Is the Athanasian Creed consistent with the “Monarchy of the Father?”

Introduction

Is the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of “the Monarchy of the Father” consistent with the Athanasian creed?

To answer this question, below, I first analyze and summarize the Athanasian Creed (AC), excluding its ‘anathemas’ at the beginning and at the end, and excluding the section on the incarnation. Then I compare this summary to the doctrine of the “Monarchy of the Father” of the Eastern Orthodox Church, using particularly the Catechism of the Orthodox Faith and a well-known talk on the Trinity by Fr. Thomas Hopko

Christianity originated in the Eastern Roman Empire (in Judea) and most of the Christian theologians of the first centuries were from that area. However, the Muslim military conquests in later centuries considerably weakened Christianity in the east. At the same time, the Church in Rome grew in prominence and remained a powerful force throughout the Middle Ages. For that reason, the theology of the church in the western world today has been mostly inherited from the Church in Rome. On the other hand, the doctrinal differences that always existed between the church in the east and the west, together with the severe persecution which the church in the east suffered over many centuries, ensured that, to a greater extent than in the west, Eastern Orthodoxy retained the theology of the church fathers of the first centuries. For that reason, it is important that we take note of the teachings of that denomination.

All emphases in quotes below are added by myself.

Summary

This article analyses the Athanasian Creed (AC) and summarizes it as follows:

The Son and the Spirit came into existence timelessly from the being or essence of the Father to form three distinct but coeternal Persons.

However, the essence remained undivided.

The Son and the Holy Spirit are equal with the Father ontologically (in terms of essence) and functionally (in terms of roles).

Since all three Persons are uncreated, unlimited, eternal, and Almighty, they seem to be three Gods. However, because the Father’s essence remains undivided, there is one Almighty God with one mind and will, existing in a Trinity.

The remainder of this article compares this summary of the Athanasian Creed (AC) with Eastern Orthodoxy (EO).

Who is God?

The AC and OE identify “God” differently.

The Greek word theos, often translated as “God,” has a wide range of meanings. For example, the New Testament uses it also to refer to false gods and to God’s people. Therefore, to specify that the true God is intended, the Bible sometimes refers to the “one God” (e.g., Mark 12:28-30; John 5:44; 1 Cor 8:6). The Nicene Creed of 325 AD followed this practice and identified the “one God” as the Father:

“We believe in one God, the Father almighty” (Nicene Creed)

The Athanasian Creed (AC) continued to use the phrase “one God” but, while the “one God” in the Nicene Creed is the Father, in the AC, formulated more than 100 years later, the “one God” is the Trinity. For example:

“We worship one God in Trinity.”

Eastern Orthodoxy, following rather the Nicene Creed, states:

“The one God in whom we believe is not the Holy Trinity. …
The one God is the Father of Jesus Christ.”

For this reason, “in Eastern Orthodoxy, the term triune God is not a traditional formula. You find the term tri-personal or tri-hypostatic Divinity. There is no tri-personal God.” (Hopko)

Although, in EO, the Son is not the “one God” or part of the “one God,” His only begotten Son “is divine with the very same divinity as the one true and living God.” For this reason, EO translates John 1:1c as “and the Word was divine” (Hopko).

EO does sometimes refer to the Trinity or to the Son as “God” but, in such instances, it uses the word “God” not in a “personal” sense to identify the “one God.” Rather, “when it is said that ‘Jesus Christ is God’ or that there is ‘one God in three Persons’, we use the word God in the qualitative sense of ‘uncreated’ or ‘divine’” (EO Catechism, question 93).

The Trinity

EO agrees with the AC that the Son and Holy Spirit were not created, but came forth from the being of the Father and, therefore, “are of the same essence as the Father” (Hopko).

Nevertheless, there is a significant difference between the Trinity in the AC and in EO. As discussed, while, in the AC, the “one God” is the Trinity, in EO, the “one God” is the Father alone. The following shows that this is a real difference; not only a difference in terminology:

The AC does not allow the “dividing the essence.” Consequently, the Trinity has one single undivided essence. In this view, the term homoousios in the Nicene Creed must be translated as “one substance.” The one single essence and the strong emphasis on one-ness also imply that the three Persons have one single mind and will.

When searching in EO for evidence of one-ness of essence, I did not find it. What I did find is an emphasis on the sameness of substance. For example, the Son “is divine with the same divinity as the one true and living God” (Hopko). And the Son and the Spirit have “ontological or essential equality” with the Father (EO Catechism, question 95).

Also related to the concept in the AC of an undivided essence, I found in EO that “God the Father is thus always with and inseparable from his Only-Begotten Son and Holy Spirit” (EO Catechism, question 90).

Therefore, while the AC teaches that the three Persons are ontologically “one” (have one single substance), in EO they are ontologically the “same,” implying three distinct substances of the same type that are eternally and inseparable together. In that case, homoousios should be translated as “same substance.”

In this respect, EO also follows the Nicene Creed, for (1) the literal meaning of the term homoousios is “same substance,” (2) before Nicea homoousios meant “of generically the same substance,” and (3) the purpose of the creed was not the affirm the UNITY of the Godhead, but the DIVINITY of the Son.

And while the emphasis on one-ness in the AC implies one single mind, the emphasis on three-ness in the EO implies three distinct minds and wills. As Hopko stated, “there are three instances of divine life in perfect and total unity.”

For these reasons, the difference, where the AC identifies the Trinity as God while EO defines God as the Father only, is a real difference; not merely a difference in terminology.

