Eusebius of Caesarea’s explanation of the Nicene Creed

Summary

RPC Hanson, who arguably made the most thorough investigation of the Arian Controversy available to us today, states that Eusebius of Caesarea was “the most learned and one of the best-known of the 300-odd bishops present” at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.1The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381, p159.

After the council meeting, Eusebius wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain why he accepted certain “objectionable expressions” in the creed. This article discusses that letter. Its main conclusions are as follows:

Three “parties” were present at Nicaea:

      1. Arius and the Lucianists, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia;
      2. The Origenists, led by Eusebius of Caesarea; and
      3. Alexander of Alexandria, with his following.

At the meeting, the Lucians first presented their views, which were rejected by both the other “parties.”

Then Eusebius of Caesarea presented the statement of faith used in his home church in Caesarea. That statement did not include the terms “substance” or “same substance” and was accepted by the meeting.

Eusebius particularly mentions that the emperor approved the statement of faith from Caesarea. For us, it is surprising that Eusebius felt it important to have the emperor’s approval but we need to remember that separation of Church and State did not exist at that time. In the culture of the day, the Christian Roman Emperor was regarded as God’s agent on earth. Church and State were one. Consequently, emperors like Constantine, Constantius, Theodosius, and Justinian had a significant influence on church councils, decisions, and even doctrines.

After Eusebius presented the Creed of Caesarea, the emperor spoke and urged the meeting to accept and support that statement but he also asked that the word homoousios be added.

The emperor explained how he understood the meaning of this word. However, as Hanson wrote, “The Creed of Nicaea of 325, produced in order to end the controversy, signally failed to do so. Indeed, it ultimately confounded the confusion because its use of the words ousia and hypostasis was so ambiguous …”

Constantine’s key justification for the word homoousios seems to be that the Son (when He was begotten) was not cut off from the Father. I propose we understand this as follows:

The Bible maintains a clear distinction between the Son and God (e.g., Rev 21:22) but also has an extremely high view of the Son. For that reason, from the earliest time, the church found it difficult to explain who the Son is.

The pre-Nicene Fathers (of the 2nd and 3rd centuries) were all non-Jews and familiar with Greek philosophy. Therefore, they found it appropriate to explain the Son as the Logos of Greek philosophy. In that theory, God’s Logos (Word or Mind or Wisdom) has always existed inside God but, when it became time to create, was emitted from God to become a separate Person. In Biblical language, the Logos was begotten by God to become the Son of God. However, God cannot change. Therefore, His Logos was not separated from Him when the Son was begotten: He always had access to His Logos. It seems as if the emperor was emphasizing this point.

Constantine did not develop these ideas by himself. They were proposed to him by Alexander of Alexandria and the emperor’s advisor Hosius. With their support, the emperor proposed the word homoousios at the council meeting and also enforced the inclusion of the word.

Following the emperor’s request, the party of Alexander presented a carefully worked out statement – the Nicene Creed of 325 as we have it today – which they said was a revised form of the Creed of Caesarea, with certain adjustments to make its rejection of Arianism explicit.

This revised statement included references to the “Father’s substance,” including:

      • “Out of the Father’s substance” and
      • “Of the same substance as the Father.”

Years before, the great theologian Origen had rejected the term substance for fear that it attributed materiality to the divine. Therefore, Eusebius and his fellow Origenists “resisted to the last moment the introduction of certain objectionable expressions.” But due to the considerable pressure applied by the emperor, the statement was approved by all delegates except three.

Eusebius explains as follows how he understood (justified?) the disputed terms:

Ousios (substance or essence) implied that the Son is of the Father indeed, but is not part of the Father.

Homoousios (same substance) must not be understood in a material sense. That the Son was begotten by God does not mean that a portion of God’s substance was cut off. Neither did the Father’s substance and power change in any way, for the Father’s substance is “underived” and, therefore, cannot change. That he is homoousios with the Father then simply implies that the Son:

        • Has no resemblance to created things, but resembles the Father in every respect.
        • Is of no other substance or essence but of the Father’s.

Conclusion

Henry Bettenson wrote, “The decisions of Nicaea were really the work of a minority.”2Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd Ed 1963, p 41

The meeting was called to deal with the Arian Controversy but that dispute was quickly settled through the rejection of the Lucian ()Arius’) view. However, the meeting caused a second controversy:

At the meeting, there was a dispute between the parties of Alexander and Eusebius of Caesarea. Due to the pressure exerted by the emperor, the formulation presented by the party of Alexander was accepted and became adopted as the Nicene Creed.

