Basil of Caesarea taught Three Substances.

Summary

Basil was elected bishop of Caesarea in 370. In some accounts, he was the architect of the pro-Nicene triumph.

In the traditional Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one undivided substance (one Being and one single Centre of Consciousness). In the traditional account of the Arian Controversy, Basil of Caesarea taught something similar to the Trinity doctrine. However, the purpose of this article is to show that Basil taught three distinct substances (three Beings and three distinct Centres of Consciousness).

All previous theologians, even Athanasius, assumed “a certain ontological subordination.” Basil was the first to propose that “the Father’s sharing of his being involves the generation of one identical in substance and power.” (LA, 207) However, for the following reasons, Basil believed that Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct substances:

1. Basil did not begin his career as a pro-Nicene. He began as an ‘Arian’; specifically, a Homoi-ousian. As such, he believed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same, meaning two distinct substances.

2. Even after he had moved away from the ‘similar substance’ formula of the Homoi-ousians, and taught that the Son’s substance is the same as the Father’s, Basil continued to say that the Son’s substance is “like” the Father’s, implying two distinct substances.

3. While a Trinitarian may understand homoousios as saying that two things are really one, Basil understood homoousios as saying that two things are really distinct but “like unalterably according to ousia.” This also shows that he believed in two distinct substances.

4. Basil argued, just like three people are three instances of humanity, that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three instances of divinity. This is perhaps the clearest indication that Basil had two distinct substances in mind.

5. Basil speaks of the Father as choosing to work through the Son—not needing to, and the Son chooses to work through the Spirit, but does not need to. This means that Father and Son have distinct wills, which means that they must be distinct substances.

6. “Basil showed himself reluctant to apply homoousios to the Holy Spirit. … Homoousios was a word which applied particularly to the relation of the Son to the Father.” (RH, 698) If the Spirit is not homoousios with the Father and Son, then the Three cannot be one substance.

7. “Basil consistently presents the Father as the source of the Trinitarian persons and of the essence that the three share.” (LA, 206) If the Father is the only Being who exists without cause, it is difficult to imagine that Father, Son, and Spirit could be one substance.

8. Basil maintained a certain order among the Persons, described the Spirit as third in order, dignity, and even rank, and never referred to the Holy Spirit as ‘God’. Again, this argues against Them being one single substance.

– END OF SUMMARY –


Introduction

Basil’s Importance

The three ‘Cappadocian theologians’, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa “were together decisively influential in bringing about the final form of the doctrine of the Trinity.” (RH, 676) “In some accounts Basil is the architect of the pro-Nicene triumph.” (LA, 187)

Basil’s History

“Basil was born around 330” and “was extremely well educated in rhetoric and philosophy” (LA, 187-188) “In 370 … Basil was elected bishop.” (LA, 188)

Terminology

Terminology is a huge hurdle in discussing the fourth-century Arian Controversy. For most of the people during that Controversy, the Greek words ousia (substance) and hypostasis (distinct individual) were synonyms. So, when the Eusebians said that Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct substances, then they are also three distinct hypostases. And when the Sabellians said they are only one substance, they are also only one hypostasis. That is also how Athanasius used these words.

The confusion is caused by the Trinity doctrine which uses synonyms for contrasting concepts:

      • In the Greek language of the fourth century, it says that God is one ousia existing as three hypostases.
      • In modern language, it says that God is one Being existing in three Persons. (Generally, Being and Person are synonyms.)

So, the challenge is to find terminology for discussing the fourth-century controversy that will be clear to modern readers:

I avoid the term hypostasis because, during the fourth century, it was used as a synonym for ousia, but, in the Trinity doctrine, one ousia is three hypostases. 

I prefer to focus on the term “substance” because that term had more or less the same meaning in the fourth century as it has today. One substance is then one Being.

The question in this article is how many substances (Beings) the Father, Son, and Spirit are, and also, if they are more than one, whether their substances are the same.