Subordination

Subordination in the Godhead may be classified into different categories:

Relational Subordination

In both the AC and EO, the Son and the Spirit are relationally subordinate to the Father, meaning that they came into existence from the being of the Father. This is the meaning of the phrase, “the Monarchy of the Father” (EO Catechism, question 94).

Filioque Clause

In the AC, “the Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son.” EO claims that this appears to deny the monarchy of Father. In EO, the Spirit proceeds from God (the Father) alone (Wikipedia).

EO does not deny that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, but explains that as that, because “the Christ is the Son of God on whom God the Father sends and affirms His Holy Spirit, the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ” (Hopko).

However, in the AC, since the Son was begotten by the Father, the Father remains the ultimate Source of the Spirit. For that reason, in my view, the filioque is NOT in opposition to the Monarchy of the Father.

Functional Subordination

In EO, the Son and the Spirit are functionally subordinate to the Father. The EO Catechism, question 95 states that the Son and the Spirit are ontologically (in terms of substance) equal with the Father, however, “this does not negate different roles or functions.” The question then gives examples of different functions or roles in which the Son is subordinate to the Father (1 Cor 11:2-3; 15:27-28).

The AC, on the other hand, does not seem to allow for functional subordination.

Ontological Subordination

For the following reasons, it is proposed that, in EO, the Son and the Spirit are also ontologically less than (subordinate to) the Father:

Firstly, the examples above of the functional subordination of the Son point to eternal functional subordination. But eternal functional subordination implies ontological subordination. Why would the Son and the Spirit be eternally functionally subordinate unless they are also ontologically subordinate?

Secondly, if “the Father is the cause and origin,” as the EO Catechism claims, the Son and the Spirit received their substance and divinity from the Father. If that is true, and if they do not have one single substance as in the AC, then the substances of the Son and the Spirit are portions of the substance of the Father. That would mean that they are ontologically subordinate to the Father, as Tertullian also taught:

“The Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole” (Tertullian Against Praxeas, 9 (ANF 3: 604))

Conclusion

In the AC, the “one God” is the Trinity, existing in one single substance and mind. In EO, the “one God” is the Father, and the trinity have three distinct substances and wills.

While, in the AC, the strong emphasis on the single undivided substance and only allows relational subordination, in EO, the Son is ontologically, functionally, and relationally subordinate to the Father.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

The Athanasian Creed

The Athanasian Creed was formulated by unknown authors somewhere during the fifth or sixth century but it remained the primary formulation of the Trinity doctrine throughout the Middle Ages untl today.

Below, I used “AC” as an abbreviation for the Athanasian Creed.

One God in Trinity

AC: And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost.

Interestingly, the AC does not use the term homoousios (same substance or essence). But it does use a related phrase: “nor dividing the essence.” While homoousios may also mean two distinct substances that are the same in all respects, “nor dividing the essence” means that the three Persons are of one single undivided essence or substance. This is probably the reason why the homoousios of the Nicene Creed is often translated as “one substance.”

This clause makes three parallel contrasts:

        • one God in Trinity,
        • Trinity in Unity;
        • Three Persons, undivided Essence

On the one side of the contrast, the “one God” is the “Unity” and the undivided Essence. On the other side, the “Trinity” is the “Persons.”

To summarize this clause, “we worship” one God of one undivided Essence, existing in a Trinity of Persons.

Ontologically Equal

AC: But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.

Here we have another set of three parallel phrases describing the three Persons:

        • Godhead … one;
        • Glory equal;
        • Majesty coeternal

Each of the three Persons is described as having “Godhead,” “Glory” and “Majesty.” These three terms, therefore, seem to be used more or less as synonyms and as describing the undivided “essence” in the previous clause.

Similarly, “one,” “equal,” and “coeternal” also seem to point to one and the same thing, namely equality.

In summary, since the three Persons are of one single undivided essence, their “Godhead,” “Glory,” and “Majesty” are equal.

One uncreated, unlimited, eternal Almighty

AC: Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost.

    • The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated.
    • The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited.
    • The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal.

And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.

So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty.

This explains the equality of the previous clause in more detail. In summary, this says that all three Persons are uncreated, unlimited, eternal, and Almighty.

But, simultaneously, here we have a strong emphasis on oneness of the three Persons. This is consistent with the statement above that the three Persons are one undivided Essence. The emphasis on one-ness is so strong that it seems to say that the three Persons have one single mind and will.

One God

AC: So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords.

Because each of the Persons is uncreated, unlimited, eternal, and Almighty, as stated in the previous clause, each of them is a God. But because they are one undivided essence, they are one God. This confirms the oneness emphasized in the previous clause.

Relational Subordination

AC: The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten.

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

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

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

This clause uses the word “created” three times, saying that all three Persons are uncreated. Consequently, they have the same eternal and uncreated substance.

This clause is the only indication of differences between the Persons which we find in the AC, namely that the Father is the Ultimate Cause. “Source” may be a better term because, as this clause indicates, both the Son and the Spirit come out of the being of the Father. The Spirit also proceeds from the Son but, because the Son was begotten by the Father, the ultimate Source of the Spirit remains the Father.

That the Father is the ultimate Cause of everything – also of the Son and the Holy Spirit – is known as the Monarchy of the Father in Eastern Orthodoxy (EO) (EO Catechism, question 94). We may also refer to it as relational subordination.

Since the Father is the Source of the Son and the Spirit, the undivided essence mentioned above is the essence of the Father. In a sense, the Son and the Spirit form part of the being of the Father.