But the expressions which the Origenists found “objectionable” caused the second phase of the Arian Controversy that raged for the next 50 years. Emperor Constantine, through the Council of Nicaea in 325, attempted to unite Christianity and establish a single, imperially approved version of the faith. But his efforts caused the deep divisions that existed after Nicaea. The word homoousios became the object of dissension.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

Purpose

Who was Eusebius of Caesarea?

According to Paul Pavao, in his excellent book, Decoding Nicea, at Nicaea, “the bishop who occupied the chief place in the right division of the assembly” is almost universally believed to be Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (AD 260/265 – 339/340).

Millard J. Erickson (God in Three Persons, p82-85) mentions Eusebius of Caesarea as the leader of “the Origenists” and as “already highly reputed:”

Among those who were (at Nicaea in 325), three basic “parties” were discernible:
(1) Arius and the Lucianists, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia;
(2) the Origenists, led by Eusebius of Caesarea, already highly reputed; and
(3) Alexander of Alexandria, with his following.

Eusebius left us with the only record of the proceedings and discussions at Nicaea that is available today.

Eusebius of Nicomedia

Eusebius of Caesarea must be distinguished from Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was a leader of “the Lucianists” at Nicaea. Since the infamous Arius was one of them, we may refer to them as the Arians. Lucian was already dead by then, but people like Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia probably learned their Christology at the school of Lucian at Antioch in the late third century.

Purpose of this article

After the Council of Nicaea, Eusebius of Caesarea wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain the decisions at Nicaea.  That letter is recorded in The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus I:8.

This article provides extracts from that letter as well as comments (in blocks and tables), with headings added. The letter reads:

Introduction

You have probably had some intimation, beloved, of the transactions of the great council convened at Nicea in relation to the faith of the Church … we have deemed it necessary to submit to you:

      • In the first place, an exposition of the faith proposed by us in written form, and then
      • a second which has been promulgated, consisting of ours with certain additions to its expression.
Comment: The “us” here seems to refer to the delegation led by Eusebius. As discussed below, at the council meeting, they first proposed a statement of faith. “A second which has been promulgated” refers to the Nicene Creed, as was formally promulgated.

The Creed of Caesarea

The declaration of faith set forth by us, which when read in the presence of our most pious emperor seemed to meet with universal approbation, was thus expressed:

Comment: Emperor Constantine attended the council and had a huge impact on the outcome, as is discussed below. But Eusebius claims that his proposal was generally accepted. Below, I quote sections from Eusebius’ proposed statement of faith that are key to understanding the Nicene Creed:

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

And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Word of God—
God of God, Light of Light, Life of Life—
the only-begotten Son,
born before all creation,
begotten of God the Father before all ages,
by whom also all things were made …

We believe also in one Holy Spirit. …

Comment: Note that Eusebius’ proposed statement of faith does not include the terms substance or “same substance.”

When these articles of faith were proposed, there seemed to be no ground for opposition. No, even our most pious emperor himself was the first to admit that they were perfectly correct and that he himself had entertained the sentiments contained in them. 

Comment: Paul Pavao commented: It is simply astounding that Eusebius felt it important to have the emperor’s approval of the articles of faith, rather than informing the emperor of what the church approved.

I would like to add that it is important to understand that separation of Church and State did not exist at that time. In the culture of the time, the Christian Roman Emperor was regarded as God’s agent on earth. The supreme bishops of the Empire – the spiritual heads of the Christian world – were regarded as acting in harmony with him. Church and State were therefore one. Consequently, emperors Constantine, Constantius, Theodosius, and Justinian had a significant influence on the decisions of church councils. For a discussion, see Justinian and the Byzantine Papacy.

