both against the orthodoxy of Marcellus.) Hefele: Conciliengesch. i. 456 sq. et passim. Willenborg: Ueber die Orthodoxie des Marc. Münster, 1859. Theod. Zahn: Marcellus Von Ancyra. Gotha, 1867. (Zahn represents Marcellus as essentially orthodox and agreed with Irenaeus, but as seeking to gain a more simple and satisfactory conception of the truth from the Bible than the theology of the age presented. Neander, Dogmengesch., i. 275, had suggested a similar view.) W. Möller: Art. Marcellus in Herzog2 vol. ix. (1881), 279-282. (Partly in opposition to Zahn.) E. S. Ffoulkes, in Smith and Wace, iii. 808-813. (Ignores the works of Zahn and other German writers.)

Before we pass to the exhibition of the orthodox doctrine, we must notice a trinitarian error which arose in the course of the controversy from an excess of zeal against the Arian subordination, and forms the opposite extreme.

Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra in Galatia, a friend of Athanasius, and one of the leaders of the Nicene party, in a large controversial work written soon after the council of Nicaea against Arianism and Semi-Arianism, so pushed the doctrine of the consubstantiality of Christ that he impaired the personal distinction of Father and Son, and, at least in phraseology, fell into a refined form of Sabellianism. To save the full divinity of Christ and his equality with the Father, he denied his hypostatical pre-existence. As to the orthodoxy of Marcellus, however, the East and the West were divided, and the diversity continues even among modern scholars. A Semi-Arian council in Constantinople, a.d. 335, deposed him, and intrusted Eusebius of Caesarea with the refutation of his work; while, on the contrary, pope Julius of Rome and the orthodox council of Sardica (343), blinded by his equivocal declarations, his former services, and his close connection with Athanasius, protected his orthodoxy and restored him to his bishopric. The counter-synod of Philippopolis, however, confirmed the condemnation. Finally even Athanasius, who elsewhere always speaks of him with great respect, is said to have declared against him. The council of Constantinople, a.d. 381, declared even the baptism of the Marcellians and Photinians invalid.

Marcellus wished to hold fast the true deity of Christ without falling under the charge of subordinatianism. He granted the Arians right in their assertion that the Nicene doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son involves the subordination of the Son, and is incompatible with his own eternity. For this reason he entirely gave up this doctrine, and referred the expressions: Son, image, firstborn, begotten, not to the eternal metaphysical relation, but to the incarnation. He thus made a rigid separation between Logos and Son, and this is the πρῶτον ψεῦδος of this system. Before the incarnation there was, he taught, no Son of God, but only a Logos, and by that he understood, — at least so he is represented by Eusebius, — an impersonal power, a reason inherent in God, inseparable from him, eternal, unbegotten, after the analogy of reason in man. This Logos was silent (therefore without word) in God before the creation of the world, but then went forth out of God as the creative word and power, the δραστικὴ ἐνέργεια πράχεως of God (not as a hypostasis). This power is the principle of creation, and culminates in the incarnation, but after finishing the work of redemption returns again into the repose of God. The Son, after completing the work of redemption, resigns his kingdom to the Father, and rests again in God as in the beginning. The sonship, therefore, is only a temporary state, which begins with the human advent of Christ, and is at last promoted or glorified into Godhead. Marcellus reaches not a real God-Man, but only an extraordinary dynamical indwelling of the divine power in the man Jesus. In this respect the charge of Samosatenism, which the council of Constantinople in 335 brought against him, has a certain justice, though he started from premises entirely different from those of Paul of Samosata. His doctrine of the Holy Spirit and of the Trinity is to a corresponding degree unsatisfactory. He speaks, indeed, of an extension of the indivisible divine monad into a triad, but in the Sabellian sense, and denies the three hypostases or persons.

Photinus, first a deacon at Ancyra, then bishop of Sirmium in Pannonia, went still further than his preceptor Marcellus. He likewise started with a strict distinction between the notion of Logos and Son, rejected the idea of eternal generation, and made the divine in Christ an impersonal power of God. But while Marcellus, from the Sabellian point of view, identified the Son with the Logos as to essence, and transferred to him the divine predicates attaching to the Logos, Photinus, on the contrary, quite like Paul of Samosata, made Jesus rise on the basis of his human nature, by a course of moral improvement and moral merit, to the divine dignity, so that the divine in him is a thing of growth.

Hence Photinus was condemned as a heretic by several councils in the East and in the West, beginning with the Semi-Arian council at Antioch in 344. He died in exile in 366.