Functional Equality

AC: And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.

This is a qualification of the differences mentioned in the previous clauses, saying that, although the Father is the ultimate Source, the three Persons are coeternal and coequal.

The “none … before … after … greater … less” seems to refer to a different category of equality than the equality of essence above. Since the equality of essence may be classified as ontological equality, and since relational subordination is addressed in the “begotten … proceeding”-clause, the “none … before … after … greater … less” and the term “coequal” seem to deny functional subordination.

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

This section of the creed ends where it began: “We worship one God in Trinity.” As concluded above, “we worship” one God of one undivided essence, existing in a Trinity of Persons.

Summary of the Athanasian Creed

Given the discussion above, I would like to summarize the Athanasian Creed as follows:

The Son and the Spirit came into existence timelessly from the being or essence of the Father to form three distinct but coeternal Persons.

However, the essence remained undivided.

Since it is the essence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are part of the essence of the Father.

Although the Son and the Holy Spirit are relationally subordinate to the Father (meaning that they came forth out of the being of the Father), they are equal with the Father ontologically (in terms of essence) and functionally (in terms of roles).

Since all three Persons are uncreated, unlimited, eternal, and Almighty, one could say that they are three Gods. However, because the Father’s essence remains undivided, there is one Almighty God with one mind and will, existing in a Trinity. This is the “one God” we worship.

The remainder of this article compares this summary of the Athanasian Creed (AC) with Eastern Orthodoxy (EO).

Who is God?

The AC and OE identify “God” differently.

The One God of the Bible

The basic meaning of the ancient Greek word theos is an immortal being with supernatural powers. The Greeks used this word for their gods. Generally, the Jews in Jesus’ day spoke Koine Greek and the authors of the New Testament used the same word in the Greek text of the New Testament for the God of the Bible. But the New Testament also uses theos for God’s people, the gods of the nations and even for Satan. In such cases, theos is translated as “god.”

Because of the wide range of meanings that the word theos has, the authors of the New Testament often added words such as “true” or “only” to theos to identify the God of the Bible. Perhaps the most important such phrase is “one God” or “one and only God.” This phrase is important because it connects with the Old Testament Shema, “Yahweh is one” (Deut 6:4)) as well as to the several “one God” statements in the New Testament, for example:

    • God is one” (Mark 12:28-30; James 2:19; Gal 3:20);
    • The one and only God” (John 5:44);
    • One God” (1 Cor 8:6; 1 Tim 2:5; Eph 4:4-6);
    • “Only God” (Jude 1:25; John 5:44; 1 Tim 1:17); or
    • “Only true God” (John 17:3).

The Nicene Creed of 325 AD followed this practice and identified the “one God” as the Father:

“We believe in one God, the Father almighty” (Nicene Creed)

The one God in the Athanasian Creed

The Athanasian Creed (AC) continued to use the phrase “one God” but, while the “one God” in the Nicene Creed is the Father, in the AC, formulated more than 100 years later, the “one God” is the Trinity. For example:

“We worship one God in Trinity.”

“The Father … the Son … the Holy Ghost … are not three Gods; but one God.”

The one God in Eastern Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthodoxy, following rather on the Nicene Creed, states that the “one God” is the Father alone; not the Trinity:

“It is critically important to note that, in the Bible and, therefore, in the creeds, such as the Nicene Creed (325) and Creed of Constantinople (381), the one God in whom we believe is not the Holy Trinity. The one God is God the Father. In the Bible, the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. He is the Father who sends His only begotten Son into the world.” (Hopko)

The one God is the Father of Jesus: Jesus is the Son of God. As the Nicene Creed says, Jesus is ‘God from God; true God from true God.’” (Hopko)

For this reason, EO does not refer to the “triune God:”

“In Eastern Orthodoxy, the term triune God is not a traditional formula. You find the term tri-personal or tri-hypostatic Divinity. There is no tri-personal God.” (Hopko)

“The Trinity is the tri-hypostatic Divinity – the tri-personal Godhead; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; one in essence and undivided” (Hopko).

Hopko stated that, to say that the Trinity is the “one God,” amounts to Modalism:

“The other terrible error is usually called Modalism. This is where people say that there is one God who is the Holy Trinity” (Hopko).

Although, in EO, the Son is not the “one God” or part of the “one God,” He “is divine with the very same divinity as the one true and living God:”

We orthodox Christians, following Scripture and the credal statements, … say, there is the one God who is the Father, and He has with Him eternally, whom He begets timelessly before all ages, His only begotten Son, who is also His Logos (His Word) and His Wisdom and His Icon (Image), but this only begotten Son is divine with the very same divinity as the one true and living God. (Hopko)

For this reason, EO prefers to translate John 1:1c as “and the Word was divine:”

“In John’s gospel, in the beginning, the Logos was with God, and ‘the Logos was divine’. All things came to be through Him (John 1:1-2). Orthodox Christians interpret these sentences to show that the Logos is really divine with the same divinity as the Father.” (Hopko)

(t is interesting how Eastern Orthodoxy refers to itself as “orthodox Christians,” as if all other Christians are unorthodox.)