Constantine added homoousios

He (the emperor) exhorted all present to give them their assent and subscribe to these very articles (as proposed by Eusebius), thus agreeing in a unanimous profession of them—with the insertion, however, of that single word, homoousios, an expression which the emperor himself explained as not indicating corporeal affections or properties. Consequently, the Son did not subsist from the Father either by division or by cutting off. For, said he, a nature that is immaterial and incorporeal cannot possibly be subject to any corporeal understanding; hence, our conception of such things can only be in divine and mysterious terms. Such was the philosophical view of the subject taken by our most wise and pious sovereign,

Constantine’s definition of homoousios

It was, therefore, the emperor that proposed the word homousios. He also explained the meaning of this word. But it is a negative explanation; saying what homoousios does NOT mean. It is a bit strange to propose a term and then to say that it is not possible to understand what it means; that “our conception of such things can only be in divine and mysterious terms.”

But Constantine’s key point seems to be that the Son (when He was begotten) was not cut off from the Father. Tatian (c. AD 165) mentioned the same principle:

“He (the Son) came into being by participation, not by abscission [i.e., cutting off], for what is cut off is separated from the original substance.”

Note the word “separated.” The point seems to be that the Son did not become separated from the Father when He was begotten by the Father. Justin Martyr (c. AD 155) wrote similarly:

This Power was begotten from the Father, by his power and will, but not by abscission [i.e., cutting off], as if the essence of the Father were divided.

Tatian and Justin Martyr, like all the other Gentile Christian theologists of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, held to a Logos-Christology in which the Logos has always existed inside God but was emitted from God (begotten by God) and became the Son of God when it became time to create. See The Apologists for further discussion.

So, what Constantine seemed to have meant is that the term homoousios does not mean that He was separated from God when He was begotten. I propose that we understand this in terms of Logos-Christology according to which God cannot change. Therefore, His Logos was not separated from Him when the Son was begotten: God always had access to His Logos. It seems as if the emperor was emphasizing this point.

Where did Constantine get all this?

Constantine did not develop all these ideas by himself. He got it from somewhere. Above, I listed the three parties at Nicaea. Since Constantine did not get these ideas from the Origenists or from the Lucianists, he received them from the party of Alexander of Alexandria:

“Constantine did put forth the Nicene creed term ‘homoousios’. The emperor favored the inclusion of the word homoousios, as suggested to him by Hosius. The emperor at first gave the council a free hand, but was prepared to step in if necessary to enforce the formula that his advisor Hosius had agreed on with Alexander of Alexandria.” (God in Three Persons, Millard J. Erickson, p82-85)

The party of Alexander, which includes the emperor’s advisor Hosius, therefore, before the council meeting, has already agreed on the word homoousios. And, since they had the backing of the emperor, the emperor proposed the word and was able to enforce the inclusion of the word. “Enforce” may seem like a strong word, but is confirmed by many authors. Bernard Lohse, (A Short History of Christian Doctrine, 1966, p51-53) stated:

“What seemed especially objectionable to many bishops and theologians of the East was the concept put into the creed by Constantine himself, the homoousios.”

Substance and Same Substance Added

… and the bishops, because of the word homoousios, drew up this formula of faith:

Eusebius then quotes the Nicene Creed, which is also available from Earlychurchtexts. It is instructive to compare the section of the creed that is key concerning the Arian Controversy, with the same section in the statement of faith presented by Eusebius:
Eusebius proposed Nicene Creed
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Word of God—
God of God, Light of Light, Life of Life—
the only-begotten Son,
born before all creation,
begotten of God the Father, before all ages,
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Son of God,
begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father,
God from God, light from light, true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one substance with the Father,
I emphasized the key additions, namely the terms “substance” and “one substance.”

Eusebius asked questions

Now when this declaration of faith was propounded by them, we did not neglect to investigate the distinct sense of the expressions “of the substance of the Father” and “consubstantial with the Father.”

Who are “them?” Above, Eusebius referred to “the bishops” but Erickson identified “them” as “the party of Alexander:”

“Those of the party of Alexander, however, were not fully satisfied. They were favored by the emperor, and followed the strategy of accepting the Creed of Caesarea while demanding a more precise definition of some of its key terms. … The Alexandrian party then presented a carefully worked out statement, which they said was a revised form of the Creed of Caesarea, with certain steps taken to close loopholes that could be interpreted in Arian fashion.”

Henry Bettenson wrote,

“The decisions of Nicaea were really the work of a minority” (Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd Ed 1963, p 41).

That Eusebius had to ask questions shows that the Nicene Creed was formulated by a group over which he had no control. It is, therefore, probable that the Nicene Creed was formulated before the council meeting itself. 