Purpose

In the traditional Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one undivided substance (one Being). This may be compared to the various views held during the fourth century:

Sabellianism was still a strong force during the fourth century. Sabellians said that Father and Son are one single substance and that the Son emerges from the Father merely as an energy. For example:

“Marcellus of Ancyra uses the language of ἐνέργεια (energy) to explain how it is that the Son can come forth and work without God being extended materially.” (LA, 197) 

The Eusebians (the anti-Nicenes, usually but inappropriately called ‘Arians’) believed that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three unequal substances (Beings).

Pro-Nicene theology is more complex:

Emperor Constantine proposed and insisted on the inclusion of the term homoousios (literally, same substance) but he also asked the delegates not to interpret the term literally. He glossed the term with some vague meaning, based on which the majority accepted the term homoousios and the Creed. So, for the majority, the term was pretty meaningless.

How the minority, who supported the term homoousios, understood that term, is a different story altogether. See – Alexander.

In the traditional account of the Arian Controversy, Basil of Caesarea taught something similar to the Trinity doctrine, in which Father, Son, and Spirit are one single undivided substance (Being). However, the purpose of this article is to show that Basil taught three distinct substances (Beings).

The Same Substance Exactly

But before we discuss the number of substances, it is important to show that, what makes Basil different, is that he believed that Father Son, and Spirit have exactly the same type of substance:

Lewis Ayres says that “in all the previous discussions (before Basil of Caesarea) of the term (homoousios) … a certain ontological subordination is at least implied.” (LA, 206) For the Eusebians, that is obviously true. But it was even true for Athanasius; the great defender of Nicaea. For example:

“Athanasius’ pointed lack of willingness to” say that the Father is homoousios with the Son.

And Athanasius always described the Word “as proper to the Father, as the Father’s own wisdom,” namely, as being part of the Father, never the other way round. (LA, 206)

In contrast, “in Basil, the Father’s sharing of his being involves the generation of one identical in substance and power.” (LA, 207) Basil “says, of the Three Persons of the Trinity ‘their nature is the same and their Godhead one’.” (RH, 688)

This fact is often stated with phrases that sound as if he believed in only one single undivided substance (Being). For example:

He taught a “distinction between a unitary shared nature at one level, and the personal distinctions of Father, Son, and Spirit at another.” (LA, 190)

“Community of essence is the core of his teaching.” (LA, 194)

But the next section shows that he believed in three distinct substances:

Three Distinct Substances

The following shows that Basil did not yet understand Father, Son, and Spirit as one single undivided Being (substance), as in the Trinity doctrine, but taught that Father and Son are two distinct substances (Beings):

1. Homoi-ousian

Basil did not begin his career as a pro-Nicene. He began as an ‘Arian’; specifically, a Homoi-ousian. For example:

“Basil emerged from a background, not of the strongly pro-Nicene theology of Athanasius, but of the school of Basil of Ancyra.” (RH, 693) “He came from what might be called an ‘Homoiousian’ background.” (RH, 699)

“We may even think of Basil’s major dogmatic work, the Contra Eunomium, as the logical conclusion of one strand of Homoiousian theology.” (LA, 189)

“Through the 360s and especially in the 370s we see him gradually … (traveling) his road towards pro-Nicene theology.” (LA, 189)

As a Homoi-ousian, he believed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same, meaning two distinct substances. For example:

“Throughout Contra Eunomium 1–2 Basil continues to speak of essential ‘likeness’.” (LA, 204)

“None of the Cappadocian theologians derived their theological tradition directly from him (Athanasius). Their intellectual pedigree stemmed from the school of Basil of Ancyra. … The doctrine of ‘like in respect of ousia’ was one which they could accept, or at least take as a startingpoint, and which caused them no uneasiness.” (RH, 678)

2. Continued ‘like’ language

But, even after he had moved away from the ‘similar substance’ formula of the Homoi-ousians, and taught that the Son’s substance is the same as the Father’s, Basil continued to say that the Son’s substance is “like” the Father’s, implying two distinct substances:

Basil insists that “the Son, like the Father, is simple and uncompound.” (LA, 204)

He described the relationship between Father and Son as “invariably like according to essence” (LA, 189) or “like without a difference” (LA, 190).