God Qualitatively

EO does sometimes refer to the Trinity or to the Son as “God” (without the word “one”) but says that, in such instances, it uses the word “God” in a qualitative sense, not in a “personal” sense to identify the “one God:”

It justifies this practice by claiming that the Bible also uses the word “God” in those two senses:

“In the Holy Scriptures, God (theos) is generally used in the personal sense of the Father. There are also passages where Jesus Christ is called ‘my/our God’ and theos in the sense of this authority and uncreated divine nature.” (EO Catechism, question 93)

In other words, the Scriptures use the word theos (God) in two different senses: Sometimes, it uses “God” in a “personal sense” to identify the Father as God. But when the Scriptures refer to Jesus as “God,” the term is used qualitatively to describe Him as uncreated and divine.

EO follows this Biblical practice:

“When it is said that ‘Jesus Christ is God’ or that there is ‘one God in three Persons’, we (EO) use the word God in the qualitative sense of ‘uncreated’ or ‘divine’.” (EO Catechism, question 93)

Since the Son is “divine with the same divinity as the one true and living God,” He is most appropriately referred to as theos in a qualitative sense.

Tertullian’s Analogy

Tertullian’s analogy helps to explain these two senses of the title “God.” Tertullian wrote:

I shall follow the apostle [Paul], so that if the Father and the Son are alike to be invoked, I shall call the Father “God” and invoke Jesus Christ as “Lord.”

But when Christ alone [is invoked], I shall be able to call him “God.” As the same apostle says, “Of whom is Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever” [Rom. 9:5].

For I should give the name of “sun” even to a sunbeam, considered by itself. But if I were mentioning the sun from which the ray emanates, I would certainly withdraw the name of sun from the mere beam. … I shall reckon both the sun and its ray to be as much two things—and two forms of one undivided substance—as God and his Word, as the Father and the Son. (Against Marcion 2:13).

In summary, when the Son is mentioned alone, Tertullian says, we can call him God because “God and his Word” are “two forms of one undivided substance.” But when mentioned together, the Father is to be called God, and the Son is to be referred to as Lord because He is a “mere beam.”

This insightful analogy presents the Father as the Source of everything – also of the Son – and the Son as God’s subordinate intermediary between God and us. For that reason, we withdraw the name God from Jesus when we speak of both Him and the Father.

The Trinity

EO agrees with the AC that the Trinity refers to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The following shows that EO also agrees with the AC that the Son and Holy Spirit were not created, but came forth from the being of the Father and, therefore, are of the same eternal and uncreated substance as the Father:

“The Son and the Spirit are of the same essence as the Father.” (Hopko)

The Son is “divine with the same divinity as the one true and living God.” (Hopko)

And in his critique of Arianism, Hopko implies that the Son is “an element of the divinity and being of God Himself.”

As also argued above, in the AC, since the Son and the Holy Spirit came forth from the Father, it is the being or essence of the Father that remains undivided. In some sense, the Son and the Holy Spirit remain part of the being of the Father. EO also agrees with this:

“There is one God because there is one divine nature of the Father, which is the nature of the Son and the nature of the Holy Spirit too.” (Hopko)

“The unity of God is not that there is one divine essence from which the three divine persons come forth; the unity of God is located in the person of the Father.” (Question 90 of the EO Catechism)

“The Son and the Spirit are OF the Father – FROM the Father – BELONGING TO the Father.” (Hopko)

Despite this substantial agreement, there still is a significant difference between the Trinity in the AC and in EO. As already discussed, in the AC, the Trinity is the “one God” but in EO, the Father alone is the “one God.” The following shows that this is not only a difference in terminology but a real difference:

The Trinity in the Athanasian Creed

The AC does not allow “dividing the essence:”

We worship one God in Trinity,
and Trinity in Unity;
neither confounding the Persons,
nor dividing the Essence

The Godhead of the Father, of the Son,
and of the Holy Ghost, is all one.

Consequently, the one Almighty God, existing as a Trinity, has one single undivided essence. In this view, the term homoousios in the Nicene Creed must be translated as “one substance.” The one single essence and the strong emphasis on one-ness also imply that the three Persons have one single mind and will.

The Trinity in Eastern Orthodoxy

When searching in EO for the same strong emphasis on one-ness of essence, I did not find it. What I did find is an emphasis on the sameness of substance:

“He (the Son) is divine with the same divinity as the one true and living God. In the language of the Nicene Creed, He is ‘God from God, true God from true God; begotten of the Father; not created, of one very same essence (ousia) – one same being or divinity with God the Father Himself’” (Hopko).

God the Father … His Word (or Only Begotten Son) and Spirit … are uncreated and co-eternal, co-equal in the fact that they belong to the category of creator, not creature. (Catechism, question 90)

The Son and the Spirit are “co-eternal and co-uncreated with the Father” because of their “ontological or essential equality” which was “expressed … by the expression ‘homoousion’” (EO Catechism, question 95).

Also related to the concept in the AC of an undivided essence, I found in EO that the Son and the Holy Spirit always were and always will be inseparable “with” God the Father:

This … is the mystery of the Trinity, that God the Father is always with His Word (or Only Begotten Son) and Spirit. (Catechism, question 90)

With Him (God) were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom … He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness…” (Genesis 1:26) (EO Catechism, question 90, quoting St Irenaeus, Against Heresies, IV:20).

God the Father is thus always with and inseparable from his Only-Begotten Son and Holy Spirit (EO Catechism, question 90).

Three Substances and Minds

In summary, while the AC teaches that the three Persons are ontologically “one” (have one single substance), in EO they are ontologically the “same,” implying three distinct substances that are the same type of uncreated and eternal substance and that are eternally and inseparable together. In that case, homoousios should be translated as “same substance.”