Ousios (Substance)

When we did, questions and answers were put forth, and the meaning of these terms was clearly defined. At that point it was generally admitted that ousios (substance or essence) simply implied that the Son is of the Father indeed, but does not subsist as a part of the Father. To this interpretation of the sacred doctrine—which declares that the Son is of the Father but is not a part of his substance—it seemed right to us to assent. We ourselves, therefore, concurred in this exposition.

Steven Wedgeworth stated that “Origen had rejected the term (substance) years before for fear that it attributed materiality to the divine.” Eusebius and “the Origenists,” therefore, questioned this term.

Homoousios

Nor do we cavil at the word homoousios, having regard to peace, and fearing to lose a right understanding of the matter.

Paul Pavao commented that it does not appear that Eusebius embraced homoousios with great enthusiasm, remarking in his letter to Caesarea that “we do not cavil” at the word homoousios. This is hardly rousing support.

Begotten, not Made

On the same grounds, we admitted also the expression “begotten, not made.” “For ‘made,'” said, “is a term applicable in common to all the creatures which were made by the Son, to whom the Son has no resemblance. Consequently, he is no creature like those which were made by him but is of a substance far excelling any creature. The Divine Oracles teach that this substance was begotten of the Father by such a mode of generation as cannot be explained nor even conceived by any creature.”

Paul Pavao commented that the delegates all agreed that Proverbs 8:22, in the LXX, refers to the Son as created. Therefore they all referred to Him as such, but the council here banned this term.

Consubstantial (homoousios)

Thus also the declaration that “the Son is consubstantial with the Father” having been discussed, it was agreed that this must not be understood in a corporeal sense, or in any way analogous to mortal creatures; inasmuch as it is neither by division of substance, nor by abscission [cutting off], nor by any change of the Father’s substance and power, since the underived nature of the Father is inconsistent with all these things.

That he is consubstantial [homoousios] with the Father then simply implies that the Son of God has no resemblance to created things, but is in every respect like the Father only who begat him; that he is of no other substance or essence but of the Father.

This is an expansion of the emperor’s explanation of this term above. I understand the explanation as follows:

We cannot understand this concept because there is nothing like it in the created realm.

That the Son was begotten by God does not mean that a portion of God’s substance was cut off. Neither did the Father’s substance and power change in any way, for the Father’s substance is “underived” and, therefore, cannot change.

That he is consubstantial [homoousios] with the Father then simply implies that:

        • The Son of God has no resemblance to created things but resembles the Father in every respect.
        • He is of no other substance or essence but of the Father.

Ancients used this term

To this doctrine, explained in this way, it appeared right to assent, especially since we knew that some eminent bishops and learned writers among the ancients have used the term homoousios in their theological discourses concerning the nature of the Father and the Son.

Paul Pavao provides examples in Chapter 15 of Decoding Nicea. Philip Schaff mentioned that Irenæus used the word homousios four times and that Tertullian also uses the expression “of one substance” (unius substantiæ) in two places.

Anathemas

We have also considered the anathema pronounced by them after the declaration of faith inoffensive because it prohibits the use of illegitimate terms, from which almost all the distraction and commotion of the churches have arisen.

Again the “them,” confirms that “the decisions of Nicaea were really the work of a minority” (Bettenson, quoted above).

The anathemas reflect the typical statements made by Arius and his followers.

Objectionable Expressions

We deemed it incumbent on us, beloved, to acquaint you with the caution which has characterized both our examination of and concurrence in these things and that on justifiable grounds we resisted to the last moment the introduction of certain objectionable expressions as long as these were not acceptable. We received them without dispute when, on mature deliberation as we examined the sense of the words, they appeared to agree with what we had originally proposed as a sound confession of faith.