“Basil still seems to view the relationship between Father and Son in a fundamentally Homoiousian way.” (LA, 190)

3. Homoousios – Meaning

Two Alternative Meanings

Basil’s explanation of the term homoousios in the Nicene Creed also shows that he believed in two distinct substances. Literally, the term homoousios means ‘same substance’, from homós (same) and ousía (substance). However, there are two ways in which the term has been explained over history:

In the Trinitarian understanding, it means ‘one substance’, saying that Father and Son are one single substance. That is called the numeric understanding because there is only one substance.

Alternatively, it means two different substances with the same qualities. This is also called the generic interpretation.

Two Substances

The following shows that Basil understood “homoousios” in a generic sense of two Beings (two distinct substances) with the same type of substance, rather than as saying that Father and Son are one single Being (one single substance):

“Basil … gives his own interpretation of it (homoousios).” He said: “Whatever ousia is hypothetically taken to be the Father’s, that certainly must also be taken to be the Son’s.” He proposes “like unalterably according to ousia.” (RH, 696-7)

“He says that in his own view ‘like in respect of ousia’ the slogan of the party of Basil of Ancyra) was an acceptable formula, provided that the word ‘unalterably’ was added to it, for then it would be equivalent to homoousios.” (RH, 694)

“Basil himself prefers homoousios.” “Basil has moved away from but has not completely repudiated his origins.” (RH, 694)

Hanson himself is not fully convinced of this conclusion but he mentions that Adolf von Harnack, a famous scholar in the fourth-century Controversy, “argued that Basil and all the Cappadocians interpreted homoousios only in a ‘generic’ sense … that unity of substance was turned into equality of substance.” (RH, 696)

Keeps the Persons Apart.

“Later, when he (Basil) had accepted homoousios as a proper term to apply to the Son, he still argued that it was preferable because it actually excluded identity of hypostases. This … forms the strongest argument for Harnack’s hypothesis.” (RH, 697)

“This expression (homoousios) also corrects the fault of Sabellius for … (it keeps) … the Persons (prosopon) intact, for nothing is consubstantial with itself.” (RH, 694-5)

These two quotes say the same thing. They use hypostasis and Person as synonyms. The Sabellians taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are only one single Person. But Basil argued that homoousios, by saying that the Persons are of the same substance, keeps the Persons apart. The point is that, while a Trinitarian may understand homoousios as saying that two things are really one, Basil understood homoousios as saying that two distinct things have the same substances. For that reason, Hanson says that this “forms the strongest argument for Harnack’s hypothesis.

Brothers are not homoousios

Basil said that “when both the cause and that which has its existence from the cause are of the same existence, they are said to be homoousios.” However, “things which are brothers to one another cannot be homoousios.” (LA, 205). Why Basil said this is not quite clear, but what is clear is that ‘fathers’ and ‘sons’ are not one single substance. Therefore Ayres concludes:

Basil “argues—in a manner unique in his corpus—that homoousios is appropriately used in a ‘genetic’ sense.” (LA, 206)

4. Like humans

Basil argued, just like three people are three instances of humanity, that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three instances of divinity. This is perhaps the clearest indication that Basil had two distinct substances in mind. For example:

Basil “discusses the idea that the distinction between the Godhead and the Persons is that between an abstract essence, such as humanity, and its concrete manifestations, such as man.” (RH, 698)

Basil assumed “that human persons are particularly appropriate examples” of “the nature of an individual divine person.” (LA, 207-8)

“Basil discusses the individuation of Peter and Paul as analogous to the individuation of Father and Son.” (LA, 207)

Basil explains that “that relation which the general has to the particular, such a relation has the ousia to the hypostasis.” (RH, 692)

“Elsewhere he can compare the relation of ousia to hypostasis to that of ‘living being’ to a particular man and apply this distinction directly to the three Persons of the Trinity.” This suggests “that the three are each particular examples of a ‘generic’ Godhead.” (RH, 692)

“The instances … in which Basil compared the relation of hypostasis to ousia in the Godhead to that of particular to general, or of a man to ‘living beings’ … (is one of) the strongest argument for Harnack’s hypothesis.” (RH, 697)

5. Distinct Wills

“Basil … speaks of the Father choosing to work through the Son—not needing to. Similarly, the Son chooses to work through the Spirit, but does not need to.” (LA, 208)

This means that Father and Son have distinct wills, which means that they must be distinct substances.