127. The Nicene Doctrine of the Consubstantiality of the Son with the Father

Comp. the literature in §§119 and 120, especially the four Orations of Athanasius against the Arians, and the other anti-Arian tracts of this “father of orthodoxy.”

The Nicene, Homo-ousian, or Athanasian doctrine was most clearly and powerfully represented in the East by Athanasius, in whom it became flesh and blood; and next to him, by Alexander of Alexandria, Marcellus of Ancyra (who however strayed into Sabellianism), Basil, and the two Gregories of Cappadocia; and in the West by Ambrose and Hilary.

The central point of the Nicene doctrine in the contest with Arianism is the identity of essence or the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, and is expressed in this article of the (original) Nicene Creed: “[We believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; who is begotten the only-begotten of the Father; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, and Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

The term ὁμοούσιος, consubstantial, is of course no more a biblical term, than trinity; but it had already been used, though in a different sense, both by heathen writers and by heretics, as well as by orthodox fathers. It formed a bulwark against Arians and Semi-Arians, and an anchor which moored the church during the stormy time between the first and the second ecumenical councils. At first it had a negative meaning against heresy; denying, as Athanasius repeatedly says, that the Son is in any sense created or produced and changeable. But afterwards the homoousion became a positive testword of orthodoxy, designating, in the sense of the Nicene council, clearly and unequivocally, the veritable and essential deity of Christ, in opposition to all sorts of apparent or half divinity, or mere similarity to God. The same divine, eternal, unchangeable essence, which is in an original way in the Father, is, from eternity, in a derived way, through generation, in the Son; just as the water of the fountain is in the stream, or the light of the sun is in the ray, and cannot be separated from it. Hence the Lord says: “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; I and My Father are one.” This is the sense of the expression: “God of God,” “very God of very God.” Christ, in His divine nature, is as fully consubstantial with the Father, as, in His human nature, He is with man; flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone; and yet, with all this, He is an independent person with respect to the Father, as He is with respect to other men. In this view Basil turns the term ὁμοούσιος against the Sabellian denial of the personal distinctions in the Trinity, since it is not the same thing that is consubstantial with itself, but one thing that is consubstantial with another. Consubstantiality among men, indeed, is predicated of different individuals who partake of the same nature, and the term in this view might denote also unity of species in a tritheistic sense.

But in the case before us the personal distinction of the Son from the Father must not be pressed to a duality of substances of the same kind; the homoousion, on the contrary, must be understood as identity or numerical unity of substance, in distinction from mere generic unity. Otherwise it leads manifestly into dualism or tritheism. The Nicene doctrine refuses to swerve from the monotheistic basis, and stands between Sabellianism and tritheism; though it must be admitted that the usage of οὐσία and ὑπόστασις; still wavered for a time, and the relation of the consubstantiality to the numerical unity of the divine essence did not come clearly out till a later day. Athanasius insists that the unity of the divine essence is indivisible, and that there is only one principle of Godhead. He frequently illustrates the relation) as Tertullian had done before him, by the relation between fire and brightness, or between fountain and stream; though in these illustrations the proverbial insufficiency of all similitudes must never be forgotten. “We must not,” says he, “take the words in Joh_14:10: ‘I am in the Father and the Father in Me’ as if the Father and the Son were two different interpenetrating and mutually complemental substances, like two bodies which fill one vessel. The Father is full and perfect, and the Son is the fulness of the Godhead.” “We must not imagine,” says he in another place, “three divided substances in God, as among men, lest we, like the heathen, invent a multiplicity of gods; but as the stream which is born of the fountain, and not separated from it, though there are two forms and names. Neither is the Father the Son, nor the Son the Father; for the Father is the Father of the Son, and the Son is the Son of the Father. As the fountain is not the stream, nor the stream the fountain, but the two are one and the same water which flows from the fountain into the stream; so the Godhead pours itself, without division, from the Father into the Son. Hence the Lord says: I went forth from the Father, and come from the Father. Yet He is ever with the Father, He is in the bosom of the Father, and the bosom of the Father is never emptied of the Godhead of the Son.”

The Son is of the essence of the Father, not by division or diminution, but by simple and perfect self-communication. This divine self-communication of eternal love is represented by the figure of generation, suggested by the biblical terms Father and Son, the only-begotten Son, the firstborn. The eternal generation is an internal process in the essence of God, and the Son is an immanent offspring of this essence; whereas creation is an act of the will of God, and the creature is exterior to the Creator, and of different substance. The Son, as man, is produced; as God, he is unproduced or uncreated; he is begotten from eternity of the unbegotten Father. To this Athanasius refers the passage concerning the Only-begotten who is in the bosom of the Father.

