The doctrine of the Trinity deviates from the Nicene Creed.

PURPOSE

Hypostasis and ousia in the Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed of 325 uses the terms hypostasis and ousia to describe the Son of God. These terms were not used in any previous Christian creed. A pro-Alexander pre-meeting was held in Antioch just a few months before Nicaea and not even the draft creed produced by this meeting used these terms. (Ayres, p. 92)

This article aims to explain the meanings of these terms as they were understood at the Council of Nicaea. The Creed uses these terms in three statements:

      • The Son is begotten “of the ousia of the Father.”
      • Father and Son are homoousios,” meaning ‘same ousia’ (same substance). 
      • The Son is not “of another hypostasis or ousia.” (Ayres, p. 93) This is one of the anathemas in the Creed. With the double negative removed, it says that the Son is of the same hypostasis and ousia as the Father.

Homoousios was not important.

Today, many regard homoousios as the key term in the Creed. In the decade after Nicaea, there was a dispute between the Eusebians and Sabellians about this term. After that, however, nobody mentioned the term, not even Athanasius, until he began to use the term to defend his theology. But that was only in the mid-350s. So, at Nicaea, the term did not have the importance we often assign to it today. It was only inserted in the Creed to compel the true Arians to renounce it so that the emperor could exile them. For a further discussion, see:

The Trinity doctrine deviates from the Creed.

This article is not about the term homoousios. Rather, it analyzes the statement that the Son is not “of another hypostasis or ousia,” meaning, the Son is of the same hypostasis and ousia as the Father. This seems to contradict the Trinity doctrine because it uses ousia and hypostasis as synonyms and because it seems to say that Father and Son are one hypostasis. To explain:

Trinity doctrine: Three hypostases in one ousia

In the traditional Trinity doctrine, God is one ousia (one substance or Being) existing in three hypostases; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For example:

“The champions of the Nicene faith … developed a doctrine of God as a Trinity, as one substance or ousia who existed as three hypostases, three distinct realities or entities (I refrain from using the misleading word’ Person’), three ways of being or modes of existing as God.” (Hanson Lecture)

Hanson says that the word “Person” is misleading. The reason is that, in normal English, each person has his or her own mind. In contrast, in the traditional Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one Being with one single mind.1In contrast to the traditional Trinity doctrine, some modern theologians propose that the Trinity is “three Centres of Consciousness” (Hanson, p. 737), i.e., three ‘minds’, but that view is not considered here. Rather than the word ‘Person’, Hanson prefers to explain hypostasis in the Trinity doctrine as “realities or entities.”

Creed: Uses ousia and hypostases as synonyms.

Contrary to the Trinity doctrine, the statement in the Creed that the Son is of the same hypostasis and ousia as the Father seems to use the terms ousia and hypostases as synonyms:

“But as for those … who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance … these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.” (Early Church Texts)

        • Ayres refers to “the seeming equation of ousia and hypostasis. (Ayres, p. 88)
        • R.P.C. Hanson says the Nicene Creed “apparently (but not quite certainly) identifies hypostasis and ousia.” (Hanson, p. 188)

Creed: Claims Father and Son are one hypostasis.

Furthermore, that anathema seems to say that Father and Son are one single ousia (substance) and one hypostasis (‘Person’). It is consistent with the Trinity doctrine to say that they are one ousia but would contradict the Trinity doctrine to say that they are one single hypostasis. In fact, to say that Father and Son are one single hypostasis is Sabellianism, which was already rejected in the third century. The Creed, therefore, seems to teach Sabllianism:

“By the standard of later orthodoxy, as achieved in the Creed of Constantinople of 381, it is a rankly heretical (i.e. Sabellian) proposition, because the Son must be of a different hypostasis (i.e. ‘Person’) from the Father.” (Hanson, p. 167)

“The Creed of Nicaea of 325 … 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.” (Hanson’s Lecture)

That anathema does not mention the Holy Spirit, just as the Creed does not say that the Holy Spirit is “God” or that the Spirit is homoousios (of the same substance) as the Father. In its AD 325 form, the Nicene Creed focused on the Son. This article does likewise.

Purpose of this article

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to determine:

      • Whether the Creed uses those terms as synonyms.
      • If used as synonyms, whether they mean ‘Person’ (a distinct individual) or ‘substance’ (the material an entity consists of). If both mean ‘substance’, then the Creed agrees with the doctrine of the Trinity. However, if both mean ‘Person,’ this would contradict the doctrine of the Trinity.
      • Whether the Creed describes Father and Son as one single hypostasis (Person).

For this purpose, this article first discusses how those terms were used during the centuries before Nicaea and when the Arian Controversy began.

AUTHORS

This article is largely based on the following recent writings of world-class scholars who are regarded as specialists in the fourth-century Arian Controversy:

Hanson – A 1981 lecture by R.P.C. Hanson on the Arian Controversy.

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

The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987

Williams, Archbishop Rowan
Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987

Ayres, Lewis
Nicaea and its legacy, 2004

Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology

BEFORE NICAEA

Etymologically, they are synonyms.

Etymologically (i.e., relating to the origin and historical development of words and their meanings), hypostasis and ousia are direct cognates (See – Ousía and hypostasis from the philosophers to the councils). That means they have the same linguistic derivation, just like the English father, the German Vater and the Latin pater are cognates. In other words, originally, hypostasis and ousia had the same meaning.

Philosophy: Synonyms for Fundamental Reality

The authors of the Nicene Creed derived these terms from Greek philosophy. Hanson refers to “the new terms borrowed from the pagan philosophy of the day.” (Hanson, p. 846)2Hypostasis … became a key-word in Platonism.” (Hanson, p. 182) In Greek Philosophy:

Hypostasis is the underlying state or underlying substance and is the fundamental reality that supports all else” (Wikipedia)

Note that both hypostasis and ousia (substance) appear in this definition. In philosophy, one hypostasis was one substance. Ancient Greek philosophers used these terms as synonyms for “the fundamental reality that supports all else,” namely, the primary, fundamental kind of being, in contrast to the objects in the sensible world which are mere shadows. In a Christian context, we might refer to “the fundamental reality” as the Ultimate Reality or ‘God’.