In this respect, for the following reasons, EO also follows the Nicene Creed:

(1) The literal meaning of the term homoousios is “same substance” rather than “one substance” (Wikipedia).

(2) Before Nicea homoousios generally meant ‘of generically the same substance’ rather than numerically the same (one and the same (FortmanErickson)

(3) Both Erickson and Philip Schaff stated that the purpose of the creed was not the affirm the UNITY of the Godhead, but the DIVINITY of the Son (Philip Schaff. History of the Church volume 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981 edition. pp.672-673.).

And while the emphasis on one-ness in the AC implies one single mind, the emphasis on three-ness in the EO implies three distinct minds and wills:

There are three ‘Whos’; He who is the Father, He who is the Son and He who is the Holy Spirit. They are three Persons or three hypostasies. But hypostases is a better term because there are three instances of divine life in perfect and total unity. (Hopko)

Consistent with the concept of three distinct substances and wills, EO does not refer to the Trinity as “God” but as “the tri-hypostatic Divinity” or as “the tri-personal Godhead.”

For these reasons, the difference, where the AC identifies the Trinity as God while EO defines God as the Father only, is a real difference; not merely a difference in terminology.

Subordination

Subordination in the Godhead may be classified into different categories:

Relational Subordination

In both the AC and in EO, the Son and the Holy Spirit are uncreated and came into existence from the being of the Father:

In the AC:
“the Son is of the Father alone;
not … created; but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son;
neither … created … but proceeding.

In EO, the principle of “the Monarchy of the Father” means that He is the “cause, source and principle” of everything, including of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“God the Father is cause and origin of His Word (or Son) and Wisdom (or Holy Spirit)” (Catechism, question 90).

“All then that the Son and the Spirit have is from the Father, even their very being” (EO Catechism, question 90, quoting John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Chapter 1),

“The Monarchy of the Father” is the principle that “God the Father is neither begotten nor proceeds from any other Person, he is the cause, source and principle” (EO Catechism, question 94). (In other words, He is also the cause and source of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.)

“When the Son says that the ‘Father is greater than I am,’ (John 14:28) he is referring to the fact that the Father is the cause and origin” (of Himself) (EO Catechism, question 95).

In other words, in both the AC and EO, the Son and the Spirit are relationally subordinate to the Father.

Filioque Clause

The translations in Wikipedia and Orthodoxwiki of the filioque clause of the AC reads as follows:

“The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son.”

EO claims that the filioque (and of the Son) appears to deny the monarchy of Father; the Father as principal origin of the Trinity. In EO, the Spirit proceeds from God (the Father) alone:

“Eastern Orthodox theologians maintain that by the expression “from the Father alone,” … is Orthodox and consistent with church tradition. They draw the teaching of the Father as cause alone (their interpretation of the Monarchy of the Father) from various saints and biblical texts. (Wikipedia)

EO does not deny that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, but explains that as that, because “the Christ is the Son of God on whom God the Father sends and affirms His Holy Spirit, the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ” (Hopko).

“The Spirit is the Spirit of the Son because He proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son. That is why we orthodox is against the filioque in the creed (‘and the Son’ – Athanasian Creed). … We claim that the Spirit of God does not proceed from the Father and the Son together.” (Hopko)

So Jesus can say, “I will send you the Spirit,” because the Spirit is his Spirit, but it’s the Spirit of God that is in Jesus because he’s the Son of God. The Word of God and the Spirit of God are both of God. … The Father is the source of the Spirit and of the Son: the Son. (Fr. Thomas Hopko)

So, to determine whether the AC is in conflict with EO on this point regard, the question is, what does “of” mean in this clause of the AC? (See the quote above.) For the following reasons, I propose that it means “proceeds:”

The AC uses the “of” in contrast to “created,” implying that “of” refers to the ultimate origin or source of the Holy Spirit.

The AC explains the “of” by the phrase “but proceeding.”

Therefore, in the Athanasian Creed, the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. The Christianity Knowledge Base translation of the filioque clause of the creed reflects the idea well:

“The Spirit was neither made nor created,
but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.”

Nevertheless, in the AC, since the Son was begotten by the Father, the Father is the Source of the Son. Therefore, the Father remains the ultimate Source of the Spirit. For that reason, in my view, the filioque clause is NOT in opposition to the Monarchy of the Father. It would be easier to make the case that the AC is inconsistent with the Bible on this point (e.g., John 15:26).

Functional Subordination

In EO, the Son and the Spirit are functionally subordinate to the Father:

The Son and the Spirit are “co-eternal and co-uncreated with the Father” because of their “ontological or essential equality” … However, “this does not negate different roles or functions.” (EO Catechism, question 95) The question then gives examples of different functions or roles in which the Son is subordinate to the Father:

        • The head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:2-3), and
        • When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one” (1 Cor 15:27-28).

The point is that the three Persons are equal ontologically (in terms of substance) but, the Son and the Spirit are functionally (in terms of roles) subordinate to the Father.

The AC, on the other hand, does not seem to allow for functional subordination.

Consistent with EO, the definitions of Subordinationism (the heterodox view) in theological dictionaries are careful to define it not as subordinate in all senses, but as subordinate specifically ontologically, for example, in terms of:

“The divine essence” (Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler, eds., “Subordinationism,” in Dictionary of Theology (2d ed.; New York: Crossroad, 1981) 488)

“Essential divinity” (Frances Young, The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983) 553)

Therefore, when EO says that the Son is not subordinate to the Father, it specifically means that He is not ontologically subordinate but it does not deny that He is subordinate either relationally or functionally.

