The Rise and Fall of the Homoiousianism

Purpose

After Nicaea, the ‘Arian’ Controversy raged for another 55 years. During that period, ‘Arianism’ dominated the church. But ‘Arianism’ consisted of several strands. This article explains the theology of the Homoiousians, which was one of those strands. Homoiousian means ‘similar substance’ and was used to say that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s.

Sources

This article series is largely based on two books:

RH = Bishop RPC Hanson
The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God –

The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987

LA = Lewis Ayres
Nicaea and its legacy, 2004

Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology

A Compromise

It is often claimed that Homo-i-ousianism (similar substance theology) arose as an attempt to reconcile two opposing teachings, namely: and Homo-ianism:

Homo-ousianism, which comes from the word homo-ousios in the Nicene Creed of the year 325. It means “same substance” and was used to say that the Son’s substance is the ‘same’ (ὁμός, homós) as the Father’s.  If the Son’s substance is the same as the Father’s, then the Son must be co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

Homo-ianism, on the other hand, refused to use the term substance (οὐσία, ousía). It believes that the Son is “like” (ὅμοιος, hómoios) the Father but subordinate to Him.

It is then proposed that similar substance theology (Homo-i-ousian) was an attempt to reconcile the same substance theology (Homo-ousian) theology with the Homoian notion of similarity. For example, “Gwatkin described the group as a ‘Semi-Arian position modified by an Athanasian influence.” (RH, 349) (Athanasius was the great defender of the same substance theology.)

A Persistent Strand

However, recent scholarship does not accept that Homo-i-ousianism was an attempt to reconcile the two other theologies. Homo-i-ousianism was “most prominently associated with … Basil of Ancyra” (RH, 349) and “the term homoiousios plays no role in Basil’s surviving texts” (LA, 150). This implies that such a compromise was not the purpose. More recently, Lewis Ayres proposed that Homo-i-ousianism was not merely a compromise but “a significant and persistent strand in earlier eastern theology.” (LA, 150)

There are indications that this theology was a restatement or development of the theology of Eusebius of Caesarea, as stated in the letter he wrote to his home church after the Nicene Council, to explain why he accepted that Creed:

Ritter described Homoiousianism “as the right wing of the Eusebian party.” (RH, 349)

“Basil … prefers the term ‘image of the ousia’ to define the Son’s relationship to the Father; it is worth noting that this term was favoured by Eusebius of Caesarea … and also is found in the Second (‘Dedication’) Creed of Antioch 341.” (RH, 353)

Eusebius was “universally acknowledged to be the most scholarly bishop of his day.” (RH, 46) Eusebius was the most influential theologian present at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

A Response to Neo-Arianism

Both Lewis Ayres and R.P.C. Hanson stated that the formulation of Homoiousian theology in 358 by a council of bishops called by Basil of Ancyra was a response to, what Ayres calls, “the emerging shape of Heterousian theology” in the form of the creed of “Sirmium 357,” which was based on the teachings of Aetius. Hanson refers to this as “Neo-Arianism” and as “a new and radical theology” that appears for the first time in the extant ancient records in the form of the “Second Creed of Sirmium of 357,” afterward approved by a larger synod at Antioch (probably in AD 358). ‘Neo-Arianism’ may be an appropriate name because it was “a development” of Arius’ theology. (RH, 348; LA, 149-150)

“Basil’s council sent a delegation to the Emperor Constantius … and this embassy met with success.” The Emperor condemned “Aetius and his teaching” and exiled Aetius and his supporters. This supports the view that this formulation of homo-i-ousianism was particularly intended to oppose the Neo-Arians. (LA, 152-153)

Homo-i-ousian Theology

“The statement which emerged from this council … marks the emergence of a new and coherent theological point of view. This is the theology of those whom Epiphanius, quite undeservedly, calls ‘Semi-Arians’, but who are usually today thought of as Homoiousians, a designation which is more accurate.” (RH, 348-9)

This statement was written by Basil of Ancyra himself (LA, 150) and “is of the highest importance for an understanding of Homoiousian theology.” (RH, 350) It includes “nineteen anathemas which reveal more clearly the position which Basil is attacking.” (RH, 355)

Against Homoian Theology

Homoianism was a dominant Christology during the mid-fourth century. For example, the creeds of the councils of Sirmium in 358, Ariminum in 359, and the key council at Constantinople in 359 / 360 were homoian. It refused to use ousia (substance) language in the formulation of any statement of faith because the Bible does not say anything about God’s substance. Against them, Basil insisted that substance language is necessary to reflect the closeness of the Father and Son expressed by the concepts “Father/Son” and “begotten.” He wrote:

“God must be both Father and creator” (of His Son) (RH, 353). “If we remove this resemblance of ousia,” the Son is merely a created being; “not a Son.” (RH, 353, 354)

Since human sons are like their fathers, the Son of God is like His Father (RH, 352). “The salient irreducible element” in a father/son relationship is “the begetting of a living being that is like in ousia.” (RH, 352-3)

“If the Father gives the Son to have life in himself (John 5:26) … then the Son must have the same life and thus have ‘everything according to essence and absolutely as does the Father’.” (LA, 152)“

Against Homoousian Theology

It is often claimed that the term homo-ousios in the Nicene Creed means “one substance,” namely, that the substance of the Son is one and the same as the Father’s substance. It is on this basis alone that we can argue that the Son is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father. However:

Hanson concluded that “we can … be pretty sure that homoousios was not intended to express the numerical identity of the Father and the Son.” (RH, 202)

Philip Schaff stated: “The term homoousion … differs from monoousion. … 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 “homoousios with the Father as touching the Godhead, and homoousios with us [and yet individually distinct from us] as touching the manhood.”1Philip Schaff, History of the Church volume 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981 edition) pp.672-673.

The idea of “one substance,” therefore, developed later. In the Homo-ousianism of the Nicene Creed, the Son’s substance is identical with the Father’s, meaning two substances that are identical. 

This is based on a material interpretation of the terms “Father,” Son,” and “only-begotten,” as if God has a body and bodily gave existence to the Son, comparable to how human sons are brought forth. Consequently, the Son’s substance is identical to the Father’s. For example:

“Anathema 13 links the error of thinking of the Father/Son relationship in corporeal terms with that of making the Son identical with the Father.” (RH, 356)

Homo-i-ousianism did not accept this notion. (RH, 352-3) In Homo-i-ousianism, the Son is subordinate to the Father. (RH, 355) If this is true, then the Son’s substance cannot be identical to the Father’s. Basil explained:

“The Son is like the Father in ousia but not identical with him.” (RH, 352-3). 

“As He … was in the likeness of men (John 1:14) … yet not a man in all respects;” “not identical with human nature,” for example. He was not born through natural conception, “so the Son … is God in that he is Son of God,” was “in the form of God,” and is “equal to God (Phil 2:6, 7),” “but not identical with the God and Father.” (RH, 354)

Anathema 13 “damns him who declares … that the Son is identical with the Father … This is manifestly directed against N (the Nicene Creed).” (RH, 355)

Against Sabellian Theology

In Sabellianism, the Son is not a distinct Person. Rather, the Father and Son are parts of one Person. Basil responded:

“This argument that God must be both Father and creator and that the likeness in ousia is necessary … as a safeguard against Sabellianism: that which is like can never be the same as that to which it is like’.” (RH, 353)

The anathemas also attack the apparent Sabellianism of Marcellus of Ancyra. (RH, 355)

Against Neo-Arian Theology

In Neo-Arianism, which was “a new and radical” (RH, 348) adaptation of Arius’ theology, the terms “Father,” Son,” and “only-begotten” symbolize that the Son is the very image of the Father, but not in a corporeal (material) sense. For that reason, in this view, “the Son is ‘unlike(anhomoios) in ousia to the Father” Ayres refers to this as “Heterousian (different substance) theology.” (LA, 149) For example, Basil’s “Anathema 12 strikes him who declares that the Son’s likeness to the Father consists in power but not in ousia.” (RH, 355)

Homo-i-ousianism was somewhere between the Homoousian (same substance) view and the Neo-Arian (different substance) view. 

The End of this Theology

“In AD 359 Constantius decided to emulate his father’s action in calling Nicaea and summon a general council. … A small group of bishops met at Sirmium to draw up a draft creed for discussion. Those present included not only Basil, but also some who were far more suspicious of ousia language. The creed on which they finally agreed … asserts that all ousia language should be avoided. … … Thus, although Basil of Ancyra was influential with the imperial authorities at one point during 358–9, it was not for long, and he never seems fully to have overcome long-standing Homoian influence at court. (LA, 157-8)

Constantius was becoming somewhat hostile to the influence of all of the new movements which had sprung up after the Nicene council. The result was that the Homoiousians disappeared from the stage of history and the struggle to define Church dogma became a two-sided battle between the Homo-ousians and the Homo-ians.