6. The Holy Spirit is not Homoousios.

For Basil, the Spirit has the same substance as the Father:

“Basil deploys two tactics: The first is to argue that the Spirit participates in all the activities of Father and Son.” (LA, 216) The second, building on the first, is that “common activity demonstrates a common essence.” (LA, 216)

But, for some strange reason, Basil did not regard the Holy Spirit as homoousios:

“Basil showed himself reluctant to apply homoousios to the Holy Spirit. … Homoousios was a word which applied particularly to the relation of the Son to the Father.” (RH, 698)

“The On the Holy Spirit of 375 is notoriously reticent about using homoousios of the Spirit.” (LA, 211)

“Basil goes on to defend the application of homoousios to the Son … he never applies this term to the Holy Spirit.” (RH, 694)

As mentioned above, Basil said that ‘brothers’ are not homoousios. (LA 205). If the Spirit is not homoousios with the Father and Son, then the Three cannot be one substance.

7. The Father is the Source.

Basil was sensitive to the accusation, since he teaches that Father and Son have exactly the same substance, that he could be accused of tritheism; three Ultimate Principles; three Beings who exist without cause and gave existence to all else:

“To speak of Father and Son as simply having the same ousia would be … to present him as logically another God.” (LA, 190)

Basil did not defend by saying that Father, Son, and Spirit really are one, as one would expect if he was teaching the Trinity doctrine, but by identifying the Father alone as the ultimate Source:

“Let no one think that I am saying that there are “three ultimate principles … There is one ultimate principle of all existent things, creating through the Son and perfecting in the Spirit.” (RH, 691)

“Basil consistently presents the Father as the source of the Trinitarian persons and of the essence that the three share.” (LA, 206)

He explains John 14:28 (‘the Father is greater than I’) by saying that “the Father is greater only by being the cause, not at the level of substance.” (LA, 206)

“It is the Father’s characteristic ‘to be Father and to exist as derived from no cause’.” (RH, 689)

If the Father is the only Being who exists without cause, it is difficult to imagine that Father, Son, and Spirit could be one substance.

8. The Priority of the Father

Although Basil described Father, Son, and Spirit as the same in substance, he maintained a certain order among the Persons:

“Father and Son are, indeed, the same in essence, but distinct at another level thus preserving a certain order among the persons.” (LA, 195)

“The Spirit is third in order and dignity.” (LA, 216)

“The Spirit is third in order and even rank.” (RH, 689)

He preserved the priority of the Father:

“By the 370s Basil had evolved a formula stating that the activities of God all come from the Father, are worked in the Son, and are completed in the Spirit. In this formula Basil seems … to find a way to speak of the unity of divine action while still preserving the priority of the Father.” (LA, 196)

He never referred to the Holy Spirit as ‘God’:

“While the Spirit is third in order and dignity, the Spirit is not third in an order of essences. Basil insists that the Spirit is to be accorded equal worship and honour with the Father and the Son, even if he is not willing to say directly that the Spirit is God in the same terms as Father and Son.” (LA, 216)

“Its treatment of the Holy Spirit as uncreated and endowed with every exalted epithet except homoousion and theos is eminently reminiscent of Basil.” (RH, 687)

“Perhaps the major contribution of pro-Nicene pneumatology is the insistence that the work of the Spirit is inseparable from Father and Son … but on the subject of the Spirit’s place in the Godhead as such little progress is made.” (LA, 217)

Contemplation

“For Basil, arguing that Father and Son are ‘unlike’ flies in the face of biblical material such as Col 1:15, Heb 1:3, and Phil 2:6.” As Basil read these texts, they “all … point to a community of essence between the generated and the one who has generated.” (LA, 194)

But how did Basil know that these verses point to “a community of essence.” Basil answers: “By ἐπίνοια [epinoia] we know that there is a unity of ousia between Father and Son.” (LA, 194)

Ayres explains epinoia as:

    • “Concepts developed by the human mind,” (LA, 191-2) as
    • “A process of reflection and abstraction” (LA, 192), and as
    • “An intellectual contemplation of the reality of things” (LA, 193)

For Basil, we can only understand the Father, Son, and Spirit through “contemplation:”

Contemplation “throws away the letter and turns to the Lord.” (LA, 219)

“The contemplation of the Spirit necessary to understand the Spirit is itself at the core of Christian life.” (LA, 219) 

That sort of contemplation is only available to “Christians who have attained ‘purity of heart’.” (LA, 219)

But Eunomius, Basil’s rival against whom he wrote three books, dismissed ἐπίνοια as a way of gaining knowledge of God, as unreliable (LA, 191-2) and condemned it. (LA, 193) He argued: “If we know God only according to ἐπίνοια, then our knowledge is insignificant and our faith useless.” (LA, 195)

Basil’s Philosophy

Basil obtained his distinction between common diety and the differentiation of persons not from the Bible but from pagan philosophy.

Basil argued that “particularities, being added onto the substance … distinguish what is common by means of individual characteristics … For instance, deity is common, fatherhood and sonship are individualities.” (LA, 198) Ayres identifies “three basic influences on Basil’s account:”

“The first is Stoic terminologies about the relationship between general and individuated existence. … Stoics posited a universal … substrate (or ousia). … At the level of concrete existence individuals are also qualified by further qualities.” (LA, 199-200)

Secondly, “Neoplatonic-Aristotelian conceptions are used to interpret a basically Stoic scheme.” (LA, 202)

Thirdly, “we cannot, however, treat Basil’s distinction against a purely philosophical background. … It seems most likely that Basil’s evolution of the distinction occurred within a context where some such distinction was already clearly in the air.” (LA, 202) 

Hanson concludes that “the Cappadocians all relied on the aid of contemporary philosophy more than … Athanasius and Hilary.” (RH, 677) “A small work (by Basil) … at the end of Book V of Adversus Eunomium … is full of echoes of passages in Plotinus’ Enneads.” (RH, 687)


Other Articles

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    For the first more than 300 years, the church fathers believed that the Son is subordinate to the Father. The Trinity Doctrine was developed by the Cappadocian fathers late in the fourth century but the decision to adopt it was not taken by the church. This is a list of all articles on the Arian Controversy.
  • 2
    Who was he? What did he believe?
  • 3
    Who created it? What does it say?
  • 4
    What does it mean?
  • 5
    Including Athanasius, Alexander, Eustathius, Marcellus, Photinus, and Basil of Caesarea
  • 6
    The conclusion that Jesus is ‘God’ forms the basis of the Trinity Doctrine.
  • 7
    Including Modalism, Eastern Orthodoxy view of the Trinity, Elohim, and Eternal Generation

Historical Development of the Trinity Doctrine – Available articles

Origin of the Trinity Doctrine

These articles trace the development of the Trinity doctrine through the first about 800 years of the Church’s history, with an emphasis on the fourth century.

The Apologists

The Apologists were the theologians of the first 3 centuries who had to defend Christianity at a time when the Empire attempted to exterminate Christianity.

  • Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-107) described the Son as our God but the Father as the only true God.
  • Polycarp (c. 69–155), a personal disciple of the Apostle John, made a clear distinction between the Almighty God and His subordinate Son.
  • Justin Martyr (c. 100–165) used Greek philosophy to explain the Son of God as a rational power that was begotten from the substance of God.
  • Irenaeus (c. 115-190) identified the Father as the only true God, alone Almighty, and the Head of Christ.
  • Theos – Did they describe Jesus as “god” or as “God?” 1Ignatius describes the Son as “our God” but the Father as “the only true God.”
    This confusion is caused by the translations. The ancient writers
    did not have a word (such as “God”) that refers only to the Almighty.
    They used the word theos which means “god” and describes the Son
    as “our god” (small “g”) and the Father as “the only true god”
    (small “g”).
  • Sabellius (fl. c. 217-220) – Was he the first Trinitarian? 2Sabellius taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three portions
    of the single divine essence. This represents a significant move away
    from the Logos-Christology of his day. He was declared to be a heretic
    but it is difficult to see the difference between what he taught and
    the Trinity Doctrine.
  • External resources:

Arius

The Arian Controversy was named after Arius.