Generally, Eusebius’ letter gives the impression that consensus was achieved fairly easily, but the phrase “resisted to the last moment” gives us an indication of the struggle within the council. The Nicene Creed was eventually accepted only because “the emperor exerted considerable influence:”

“The Origenists had considerable reservation about references to the ‘Father’s substance’, including ‘out of the Father’s substance’ and ‘of the same substance as the Father’. The emperor exerted considerable influence. Consequently, the statement was approved by all except three. (Millard J. Erickson, God in Three Persons)”

“Certain objectionable expressions” refer particularly to those listed by Erickson. As stated before, Eusebius and his followers were Origenists and “Origen had rejected the term years before for fear that it attributed materiality to the divine.” (Steven Wedgeworth)

But these terms were accepted at “the last moment.” However, the acceptance of these “objectionable expressions” resulted in the second phase of the Arian Controversy in which these words were resisted:

The Wikipedia page on the Arian controversy states that Emperor Constantine, through the Council of Nicaea in 325, attempted to unite Christianity and establish a single, imperially approved version of the faith. Ironically, his efforts were the cause of the deep divisions created by the disputes after Nicaea. (Smither, Edward L., ed. (2014-02-14). Rethinking Constantine: History, Theology, and Legacy. p. 65–66)

“Homoousios … in the subsequent strife between orthodoxy and heresy became the object of dissension. ” (A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Bernard Lohse, 1966, p51-53)

As Hanson wrote, “The Creed of Nicaea of 325, produced in order to end the controversy, signally failed to do so. Indeed, it ultimately confounded the confusion because its use of the words ousia and hypostasis was so ambiguous as to suggest that the Fathers of Nicaea had fallen into Sabellianism, a view recognized as a heresy even at that period.”

Other Articles

  • 1
    The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381, p159
  • 2
    Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd Ed 1963, p 41

Christology of the Long Lines Creed reflects the general view of the first centuries.

The fourth-century saw a huge controversy over the nature of Christ. Arius and his followers proposed Him to be a created being. Others believed that He was eternally begotten. After Nicaea in 325, a flurry of councils and creeds followed, all trying to explain who Jesus is. The Fourth Century website lists 17 councils, from the Nicene Creed of 325 to the Constantinople creed of the year 381. Some of these creeds concluded that the Son is equal to the Father. Others, particularly the councils in the eastern part of the empire (Antioch), made Him subordinate to the Father. None of the creeds presents the Son as a created being, as Arius initially proposed.

Christianity in the Fourth Century

The Creed of the Long Lines, also called the Macrostichs, is one of those creeds. In response to the Nicene creed of 325, the Greek-speaking bishops at Antioch formulated the creed in the year 344. Their leading scholar was Eusebius of Caesarea; the famous church historian and philosophical grandchild of Origen (185/6–254).

The three main Christian centers in the Fourth Century

In the next year, the bishops in Antioch presented their creed to the Latin speaking bishops in the western part of the empire.  Avoiding, as far as possible, controversial, non-biblical language, the eastern bishops hoped that their creed would be acceptable all around, even to partisans of the 325 creed at Nicaea. This creed is informative as far as the school of thought at Antioch goes.

The Long Lines Creed is discussed here because it contains some very important and valid concepts and also reflects the views generally held in the church before the fourth century. The creed proposes that the Son had a beginning and that He is subordinate to the Father, but still manages to conclude that He was begotten, rather than created, and always existed.

The Long Lines Creed can be found at Fourth Century. Dr. Tuggy discusses it in podcast 172.

One God the Father Almighty

The creed begins as follows:

We believe in one God the Father Almighty,
the Creator and Maker of all things,
from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.

This is similar to the standard opening of all creeds, including the Nicene and later creeds. A similar formulation is found in the earliest known baptismal creeds of the second century. It a remnant from the past (the centuries before the fourth) when the church generally still believed the Father to be the “the one and only God” (John 5:44). The Trinity theory, in which the monotheistic God of the Bible consists of three equal Persons, was only developed in the fourth century. But even after the Church generally accepted the Trinity doctrine, this opening phrase was retained due to its strong traditional status.

Our Lord Jesus Christ

The creed continues:

And in His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
who before all ages was begotten from the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
by whom all things were made,
in heaven and on the earth

The phrases in bold are discussed below, using the explanations in the latter part of the creed.

Before all ages

Firstly, the Son was begotten “before all ages:

Later, in the anathemas, the creed reads:

Those who say, …
that there was a time or age when He was not,
the Catholic and Holy Church regards as aliens. …
Yet we must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun
we acknowledge that the Father who alone is Unbegun
and that the Son hath been generated before ages.

The Father “generated” the Son because He was “begotten from the Father.

The creed states that the Father had no beginning (is “unbegun”). But the Son had a beginning (is not “co-unbegun”).