Summary

The 55 years of Controversy after the Nicene Creed of 325 revolved specifically around the word homoousios. Since, in the Nicene Creed, this term was an interpretation of the term “begotten,” the differences between the various Christological views are essentially different interpretations of the terms “Father,” “Son,” and “only-begotten.” These interpretations result in different views with respect to the substance of the Son, on the basis of which the five views may be summarized:

      • Sabellianism = One and the same substance
      • Homoousian = Distinct but identical substance
      • Homoiousian = Similar in substance
      • Neo-Arianism or Heteroousians = Unlike in substance
      • Homo-ianism refuses to refer to substance.

OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    Philip Schaff, History of the Church volume 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981 edition) pp.672-673.
  • 2
    Overview of the history, from the pre-Nicene Church Fathers, through the fourth-century Arian Controversy

Emperor Theodosius eliminated Arianism from the Roman Empire.

The Arian Controversy

The emperor Theodosius put an end to the Arian Controversy. However, the traditional account of that Controversy has been described as a complete travesty:

The Traditional Account is Wrong.

For example:

There were not just two sides.

In the traditional account, there were just two sides in the Arian Controversy; the Trinity doctrine and Arianism. In reality, there were several ‘sides’, including:

One SubstanceThe Council of Nicene in 325 agreed that Christ is homoousios (of the same substance) as the Father. Athanasius and the Sabellians understood this to say one single substance (Being) with one single Mind. (See Athanasius)

Two Substances – Basil and the Cappadocians, on the other hand, understood homoousios as saying that Father and Son are two distinct substances (two Beings with two distinct Minds) that are the same in all respects. (See – Basil) See also the discussion of the meaning of the term homoousios.

No mention of God’s Substance – The Council of Ariminum in July 359 concluded that the Son was “like the Father,” without reference to substance. In this view, the Bible does not reveal whether the Son is of the same substance as the Father, and we, therefore, should not speculate about such things. This is the Homoian view.

Similar Substance – The council of Seleucia agreed in 359 that the Son was “similar in substance” to the Father but not necessarily of the “same substance,” as per the Nicene Creed. This is called Homoi-ousian view.

Different Substance – The council of Constantinople in 359 at first accepted that the substance of the Son was different from the Father’s. See Heter-ousian or Arian controversy. This is similar to what Arius taught.

The Trinity doctrine was not Orthodox.

In the traditional account, the Trinity doctrine was established as orthodoxy when the Controversy began. However, while the Trinity doctrine presents Christ as co-equal with the Father, the article on the Nicene Creed lists several indications that Christ is subordinate to the Father. For example, it describes the Father as the “one God” who alone is Almighty. 

This should not be surprising. ‘Orthodoxy’ as we know it today, did not exist when that Controversy began. It was worked out through that Controversy. (See – Revised Scholarly View) If anything was orthodox when the Controversy began, it was that the Son is subordinate to the Father. For example, RPC Hanson, one of the top modern scholars on the Fourth Century Controversy, wrote:

“Indeed, until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have been described as a fixed part of catholic theology.” 1RPC Hanson, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD” in Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy (New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989) p. 153. 

The term ‘Arian’ is a serious Misnomer.

The term ‘Arianism’ comes from the name of Arius, a priest from Alexandria in the fourth century, whose dispute with his bishop Alexander sparked the Arian Controversy. This term implies that Arius developed a new theology and that he had many followers. In reality, Arius was insignificant. He did not leave behind a school of followers. He was only the spark that ignited the fire, but the fuel for that fire had been gathering for centuries before him. It was the legalization of Christianity that allowed that Controversy to burst open.

Arius was not a Radical.

Contrary to what we are often told, Arius did not develop anything new. Everything he said was said by people before him. He might have packaged it differently, but, in reality, Arius was a conservative.

Alexander was a Sabellian.

Neither did Arius’ opponent (Alexander) develop anything new. he just rehashed the theology of the previous century. But what people do not realize is that Alexander was a Sabellian, meaning that he said that Father, Son, and Spirit are one single Being with one single Rational Faculty. Sabellianism was rejected in the third century but remained strong.

The term hypostasis is confusing.

The ancients used the term hypostasis (distinct reality) and the core of the Arian Controversy was whether Father, Son, and Spirit are one or three hypostases. However, the traditional Trinity doctrine uses hypostasis in a different sense:

      • In the fourth century, each hypostasis was a distinct Rational Faculty.
      • In the traditional Trinity doctrine, the three hypostases (Persons) share one single Rational Capacity. It says that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one single Being with one single Rational Faculty but three hypostases (or Persons).