  • Orthodoxy – When the Arian Controversy began, what was the ‘orthodox’ view of Christ? 3RPC Hanson states that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed when the controversy
    began but that is not entirely true.
  • Importance – Why is Arius important? 4The Arian Controversy was named after Arius because Athanasius referred
    to his opponents – the anti-Nicenes – as ‘Arians’. But the anti-Nicenes
    were not ‘followers’ of Arius. Athanasius called his opponents ‘Arians’
    simply to insult them by implying that they are followers of a person
    whose theology was already formally rejected by the church.
  • The name Arian – There is no such thing as an Arian. 5Little of Arius’ writings remained – not because Constantine
    destroyed his writings – but because Arius had very few followers.

Arius’ Teachings

  • Philosophy – Did Arius mix theology with pagan philosophy? 6Over the centuries, Arius was always accused of mixing philosophy
    with theology. This article shows that that is not true.
  • Origen – Was Origen the ultimate source of Arius’ heresy? 7There are significant differences between Origen and Arius. Where they
    agree, they agree because both followed the traditional Logos theology.
  • Created Being – Did Arius describe Jesus Christ as a created being? 8That is a distortion of the ‘Arian’ view. Arius described Christ as not part of
    this universe, as the only being ever to be brought forth directly by the
    Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
  • Eternal – Did Arius teach that time existed before the Son? 9Arius wrote that the Son was begotten timelessly by the Father before
    everything. But Arius also said that the Son did not always exist.
    Did Arius contradict himself?
  • Immutable – Did Arius describe the Son as immutable? 10Arius himself wrote that the Son of God is unchangeable but Athanasius
    claimed that Arius taught the exact opposite, namely that the Son is
    “like all others … subject to change.”

The Nicene Creed (AD 325)

The most famous and influential creed in the history of the church

  • Core Issue – What was the core issue of the dispute? 11It is often said that the Council was called to determine whether Jesus is God.
    But that does not accurately describe the dispute prior to Nicaea.
  • The Emperor’s InfluenceThe emperor was the head of the church. 12Constantine called and presided over the meeting. He proposed and
    insisted on the key word Homoousios. At the end, he exiled all bishops
    who did not sign the creed.
  • The Creed – What is the core message of the Creed? 13The creed implies that the Son is equal to the Father in terms of substance, but subordinate to the Father in other respects.
  • Eusebius of Caesarea – Eusebius’ explanation of the Creed 14Eusebius of Caesarea, regarded as the most respected theologian at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, immediately afterward wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain why he accepted the Creed and how he understood the controversial phrases. Due to the pressure exerted by the emperor, the formulation of the Creed was really the work of a minority.
  • Protestants – Should Protestants accept the Nicene Creed? 15The Creed not only uses non-Biblical words; the concept of homoousios (that the Son is of the same substance as the Father) is not in the Bible.
  • Homoousios – origin – The word came from Egyptian Paganism. 16This word homoousios is not found in the Bible or in the orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea.
  • Ousia and Hypostasis – Why the Creed uses these words as synonyms 17By implication, the Creed says that the Father and the Son are one and the same hypostasis (Person). This is Sabellianism.
  • Of the Father’s substance – What does this mean? 18The Creed says that the Son is not “of another substance or essence.” Does this mean
    (1) that He has the same substance as the Father or
    (2) that He has been begotten out of the substance of the Father?

Fourth-Century ‘Arianism’

After Nicaea, for 50 years, ‘Arianism’ dominated the church.

  • Emperor Influence – on the Christology of the church 19This article re-iterates the decisive influence
    that emperors had on the beliefs of the church.
  • Arianism – What did fourth-century ‘Arianism’ believe? 20The Father is the only true God,
    the Son is our god,
    but the Father is His god and
    the Holy Spirit is not a Person, but a power; subject to the Son.
  • Long Lines Creed – An Arian Creed 21An example of the many creeds that were developed
    during the fourth century ‘Arian’ period

The End of Roman ‘Arianism’

In AD 380, Emperor Theodosius made the Trinity Doctrine Law and outlawed and brutally exterminated all forms of ‘Arianism’.