Generation and creation are therefore entirely different ideas. Generation is an immanent, necessary, and perpetual process in the essence of God himself, the Father’s eternal communication of essence or self to the Son; creation, on the contrary, is an outwardly directed, free, single act of the will of God, bringing forth a different and temporal substance out of nothing. The eternal fatherhood and sonship in God is the perfect prototype of all similar relations on earth. But the divine generation differs from all human generation, not only in its absolute spirituality, but also in the fact that it does not produce a new essence of the same kind, but that the begotten is identical in essence with the begetter; for the divine essence is by reason of its simplicity, incapable of division, and by reason of its infinity, incapable of increase. The generation, properly speaking, has no reference at all to the essence, but only to the hypostatical distinction. The Son is begotten not as God, but as Son, not as to his natura, but as to his ἰδιότης, his peculiar property and his relation to the Father. The divine essence neither begets, nor is begotten. The same is true of the processio of the Holy Ghost, which has reference not to the essence, but only to the person, of the Spirit. In human generation, moreover, the father is older than the son; but in the divine generation, which takes place not in time, but is eternal, there can be no such thing as priority or posteriority of one or the other hypostasis. To the question whether the Son existed before his generation, Cyril of Alexandria answered: “The generation of the Son did not precede his existence, but he existed eternally, and eternally existed by generation.” The Son is as necessary to the being of the Father, as the Father to the being of the Son.

The necessity thus asserted of the eternal generation does not, however, impair its freedom, but is intended only to deny its being arbitrary and accidental, and to secure its foundation in the essence of God himself. God, to be Father, must from eternity beget the Son, and so reproduce himself; yet he does this in obedience not to a foreign law, but to his own law and the impulse of his will. Athanasius, it is true, asserts on the one hand that God begets the Son not of his will, but by his nature, yet on the other hand he does not admit that God begets the Son without will, or of force or unconscious necessity. The generation, therefore, rightly understood, is an act at once of essence and of will. Augustine calls the Son “will of will.” In God freedom and necessity coincide.

The mode of the divine generation is and must be a mystery. Of course all human representations of it must be avoided, and the matter be conceived in a purely moral and spiritual way. The eternal generation, conceived as an intellectual process, is the eternal self-knowledge of God; reduced to ethical terms, it is his eternal and absolute love in its motion and working within himself.

In his argument for the consubstantiality of the Son, Athanasius, in his four orations against the Arians, besides adducing the proof from Scripture, which presides over and permeates all other arguments, sets out now in a practical method from the idea of redemption, now in a speculative, from the idea of God.

Christ has delivered us from the curse and power of sin, reconciled us with God, and made us partakers of the eternal, divine life; therefore he must himself be God. Or, negatively: If Christ were a creature, he could not redeem other creatures from sin and death. It is assumed that redemption is as much and as strictly a divine work, as creation.

Starting from the idea of God, Athanasius argues: The relation of Father is not accidental, arising in time; else God would be changeable; it belongs as necessarily to the essence and character of God as the attributes of eternity, wisdom, goodness, and holiness; consequently he must have been Father from eternity, and this gives the eternal generation of the Son. The divine fatherhood and sonship is the prototype of all analagous relations on earth. As there is no Son without Father, no more is there Father without Son. An unfruitful Father were like a dark light, or a dry fountain, a self-contradiction. The non-existence of creatures, on the contrary, detracts nothing from the perfection of the Creator, since he always has the power to create when he will. The Son is of the Father’s own interior essence, while the creature is exterior to God and dependent on the act of his will. God, furthermore, cannot be conceived without reason (ἄλογος), wisdom, power, and according to the Scriptures (as the Arians themselves concede) the Son is the Logos, the wisdom, the power, the Word of God, by which all things were made. As light rises from fire, and is inseparable from it, so the Word from God, the Wisdom from the Wise, and the Son from the Father. The Son, therefore, was in the beginning, that is, in the beginning of the eternal divine being, in the original beginning, or from eternity. He himself calls himself one with the Father, and Paul praises him as God blessed forever.

Finally Christ cannot be a proper object of worship, as he is represented in Scripture and has always been regarded in the Church, without being strictly divine. To worship a creature is idolatry.