Given this confusion, this website avoids the terms hypostasis and Person.

Conclusion

The point is this: This article shows that Emperor Theodosius I, when he came to power, crushed Arianism. However, what he really crushed was all resistance to the teaching of the Nicene Creed that the Father and Son have the same ousia.

Summary

Constantine had a decisive influence on the formulation of the Nicene Creed but later rejected the Homoousion Christology of the Nicene Creed. The emperors who succeeded Constantine crushed the church leaders who taught the homoousion principle in the Nicene Creed. When emperor Valens died in 378, the imperial capital was solidly Arian.

Theodosius I succeeded Valens. He was a passionate supporter of Homoousion Christology. Commentators often refer to the Council of Constantinople of 381 as the turning point where Arianism was replaced by Nicene Christology, but that council was a mere formality. Already prior to the council, Theodosius outlawed all other forms of Christianity and exiled Arian bishops.2Theodosian Code 16:2, 1 Friell, G., Williams, S., Theodosius: The Empire at Bay, London, 1994 – See, Homoousion – Wikipedia Furthermore, ‘Arians’ were not allowed to attend the Council of 381.

Since the 381 Council was simply a formality, the real decisions were taken by the Roman Emperor. Theodosius, with the strong arm of the empire, effectively wiped out ‘Arianism’ among the ruling class and elite of the Eastern Empire. This supports again the main thesis of this article series, namely that the emperors had a decisive influence on the Christology of the church.

The 381 Creed does not contain the Trinity concept, namely that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Persons with three minds or wills in one Being. But Theodosius’ Edict of Thessalonica of 380 does prescribe Trinitarian theology. In other words, the State laws were Trinitarian while the church decreed lagged behind. This also supports the thesis that the Christology of the church was determined by the emperors.

In the centuries after Theodosius, the church formulated the doctrines that Christ had two separate natures, namely that He had both a divine and a human nature, and that Mary is the Mother of God.

– END OF SUMMARY –


OVERVIEW OF HISTORY

After the church became Gentile-dominated, all sorts of abominations entered. Concerning Christology, in the second century, the church began to explain the Son of God as the Logos of Greek philosophy. Monarchainism also developed in the second century and explained that the Father and Son are one single Being. This was refined by the Sabellianism of the third century, which explained Father and Son as two faces of one single Being. However, the church formally rejected Sabellianism and entered the fourth century with the traditional Logos-theology, but as refined by Origen, with the Son as the subordinated agent of the Father.

In the second and third centuries, the church, as a persecuted entity, had no way of making and enforcing empire-wide decisions. But after Christianity was legalized in 313, the controversy that had been seething underground burst into the open. The spark that ignited the fire was the dispute between Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and Arius, one of his presbyters (priests).

Alexander, similar to the Sabellians before him, taught that Father and Son are one single Person with one single Rational Faculty. Arius, similar to most bishops before him, taught that they are two distinct Beings with two distinct Rational Faculties.

But Arius also has some extreme views. While the tradition said that the Son was born from the Being of the Father, Arius said that He was made out of nothing. And while Origen said that the Son always existed, Arius said that ‘there was’ when the Son ‘was not’.

This dispute spread to most of Egypt. Many bishops supported Arius; not because they supported his views but because they regarded Alexander’s as destructive.

Emperor Constantine, seeking unity in the church to support the unity of the empire, wrote to Arius and Alexander to end their quarrel, but to no avail. His religious advisor (Ossius) advised him to take Alexander’s side in the dispute. Ossius then chaired a meeting in Antioch early in 325 where Eusebius of Caesarea, the historian and the most respected theologian of the time, and Arius’ most famous supporter, was provisionally excommunicated.

Constantine then called the Nicene Council and installed his religious advisor as presiding officer. Alexander allied with the Sabellians Eustathius and Marcellus and, through his intimidating presence, forced that meeting to accept the word homoousios which, in the previous century, was only preferred by Sabellians.

However, in the years after Nicaea, Constantine allowed the church to remove the main drivers of the Nicene Creed, the Sabellians Eustathius and Marcellus, from their positions. After this, the Nicene Creed and the term homoousios were not mentioned for about 20-30 years.

Alexander died a few years after Nicaea and was replaced by Athanasius as bishop of Alexandria, but he was also exiled; not for theology but for “tyrannical behaviour.” (LA, 124) Constantine also allowed the exiled ‘Arian’ bishops to return. And, shortly before his death, he was baptized by an ‘Arian’ bishop. So, it seemed as if all decisions at Nicaea were made null and void.