The Bible: Only used once.

The Bible never refers to God’s ousia. For a definition of the term, see – The Free Dictionary or Liddell & Scott.

The word hypostasis “occurs five times in the New Testament.” (Hanson, p. 182) Four instances do NOT refer to God and is translated as ‘confidence’ and ‘assurance’ (2 Cor 9:4; 11:17; Heb 3:14; 11:1). The only place where the term hypostasis describes God is Hebrews 1:3. (Hanson, p. 182) In it, “the Son is described as the impression [exact image] of the Father’s hypostasis.” (Hanson, p. 187, 182) The following are some of the translations (BibleHub):

      • The exact representation of his being (NIV);
      • The exact imprint of his nature (ESV);
      • The express image of his person (King James & New King James);
      • The exact representation of His nature (NASB);
      • The very image of his substance (ASV);
      • The exact likeness of God’s own being (Good News)
      • The exact likeness of his being (ISV)
      • The very imprint of his being (New American)
      • The exact imprint of God’s very being (NRSV)

The three instances in red translate hypostasis as a characteristic or aspect of God but most translate it as referring to God as a distinct Individual or Person, meaning, the Son is the exact image of God, rather than of an aspect of God.

Hypostasis also occurs twenty times in the LXX (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament), but only one instance uses this term to describe God. “At Wisdom 16:21 the writer speaks of God’s hypostasis … and no doubt this is why Hebrews uses the term ‘impression of his nature’.” (Hanson, p. 182)

Since the Bible never refers to God’s ousia and only once refers to His hypostasis, the use of the terms ousia and hypostasis in the Nicene Creed was not based on the Bible:

“The pro-Nicenes are at their worst, their most grotesque, when they try to show that the new terms borrowed from the pagan philosophy of the day were really to be found in Scripture.” (Hanson, p. 846)

Tertullian did not use these terms.

Tertullian at the turn of the second to the third centuries had already used the Latin word substantia (substance) of God … God therefore had a body and indeed was located at the outer boundaries of space. … It was possible for Tertullian to think of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sharing this substance, so that the relationship of the Three is, in a highly refined sense, corporeal. … He can use the expression Unius substantiae (‘of one substance’). This has led some scholars to see Tertullian as an exponent of Nicene orthodoxy before Nicaea … But this is a far from plausible theory. Tertullian’s materialism is … a totally different thing from any ideas of ousia or homoousios canvassed during the fourth century.” (Hanson, p. 184)

Elsewhere, Tertullian wrote:

“For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole” (Against Praxeas, Chapter 9).

In other words, for Tertullian, the Son is part of the Father, similar to Sabellianism. See – Was Tertullian a Sabellian?

Origen: Synonyms for distinct Individual

Origen wrote at the beginning of the third century. He was the most influential writer of the first three centuries. “The great majority of the Eastern clergy were ultimately disciples of Origen.” (Bible.ca, quoting W.H.C. Frend)

Origen used these terms as synonyms. While ousia is understood today as “substance,” Origen used both terms for the Persons of the Trinity as distinct Individuals, as opposed to their substance. For example:

“He taught that there were three hypostases within the Godhead.” (Hanson, p. 184)

He “used hypostasis and ousia freely as interchangeable terms to describe the Son’s distinct reality within the Godhead.” (Hanson, p. 185)3“He can say … that the Son is ‘different in ousia’ from the Father, meaning that he is a distinct entity from the Father.” (Hanson, p. 66-67)

“For Origen the words hypostasis … and ousia are … synonyms for … distinct individual entity.” (Hanson, p. 66-67)

The phrases in blue bold give Hanson’s understanding of how Origen used the terms hypostasis and ousia. ‘Person’ is often used as shorthand for such phrases.

While Origen wrote that the Son is “separate in hypostasis or ousia from the Father” (Hanson, p. 66-67), the Nicene Creed states the exact opposite and condemns those who say that He “is of a different hypostasis or substance.”

Conclusion

In the time before the Arian Controversy, the two terms were synonyms for the Persons of the Trinity as individual Entities.4Williams refers to “the respectable pre-Nicene usage of ousia for primary (individual) substance.” (Williams, p. 164) If that is also how the Nicene Creed uses the term, and not for the substance of God, then ‘begotten from the ousia of God’ simply means ‘begotten from the being of God’, a statement with which the Eusebians could agree. Arius would have disagreed because he maintained that the Son was begotten out of nothing (from non-existence).

WHEN THE CONTROVERSY BEGAN

Different people used these terms differently.

Hanson discusses the use of these terms by several ancient theologians. The question is, did they use these terms for the Father and Son as Individuals (Persons) or for their substance?5“When at last the confusion was cleared up and these two distinct meanings were permanently attached to these words,” hypostasis and ousia respectively meant “’person’ and ‘substance’.” (Hanson, p. 181)

      • “Eusebius of Nicomedia” used ousia to mean Person. He said, “there are two ousiai and two facts.” (Hanson, p. 185)
      • “Eusebius of Caesarea … uses ousia to mean substance.” (Hanson, p. 185)
      • “Alexander of Alexandria … does not use the word ousia, but instead uses hypostasis for both ‘Person’ and ‘substance’.” (Hanson, p. 186)
      • Arius used hypostasis for Person. He “spoke readily of the hypostases of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Hanson, p. 186)
      • Asterius, a leading anti-Nicene, “said that there were three hypostases. But he also described the Son as ‘the exact image of the ousia and counsel and glory and power’ of the Father. Once again we find a writer who clearly did not confuse ousia and hypostasis.” (187)

Hanson concludes that “considerable confusion existed about the use of the terms hypostasis and ousia at the period when the Arian Controversy broke out.” (Hanson, p. 181)6“Several alternative ways of treating these terms were prevalent.” (Hanson, p. 184)7“That continuing terminological confusion is reflected in the seeming equation of ousia and hypostasis.” (Ayres, p. 98)

For most, the terms were synonyms.