When we attentively peruse the warm, vigorous, eloquent, and discriminating controversial writings of Athanasius and his co-laborers, and compare with them the vague, barren, almost entirely negative assertions and superficial arguments of their opponents, we cannot escape the impression that, with all their exegetical and dialectical defects in particulars, they have on their side an overwhelming preponderance of positive truth, the authority of holy Scripture, the profounder speculations of reason, and the prevailing traditional faith of the early church.

The spirit and tendency of the Nicene doctrine is edifying; it magnifies Christ and Christianity. The Arian error is cold and heartless, degrades Christ to the sphere of the creature, and endeavors to substitute a heathen deification of the creature for the true worship of God. For this reason also the faith in the true and essential deity of Christ has to this day an inexhaustible vitality, while the irrational Arian fiction of a half-deity, creating the world and yet himself created, long ago entirely outlived itself.


128. The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

The decision of Nicaea related primarily only to the essential deity of Christ. But in the wider range of the Arian controversies the deity of the Holy Ghost, which stands and falls with the deity of the Son, was indirectly involved. The church always, indeed, connected faith in the Holy Spirit with faith in the Father and Son, but considered the doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit as only an appendix to the doctrine concerning the Father and the Son, until the logical progress brought it to lay equal emphasis on the deity and personality of the Holy Ghost, and to place him with the Father and Son as an element of equal claim in the Trinity.

The Arians made the Holy Ghost the first creature of the Son, and as subordinate to the Son as the Son to the Father. The Arian trinity was therefore not a trinity immanent and eternal, but arising in time and in descending grades, consisting of the uncreated God and two created demi-gods. The Semi-Arians here, as elsewhere, approached the orthodox doctrine, but rejected the consubstantiality, and asserted the creation, of the Spirit. Thus especially Macedonius, a moderate Semi-Arian, whom the Arian court-party had driven from the episcopal chair of Constantinople. From him the adherents of the false doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, were, after 362, called Macedonians; also Pneumatomachi, and Tropici.

Even among the adherents of the Nicene orthodoxy an uncertainty still for a time prevailed respecting the doctrine of the third person of the Holy Trinity. Some held the Spirit to be an impersonal power or attribute of God; others, at farthest, would not go beyond the expressions of the Scriptures. Gregory Nazianzen, who for his own part believed and taught the consubstantiality of the Holy Ghost with the Father and the Son, so late as 380 made the remarkable concession: “Of the wise among us, some consider the Holy Ghost an influence, others a creature, others God himself, and again others know not which way to decide, from reverence, as they say, for the Holy Scripture, which declares nothing exact in the case. For this reason they waver between worshipping and not worshipping the Holy Ghost, and strike a middle course, which is in fact, however, a bad one.” Basil, in 370, still carefully avoided calling the Holy Ghost God, though with the view of gaining the weak. Hilary of Poictiers believed that the Spirit, who searches the deep things of God, must be divine, but could find no Scripture passage in which he is called God, and thought that he must be content with the existence of the Holy Ghost, which the Scripture teaches and the heart attests.

But the church could not possibly satisfy itself with only two in one. The baptismal formula and the apostolic benediction, as well as the traditional trinitarian doxologies, put the Holy Ghost on an equality with the Father and the Son, and require a divine tri-personality resting upon a unity of essence. The divine triad tolerates in itself no inequality of essence, no mixture of Creator and creature. Athanasius well perceived this, and advocated with decision the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit against the Pneumatomachi or Tropici. Basil did the same, and Gregory of Nazianzum, Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus, and Ambrose.

This doctrine conquered at the councils of Alexandria, a.d. 362, of Rome, 375, and finally of Constantinople, 381, and became an essential constituent of the ecumenical orthodoxy.

Accordingly the Creed of Constantinople supplemented the Nicene with the important addition: “And in the Holy Ghost, who is Lord and Giver of life, who with the Father is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.”

This declares the consubstantiality of the Holy Ghost, not indeed in words, yet in fact, and challenges for him divine dignity and worship.

