The Dedication Council of Antioch of AD 341

Reading only the green blocks should provide a good overview of this article.

In the year 341, approximately 90 bishops of the Eastern Church met in a Council of Antioch and produced four documents. The second is the most important. It is known as the Dedication Creed because the Council met to celebrate the dedication of a new church built by Emperor Constantius.

This article quotes mainly from the recent writings of three world-class Catholic scholars, specializing in the fourth-century Arian Controversy, R.P.C. Hanson1The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987, Rowan Williams2Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987, and Lewis Ayres3Nicaea and its legacy, 2004.

Extracts from the Dedication Creed

Hanson4Hanson RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. 1988 provides the entire Creed (see below). The important parts are as follows:

“We believe in one God Father Almighty,
artificer and maker and designer of the universe;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son, God,
Through whom are all things,
Who was begotten from the Father before the Ages,
God from God … Lord from Lord …
Unchanging and unaltering,
Exact image of the Godhead and the substance and will and power and glory of the Father,
First-born of all creation, who was in the beginning with God, God the Word according to the text in the Gospel [‘and the Word was God’, by whom all things were made, and in whom all things exist;]

And in the Holy Spirit

They are three in hypostasis but one in agreement.”

The Creed condemns all who say that:

      • “Either time or occasion or age exists or did exist before the Son was begotten”
      • “The Son is a creature like one of the creatures” (Hanson, p. 286)

Purpose of the Council

The Eastern church previously exiled Athanasius and Marcellus but, in the preceding year (340), the Western church declared both men orthodox and innocent. The main purpose of the Dedication Council was to discuss this.

The Council met to discuss the decisions of the Council of Rome of the previous year (340), and the letter written to the Eusebians by Julius, Bishop of Rome, earlier in 341, after that council:

“There can be little doubt that this Council of Antioch was conceived by those who organized it as an answer to Julius’ Council of Rome and the letter which he wrote to the Eusebian party after it.” (Hanson, p. 285)

The council was “an immediate response” to “Julius’ letter to ‘those around Eusebius’.” (Ayres, p. 117)

That Council of Rome had vindicated Athanasius and Marcellus. Both were previously condemned at councils of the Eastern Church; Athanasius in 335 for violence against the Melitians in his see and Marcellus for Sabellianism. Their vindication caused significant tension between the East and West. That tension was heightened by the letter that Julius, the bishop of Rome, wrote to the Eastern Church. In that letter, he accused the East of Arianism, meaning, being followers of Arius’ already discredited theology.

Like Nicaea, an Eastern Council

Both the Nicene Council of 325 and the Dedication Councils were essentially councils of the Eastern Church.

The Dedication Council consisted exclusively of bishops from the Eastern part of the Empire:

The Dedication Creed “represents the nearest approach we can make to discovering the views of the ordinary educated Eastern bishop.” (Hanson, p. 290-1) 5“They constituted a widespread point of view, but we can hardly call them a party.” (Hanson, p. 291)

Similarly, the vast majority of the bishops attending Nicaea were from the East:

“Very few Western bishops took the trouble to attend the Council (of Nicaea). The Eastern Church was always the pioneer and leader in theological movements in the early Church. … The Westerners at the Council represented a tiny minority.” (Hanson, p. 170)

The delegates at Nicaea were “drawn almost entirely from the eastern half of the empire” (Ayres, p. 19).

But a Different Creed

Although the two meetings were only 16 years apart and represented the same constituencies, there are significant differences between the Nicene and Dedication Creeds:

No Mention of Homoousios

While homoousios is regarded as the key term in the Nicene Creed, the Dedication Creed does not use it at all. The reason is that the term homoousios disappeared from the Controversy soon after Nicaea and was not mentioned by anybody for more than 20 years.

One difference is that, while Nicaea describes the Son using the terms ousia and homoousios, and while these terms are viewed today as a crucial part of that Creed, these terms are absent from the Dedication Creed. The reason is that, soon after Nicaea, these terms fell out of the Controversy. For more than twenty years, nobody mentioned it; not even Athanasius:

“What is conventionally regarded as the key-word in the Creed homoousion, falls completely out of the controversy very shortly after the Council of Nicaea and is not heard of for over twenty years.” (Hanson Lecture)

“Even Athanasius for about twenty years after Nicaea is strangely silent about this adjective (homoousios) which had been formally adopted into the creed of the Church in 325.” (Hanson, p. 58-59)

“During the years 326–50 the term homoousios is rarely if ever mentioned.” (Ayres, p. 431) (Read more)

The Nicene Creed and the term homoousios were only brought back into the Controversy in the 350s by Athanasius:

“Athanasius’ decision to make Nicaea and homoousios central to his theology has its origins in the shifting climate of the 350s.” (Ayres, p. 144)

“He began to use it first in the De Deeretis … in 356 or 357.” (Hanson, p. 438)

The Dedication Council of 341 and the Council of Serdica of 343 were both held during the 20 of more years when nobody mentioned the term homoousios. For that reason, these councils do not defend or attack the term. It simply was not an issue.