Although different people used these terms differently, most used these terms as synonyms:

“For many people at the beginning of the fourth century the word hypostasis and the word ousia had pretty well the same meaning.” (Hanson, p. 181) Athanasius also used them as synonyms.8“Clearly for him hypostasis and ousia were still synonymous.” (Hanson, 440)

“For at least the first half of the period 318-381, and in some cases considerably later, ousia and hypostasis are used as virtual synonyms.” (Hanson, p. 183)

“It is only much later in the century that the two are more clearly distinguished by some.” (Ayres, p. 98)

This implies that the Nicene Creed also uses these terms as synonyms. Therefore, our first conclusion is that the Nicene Creed, by using these terms as synonyms, does contradict the Trinity doctrine, in which Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases but one ousia.

In the Nicene Creed, these two terms “did not mean, and should not be translated, ‘person’ and ‘substance’, as they were used when at last … these two distinct meanings were permanently attached to these words.” (Hanson, p. 181)

The Creed teaches only one hypostasis.

The second question was whether the Nicene Creed contradicts the Trinity doctrine by claiming that Father and Son are one single hypostasis. Since it says, with the double negatives removed, that the Son is of the same hypostasis or substance as the Father, Hanson concludes that it does:

“If we are to take the creed N at its face value, the 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)

“The production of N … must have been deeply disturbing for many who could not seriously be described as Arian in sympathy but could not believe that God had only one hypostasis, as the creed apparently professed.” (Hanson, p. 274)

Sabellians dominated at Nicaea.

During the Arian Controversy, theologians were divided into ‘one hypostasis’ and ‘three hypostasis’ camps. Following Origen, the Eusebians (the so-called Arians) said that Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases (three distinct Persons), each with his distinct ousia. On the other hand, Sabellians said that Father, Son, and Spirit are one single hypostasis (Person). The fourth-century Sabellians Eustathian and Marcellus were famous for this teaching:

The “’one hypostasis’ of the Godhead was to become the slogan and rallying-cry of the continuing Eustathians.” (Hanson, p. 213)

“One point about Marcellus which is unequivocally clear is that he believed that God constituted only one hypostasis.” (Hanson, p. 229-230)

Sabellianism originated in the second century as Monarchianism, was refined in the third by Sabellius, and had many followers. For example, among the pre-Nicene church fathers, Bishop Dionysius of Rome (in the middle of the third century) “said that it is wrong to divide the divine monarchy ‘into three … separated hypostases and three Godheads’; people who hold this in effect produce three gods.” (Hanson, p. 185)

As discussed in another article, Alexander and Athanasius also maintained that Father, Son, and Spirit are one single hypostasis. For example:

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

“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)

What Alexander and Athanasius believed might be slightly different from the Sabellians but they were able to join forces at Nicaea with the Sabellians because they all maintained one hypostasis. And, as discussed, since Emperor Constantine took Alexander’s side in the controversy, the Sabellians had the upper hand at Nicaea. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Nicene Creed presents Father and Son as one single hypostasis.

CONCLUSIONS

Different people used these terms differently but, generally, most used hypostasis and ousia as synonyms. Ousia did not mean ‘substance’, as we use the term today. Rather, for many theologians, both hypostasis and ousia meant “person.”

The Nicene Creed indeed uses the two terms as synonyms. Therefore, since the distinction between ousia and hypostases is foundational in the Trinity doctrine, the Trinity doctrine deviates from the Nicene Creed. As confirmation that the Nicene Creed does not teach the Trinity doctrine, Lewis Ayres distinguishes between ‘pro-Nicene’ and ‘Nicene theology’:

“By ‘pro-Nicene’ I mean those theologies, appearing from the 360s to the 380s … of how the Nicene creed should be understood. … These theologies build closely on and adapt themes found earlier in the century, but none is identical with any original ‘Nicene’ theology apparent in the 320s or 330s.” (Ayres, p. 6)

The Creed seems to teach that Father, Son, and Spirit are one hypostasis, which was the hallmark of Sabellianism. “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)

This is a technical analysis of the Creed. Different people, however, preferred to read it differently. The Eusebians glossed the technical terms to fit their views. See – Eusebius’ explanation. They signed the Creed but certainly did not explain the Creed as Sabellian.

THE CHANGE

Who changed the meaning?

“When at last the confusion was cleared up and these two distinct meanings were permanently attached to these words,” hypostasis and ousia respectively meant “’person’ and ‘substance’.” (Hanson, p. 181)

When and by whom were these changes made? 

Arians were the first.

The Eusebians, the so-called Arians, taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases. Some of them, right at the beginning of the Controversy, already made a distinction between hypostasis and ousia and used ousia for ‘substance’; the material a Being consists of:

Arius used hypostasis for ‘Person’.9He “spoke readily of the hypostases of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Hanson, p. 187)” For example, he said that the hypostases of Father, Son and Holy Spirit “were different in kind and in rank.” (Hanson, p. 187) And he used ousia for “substance.“ He wrote, for example: “The Logos is alien and unlike in all respects to the Father’s ousia.” (Hanson, p. 186) “It seems likely that he was one of the few during this period who did not confuse the two.” (Hanson, p. 187)

Asterius, another leading ‘Arian’, “clearly did not confuse ousia and hypostasis.” (Hanson, p. 187) He used hypostasis for ‘Person’10He “said that there were three hypostases” and “certainly taught that the Father and the Son were distinct and different in their hypostases.” (Hanson, p. 187) and ousia for ‘substance’.11“He also described the Son as ‘the exact image of the ousia and counsel and glory and power’ of the Father.” (Hanson, p. 187)

The Cappadocians were the first pro-Nicenes.