Ontological Subordination

For the following reasons, it is proposed that, in EO, the Son and the Spirit are also ontologically less than (subordinate to) the Father:

Eternal Functional Subordination

Firstly, the examples above of the functional subordination of the Son point to ETERNAL functional subordination. One may add Biblical teaching that God created all things “through” His Son (E.g., Heb 1:2; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16). These statements identify the Son as God’s agent in the creation. But eternal functional subordination implies ontological subordination. Why would the Son and the Spirit be eternally functionally subordinate unless they are also ontologically subordinate?

Cause and Origin

Secondly, if “the Father is the cause and origin,” as the EO Catechism claims, the Son and the Spirit received their substance and divinity from the Father. This is stated explicitly by Fr. Thomas Hopko:

The church fathers of the fourth century, like Gregory the theologian, would never have said that the Father is of one essence with the Son. They would only say that the Son is of one essence with the Father. The reason is that the Son’s divinity is the Father’s divinity. The Son is “God from God” (Nicene Creed). He is a divine Person “from” the one God.

If the Son and the Spirit received their divinity (substance) from the Father, and if they do not have one single substance as in the AC, then the substances of the Son and the Spirit are portions of the substance of the Father. That would mean that they are ontologically subordinate to the Father. That this concept is an ancient teaching can be seen in Tertullian’s words:

“The Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole” (Tertullian Against Praxeas, 9 (ANF 3: 604))

In conclusion, while the AC has a strong emphasis on the single undivided substance and only allows relational subordination, in EO, the Son is ontologically, functionally, and relationally subordinate to the Father.

All Article Series on this Website

Jesus Christ and the Trinity

Daniel

      • Is Daniel a Fraud? – It is claimed by liberal theologians that Daniel was written in the second century before Christ, presenting history as if it is a prophecy. 
      • Daniel 2, 7, and 11 – These prophecies should be read together. 
      • Daniel 9 – Discussion of the Four Major Interpretations of the 490 years

The Book of Revelation

Verse-by-Verse discussions

Other Specific Topics

A response to the GotQuestions article on the Trinity.

I briefly explained the historical development of the Trinity doctrine to my daughter. I started with the church fathers of the first three centuries, through the tumultuous events of the fourth century, with a brief overview of the history there-after. 

(A series of articles is available on this website that traces the historical development of the Trinity doctrine. For an overview, see – Justinian.)

She then, apparently, did some reading, and sent me a reference to the GotQuestions article – What does the Bible teach about the Trinity? In the current article, I respond to that article.

Three Persons but One Being

Three Persons

Gotquestions points out that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit differ. It states, for example:

The Son is BEGOTTEN from the Father,
the Holy Ghost PROCEEDS from both the Father; but
the Father is NOT BEGOTTEN and
does NOT PROCEED from any other.

Many other examples from the Bible of differences between them may be mentioned, such as:

The Son “is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1; cf. Acts 7:56).

Jesus said, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). This means that they have different wills.

One Being

In spite of such differences, the Trinity doctrine claims that they are one and the same being. The oneness of the members of the Trinity is a complex concept. Gotquestions describes the Trinity as follows:

The Father is God,
the Son is God, and
the Holy Spirit is God—
but there is only one God.

Similarly, the Athanasian Creed declares:

We are compelled … to acknowledge
every Person by himself to be God …
(but we are) forbidden by the catholic religion; to say,
There are three Gods.

It is not only the “catholic religion” that forbids us to say that there are three Gods; that there is only one God is a foundational teaching of the Bible.

The Trinity doctrine does not teach that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three parts of God. It teaches that “every person by himself to be God.” In other words, whatever we can say about the Father, is also true about the Son, and vice versa. To quote the Athanasian Creed:

Such as the Father is;
such is the Son; and
such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father is Almighty;
the Son Almighty; and
the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet
they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty.

More than one Almighty Being is logically impossible. Therefore, according to the Athanasian Creed, they are only “one Almighty.”

Thus, we can represent the Trinity with the equation:

God  =  Father  =  Son  =  Holy Spirit

The Trinity Doctrine Contradicts itself.

Therefore, the Trinity concept contradicts itself when it says that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct and different Persons with different origins, different wills, and different roles, but one and the same Almighty Being. Claims that the Father and the Son differ but also are the same make a mockery of logic. Two things cannot be the same and at the same time be different.

Over the centuries, many people have argued that the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself, and for that reason, cannot accurately reflect Bible revelation, for truth does not contradict itself. For example, listen to Trinities podcasts 2 and 3 for arguments for and against the logical consistency of the Trinity doctrine.

According to the Athanasian Creed, we are “forbidden … to say, There are three Gods,” but just saying that does not undo the logical contradiction of the doctrine.

Modalism – Oneness

Some church fathers attempted to solve this contradiction by accepting that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One Being, but by rejecting that they are three distinct Persons. They regarded Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three names for the same Being, and as different “modes” or “manifestations” of God. This is known as modalism or Sabellianism, but was rejected by the church majority.

Three-self Trinitarians – Threeness

Other Trinitarians emphasize the three-ness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and describe them as three Person with different wills, but so much united in love and purpose that they act as One.

Impossible to understand – Mystery

Other Trinitarians, such as the Gotquestions writer, follow a third approach, and claim that the Trinity is a mystery. Gotquestions wrote:

The most difficult thing about the Christian concept of the Trinity is that there is no way to perfectly and completely understand it. The Trinity is a concept that is impossible for any human being to fully understand, let alone explain. God is infinitely greater than we are; therefore, we should not expect to be able to fully understand Him.