Anti-Sabellian

But the main difference between the two creeds is that, while the Nicene Creed is open to a Sabellian reading, the main purpose of the Dedication Creed is to oppose Sabellianism.

Eminent recent scholars confirm the pro-Sabellian nature of the Nicene Creed:

RPC Hanson: “If we are to take the creed N at its face value, the [Sabellian] theology of Eustathius and Marcellus was the theology which triumphed at Nicaea. That creed admits the possibility of only one ousia and one hypostasis. This was the hallmark of the theology of these two men.” (Hanson, p. 235)

Lewis Ayres: After Nicaea, the Creed was associated “with the theology of Marcellus of Ancyra. … The language of that creed seemed to offer no prophylactic (prevention) against Marcellan doctrine, and increasingly came to be seen as implying such doctrine.” (Ayres, p. 96, 97)

Manlio Simonetti6La Crisi Ariana nel IV secolo (1975): “Simonetti estimates the Nicene Council as a temporary alliance for the defeat of Arianism between the tradition of Alexandria led by Alexander and ‘Asiatic’ circles (i.e. Eustathius, Marcellus) whose thought was at the opposite pole to that of Arius. … Alexander … accepted virtual Sabellianism in order to ensure the defeat of Arianism. … The ‘Asiatics’ … were able to include in N a hint of opposition to the three hypostases theory.” (Hanson, p. 171)

The following indicates the pro-Sabellian tendency of the Nicene Creed:

Before Nicaea, the term homoousios was preferred only by Sabellians. (See here) Sabellius himself, the Libyan Sabellians, Dionysius of Rome, and Paul of Samosata used it to say that Father and Son are one single Person. 7“The word homoousios, at its first appearance in the middle of the third century, was therefore clearly connected with the theology of a Sabellian or monarchian tendency.” (P.F. Beatrice) In the year 268, about 70 years before the Dedication Council, another council in the same city (Antioch) had already condemned both the Sabellianism of Paul of Samosata and the term homoousios.

In the Nicene Creed, as stated, one of the anathemas seems to say that the Father and Son are a single hypostasis, which is the hallmark of Sabellianism.

After Nicaea, the Sabellians claimed the Nicene Creed as support for their theology. (See here)

This is not to say that the Nicene Creed is clearly Sabellian, but at the least, it can be said that it does not exclude Sabellianism. Elsewhere, Hanson describes it as “a drawn battle:

“It is going too far to say that N is a clearly Sabellian document. … It is exceeding the evidence to represent the Council as a total victory for the anti-Origenist opponents of the doctrine of three hypostases. It was more like a drawn battle.” (Hanson, p. 172)

Note that Hanson above associates Sabellianism with one-hypostasis theology. Sabellianism is one form of one-hypostasis theology, which is the teaching that the Father, Son, and Spirit are a single Person with a single Mind. Monarchianism and Modalism are other one-hypostasis theologies. The main dividing line in the fourth-century Controversy was between one- and three-hypostasis theologies.

In contrast to Nicaea, the main purpose of the Dedication Creed is to oppose Sabellinism:”

The Dedication Creed’s “chief bête noire [the thing that it particularly dislikes] is Sabellianism, the denial of a distinction between the three within the Godhead.” (Hanson, p. 287)

The Dedication creed is “strongly anti-Sabellian.” (Hanson, p. 287)

“The creed has a clear anti-Sabellian and anti-Marcellan thrust.” (Ayres, p. 119)

In contrast to the single hypostasis of Sabellianism, the Dedication Creed explicitly asserts that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “three in hypostasis but one in agreement (συμφωνία)” (Ayres, p. 118) “One in agreement” indicates the existence of three distinct ‘Minds’.

Why these creeds differ

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed is pro-Sabellian because Emperor Constantine took Alexander’s part in his dispute with Arius and because Alexander joined forces with the Sabellians. Consequently, the Sabellians were able to influence the wording of the Creed significantly.