The pro-Nicenes were one-hypostasis theologians (See Athanasius), meaning that they thought of Father, Son, and Spirit as one hypostasis (one Person) and one ousia (substance). They had no reason to distinguish between hypostasis and ousia.

However, more than 40 years after Nicaea, the Cappadocians were (the first?) three-hypostasis pro-Nicenes (See – Basil). For that reason, they were in dispute with Athanasius and his followers (Damasus of Rome, Peter of Alexandria) in what is known as the Meletian Schism. But since they were three-hypostases theologians, the Cappadocians distinguished between hypostasis meaning Person, and ousia meaning substance. They are therefore traditionally credited for being the first to make that distinction:

“The first person to propose a difference in the meanings of hypostasis and ousía … was Basil of Caesarea.”12Johannes, “Ousía and hypostasis from the philosophers to the councils”

“Basil’s most distinguished contribution towards the resolving of the dispute about the Christian doctrine of God was in his clarification of the vocabulary.” (Hanson, p. 690)

Basil “is often identified” with the “distinction between a unitary shared nature at one level, and the personal distinctions of Father, Son, and Spirit at another.” (Ayres, p. 190-191)

Basil taught three Beings.

However, Basil did not understand God as one undivided ousia (substance or Being), as in the Trinity doctrine. As another article explains, Basil’s innovation was to propose three distinct substances that are the same type of substance in all respects. He proposed, just like Peter, Paul, and John were three instances of humanity, that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three instances of divinity. In his view, there is only one type of substance. The Son does not have a lower form of divinity or substance, but all three Persons have the same type of substance.

The Trinity doctrine does not use ousia for substance

Another difference between Basil and the traditional Trinity doctrine is that that doctrine does not use ousia for substance. In reality, it still uses, similar to Athanasius and the earlier pro-Nicenes, ousia and hypostasis as synonyms meaning ‘Person’. To explain:

The core distinction between the pro-Nicene and the ‘Arians’ was that, while the ‘Arians’ said that Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases (three Persons with three distinct minds), the pro-Nicenes maintained that they are one hypostasis with one single mind. (See – Athanasius)

In contrast, the later developed Trinity doctrine describes God BOTH as One and Three. It says that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases (Persons) but one ousia (Being). The key point is that it does not employ ‘ousia’ to mean substance (the material that constitutes a Being) as Basil did. Rather, it uses ‘ousia’ to say that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one God with one single mind. So, effectively, the Trinity doctrine still uses ‘ousia’ and ‘hypostasis’ as synonyms for Person. It uses different words for what God is as one and what He is as three but looking beyond the words to the essence of the matter, it suggests that God is simultaneously a single individual entity (Being or Person) and three distinct individual entities.

So, despite considerable discussion regarding the evolution of the terms ‘ousia’ and ‘hypostasis,’ the doctrine of the Trinity continues to employ their original meanings.


OTHER ARTICLES

CHURCH FATHERS

ARIAN CONTROVERSY

ARIUS

THE NICENE CREED

ARIANISM

    • Athanasius invented the term ‘Arian’. 33The only reason we today refer to ‘Arians’ is that Athanasius invented the term to falsely label his opponents with a theology that was already formally rejected by the church.
    • The Dedication Creed – AD 341 34This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if Emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
    • The Long Lines Creed – AD 344 35In contrast to the one-hypostasis view of the Western manifesto at Serdica in 343, the Long Lines Creed reflects a three-hypostasis theology.
    • Did Arians describe the Son as a creature? 36‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
    • Homoian theology 37In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
    • Homoi-ousian theology 38This was one of the ‘strands’ of ‘Arianism’. It proposed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same.
    • How did Arians interpret Colossians 2:9? 39Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.

THE PRO-NICENES

EMPEROR THEODOSIUS

AUTHORS 

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

LATER

TRINITY DOCTRINE – GENERAL

    • Elohim 50Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being?
    • The Eternal Generation of the Son 51The Son has been begotten by the Father, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father. Eternal Generation explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