Though we can understand some facts about the relationship of the different Persons of the Trinity to one another, ultimately, it is incomprehensible to the human mind. However, this does not mean the Trinity is not true or that it is not based on the teachings of the Bible.

We are able to understand God.

I would like to refute the idea that it is impossible to understand God. We are able to understand God:

Although we do not know is how that is possible, we are able to understand that He exists without cause; beyond time, space and matter. All else exist because He exists. All things came forth from Him and exists within Him.

While our finite minds cannot comprehend these things, We know that He is infinite, omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent.

Although we do not understand how the Son was begotten, we are able to understand that God has many sons but only one begotten Son (e.g., John 3:18).

The LORD Himself declared:

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts
” (Isa 55:8-9).

We will never be fully able to understand him, even in eternity. We, with all our scientists, are like a lone wanderer building a small fire at night in the desert. In the light of the fire, we can see our immediate surroundings, but we can see nothing of the expanse of the earth. We similarly know only a tiny bit about God, but we understand nothing of his infinite greatness.

Our understanding of God is like a mustard seed. It is an extremely small seed, compared to the tree into which our understanding may one day grow. Our understanding of God is minute compared to what we will learn of Him over the millennia.

Nevertheless, the little we do know of Him is logically consistent: There are no contradictions in what has been revealed about Him.

The Trinity doctrine is a humanly devised theory.

It is, therefore, not valid to claim that it is impossible to understand the Trinity doctrine because it is impossible to understand God. Rather, the Trinity doctrine is impossible to understand because it distorts the Bible message.

Remember, the Trinity doctrine is nowhere explicitly taught in the Bible:

Nowhere does the Bible say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one Being.

The word Trinity does not appear in the Bible and there is no other word or name in the Bible that refers to the Three as one Being.

A cornerstone of the Nicene Creed is the statement that the Father and Son have the same substance (homoousios). Where is that said in the Bible?

And where is it revealed that the Son has both a human and divine nature?

Bible presents an extremely high view of Christ. For example:

    • God made the world “through” Him (Heb 1:2).
    • He upholds the universe by the word of God’s power (Heb 1:3).
    • He is “the first and the last” (Rev 1:17).
    • In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9)

The Trinity doctrine is how the church over the centuries attempted to make sense of the relationship between God and this high view of Christ. The Trinity doctrine, therefore, is a humanly devised theory. Gotquestions claims that the Trinity concept is based on the Bible, but we must test the Trinity doctrine against the Bible.

The Trinity doctrine is not consistent with the Bible.

In my view, the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself; not because the Bible contradicts itself in its explanations of God, but because the Trinity doctrine is inconsistent with the Bible.

This website focuses only on one aspect of the Trinity doctrine, namely the claim that Jesus is God. This website shows that the Bible teaches that Jesus is not only distinct from the Father; He is also distinct from God, which means that He is not God. And while the Trinity doctrine claims that the Father and the Son are exactly equal in all respects. this website shows that Jesus is subordinate to the Father.

Christ’s Dual Nature

A further contradictory element of the Trinity theory is that Jesus is both FULLY GOD AND FULLY MAN. In this teaching, He has both a human and a divine nature. That makes Him two persons, comparable to the view that God is three Persons.

This was the primary focus of the Chalcedonian Creed of 451.  This creed attempted to respond to the question:

If Jesus is “very God of very God,” why did He not know the day and hour of His return? Why does only the Father know that (Matt 24:36)?

And why does the New Testament so consistently present Him as
subordinate to God, the Father? For example, why did He say, “The Father is greater than I?

The Chalcedonian Creed explains the subordination statements in the New Testament by saying that Jesus was speaking from His human nature. Opponents of this theory point out that that then means that Jesus was not telling the truth when He said that He does not know, for in His divine nature He actually knew.  

Even worse perhaps, if Jesus had both a divine and a human nature, then He did not really die, for only the human nature part of Him died while His divine nature continued to exist. Then, unfortunately, we are not saved, for we are saved by His death (e.g., I Thess 5:9-10; 1 Peter 3:18).

Religious Persecution

The Athanasian Creed starts and ends with the following words:

This is the catholic faith;
which except a man believe truly and firmly,
he cannot be saved.

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

This is a ridiculous claim:

Firstly, people are not saved by believing a doctrine. They are saved by God’s grace through faith in Him. They are saved when they love and support God’s suffering people (Matt 25:34-40). For a discussion of how people are saved, see – Works of the Law.

Secondly, this creed made a very technical and contradictory statement of believe a test of true faith.

And the view that people cannot be saved if they do not believe the Trinity doctrine, combined with the intolerant character of the church of the Middle Ages, resulted in much persecution. The Roman Empire was not known for religious tolerance, and after the emperor became the de facto head of the church, early in the fourth century, the church slowly adopted the character of its Roman bosses. For example, immediately after the Council of Nicaea of AD 325, a number of dissenting bishops were exiled. Emperor Constantine also destroyed all of Arius’ books and threatened to kill all people who kept copies of his books. Over the many years since that time, many Christians were persecuted for not accepting the prevailing theory of the nature of God. For example:

Michael Servetus

Christianity.com has an article on Michael Servetus, who was burned for heresy in the town where Calvin was the pastor. Michael was quite an astute scientist. He studied mathematics, geography, astrology, and medicine. Gaining fame as a physician, he came close to discovering the pulmonary circulation of the blood. In 1531, Servetus published a work called the Errors of the Trinity. Both Protestants and Catholics found the work blasphemous, and the emperor banned the book.