  • Edict of Thessalonica – The Trinity Doctrine became the official religion of the Roman Empire. 22Theodosius exiled Arian bishops, expropriated ‘Arian’ church buildings,
    forbid meetings of ‘Arian’ churches, and appointed a government official to
    chair the Council of 381, forcing that council to accept Nicene Christology.
  • The Creed of 381 – How does it differ from the 325-Creed? 23The creed formulated at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381 is
    often called the Nicene Creed. The wording of that creed is similar to
    that of the creed of 325, but the meaning is very different.

Later Developments

  • The fall of the Roman Empire – It did not fall; it transformed. 24Massive in-migration
    and top positions for barbarians in the Roman Army allowed them
    to progressively assume control of the Empire.
  • Why it fell
  • Arian Rule – After the Empire fell, Arians again ruled Europe. 25This article also provides an overview of the events
    of the fourth preceding century.
  • Justinian – He crushed the Arians and set up the Byzantine Papacy 26It was not the church but the Roman Empire that adopted the Trinity Doctrine.
    By subduing the ‘Arian’ nations, the religion of the Roman Empire
    became the church of the Middle Ages, symbolized by Daniel’s evil horn.
  • High Middle Ages 27The last horn to grow out of the Roman Empire became the church of the Middle Ages
    and dominated all other parts into which the Roman Empire fragmented.
  • Waldensians – The church of the Middle Ages had the spirit of Satan. 28The Waldensians were critical of Catholic beliefs. In return, the church
    called all to destroy them, causing centuries of massacres.

Authors on the Arian Controversy

Extracts from the writings of scholars who have studied the ancient documents for themselves:

  • RPC Hanson:
    • Lecture – A lecture on the Arian Controversy 29This is a copy of a very informative lecture by RPC Hanson, a famous
      fourth-century scholar, which I found on the Internet.
       
    • A Complete Travesty – The conventional account of the Arian Controversy is a complete travesty.
  • Fortman – Edmund J. Fortman, The Triune God – Nicene Creed
  • Erickson  -Millard J. Erickson, God in Three Persons
  • Boyd – William Boyd, The Ecclesiastical Edicts of the Theodosian Code

Trinity Doctrine – General

  • Modalism – How does it differ from the Trinity doctrine? 30In the Trinity Doctrine, the Father, Son, and Spirit ‘share’ one and the same
    substance, mind, and will. Does that mean they are one and the same Person,
    as in Modalism?