The exegetical proofs employed by the Nicene fathers for the deity of the Holy Ghost are chiefly the following. The Holy Ghost is nowhere in Scripture reckoned among creatures or angels, but is placed in God himself, co-eternal with God, as that which searches the depths of Godhead (1Co_2:11, 1Co_2:12). He fills the universe, and is everywhere present (Psa_139:7), while creatures, even angels, are in definite places. He was active even in the creation (Gen_1:3), and filled Moses and the prophets. From him proceeds the divine work of regeneration and sanctification (Joh_3:5; Rom_1:4; Rom_8:11; 1Co_6:11; Tit_3:5-7; Eph_3:16; Eph_5:17, Eph_5:19, etc). He is the source of all gifts in the church (1Co_12:1-31). He dwells in believers, like the Father and the Son, and makes them partakers of the divine life. Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is the extreme sin, which cannot be forgiven (Mat_12:31). Lying to the Holy Ghost is called lying to God (Act_5:3, Act_5:4). In the formula of baptism (Mat_28:19), and likewise in the apostolic benediction (2Co_13:13), the Holy Ghost is put on a level with the Father and the Son and yet distinguished from both; he must therefore be truly divine, yet at the same time a self-conscious person. The Holy Ghost is the source of sanctification, and unites us with the divine life, and thus must himself be divine. The divine trinity tolerates in itself nothing created and changeable. As the Son is begotten of the Father from eternity, so the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. (The procession of the Spirit from the Son, on the contrary, is a subsequent inference of the Latin church from the consubstantiality of the Son, and was unknown to the Nicene fathers.)

The distinction between generation and procession is not particularly defined. Augustine calls both ineffable and inexplicable. The doctrine of the Holy Ghost was not in any respect so accurately developed in this period, as the doctrine concerning Christ, and it shows many gaps.


129. The Nicene and Constantinopolitan Creed

We look now at the Creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople side by side, which sum up the result of these long controversies. We mark the differences by inclosing in brackets the parts of the former omitted by the latter, and italicizing the additions which the latter makes to the former.




The Nicene Creed of 325. The Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.   

Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν πατέρα παντοκράτορα, πάντων ὁρατῶν τε καὶ ἀοράτων ποιητήν Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν, πατέρα παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων.   

Καὶ εἰς ἕνα κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν, τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ· γεννηθέντα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς [μονογενῆ· τοῦτ ̓ ἔστιν ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρὸς· Θεὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ καὶ] φῶς ἐκ φωτὸς, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ· γεννηθεντα, οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρί· δι ̓ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο [τά τε ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ καὶ τὰ ἐν τῇ γῇ·] τὸν δι ̓ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα καὶ σαρκωθέντα, καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντα· παθόντα καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ, ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, ἐρξόμενον κρίναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρους. Καὶ εἰς ἕνα κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ· τὸν ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων· φῶς ἐκ φωτὸς, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα, οὐ ποιηθέ ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρὶ· δι ̓ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο· τὸν δι ̓ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν, καὶ σαρκωθέντα ἐκ ντα, πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου, καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντα· σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, καὶ παθόντα, καὶ ταφέντα, καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς, καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, καὶ καθεζόμενον ἐκ δεχιῶν τοῦ πατρὸς, καὶ πάλιν ἐρξόμενον μετὰ δόχης κρίναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκροὺς· οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.   

Καὶ εἰς τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα. Καὶ εἰς τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, τὸ ζωοποιὸν, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον, τὸ σὺν πατρὶ καὶ υἱῷ προσκυνούμενον καὶ συνδοχαζόμενον, τὸ λαλῆσαν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν. — Εἰς μίαν ἁγίαν καθολικὴν καὶ ἀποστολικὴν ἐκκλησίαν· ὁμολογοῦμεν ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν· προσδοκῶμεν ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν καὶ ζωὴν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος. Ἀμήν.   

[Τοὺς δὲ λέγοντας, ὅτι ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν· καὶ· πρὶν γεννηθῆναι οὐκ ἦν· καὶ ὅτι ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἐγένετο· ἢ ἐξ ἑτέρας ὑποστάσεως ἢ οὐσίας φάσκοντας εἶναι· ἢ κτιστὸν, ἢ τρεπτὸν, ἢ ἀλλοιωτὸν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ· ἀναθεματίζει ἡ ἁγία καθολικὴ καὶ ἀποστολικὴ ἐκκλησία.]   

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

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten, i.e., of the essence of the Father, God of God, and] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made [in heaven and on earth]; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he cometh to judge the quick and the dead. “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (eons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he cometh again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.   

“And in the Holy Ghost. “And in the Holy Ghost, who is Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. — In one holy catholic and apostolic church, we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.   

[“And those who say: there was a time when he was not; and: he was not before he was made; and: he was made out of nothing, or out of another substance or thing, or the Son of God is created, or changeable, or alterable; — they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.”]  