OTHER

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    In contrast to the traditional Trinity doctrine, some modern theologians propose that the Trinity is “three Centres of Consciousness” (Hanson, p. 737), i.e., three ‘minds’, but that view is not considered here.
  • 2
    Hypostasis … became a key-word in Platonism.” (Hanson, p. 182)
  • 3
    “He can say … that the Son is ‘different in ousia’ from the Father, meaning that he is a distinct entity from the Father.” (Hanson, p. 66-67)
  • 4
    Williams refers to “the respectable pre-Nicene usage of ousia for primary (individual) substance.” (Williams, p. 164)
  • 5
    “When at last the confusion was cleared up and these two distinct meanings were permanently attached to these words,” hypostasis and ousia respectively meant “’person’ and ‘substance’.” (Hanson, p. 181)
  • 6
    “Several alternative ways of treating these terms were prevalent.” (Hanson, p. 184)
  • 7
    “That continuing terminological confusion is reflected in the seeming equation of ousia and hypostasis.” (Ayres, p. 98)
  • 8
    “Clearly for him hypostasis and ousia were still synonymous.” (Hanson, 440)
  • 9
    He “spoke readily of the hypostases of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Hanson, p. 187)”
  • 10
    He “said that there were three hypostases” and “certainly taught that the Father and the Son were distinct and different in their hypostases.” (Hanson, p. 187)
  • 11
    “He also described the Son as ‘the exact image of the ousia and counsel and glory and power’ of the Father.” (Hanson, p. 187)
  • 12
    Johannes, “Ousía and hypostasis from the philosophers to the councils”
  • 13
    The pre-Nicene fathers described the Son as “our God” but the Father as “the only true God,” implying that the Son is not “true” God. This confusion is caused by the translations.
  • 14
    Sabellius taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three portions of one single Being.
  • 15
    If we define Sabellianism as that only one hypostasis – only one distinct existence – exists in the Godhead, was Tertullian a Sabellian?
  • 16
    The Controversy gave us the Trinity doctrine but the traditional account of the Controversy is a complete traversy.
  • 17
    RPC Hanson states that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed but that is not entirely true. This article shows that subordination was indeed ‘orthodox’ at that time.
  • 18
    The term “Arianism” implies that Arius’ theology dominated the fourth-century church. But Arius was not regarded in his time as a significant writer. He left no school of disciples.
  • 19
    Over the centuries, Arius was always accused of this. This article explains why that is a false accusation.
  • 20
    There are significant differences between Origen and Arius.
  • 21
    Arius wrote that the Son was begotten by the Father timelessly before everything. But Arius also said that the Son did not always exist. Did Arius contradict himself?
  • 22
    New research has shown that Arius is a thinker and exegete of resourcefulness, sharpness, and originality.
  • 23
    The word theos, which is translated as “God” in John 1:1 is not equivalent to the modern English word “God.”
  • 24
    Constantine took part in the Council of Nicaea and ensured that it reached the kind of conclusion that he thought best.
  • 25
    Eusebius of Caesarea, the most respected theologian at the Council, immediately afterward wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain why he accepted the Creed and how he understood the controversial phrases.
  • 26
    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.
  • 27
    Does it mean that Father and Son are one single Being, as the Trinity doctrine claims? How was it understood before, at, and after Nicaea? – Summary of the next article
  • 28
    The Nicene Creed describes the Son as homoousios (same substance) as the Father. But how was the term used before, during, and after Nicaea?
  • 29
    The term homoousios was not mentioned by anybody during the first 30 years after Nicaea. It only became part of that controversy in the 350s.
  • 30
    The word is not found in the Bible or in any orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea.
  • 31
    While the Creed describes Father and Son as one single hypostasis (Person), the Trinity doctrine teaches that they are distinct hypostases.
  • 32
    There was no Arian Conspiracy. It was a campaign against the claim that homoousios identifies Sabellianism as the church’s official theology.
  • 33
    The only reason we today refer to ‘Arians’ is that Athanasius invented the term to falsely label his opponents with a theology that was already formally rejected by the church.
  • 34
    This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if Emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
  • 35
    In contrast to the one-hypostasis view of the Western manifesto at Serdica in 343, the Long Lines Creed reflects a three-hypostasis theology.
  • 36
    ‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
  • 37
    In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
  • 38
    This was one of the ‘strands’ of ‘Arianism’. It proposed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same.
  • 39
    Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.
  • 40
    Eustathius and Marcellus played a major role in the formulation of the Creed but were soon deposed for Sabellianism.
  • 41
    Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of Biblical orthodoxy but this article argues that he was a Sabellian.
  • 42
    Many believe that these accusations were false but RPC Hanson shows that Athanasius was justly condemned.
  • 43
    The West deposed Athanasius for violence but the West, which, like Athanasius, preferred a one hypostasis theology, declared him blameless.
  • 44
    In the Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one substance or Being. This article shows that Basil taught three distinct substances.
  • 45
    This council reveals the state of Western theology at that time.
  • 46
    It was a regional synod of Antioch and attended only by bishops who were friendly to the bishop of Antioch. But the emperor hijacked it.
  • 47
    A summary of this book, which provides an overview of the fourth-century Arian Controversy. Lewis Ayres is a Catholic theologian and Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology.
  • 48
    A very informative lecture on the Arian Controversy by RPC Hanson, a famous fourth-century scholar
  • 49
    In the fifth century, Arian ‘barbarians’ dominated the Western Empire, but they tolerated and even respected the Trinitarian Roman Church.
  • 50
    Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being?
  • 51
    The Son has been begotten by the Father, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father. Eternal Generation explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

The Macrostich (Long Lines Creed) reveals the heart of Arianism.

Christianity in the Fourth Century

This is an article in the series on the fourth-century Arian Controversy. It describes the events of the 340s after the failed Council of Serdica in 343 but focuses mostly on the Macrostich (the Long Liner Manifesto) as perhaps the most significant event of that period. At the Council of Serdica, the Western delegation formulated an explicitly one-hypostasis view. It says:

“We have received and have been taught this … tradition: that there is one hypostasis, which the heretics (also) call ousia, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Hanson, p. 301)

Against this view, the East, through the Macrostich, asserts three hypostases. These articles may seem complex and even unimportant but they are important for a proper understanding of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.

AUTHORS QUOTED

LA = Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004

RH = Hanson RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. 1988

Due to discoveries of ancient documents and significant additional Research, the scholarship of the past hundred years has concluded that the traditional account of the fourth-century Arian Controversy presents history from the perspective of the winner and is a complete travesty. These books reflect the revised account of that Controversy.

THEOLOGY CATEGORIES

One-hypostasis and three-hypostases theologies are key concepts in this article and, therefore, first explained.

One Hypostasis means one Person.

To say that Father, Son, and Spirit are one hypostasis is to say that they are one single Person with one single mind. There are variations of this theory. For example:

Three Names – The second-century Monarchians said that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three names for the same one God.

Three Parts – The third-century Sabellians taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three parts of the one hypostasis (Person). Sabellius had many followers, but his teaching was formally condemned.

Part of the Father – Alexander and Athanasius maintained that the Son is part of the Father, namely, His only Word and Wisdom. Tertullian similarly said that the Father is the whole, and the Son is part of the whole. 