  • Monarchy of the Father – How does it differ from the Trinity Doctrine? 31In the Athanasian Creed, the “one God” is the Trinity.
    In Eastern Orthodoxy, the “one God” is the Father.
  • Eastern Orthodoxy – The Eastern Orthodox view of the Trinity 32A summary of a well-known talk on the Trinity by
    a respected Eastern Orthodox theologian, Father Thomas Hopko.
  • Elohim – Does this word mean that God is more than one? 33Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Some argue that this means
    that
    the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being.
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FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    Ignatius describes the Son as “our God” but the Father as “the only true God.”
    This confusion is caused by the translations. The ancient writers
    did not have a word (such as “God”) that refers only to the Almighty.
    They used the word theos which means “god” and describes the Son
    as “our god” (small “g”) and the Father as “the only true god”
    (small “g”).
  • 2
    Sabellius taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three portions
    of the single divine essence. This represents a significant move away
    from the Logos-Christology of his day. He was declared to be a heretic
    but it is difficult to see the difference between what he taught and
    the Trinity Doctrine.
  • 3
    RPC Hanson states that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed when the controversy
    began but that is not entirely true.
  • 4
    The Arian Controversy was named after Arius because Athanasius referred
    to his opponents – the anti-Nicenes – as ‘Arians’. But the anti-Nicenes
    were not ‘followers’ of Arius. Athanasius called his opponents ‘Arians’
    simply to insult them by implying that they are followers of a person
    whose theology was already formally rejected by the church.
  • 5
    Little of Arius’ writings remained – not because Constantine
    destroyed his writings – but because Arius had very few followers.
  • 6
    Over the centuries, Arius was always accused of mixing philosophy
    with theology. This article shows that that is not true.
  • 7
    There are significant differences between Origen and Arius. Where they
    agree, they agree because both followed the traditional Logos theology.
  • 8
    That is a distortion of the ‘Arian’ view. Arius described Christ as not part of
    this universe, as the only being ever to be brought forth directly by the
    Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
  • 9
    Arius wrote that the Son was begotten timelessly by the Father before
    everything. But Arius also said that the Son did not always exist.
    Did Arius contradict himself?
  • 10
    Arius himself wrote that the Son of God is unchangeable but Athanasius
    claimed that Arius taught the exact opposite, namely that the Son is
    “like all others … subject to change.”
  • 11
    It is often said that the Council was called to determine whether Jesus is God.
    But that does not accurately describe the dispute prior to Nicaea.
  • 12
    Constantine called and presided over the meeting. He proposed and
    insisted on the key word Homoousios. At the end, he exiled all bishops
    who did not sign the creed.
  • 13
    The creed implies that the Son is equal to the Father in terms of substance, but subordinate to the Father in other respects.
  • 14
    Eusebius of Caesarea, regarded as the most respected theologian at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, immediately afterward wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain why he accepted the Creed and how he understood the controversial phrases. Due to the pressure exerted by the emperor, the formulation of the Creed was really the work of a minority.
  • 15
    The Creed not only uses non-Biblical words; the concept of homoousios (that the Son is of the same substance as the Father) is not in the Bible.
  • 16
    This word homoousios is not found in the Bible or in the orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea.
  • 17
    By implication, the Creed says that the Father and the Son are one and the same hypostasis (Person). This is Sabellianism.
  • 18
    The Creed says that the Son is not “of another substance or essence.” Does this mean
    (1) that He has the same substance as the Father or
    (2) that He has been begotten out of the substance of the Father?
  • 19
    This article re-iterates the decisive influence
    that emperors had on the beliefs of the church.
  • 20
    The Father is the only true God,
    the Son is our god,
    but the Father is His god and
    the Holy Spirit is not a Person, but a power; subject to the Son.
  • 21
    An example of the many creeds that were developed
    during the fourth century ‘Arian’ period
  • 22
    Theodosius exiled Arian bishops, expropriated ‘Arian’ church buildings,
    forbid meetings of ‘Arian’ churches, and appointed a government official to
    chair the Council of 381, forcing that council to accept Nicene Christology.
  • 23
    The creed formulated at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381 is
    often called the Nicene Creed. The wording of that creed is similar to
    that of the creed of 325, but the meaning is very different.
  • 24
    Massive in-migration
    and top positions for barbarians in the Roman Army allowed them
    to progressively assume control of the Empire.
  • 25
    This article also provides an overview of the events
    of the fourth preceding century.
  • 26
    It was not the church but the Roman Empire that adopted the Trinity Doctrine.
    By subduing the ‘Arian’ nations, the religion of the Roman Empire
    became the church of the Middle Ages, symbolized by Daniel’s evil horn.
  • 27
    The last horn to grow out of the Roman Empire became the church of the Middle Ages
    and dominated all other parts into which the Roman Empire fragmented.
  • 28
    The Waldensians were critical of Catholic beliefs. In return, the church
    called all to destroy them, causing centuries of massacres.
  • 29
    This is a copy of a very informative lecture by RPC Hanson, a famous
    fourth-century scholar, which I found on the Internet.
  • 30
    In the Trinity Doctrine, the Father, Son, and Spirit ‘share’ one and the same
    substance, mind, and will. Does that mean they are one and the same Person,
    as in Modalism?
  • 31
    In the Athanasian Creed, the “one God” is the Trinity.
    In Eastern Orthodoxy, the “one God” is the Father.
  • 32
    A summary of a well-known talk on the Trinity by
    a respected Eastern Orthodox theologian, Father Thomas Hopko.
  • 33
    Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Some argue that this means
    that
    the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being.