A careful comparison shows that the Constantinopolitan Creed is a considerable improvement on the Nicene, both in its omission of the anathema at the close, and in its addition of the articles concerning the Holy Ghost and concerning the church and the way of salvation. The addition: according to the Scriptures, is also important, as an acknowledgment of this divine and infallible guide to the truth. The whole is more complete and symmetrical than the Nicaenum, and in this respect is more like the Apostles’ Creed, which, in like manner, begins with the creation and ends with the resurrection and the life everlasting, and is disturbed by no polemical dissonance; but the Apostles’ Creed is much more simple in structure, and thus better adapted to the use of a congregation and of youth, than either of the others.

The Constantinopolitan Creed maintained itself for a time by the side of the Nicene, and after the council of Chalcedon in 451, where it was for the first time formally adopted, it gradually displaced the other. Since that time it has itself commonly borne the name of the Nicene Creed. Yet the original Nicene confession is still in use in some schismatic sects of the Eastern church.

The Latin church adopted the improved Nicene symbol from the Greek, but admitted, in the article on the Holy Ghost, the further addition of the well-known filioque, which was first inserted at a council of Toledo in 589, and subsequently gave rise to bitter disputes between the two churches.


130. The Nicene Doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinitarian Terminology

The doctrine of the essential deity and the personality of the Holy Ghost completed the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity; and of this doctrine as a whole we can now take a closer view.

This fundamental and comprehensive dogma secured both the unity and the full life of the Christian conception of God; and in this respect it represents, as no other dogma does, the whole of Christianity. It forms a bulwark against heathen polytheism on the one hand, and Jewish deism and abstract monotheism on the other. It avoids the errors and combines the truth of these two opposite conceptions. Against the pagans, says Gregory of Nyssa, we hold the unity of essence; against the Jews, the distinction of hypostases. We do not reject all multiplicity, but only such as destroys the unity of the being, like the pagan polytheism; no more do we reject all unity, but only such unity as denies diversity and full vital action. The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, furthermore, formed the true mean between Sabellianism and tritheism, both of which taught a divine triad, but at the expense, in the one case, of the personal distinctions, in the other, of the essential unity. It exerted a wholesome regulative influence on the other dogmas. It overcame all theories of emanation, established the Christian conception of creation by a strict distinction of that which proceeds from the essence of God, and is one with him, like the Son and the Spirit, from that which arises out of nothing by the free will of God, and is of different substance. It provided for an activity and motion of knowledge and love in the divine essence, without the Origenistic hypothesis of an eternal creation. And by the assertion of the true deity of the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, it secured the divine character of the work of redemption and sanctification.

The Nicene fathers did not pretend to have exhausted the mystery of the Trinity, and very well understood that all human knowledge, especially in this deepest, central dogma, proves itself but fragmentary. All speculation on divine things ends in a mystery, and reaches an inexplicable residue, before which the thinking mind must bow in humble devotion. “Man,” says Athanasius, “can perceive only the hem of the garment of the triune God; the cherubim cover the rest with their wings.” In his letter to the Monks, written about 358, he confesses that the further he examines, the more the mystery eludes his understanding, and he exclaims with the Psalmist: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” Augustine says in one place: “If we be asked to define the Trinity, we can only say, it is not this or that.” But though we cannot explain the how or why of our faith, still the Christian may know, and should know, what he believes, and what he does not believe, and should be persuaded of the facts and truths which form the matter of his faith.

The essential points of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity are these:

1. There is only one divine essence or substance. Father, Son, and Spirit are one in essence, or consubstantial. They are in one another, inseparable, and cannot be conceived without each other. In this point the Nicene doctrine is thoroughly monotheistic or monarchian, in distinction from tritheism, which is but a new form of the polytheism of the pagans.

The terms essence (οὐσία) and nature (φύσις), in the philosophical sense, denote not an individual, a personality, but the genus or species; not unum in numero, but ens unum in multis. All men are of the same substance, partake of the same human nature, though as persons and individuals they are very different. The term homoousion, in its strict grammatical sense, differs from monoousion or toutoosion, as well as from heteroousion, and signifies not numerical identity, but equality of essence or community of nature among several beings. It is clearly used thus in the Chalcedonian symbol, where it is said that Christ is “consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father as touching the Godhead, and consubstantial with us [and yet individually, distinct from us] as touching the manhood.” The Nicene Creed does not expressly assert the singleness or numerical unity of the divine essence (unless it be in the first article: “We believe in one God”); and the main point with the Nicene fathers was to urge against Arianism the strict divinity and essential equality of the Son and Holy Ghost with the Father. If we press the difference of homoousion from monoousion, and overlook the many passages in which they assert with equal emphasis the monarchia or numerical unity of the Godhead, we must charge them with tritheism.