The Nicene Creed is pro-Sabellian because “Constantine took part in the Council of Nicaea and ensured that it reached the kind of conclusion which he thought best.” (Hanson, p. 850)

“The Origenists had considerable reservation about homoousios and the other phrases containing the term ousios (substance), but the emperor exerted considerable influence. Consequently, the statement was approved.” (Erickson)

The emperor took Alexander’s part in his dispute with Arius. 8“Constantine had taken Alexander’s part.” (Ayres, p. 89) However, at Nicaea, Alexander joined forces with the Sabellians Eustathius and Marcellus against the Eusebians. 9“Eustathius and Marcellus … certainly met at Nicaea. and no doubt were there able to join forces with Alexander of Alexandria and Ossius.” (Hanson, p. 234) 10“Marcellus, Eustathius and Alexander were able to make common cause against the Eusebians.” (Ayres, p. 69) (Both Eustathius and Marcellus were later exiled for Sabellianism. 11“Marcellus of Ancyra had produced a theology … which could quite properly be called Sabellian.” (Hanson, p. ix) Marcellus of Ancyra “cannot be acquitted of Sabellianism” (Hanson’s Lecture). 12Eustathius attended the Nicene Council (Hanson, p. 208) but was deposed soon after Nicaea (“in 330 or 331”) (Hanson, p. 210) “primarily for the heresy of Sabellianism” (Hanson, p. 211).) Consequently, the Sabellians were able to influence the wording of the Creed significantly.

The Dedication Creed

The Dedication Creed is strongly anti-Sabellian because the main threat was the Sabellian (one hypostasis = one Person) theology of the Western Church. This is indicated by its vindication of Marcellus and Athanasius, who both maintained one-hypostasis theologies, and its explicitly declared belief in a single hypostasis. 

This can be illustrated as follows:

Firstly, the Council of Rome vindicated Marcellus, the leading Sabellian:

“That Julius and later the Westerners at Sardica should have declared him (Marcellus) orthodox was bound to appear to the Eastern theologians to be a condoning of Sabellianism.” (Hanson Lecture)

Secondly, the Council of Rome also vindicated Athanasius, who also maintained a single hypostasis. In his theology, the Son is “in” the Father as the Father’s only Wisdom and Word:

In the Father we have the Son: this is a summary of Athanasius’ theology.” (Hanson, p. 426)

“Athanasius’ argument speaks not of two realities engaged in a common activity, but develops his most basic sense that the Son is intrinsic to the Father’s being.” (Ayres, p. 114)

“The Son is in the Father ontologically.” (Hanson, p. 428)

Athanasius, therefore, taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are one single hypostasis (a single Person):

The “clear inference from his (Athanasius’) usage” is that “there is only one hypostasis in God.” (Ayres, p. 48)

“Athanasius’ most basic language and analogies for describing the relationship between Father and Son primarily present the two as intrinsic aspects of one reality or person.” (Ayres, p. 46)

“The fragments of Eustathius that survive present a doctrine that is close to Marcellus, and to Alexander and Athanasius. Eustathius insists there is only one hypostasis.“ (Ayres, p. 69) (Read more)

Thirdly, at the failed Council of Serdica in 343, the Western delegates explicitly formulated a one-hypostasis manifesto. (See here) 13Hanson refers to “the apparent Sabellianism of N [the Nicene Creed], and the insensitiveness of the Western Church to the threat to orthodoxy which this tendency represented.” (Hanson, p. 290-1)

Anti-Arian

Following Athanasius, the West accused the East of following Arius. But the Easterners did not follow Arius. Arius had no followers. Indeed, the Dedication Creed explicitly condemns some of Arius’ more extreme statements.

Julius, the bishop of Rome, accused the Easterners of following Arius’ already discredited theology. The Dedication Council denied this.14“We have not been followers of Arius.” (Ayres, p. 117-8) “We have rather approached him as investigators and judges of his belief than followed him.’” (Hanson, p. 285)

The Easterners did not follow Arius. Arius did not leave a school of followers.15“Arius’ own theology is of little importance in understanding the major debates of the rest of the century (after Nicaea).” (Ayres, p. 56-57)16“The views of Arius were such as … to bring into unavoidable prominence a doctrinal crisis which had gradually been gathering. … He was the spark that started the explosion. But in himself he was of no great significance.” (Hanson, p. xvii) (Read More.)