Three Hypostases means three Persons.

In the traditional ‘three hypostases’ view, the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct Persons with three distinct minds. There are also variations of the ‘three hypostases’ theory. In contrast to the ‘same substance’ (homoousios) of the Nicene Creed, some said their substances are unlike (heterousios), others said their substances are similar (homoiousios) and others refused to talk about substance (the Homoians).

Generally, in the ‘three hypostases’-view, the Son is subordinate to the Father. However, the Cappadocians had a three-hypostases view in which the substances are exactly alike so that they are equal. In the one-hypostasis view, there is no thought of subordination.

OVERVIEW OF EARLIER HISTORY

Arius and Alexander

In 318, only five years after Christianity was legalized, a dispute broke out between bishop Alexander of Alexandria and one of his presbyters, Arius, about the nature of the Son of God:

Alexander believed that the Son is part of the Father so that they are one single hypostasis (Person). It follows that the Son is as immutable and eternal as the Father.

In contrast, Arius followed the traditional teaching in which Father and Son are two distinct Persons. However, he had some extreme teachings. For example, he said that the Son was begotten out of nothing.

Arius has several important supporters, not because they supported everything that he taught, but because they viewed Alexander’s one-hypostasis theology as a greater evil.

The Nicene Council

Nicene Creed
The emperor standing behind the church fathers

Emperor Constantine attempted to reconcile the quarreling parties by a letter and by sending his religious advisor, Ossius, but his efforts failed. Probably on Ossius’ recommendation, he took Alexander’s part in the dispute. Early in 325, Ossius held an “anti-Arian Council” in Antioch (RH, 131). That meeting provisionally excommunicated Eusebius of Caesarea, a supporter of Arius and perhaps the most respected theologian at the time.

This was followed by the Nicene Council later that same year. At that council, Alexander was able to form an alliance with the Sabellians because they all taught that Father and Son are one single hypostasis. And since Constantine had taken Alexander’s part in the dispute, this alliance dominated at Nicaea and was able to include in the Creed at least a hint of one-hypostasis theology.

After Nicaea, Sabellians claimed that the Nicene Creed identifies Sabellianism as the formally approved religion of the church. This resulted in a decade of conflict in which the main Sabellians were removed from their positions. Thereafter, Nicaea and the term homoousios were not mentioned by anybody for about 20 years.

Athanasius

While the first crisis (Arius – Nicene Creed – Sabellians) seems to be put to rest, a second crisis was brewing, namely, Athanasius:

Alexander died in 328 and Athanasius was elected in his place as bishop of Alexandria. Seven years later, in 335, he was also exiled; not for his theology but for violence against the Melitians in his see. In 337, when Constantine died, all exiled bishops were allowed to return, including Athanasius.

However, the church soon again accused him before the emperor. Consequently, Athanasius then developed his polemical strategy, claiming that he was, in fact, exiled for his anti-Arian stance and that all his enemies were Arians, meaning followers of Arius. Using these arguments, he appealed to the bishop of Rome and was successful because the West, which was not initially part of the Controversy and which was not represented at the Council of Nicaea, traditionally had a one-hypostasis theology; just like Athanasius. At the Council of Rome in 340, the West vindicated both Marcellus and Athanasius. Marcellus was the best-known Sabellian at the time and was previously condemned and exiled by the Eastern Church for that reason. In 341, the bishop of Rome attacked the East by writing a letter, declaring that Marcellus and Athanasius are orthodox in their teachings and that the East follows Arius, who was condemned at Nicaea.

Dedication and Serdica Councils

Later in that same year (341), the East met to discuss the letter from the bishop of Rome and formulated the Dedication Creed, which condemned some of Arius’ teachings but particularly condemned the West’s one-hypostasis theology.

This was followed in 343 by the Council of Serdica. This council was supposed to reconcile the West and the East but the two parties never met as one because of their dispute over Athanasius and Marcellus. The West brought these two men with as part of its delegation and demanded that they be allowed to participate in the Council. But the Eastern Church refused because it had already condemned both men. The Western delegation then formulated a creed that explicitly presents a one-hypostasis theology. 1“… the suspicion of Sabellianism which hung around the one Western theological statement which had appeared since the controversy began, the Formula accompanying the Encyclical of the Western bishops at Serdica.” (RH, 311)

End of the Controversy

Various other articles describe the events of the 350s, 360s, and 370s. The Controversy came to an end when emperor Theodosius, in 380, put the Trinity doctrine into law and made the Trinitarian version of Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, and, in 381, ratified his decisions through the Council of Constantinople.

The most important conclusion of this series of articles is that the emperor was the final arbiter in the church’s doctrinal disputes, and that the Roman Empire selected the Trinitarian version of Christianity as the state religion of the Empire and exterminated other forms of Christianity. The Controversy began soon after persecution ended and ended when persecution was resumed.

Consequently, the church that entered the Middle Ages was a remnant of the Roman Empire; the ‘Roman Church’, meaning, the Church of the Roman Empire. The Trinity doctrine was its identifying mark.