Michael continued to criticize Calvin and stated that, to believe in the Trinity, is to believe in the spirit of the dragon. Calvin wrote to a friend that if Servetus ever fell into his hands, he would not allow him to get away alive. Roman Catholic authorities arrested Michael for heresy. He escaped, however, and fled toward Naples by way of Geneva where Calvin was a pastor. He entered a church where Calvin was preaching, was recognized, and arrested on charges of blasphemy and heresy.  Calvin insisted with the rest that Servetus must die, but urged that in mercy, Servetus be executed by the sword, not by burning.  Servetus was nevertheless burned to death on October 27, 1553.

Think about the enormity of the contrast between Christ, who was willing to offer up His life for people who deserve to die, and what the church became, as reflected by the fact that it not only killed people, but killed them in the most brutal manner, including by burning them to death.

An hour is coming for everyone who kills you
to think that he is offering service to God
” (John 16:2).

The pure woman of Revelation 12 (Rev 12:1) has morphed into an adulterous harlot (Rev 17:2):

In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24).

For a discussion, see – Babylon the great, the mother of harlot.

The Christianity.com article attempts to exonerate Calvin for his involvement, but his role in Servetus’s cruel death should really bother Calvinists, for Calvin did that after writing one of the most influential systems of theology the Christian faith had ever seen. What does that say of the spirit of his work?

The spirit of the Antichrist

If the Trinity doctrine was the view of some in the church or even of most, it would have been a tragedy, but add to this the persecuting spirit which entered the church in the fourth century, after it became the official church of the Roman Empire, and the violent eradication of opposing views, then you have “the spirit of the antichrist:

Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God;
this is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3).

Outside the church, other religions teach that “Jesus is not from God.” But, inside the church, Satan sets a different snare, for, by teaching that Jesus is God, the Trinity doctrine takes the deception to the other extreme. By teaching that Jesus is God, the Trinity doctrine effectively also teaching that “Jesus is not from God.

The Mark of the Beast

Over the centuries, the Trinity doctrine has become the main doctrine of the church. Believers who do not accept the Trinity doctrine are often classified with non-Christians. It really is a battle about who God is. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). To Him “every knee will bow,” but always “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11). To worship Him independently of God is idol worship; the worship of “the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). (For a discussion, see the article – Worship.)

Is it possible that the Trinity doctrine is the Mark of the Beast?

This website identifies the beast of Revelation as the church of the Middle Ages. The mark of the beast, therefore, must be something for which the church of the Middle Ages was particularly known for. Was the Trinity doctrine not the main doctrine of the church? 

Furthermore, the beast receives “his power and his throne and great authority” from the dragon (Rev 13:2), which has been identified as the Roman Empire. The series of articles on the origin of the Trinity doctrine shows that the church inherited this theory from the Roman Empire: This theory was forced onto the church by the Roman Emperors.

From Revelation 13, it is clear that the end-time conflict will be a war about worship. Notice how often the word “worship” appears in this context (Rev 13:4, 8, 12, 15, 14:6), and the Trinity doctrine is a theory about who we worship.

Particularly important, in the end-time, the main message of God’s people will be to worship the Creator (Rev 14:6), who Revelation identifies as God, the Father (Rev 4:11).

Summary

This series responds to the GotQuestions article – What does the Bible teach about the Trinity? 

The Trinity concept may be summarised as that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God—but there is only one God.

Gotquestions argues that is not possible to understand the Christian concept of the Trinity for it is impossible to understand God. However, that argument confuses God with the concept of the Trinity. The Trinity concept is A HUMANLY DEVISED THEORY about the nature of God, and must be tested against the Bible.

This article agrees that we are unable to understand God, but claims that the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself because it claims that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are THREE DISTINCT AND DIFFERENT PERSONS with different origins, different wills, and different roles, but that each of them is the entirety of THE SAME ONE TRUE GOD; not three parts of the God-Being. If the Trinity concept contradicts itself, then it cannot accurately reflect what the Bible teaches, for TRUTH DOES NOT CONTRADICT ITSELF. 

Some church fathers solved this contradiction by accepting that they are One Being, but by rejecting that they are three distinct persons. These church fathers believed that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three names for the same Being. This is known as modalism or Sabellianism, but was rejected by the church majority.

Some New Testament passages explicitly present Jesus as inferior to the Father in knowledge and authority; not only when He was on this earth, but still today and in all eternity (e.g. 1 Cor 15:28). The Trinity theory responds to these passages by teaching that Jesus is both FULLY GOD AND FULLY MAN, and only inferior to the Father in His human nature.  Opponents of this theory point out that that then means that JESUS DID NOT TELL THE TRUTH when He said that He does not know, for in His divine nature He actually knew.  It would also mean that JESUS NEVER REALLY DIED, while His death is a critical salvation concept.

The Trinity doctrine is a very technical and ambiguous theory, but still, over the centuries, the church made it a test of the true faith and it persecuted Christians, such as Michael Servetus during the reformation, for not adhering to it.

The Trinity doctrine tries to explain things that are not revealed in the Bible. Combining that with persecution is the spirit of the beast.

Gotquestions argues that we cannot understand this because we cannot understand God, but the next articles in this series will show that the Trinity concept is inonsistent with the Bible. The next article in this series discusses Hebrews 1:8, which Gotquestions uses as evidence that Jesus is God.

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