Arius may have claimed that the Son was created at a specific point in time, and consequently that there was a time when He did not exist (“was not“). This creed rejects that notion, saying that “the Son hath been generated before ages.” In other words, the Son had a beginning, but that beginning was before time.  Therefore, there never was “a time or age when He was not,”

The creed later adds that “through Him, both times and ages came to be.”  The Bible teaches that the Father created “all things” through the Son.  In Eastern thinking “all things” include time, and God created time through the Son.

Conclusions

To add a personal perspective: Concerning time, the Son is like the universe, for the universe had a beginning but always existed, because time was created when the universe came into being (in my view) and because there is no such thing as time before time began.  There never was a time when the universe did not exist.

The creed avoids the well-known phrase “eternal generation” with respect to the Son, but the thought is clearly present.

The Nicene Creed was designed to refute the Arian view.  The Long Lines Creed objects to the Nicene creed, but its claim that there never was a time when the Son did not exist, shows that it also objects to Arianism.

In summary, the Son had a beginning but always existed, because God created time through Him.

Begotten from the Father

Secondly, the Son was “begotten from the Father:

From God

The creed denounces “those who say, that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God.”  The word “from” appears three times in this sentence.  Perhaps the Arians claimed that God created Jesus “from nothing, or from other subsistence.”  In contrast, the eastern bishops claim that Jesus is “from God,” which is another way of saying that He was “begotten from the Father.

Generated

Concerning the Father, the creed asserts:

The divine Word teaches that the Ingenerate and Unbegun, the Father of Christ, is One.
We acknowledge that the Father who alone is … Ingenerate, hath generated inconceivably and incomprehensibly to all

In other words, the Father was not brought into being by any other being (is “ingenerate”).  He, therefore, exists without cause.  He exists by Himself.  Concerning the Son the creed declares as follows:

We must not consider the Son to be … co-ingenerate with the Father … the Son hath been generated before ages, and in no wise to be ingenerate Himself like the Father, but to have the Father who generated Him as His beginning; for ‘the Head of Christ is God.

Therefore, in contrast to the Father, the Son has been generated, namely by the Father, when He was “begotten from the Father:

Not created

Later the creed says:

We do not understand Him (the Son) to have been originated like the creatures or works which through Him came to be, for it is irreligious … to compare the Creator with handiworks created by Him … For divine Scripture teaches us really and truly that the Only-begotten Son was uniquely generated.

The Son is here called “the Creator,” but notice the word “through.”  The opening phrase of the creed identifies the Father as “the Creator and Maker of all things.”  The Bible says that God created all things through the Son (John 1; Hebrews 1; Colossians 1).  The Father is the Force and Cause of creation.  The Son is the Means or Hand through which God created.

The Son Himself was not created, but was “uniquely generated.”  This means that the creed makes a distinction between created and generated, similar to people who create things but beget children.

Conclusions

The Nicene Creed uses the term ousios (substance or essence), claiming that Jesus is “of one substance with the Father,” and therefore that the Son is equal to the Father.  Although the Long Lines Creed says that He is “from God,” and “begotten,” it avoids the term ousios.  It does not use that term even once, probably because the Bible never says that the Father and Son have the same substance.  Since the Long Lines Creed presents the Son as subordinate to the Father, it does not use the ousios argument.

In summary, the Son was not created, but was begotten by the Father.

God From God

Thirdly, the Son is “God from God:

His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God

True God

The Nicene Creed describes the Son as “true God (the Son) from true God (the Father),” but the Long Lines Creed omits the word “true” in both instances.  It refers to Jesus only as “God from God.”  This is consistent with John 17:3, which declares the Father to be the only true God.

Only the Father is God

The creed defends itself as follows against an accusation of polytheism:

In confessing three realities and three Persons, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, (we do not) therefore make Gods three; since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only, the God and Father of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone gives this to all others generously.

In other words, we must not talk of three Gods because only the Father exists by Himself, without beginning or cause, and gives existence to all other things.  There cannot be two Ultimate Beings, for an Ultimate Being is the Cause of all else.

The Son is subordinate.

The quote above refers to “Gods three.”  The following similar statement in the creed interestingly refers to “two Gods” and to a Triad:

Believing then in the All-perfect Triad, the Most Holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods, but one dignity of Godhead, and one exact harmony of dominion, the Father alone being Head over the whole universe wholly, and over the Son Himself, and the Son subordinated to the Father; but, excepting Him, ruling over all things after Him which through Himself have come to be, and granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will. 