RECONCILIATION ATTEMPTS

Serdica in 343 was perhaps intended to bring reconciliation but failed. In the 340s, the Empire was divided between Emperor Constans in the West and his brother Emperor Constantius in the East. These two emperors supported the conflicting views of the churches in their domains. After the failure of Serdica, little happened during the remainder of the 340s, except some attempts at rapprochement: 2“The remainder of the 340s requires much less discussion. Richard Hanson rightly characterizes this period as one in which the failure of Serdica eventually prompted attempts at rapprochement.” (LA, 126)

Western Attempt

“After Serdica … both sides were ready for peace feelers. (RH, 306-7)

The three main Christian centers in the Fourth Century

In 344, “a Western delegation consisting of two bishops” arrived in Antioch. “This visit unfortunately proved abortive owing to the mischiefmaking proclivity of Stephen bishop of Antioch. He attempted to ensnare Euphrates (one of the two Western bishops) in a false charge of fornication by planting a prostitute in his bedroom. The plot miscarried and the instigator of it was exposed. Stephen was deposed from his see. … The two Western bishops returned home in understandable umbrage.” (RH, 307)

Athanasius Recalled

“Constans was at this point pressing his brother strongly to recall Athanasius to his see of Alexandria.” (RH, 307) “Constans was keen to assert his own ecclesiastical policy.” (LA, 127)

“In the summer of 345 Constantius permitted Athanasius back to Alexandria. … Athanasius made his way back cautiously, visiting Constantius, and did not arrive until 346.” (LA, 127)

“Meanwhile the opponents of Athanasius had gathered at Antioch and protested against his readmission to his see. … Constantius was pursuing a policy of reconciliation, when he had time to turn his attention to ecclesiastical affairs, and the enemies of Athanasius were powerless.” (RH, 312) “The watchword at this period was Reconciliation.” (RH, 313)

Eastern Attempt

“In other parts of the church, the prevailing temper was also one of reconciliation. The Council of Antioch … in 344 also produced a creed, which was conveyed [in 345] to the Western church by a delegation of Eastern bishops.” (RH, 308) 3The Christian church originated in Jerusalem but, in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church.

This creed was “universally known as the Macrostich (‘Long-Liner’ Manifesto’). … The first part is much the same as, if not identical with, the IVth Antiochene Creed of 341,” (RH, 308) which leaves out, as far as possible, all contentious issues. It had added, however, “a long explanation.” (LA, 127) “The conciliatory tone of this text is clear.” (LA, 129)

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.” The “slanders” refer, most probably, to the letter written by the bishop of Rome in 431, following Athanasius in accusing the East of being followers of Arius. Through the creed, the bishops in Antioch attempted to clarify their position.

In 345, the Eastern delegation presented their manifesto to the Latin-speaking bishops in the western part of the empire. “The Council of Milan … gave audience to the Antiochenes with their creed. Before the Council would consider the Macrostich, however, they demanded that the Eastern bishops should condemn Arius. The Eastern delegation refused to do this, not assuredly because they were unwilling to condemn Arius, but because they thought it insulting to be suspected and arraigned in this way. They returned to Antioch, their purpose unaccomplished.” (RH, 312)

While Arius had some extreme views, he was, like the Eastern delegation, a ‘three hypostasis’ theologian. His views were, therefore, much closer to the Easterners’ than the Western one-hypostasis theology.

The Controversy was deeply political.

“Political tensions between Constans and Constantius have shaped a controversy between a key group of eastern bishops and their … ‘western’ counterparts. That controversy is indeed partly theological … (but) also deeply political, both” politics inside and outside the church.” (LA, 129-130) 4“In ecclesial terms (what form of appeal is possible following conciliar condemnation? can eastern and western councils interfere in each other’s business? can one appeal to Rome?) and in extra-ecclesial terms.”

“But this period of rapprochement resolved nothing: the tensions remained.” (LA, 130)

THE MACROSTICH

This section discusses this manifesto as an opportunity to understand the three-hypostases view in the middle of the fourth century. The term homoousios was only brought back into the Controversy in the 350s (see here) and, only after that, did the three-hypostases view subdivide into the heterousian, homoiousian, and Homoian views.

Avoiding, as far as possible, controversial, non-biblical language, the Eastern bishops hoped that their creed would be acceptable all around.

Believes in three hypostases.

The Macrostich describes the Father, Son, and Spirit as three distinct Persons. It does not mention “three hypostases” explicitly (RH, 311) but:

      • Asserts “that there are three realities (πράγματα) or persons (πρόσωπα),” (LA, 128)
      • Condemns “those who treat Father, Son, and Spirit as three names of one reality (πράγμα) or person (πρόσωπον),” (LA, 128) and
      • “Argues against Marcellan doctrines which … treat the Word as ‘mere word of God and unexisting, having his being in another’.” (LA, 127) “Against this theology the Macrostich confesses the Son as ‘living God and Word, existing in himself’.” (LA, 128)

These are aimed against one-hypostasis theology, specifically against Sabellianism, as the West held according to the manifesto of the Western delegates at Serdica in 343. The Macrostich says that, if the three were the same, then, when the Son became a man, the Unlimited has become limited, then the Impassible5incapable of suffering or feeling pain had become passible, and the Immutable6not subject to change had become mutable.

Only the Father exists without beginning.

The manifesto begins by saying:

“We believe in one God the Father Almighty,
the Creator and Maker of all things.”

This is the standard opening of all creeds, including the Nicene Creed, identifying the Father as the “one God.” The Macrostich adds: “We do assert ‘three Objects and three Persons’, but not three gods.” (RH, 310) It does not confess three Gods because the Father alone exists without cause or beginning, and has generated the Son. 7“This does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father ‘who alone has existence from himself, and alone gives this abundantly to all others’.” (LA, 128) 8“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.” 9“Only the Father of Christ is unbegotten and unbeginning.” (RH, 310) “We must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun.” “The Father is the Son’s origin.” (RH, 310) Only the Father is selfsufficient and invisible. (RH, 310)

Origin of the Son

The Son was begotten from the being of God.

The creed condemns “those who say, that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God.” Note that this sentence uses the word “from” three times, indicating three possible sources of the Son:

“It is not safe … to say that the Son is from non-existence,” as Arius said. Nor can we say that He is from some other “underlying hypostasis.” He is “genuinely begotten from God alone.” (RH, 310)

He exists by the Father’s will.

In the one-hypostasis view, since the Father and Son are one single ‘Person’, the Son has existed for as long as the Father has. Consequently, the Father had never decided to beget the Son; the Father ‘always’ was Father, and the Son ‘always’ was Son.