But in the divine Trinity consubstantiality denotes not only sameness of kind, but at the same time numerical unity; not merely the unum in specie, but also the unum in numero. The three persons are related to the divine substance not as three individuals to their species, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Peter, John, and Paul, to human nature; they are only one God. The divine substance is absolutely indivisible by reason of its simplicity, and absolutely inextensible and untransferable by reason of its infinity; whereas a corporeal substance can be divided, and the human nature can be multiplied by generation. Three divine substances would limit and exclude each other, and therefore could not be infinite or absolute. The whole fulness of the one undivided essence of God, with all its attributes, is in all the persons of the Trinity, though in each in his own way: in the Father as original principle, in the Son by eternal generation, in the Spirit by, eternal procession. The church teaches not one divine essence and three persons, but one essence in three persons. Father, Son, and Spirit cannot be conceived as three separate individuals, but are in one another, and form a solidaric unity.

Many passages of the Nicene fathers have unquestionably a tritheistic sound, but are neutralized by others which by themselves may bear a Sabellian construction so that their position must be regarded as midway between these two extremes. Subsequently John Philoponus, an Aristotelian and Monophysite in Alexandria about the middle of the sixth century, was charged with tritheism, because he made no distinction between φύσις and ὑπόστασις, and reckoned in the Trinity three natures, substances, and deities, according to the number of persons.

2. In this one divine essence there are three persons or, to use a better term, hypostases,  that is, three different modes of subsistence of the one same undivided and indivisible whole, which in the Scriptures are called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. These distinctions are not merely different attributes, powers, or activities of the Godhead, still less merely subjective aspects under which it presents itself to the human mind; but each person expresses the whole fulness of the divine being with all its attributes, and the three persons stand in a relation of mutual knowledge and love. The Father communicates his very life to the Son, and the Spirit is the bond of union and communion between the two. The Son speaks, and as the God-Man, even prays, to the Father, thus standing over against him as a first person towards a second; and calls the Holy Ghost “another Comforter” whom he will send from the Father, thus speaking of him as of a third person.

Here the orthodox doctrine forsook Sabellianism or modalism, which, it is true, made Father, Son, and Spirit strictly coordinate, but only as different denominations and forms of manifestation of the one God.

But, on the other hand, as we have already intimated, the term person must not be taken here in the sense current among men, as if the three persons were three different individuals, or three self-conscious and separately acting beings. The trinitarian idea of personality lies midway between that of a mere form of manifestation, or a personation, which would lead to Sabellianism, and the idea of an independent, limited human personality, which would result in tritheism. In other words, it avoids the monoousian or unitarian trinity of a threefold conception and aspect of one and the same being, and the triousian or tritheistic trinity of three distinct and separate beings. In each person there is the same inseparable divine substance, united with the individual property and relation which distinguishes that person from the others. The word person is in reality only a make-shift, in the absence of a more adequate term. Our idea of God is more true and deep than our terminology, and the essence and character of God far transcends our highest ideas.

The Nicene fathers and Augustine endeavored, as Tertullian and Dionysius of Alexandria had already done, to illustrate the Trinity by analogies from created existence. Their figures were sun, ray, and light; fountain, stream, and flow; root, stem, and fruit; the colors of the rainbow; soul, thought, and spirit; memory, intelligence, and will; and the idea of love, which affords the best illustration, for God is love. Such figures are indeed confessedly insufficient as proofs, and, if pressed, might easily lead to utterly erroneous conceptions. For example: sun, ray, and light are not co-ordinate, but the two latter are merely qualities or emanations of the first. “Omne simile claudicat.” Analogies, however, here do the negative service of repelling the charge of unreasonableness from a doctrine which is in fact the highest reason, and which has been acknowledged in various forms by the greatest philosophers, from Plato to Schelling and Hegel, though often in an entirely unscriptural sense. A certain trinity undeniably runs through all created life, and is especially reflected in manifold ways in man, who is created after the image of God; in the relation of body, soul, and spirit; in the faculties of thought, feeling, and will; in the nature of self-consciousness; and in the nature of love.

3. Each divine person has his property, as it were a characteristic individuality, expressed by the Greek word ἰδιότης, and the Latin proprietas. This is not to be confounded with attribute; for the divine attributes, eternity, omnipresence, omnipotence, wisdom, holiness, love, etc., are inherent in the divine essence, and are the common possession of all the divine hypostases. The idiotes, on the contrary, is a peculiarity of the hypostasis, and therefore cannot be communicated or transferred from one to another.