Consequently:

“’Arianism’ as a coherent system, founded by a single great figure and sustained by his disciples, is a fantasy … based on the polemic of Nicene writers, above all Athanasius.” (Rowan Williams, p. 82)17Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. (2002)

Perhaps in response to Julius’ accusation, the Dedication Creed explicitly anathematizes some key aspects of Arius’ theology.18It “deliberately excludes the kind of Arianism professed by Arius and among his followers by Eusebius of Nicomedia/Constantinople.” (Hanson, p. 290) It “does anathematize doctrines associated … with Arius.” (Ayres, p. 120) For example, the Creed anathematizes all who say: “that either time or occasion or age exists or did exist before the Son was begotten” (Hanson, p. 286)19“True-blue Arians would have found it impossible to accept the statement that the Son is ‘the exact image of the substance (ousia) … of the Godhead of the Father’” (Hanson, p. 287) The following is an good summary of the Dedication Creed:

It “represents the nearest approach we can make to discovering the views of the ordinary educated Eastern bishop who was no admirer of the extreme views of Arius but who had been shocked and disturbed by the apparent Sabellianism of N [the Nicene Creed], and the insensitiveness of the Western Church to the threat to orthodoxy which this tendency represented.” (Hanson, p. 290-1)

Other Teachings

Subordinate

The Dedication Creed claims that the Son is subordinate to the Father. However, this was not a concession to Arius’ theology because, at the time, all theologians, even Athanasius, regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father.
      • It says “that the names of the Three signify the particular order and glory of each.” (Hanson, p. 287)
      • The Father alone is described as “Almighty.”
      • The Son is the Father’s agent in creation. The Father is “maker and designer of the universe” but the Son is the One “through whom are all things” and “by whom all things were made.”
      • In contrast to the Father as the “one God,” the Son is the “one Lord.”

But subordination was to be expected because it was orthodoxy at the time.

”Almost everybody in the East at that period would have agreed that there was a subordination of some sort within the Trinity.” (Hanson, p. 287)

“Indeed, until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism.” 20RPC 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. (Read More)

In other words, the subordination in the Creed is not a concession to Arius’ theology.

Image of the Father’s substance

While the Nicene Creed says that the Son is the same substance as the Father (homoousios), the Dedication Creed creates a bit more distance by claiming He is the image of the Father’s substance. 

The Creed says that “the Son is ‘the exact Image of the Godhead, the ousia and the will and the power and the glory of the Father’.” (Hanson, p. 288) In contrast to the Nicene Creed, which says that the Son is of the same ousia as the Father (homoousios), the phrase “exact image of the … ousia … of the Father” means that the Son is distinct from the substance of the Father. Later in the fourth century, in the mid-50s, after Athanasius had re-introduced the term homoousios into the Controversy, “image of the Father’s substance” became the catchphrase of the Homoiousians (meaning ‘similar substance’).

The Son is God.

The Creed regards the Son both as subordinate and as “God” (theos). However, the term theos in the Bible and in the 4th century was not equivalent to the modern word “God.”

For example, it describes the Son as “God from God.” While we use the term “God” only for the Almighty, there were many theoi in ancient Greek:

“It must be understood that in the fourth century the word ‘God’ (theos, deus) had not acquired the significance which in our twentieth-century world it has acquired … viz. the one and sole true God. The word could apply to many gradations of divinity.” (Hanson, p. 456)

This “reminds us of the variety of ways in which the term ‘God’ could be deployed at this point.” (Ayres, p. 124) Read More

The Fourth Creed

To serve as a means of reconciliation, the fourth creed uses mainly Biblical language, avoiding all Nicene and Sabellian terms derived from Greek philosophy.

The Fourth Creed of Antioch “was intended to function as a reconciling formula obnoxious to nobody and capable of being accepted by all.” (Hanson, p. 291) This creed “was destined to be used for nearly fifteen years as the basis for all other creeds which were designed to be ecumenical.” (Hanson, p. 292)

It condemns both Marcellus and Arius. “It has a special clause inserted against Marcellus” (Hanson, p. 292) and ends with an anathema against Arius: “But those who say that the Son is from non-existence or of a different hypostasis, and not from God, and that there was once a time or age when he did not exist, these the holy Catholic Church recognizes as alien’.” (Hanson, p. 292)

But otherwise, it leaves out all contentious issues, such as the words ousia and homoousios, and does not even address the crucial aspect of the number of hypostases in God. “it makes no attempt to establish the distinctness of the ‘Persons’ in an anti-Sabellian manner.” (Hanson, p. 292)

FULL DEDICATION CREED

Hanson gives the Dedication Creed as follows:

“Following the evangelical and apostolic tradition, we believe in one God Father Almighty, artificer and maker and designer of the universe:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son, God,
through whom are all things,
who was begotten from the Father before the Ages,
God from God, whole from whole, sole from sole, perfect from perfect, King from King, Lord from Lord, living Wisdom, true Light, Way, Truth, unchanging and unaltering,
exact image of the Godhead and the substance and will and power and glory of the Father, first-born of all creation, who was in the beginning with God, God the Word according to the text in the Gospel [quotation of Jn I: 1, 3 arid Col 1: 17]

who at the end of the days came down from above and was born of a virgin, according to the Scriptures, and became man, mediator between God and men, the apostle of our faith, author of life, as the text runs [quotation of Jn 6:38], who suffered for us and rose again the third day and ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of the father and is coming again with glory and power to judge the living and the dead:

And in the Holy Spirit, who is given to those who believe for comfort and sanctification and perfection, just as our Lord Jesus Christ commanded his disciples, saying [quotation of Matt 28:19], obviously (in the name) of the Father who is really Father and the Son who is really Son and the Holy Spirit who is really Holy Spirit, because the names are not given lightly or idly, but signify exactly the particular hypostasis and order and glory of each of those who are named, so that they are three in hypostasis but one in agreement.

Since we hold this belief, and have held it from the beginning to the end, before God and Christ we condemn every form of heretical unorthodoxy.

And if anybody teaches contrary to the sound, right faith of the Scriptures, alleging that either time or occasion or age exists or did exist before the Son was begotten, let him be anathema.

And if anyone alleges that the Son is a creature like one of the creatures or a product like one of the products, or something made like one of the things that are made, and not as the Holy Scriptures have handed down concerning the subjects which have been treated one after another,

or if anyone teaches or preaches anything apart from what we have laid down, let him be anathema. for we believe and follow everything that has been delivered from the Holy Scriptures by the prophets and apostles truly and reverently.”


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987
  • 2
    Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987
  • 3
    Nicaea and its legacy, 2004
  • 4
    Hanson RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. 1988
  • 5
    “They constituted a widespread point of view, but we can hardly call them a party.” (Hanson, p. 291)
  • 6
    La Crisi Ariana nel IV secolo (1975)
  • 7
    “The word homoousios, at its first appearance in the middle of the third century, was therefore clearly connected with the theology of a Sabellian or monarchian tendency.” (P.F. Beatrice)
  • 8
    “Constantine had taken Alexander’s part.” (Ayres, p. 89)
  • 9
    “Eustathius and Marcellus … certainly met at Nicaea. and no doubt were there able to join forces with Alexander of Alexandria and Ossius.” (Hanson, p. 234)
  • 10
    “Marcellus, Eustathius and Alexander were able to make common cause against the Eusebians.” (Ayres, p. 69)
  • 11
    “Marcellus of Ancyra had produced a theology … which could quite properly be called Sabellian.” (Hanson, p. ix) Marcellus of Ancyra “cannot be acquitted of Sabellianism” (Hanson’s Lecture).
  • 12
    Eustathius attended the Nicene Council (Hanson, p. 208) but was deposed soon after Nicaea (“in 330 or 331”) (Hanson, p. 210) “primarily for the heresy of Sabellianism” (Hanson, p. 211).
  • 13
    Hanson refers to “the apparent Sabellianism of N [the Nicene Creed], and the insensitiveness of the Western Church to the threat to orthodoxy which this tendency represented.” (Hanson, p. 290-1)
  • 14
    “We have not been followers of Arius.” (Ayres, p. 117-8) “We have rather approached him as investigators and judges of his belief than followed him.’” (Hanson, p. 285)
  • 15
    “Arius’ own theology is of little importance in understanding the major debates of the rest of the century (after Nicaea).” (Ayres, p. 56-57)
  • 16
    “The views of Arius were such as … to bring into unavoidable prominence a doctrinal crisis which had gradually been gathering. … He was the spark that started the explosion. But in himself he was of no great significance.” (Hanson, p. xvii)
  • 17
    Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. (2002)
  • 18
    It “deliberately excludes the kind of Arianism professed by Arius and among his followers by Eusebius of Nicomedia/Constantinople.” (Hanson, p. 290) It “does anathematize doctrines associated … with Arius.” (Ayres, p. 120)
  • 19
    “True-blue Arians would have found it impossible to accept the statement that the Son is ‘the exact image of the substance (ousia) … of the Godhead of the Father’” (Hanson, p. 287)
  • 20
    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.