But trouble was brewing in the West. At first, the West was not part of the Controversy. “The Eastern Church was always the pioneer and leader in theological movements in the early Church. … The Westerners at the Council (of Nicaea) represented a tiny minority.” (RH, 170) However, both Athanasius and Marcellus were exiled to Rome, where they joined forces against the Eastern Church.

At that time, Athanasius developed his polemical strategy, in which he claimed himself to be innocent of tyranny, put the blame for his exile on an ‘Arian Conspiracy’, claimed that he was really exiled for his theology (just like Marcellus), and labeled the Eastern Church followers of Arius (from which we got the term ‘Arian’). Athanasius was able to convince the pope (the bishop of Rome) of his version of reality, causing friction and division between the Eastern and Western Churches.

This happened in the period after Constantine died in 337 when his three sons divided the empire between themselves. While Emperor Constants in the West supported the views of the Western Church, Emperor Constantius in the East supported the Eastern Church

However, by the year 353, after his brothers had both been killed, Constantius ruled the entire empire. In the traditional account of the Arian Controversy, “Constantius has frequently been seen as a ruthless and brutal ruler and was painted by later pro-Nicene writers as a persecuter of supporters of Nicaea. The true picture is more complex: within the fourth-century context Constantius was a fairly mild ruler.” (LA, 133) “As his control over the west grew Constantius increased his attempts to get bishops to agree to the key eastern decisions of the previous few years.” (LA, 135) “He was not beyond subterfuge and force to achieve public agreement between factions.” (LA, 134)

“When Constantius died in 361 his immediate successor was his cousin Julian.” (LA, 168) “As Emperor, Julian soon became an active non-Christian, repudiating the Christianity that he had earlier professed. In his attempt to undermine the Church Julian tried to foment dissension between groups in the Church—initially by recalling all bishops who had been banished under Constantius.” (LA, 168-9)

The next emperor (Julian) did not choose sides, but he ruled only for three years.

Valens (364–378) succeeded Julian and revived Constantius’ anti-Nicene policy. He also exiled Nicene bishops to the other ends of the empire and often used force against them. Consequently, when Valens died in the year 378, the imperial capital of the empire (Constantinople), which by then has existed for 50 years, was solidly ‘Arian’.

Theodosius wiped Arianism out.

Theodosius I succeeded Valens. He and his wife Flacilla were passionate supporters of the Nicene Creed. Flacilla was instrumental in Theodosius’ campaign to end Arianism. Sozomen reports an incident where she prevented a meeting between Theodosius and Eunomius of Cyzicus, who served as figurehead of the most radical sect of Arians. Ambrose and Gregory of Nyssa praised her Christian virtues (Roman Catholic Encyclopedia (1909), article “Ælia Flaccilla” by J.P. Kirsch).

Commentators often refer to the First Council of Constantinople, which Theodosius convened in the spring of 381, as the turning point where Arianism was replaced by Nicene Christology, but that council was a mere formality:

Firstly, Theodosius already on 27 February 380, with the Edict of Thessalonica decreed that Trinitarian Christianity would be the only legal religion of the Roman Empire and that Christians teaching contrary views would be punished. Through this edict, Theodosius outlawed all other versions of Christianity.

Secondly, the incumbent bishop of Constantinople was an Arian (a Homoian). Two days after Theodosius arrived in Constantinople, on 24 November 380, and therefore also before the First Council of Constantinople in the spring of 381, he exiled this bishop and appointed Gregory of Nazianzus, the leader of the rather small Nicene community in the city, as bishop over the churches of that city.

Thirdly, only supporters of the Nicene Creed were allowed into the Council of 381. The previous Arian bishop and leaders were already banished and Arians arriving to attend the council were denied admission.

The 381 Council, therefore, was simply a formality. Theodosius, with the strong arm of the empire, effectively wiped out Arianism from the Roman Empire.

Edict of Thessalonica

This edict states:

According to the apostolic teaching
and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in
the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity.

We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgment, they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles (places of worship) the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict. — Edict of Thessalonica (Documents of the Christian Church, Henry Bettenson, editor, 1967, p. 22)

The term “Catholic” in this quote means ‘universal’. The word “Catholic” only became part of the name of the Catholic Church in 1054, at the East-West schism.