To the first person fatherhood, or the being unbegotten,  is ascribed as his property; to the second, sonship, or the being begotten; to the Holy Ghost, procession. In other words: The Father is unbegotten, but begetting; the Son is uncreated, but begotten; the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father (and, according to the Latin doctrine, also from the Son). But these distinctions relate, as we have said, only to the hypostases, and have no force with respect to the divine essence which is the same in all, and neither begets nor is begotten, nor proceeds, nor is sent.

4. The divine persons are in one another, mutually interpenetrate, and form a perpetual intercommunication and motion within the divine essence; as the Lord says: “I am in the Father, and the Father in me;” and “the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” This perfect indwelling and vital communion was afterwards designated (by John of Damascus and the scholastics) by such terms as ἐνύπαρξις, περιξώρησις, inexistentia, immanentia, inhabitatio, circulatio, permeatio, intercommunio, circumincessio.

5. The Nicene doctrine already contains, in substance, a distinction between two trinities: an immanent trinity of constitution, which existed from eternity, and an economic trinity of manifestation; though this distinction did not receive formal expression till a much later period. For the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit are, according to the doctrine, an eternal process. The perceptions and practical wants of the Christian mind start, strictly speaking, with the trinity of revelation in the threefold progressive work of the creation, the redemption, and the preservation of the world, but reason back thence to a trinity of being; for God has revealed himself as he is, and there can be no contradiction between his nature and his works. The eternal pre-existence of the Son and the Spirit is the background of the historical revelation by which they work our salvation. The Scriptures deal mainly with the trinity of revelation, and only hint at the trinity of essence, as in the prologue of the Gospel of John which asserts an eternal distinction between God and the Logos. The Nicene divines, however, agreeably to the metaphysical bent of the Greek mind, move somewhat too exclusively in the field of speculation and in the dark regions of the intrinsic and ante-mundane relations of the Godhead, and too little upon the practical ground of the facts of salvation.

6. The Nicene fathers still teach, like their predecessors, a certain subordinationism, which seems to conflict with the doctrine of consubstantiality. But we must distinguish between a subordinatianism of essence (οὐσία) and a subordinatianism of hypostasis, of order and dignity. The former was denied, the latter affirmed. The essence of the Godhead being but one, and being absolutely perfect, can admit of no degrees. Father, Son, and Spirit all have the same divine essence, yet not in a co-ordinate way, but in an order of subordination. The Father has the essence originally and of himself, from no other; he is the primal divine subject, to whom alone absoluteness belongs, and he is therefore called preeminently God, or the principle, the fountain, and the root of Godhead. The Son, on the contrary, has his essence by communication from the Father, therefore, in a secondary, derivative way. “The Father is greater than the Son.” The one is unbegotten, the other begotten; the Son is from the Father, but the Father is not from the Son; fatherhood is in the nature of the case primary, sonship secondary. The same subordination is still more applicable to the Holy Ghost. The Nicene fathers thought the idea of the divine unity best preserved by making the Father, notwithstanding the triad of persons, the monad from which Son and Spirit spring, and to which they return.

This subordination is most plainly expressed by Hilary of Poictiers, the champion of the Nicene doctrine in the West. The familiar comparisons of fountain and stream, sun and light, which Athanasius, like Tertullian, so often uses, likewise lead to a dependence of the Son upon the Father Even the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed favors it, in calling the Son God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. For if a person has anything, or is anything, of another, he has not that, or is not that, of himself. Yet this expression may be more correctly understood, and is in fact sometimes used by the later Nicene fathers, as giving the Son and Spirit only their hypostases from the Father, while the essence of deity is common to all three persons, and is co-eternal in all.

Scriptural argument for this theory of subordination was found abundant in such passages as these: “As the Father hath life in himself (ἔξει ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτῷ), so hath he given (ἔδωκε) to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also;” (Joh_5:26, Joh_5:27) “All things are delivered unto me (πάντα μοι παρεδόθη) of my Father;” (Mat_11:27; Comp. Mat_28:18) “My father is greater than I.” But these and similar passages refer to the historical relation of the Father to the incarnate Logos in his estate of humiliation, or to the elevation of human nature to participation in the glory and power of the divine, (Joh_17:5; Phi_2:9-11) not to the eternal metaphysical relation of the Father to the Son.

In this point, as in the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, the Nicene system yet needed further development. The logical consistency of the doctrine of the consubstantiality of the Son, upon which the Nicene fathers laid chief stress, must in time overcome this decaying remnant of the ante-Nicene subordinationism.