The Father alone, therefore, is “Head over the whole universe wholly.”  The Son is “subordinated to the Father.”  Only one monarchy or reign exists.  The Son rules over all things, but He is subordinate to the Father.  Partisans of the Trinity theory would argue that Jesus is functionally subordinate to the Father, but not ontologically (by nature of being).  However, this creed does not make that distinction.

God of the Old Testament

The ancients used the Greek word theos (god) for all gods.  Even exalted people are called gods; even in the Bible.  See the Meanings of the Word THEOS.  The Long Lines Creed explains as follows why it identifies the Son as theos:

In saying that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one only God, the only Ingenerate, do we (not) therefore deny that Christ also is God before ages … for He it is, to whom the Father said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’ (Gen 1:26), who also was seen in His own Person by the patriarchs, gave the law, spoke by the prophets, and at last, became man …

The creed, therefore, refers to the Son as God because “He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him” (John 2-3).  Furthermore, the creed argues, whenever God appeared in the Old Testament, it was the Son who was seen.  For that reason, it is proper to refer to the Son as God, but we must not confuse Him with the Uncaused Cause, who is the Father alone.

Conclusions

In this context the translation “Triad” (see above) is appropriate.  A translation of “Trinity” would have been anachronistic, for this creed does not present God as three divine Persons of one divine Being.  Rather, it thinks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a hierarchical group of “three realities and three Persons,” where only the Father is the ingenerated Source of all else, who also generated the Son.

Origen, the philosophical father of the bishops in Antioch, once said that he does not hesitate to talk of God in different senses. He said that just like man and his wife are one in flesh, and Christ in His followers are one in spirit, so the Father and Son are one in God.  Both are God, but not in the same sense, for only the Father is the uncaused Cause of all else.

This explains how we should understand the statement “God from God.”  The easterners probably would have preferred to say “God from true God,” but they attempted to stay as close as possible to the wording of the Nicene Creed, which declared the Son to be of the same substance (homo-ousios) as the Father.  The Nicene Creeds used that term to present the Son as equal to the Father.  The Long Lines Creed, on the other hand, like many of the other creeds of that era, presents the Son as subordinate to the Father.

The famous statement (“Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness”) is quoted from Genesis 1:26.  Some dispute that God was talking to the Son, saying that God spoke to His angels, but others object and say that man was not created in the image of angels, but in the image of God.  The Son Himself “existed in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6).

Holy Ghost

The creed continues:

And we believe in the Holy Ghost, that is, the Paraclete, which, having promised to the Apostles, He sent forth after the ascension into heaven, to teach them and to remind of all things.

This creed has a very scanty treatment of the Holy Spirit.  Similar to the Bible, this creed never explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit as God, or as God from God.  To the contrary, the phrase “three Gods” in the following implies that the Holy Spirit is not God:

The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods

The Same

The Long Lines Creed anathematizes those who say that Father and Son and Holy Ghost are the same.  This is aimed against Modalism, which is the theory that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three modes of God and not three separate Beings.

The creed justifies this view by saying that, if the Three were the same, then the unlimited and impassible (incapable of suffering or feeling pain) Father has become limited and changeable when the Son became a man.  Rather, the Father, who sent the Son, remained unchangeable when Christ was incarnated.

By Choice

The Long Lines Creed anathematizes those who say that the Father had no choice but to beget the Son so that He begat the Son unwillingly.  It says that God is absolute and sovereign over Himself and generated the Son voluntarily and freely.  In saying this, the creed responded to some other voices from that era:

Those that view Jesus as equal to the Father sometimes propose that it was not the Father’s will to generate the Son, but that the Father ‘always’ was the Father and the Son ‘always’ was the Son.  (“Always’ is perhaps not the best term, if in our view God exists outside time.)  Perhaps the Long Lines Creed responds to this view and proposed that the Father begat the Son by will to emphasize that Jesus is subordinate to the Father.

Another possibility is that the view, that God made all things through the Son, and that the Son is the God of the Old Testament, may create the impression that the Father is an un-personal Force and not a separate Person with His own will.  Perhaps the Long Lines Creed reacted to such a view.