Summarized, Church historian Sozomen reports as follows on the Edict of Thessalonica:

Gratian bestowed the government of Illyria and of the Eastern provinces upon Theodosius. The parents of Theodosius were Christians and were attached to the Nicene doctrines. Theodosius made known by law his intention of leading all his subjects to the reception of that faith which was professed by Damasus, bishop of ROME, and by Peter, bishop of ALEXANDRIA. He enacted that the title of “Catholic Church” should be exclusively confined to those who rendered EQUAL HOMAGE to the Three Persons of the Trinity and that those individuals who entertained opposite opinions should be treated as heretics, regarded with contempt, and delivered over to PUNISHMENT. (Sozomen’s Church History VII.4)

The First Council of Constantinople was a mere formality.

It was customary, in the fourth century, for emperors, as the real heads of the church, to appoint church leaders and convene church councils. Similarly, Theodosius convened the First Council of Constantinople in the spring of 381. It is also known as the Second Ecumenical Council. ‘Ecumenical’ means it represents all Christian Churches and perspectives, but that was certainly not the case in this instance:

Theodosius already outlawed Arianism in the previous year, with the threat of punishment for people that teach anything different.

Gregory of Nazianzus—the leader of the Nicene party in the city—presided over part of the Council and vehemently opposed any compromise with the Homoiousians (those who believed that the Son’s substance is “similar” to the Father’s). 3Lewis Ayres – Nicaea and its legacy – Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-875505-0. Retrieved 21 October 2011

Arians were not admitted into the council. Theodosius already banished the previous Homoian bishop and leaders. And 36 Pneumatomachians arrived to attend the council but were denied admission when they refused to accept the Nicene Creed.

Gregory resigned from his office and Nectarius, an unbaptized civil official, was chosen to succeed Gregory as president of the council. Nectarius, as a civil servant, was fully under Theodosius’ control.

The Council, not surprisingly, confirmed Theodosius’ installation of Gregory Nazianzus as Bishop of Constantinople, accepted the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 and dogmatically condemned of all shades of Arianism as heresy. 

Contents of the Creed of 381

The Holy Spirit

The 325 Creed merely mentions the Holy Spirit in connection with the Father and Son. It does not refer to the Holy Spirit as theos (“god” or “God”) or that the Spirit is of the same substance as the Father. 

The 381 Creed goes much further. The 5 words about the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed of 325 became 33 words in the Creed of Constantinople, saying that:

      • The Holy Ghost is “the Lord and Giver of life,”
      • He proceeds from the Father and
      • He is worshiped together with the Father and the Son.

The 381 Creed, therefore, describes the Holy Spirit much clearer as a separate Person and as God.

The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, “God,” p. 568, states that the teaching of the three Cappadocian Fathers “made it possible for the Council of Constantinople (381) to affirm the divinity of the Holy Spirit, which up to that point had nowhere been clearly stated, not even in Scripture.

Note: Catholics are not concerned if their doctrines are not found in the Bible because they believe in continued revelation through the church.

The Trinity

As discussed in the article on the Nicene Creed, the present writer does not find the Trinity concept, namely that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one Being with one single Mind, in the Nicene Creed. It is also absent from the creed of 381.

However, the Edict of Thessalonica of 380, quoted above, which was an act of law by the emperor, made Trinitarian theology law. Compare the opening phrases of the Edict of Thessalonica of 380:

“Let us believe in
the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

With the opening phrase of the Creed of 381:

“We believe in
one God, the Father Almighty …
And in one Lord Jesus Christ …
And in the Holy Ghost”

An edict which Theodosius issued after the Council of 381 is also clearly Trinitarian:

“We now order that all churches are to be handed over to the bishops who profess Father, Son and Holy Spirit of a single majesty, of the same glory, of one splendour” (quoted by Richard Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God, 1999, p. 223).

In other words, the State laws were Trinitarian while the church creeds lagged behind. The first clear Trinitarian church statement is the Athanasian Creed which was not formulated by a Church Council and originated perhaps 100 years later. The contents of Theodosius’s decrees, when compared to the church decrees, support the main thesis of these articles, namely that the decisions, with respect to which Christology the church will adopt, was made by the emperors; not by ecumenical councils.

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    RPC Hanson, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD” in Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy (New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989) p. 153.
  • 2
    Theodosian Code 16:2, 1 Friell, G., Williams, S., Theodosius: The Empire at Bay, London, 1994 – See, Homoousion – Wikipedia
  • 3
    Lewis Ayres – Nicaea and its legacy – Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-875505-0. Retrieved 21 October 2011