Inseparable

Who is Jesus?  This is the question in these creeds.  He is the Son of God, is worshiped with God, received from God to have life in Himself and to judge the world, and He identifies Himself as the First and the Last.  So, what is His relationship with God?  The church had to struggle with this question.  The Nicene Creed went to the one extreme by declaring the Son to be of the same substance as the Father.  It is not possible to postulate a higher level of unity between Father and Son.

Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea and the bishops in the Antioch—the focal point of Christianity in the eastern part of the empire—recognized the Son as generated by and subordinate to the Father.  They also identified the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not as one Being, as in the Trinity theory, but as “three realities and three Persons.”  The Long Lines Creed, therefore, does not accept that they are one in substance.  In its place, they offered the following:

We do not … separate Him from the Father … For we believe that they are united with each other without mediation or distance, and that they exist inseparable; all the Father embosoming the Son, and all the Son clinging to the Father, and alone resting on the Father’s breast continually.

These words are probably true, and an interpretation of passages such as:

I and the Father are one” (John 10:29), and
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

On the other hand, similar to what the Bible consistently does, this creed identifies the Father alone as God, and the Son as subordinate to Him.  This is true even of the gospel of John and Paul’s writings, in which we find the highest Christology of the New Testament.

An Attempt at Reconciliation

The Christian church originated in Jerusalem, but in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church.  In the fourth century, however, after Christianity became the official Roman religion, the church in Italy became powerful in influence and authority.

In the closing section of the creed the bishops in Antioch state their purpose as “to clear away all unjust suspicion concerning our opinions, … and that all in the West may know, … the audacity of the slanders.”  This implies that the easterners were criticized before the powers in Rome, and through the creed, the bishops in Antioch attempted to reach out and clarify their position.  It is for that reason that it has these long-winded explanations and therefore is called the Long Lines Creed.

The Long Lines Creed attempts to remain as close as possible to the position of the bishops in the West, as reproduced in the Nicene Creed, to avoid to be seen as Arian and to be modest and to only use Scriptural language.  But the bishops in Italy rejected the creed.

Summary of the view of the Long Lines Creed

The Father had no beginning, while the Son had a beginning.  The Son, nevertheless, always existed, for the Father created all things through the Son.  Since “all things” include time, God also created time through the Son.  There, consequently, never was a time or age when the Son did not exist.

The Father was not brought into being by another being.  He alone exists without a cause and gives existence to all other things.  The Son, in contrast, exists because of the Father.  He was not created but was uniquely begotten from the Father.

The Son is God, for He existed in the form of God.  Whenever God appeared in the Old Testament, it actually was the Son who was seen.  But the Father is the only true God.

The Son rules over all things, but He is subordinate to the Father.  The Father is the ultimate Head over the whole universe.

They are two separate Beings, but the Father and Son exist inseparably.  As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”

Conclusion

As stated above, at least 17 creeds, with contradicting explanations of who Jesus is, were formulated in the fourth century.  Eventually, the Nicene Creed, as adjusted by the 381 creed, became generally accepted.  But we should not be persuaded by this consensus:

Firstly, this view of Christ differs from the view that was dominant in the earlier centuries.

Nicene Creed
Emperor standing behind the church fathers

Secondly, these creeds were produced after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, after the power base in the Church shifted from Jerusalem and Antioch in the East to Rome in the West, and after the emperor became dominant in the formulation of doctrine by calling and chairing councils.  As can be seen in the anathemas that were attached to the fourth-century creeds, and by the aggressive and insulting tone of writings of Athanasius of Alexandria, the chief defender of Trinitarianism at the time, these creeds were produced with an air of dictatorship and intolerance.  (Listen to podcasts 169 to 171 on Trinities.)  These creeds made an end to religious freedom and shifted persecution from persecution of the church to persecution by the church.

The Apostle Paul lamented that the Corinthians would follow those who abused them and even slapped them in the face (2 Cor. 11:20).  Carnal people respond to carnal strength and carnal leadership.  By the biblical definition, the church in this era became carnal.  Christ Himself demonstrated Christian leadership when He went to the cross. In Revelation 3, He stands outside the door of His own church knocking to see if any will open to Him. He does not force Himself on us.  Our only leader must be Christ.  When leaders compel Christians to accept a doctrine, they are not leading people to Him. The Truth is a Person.