In contrast, the Macrostich 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 the Father begat the Son by his counsel and his will. (RH, 309-10) 10“The Son is generated from the Father’s will as the only alternative to being generated by necessity.” (LA, 129)

In this way, the Macrostich avoids Origen’s doctrine of “eternal generation of the Son.” (RH, 311) Origen argued that God created all things through His Son, that God has always created, therefore the Son has always existed. In Origen’s theory, the creation has also always existed.

There was no time before the Son.

Arius said, “there was when He (the Son) was not.” Although Arius explicitly taught that the Son was begotten “timelessly,” his enemies accused him of saying there was “time” when the Son was not. The Macrostich states:

It is dangerous to say that “there was a time when he did not exist.” We do not envisage “an interval of time preceding him.” Only God who begot him timelessly, preceded Him. (RH, 310) “The Son of God existed before the ages.” (RH, 309) He was begotten “before all ages.” There was no “time or age when He was not.”

In other words, the Son had a beginning, but that beginning was before time existed. Therefore, there never was “a time or age when He was not.”

He is not a Created Being.

Arius said that the Son is the only Being ever produced by the Father directly, that He is the only Being who can come directly into God’s presence, and that He is the Creator of all else. But Arius’ enemies accused him of saying that the Son is a mere created being. For a further discussion, see here.

The Macrostich similarly says that “the Son was not created as other creatures and products are produced; he cannot be compared with them.” He is the only being ever begotten by God. (RH, 310) All other creatures came into existence through the Son. “It is irreligious … to compare the Creator with handiworks created by Him.”

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 1:3; Heb 1:2-3; Col 1:15-16). The Father is the Force and Cause of creation. The Son is the Means or Hand through which God created.

The Son is both subordinate and God.

The Macrostich strongly affirms the subordination of the Son. (RH, 311)11The Son is “subordinate to his Father and God.” (LA, 127) It describes the Son as subordinate to the Father because the Father alone exists without cause.12“Three realities or persons … does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father … ‘alone has existence from himself’.” (LA, 128) It says that the Father alone is “Head over the whole universe wholly.” However:

“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 …”

“Though he be subordinate to his Father and God, yet, being before ages begotten of God, he is God according to his perfect and true nature.” (LA, 127)

While the Nicene Creed describes the Son as “true God (the Son) from true God (the Father),” the Macrostich omits the word “true” in both instances and refers to Jesus as “God from God.”

That the Macrostich also describes the Son as subordinate to the Father may sound confusing to the modern ear. However, that confusion is caused by the translations. Ancient Greek did not have a word exactly equivalent to the modern word ‘God’. It only had the word theos, which means ‘divine’ or ‘god’. Even an exalted person may be called theos. We must read the context to determine whether “God” or “god” or “divine” is intended. Translators tend to translate theos, when it refers to Jesus, as “God,” but that is an application of the Trinity doctrine, not proof thereof. For a further discussion, see – The Meanings of the Word theos.

The incarnated Son is the preexistent Son.

The Macrostich refers to “His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, the pre-existent “Only-begotten Son” and the incarnated “Lord Jesus Christ” are one and the same.

In contrast, in one-hypostasis theology, the incarnated Son is a different person – often a mere human with a human soul or mind who is divinely inspired, because the Son cannot suffer or die because he is the same as or part of the Father.

The Trinity

He is One with the Father.

One-hypostasis theology has a strong claim on the unity of Father and Son because they are but one hypostasis (Person). In contrast, the Macrostich explains the unity of Father and Son as “’harmony’ and ‘conjunction’:” (RH, 311)

“Father and Son ‘are united with each other without mediation or distance’ and … they ‘exist inseparably’, all the Father embosoming the Son, and all the Son hanging and adhering to the Father.” (LA, 128-9)

These words are probably 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).

Confesses a Triad.

“Believing then in the All-perfect Triad, the Most Holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

In this context, the translation “Triad” is better than “Trinity” because ‘Trinity’, with a capital T, implies the Trinity doctrine in which Father, Son, and Spirit are one Being, while the Macrostich presents them as three distinct Beings; a hierarchical group of “three realities and three Persons,” where the Father is the uncaused Cause of all else, and also generated the Son.

Says very little about the Holy Spirit.

The Macristich has a very scanty treatment of the Holy Spirit. It says:

“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.”

The Son is “granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will.”

Similar to the Bible, it does not refer to the Holy Spirit as God, or as God from God. On the contrary, the phrase “two 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.”

We see Jesus in the Old Testament.

The LMM finds Jesus in the OT. It says:

“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 …”

Some dispute that God was talking to His Son in Genesis 1:26, saying that God spoke to His angels, but man was not created in the image of angels, but in the image of God. Furthermore, the Son Himself “existed in the form of God.” (Phil. 2:6)

No ousia language

The Nicene Creed says that the Son was begotten from the ousios (substance or essence) of the Father and claims that the Son is homoousios (of the same substance as) the Father. It follows that the Son is equal to the Father.

The Dedication Creed of 431, which is, like the Macrostich, an Eastern creed, also uses the term ousia: “Exact image of the Godhead and the substance (ousia) and will and power and glory of the Father.”

In contrast, although the Macrostich says that He is “from God,” and “begotten,” it does not use the term ousia (substance) and homoousios (same substance). It “appears to have been composed by theologians unhappy with the ousia language deployed in the Dedication creed.” (LA, 127) 13The Macrostich describes “the Father’s generation of the Son as a sharing of the divine existence, but … without materialist connotation. … The hierarchical scheme within which this occurs remains unaltered.” (LA, 129)


OTHER ARTICLES

CHURCH FATHERS

ARIAN CONTROVERSY

ARIUS

THE NICENE CREED

ARIANISM

    • Athanasius invented the term ‘Arian’. 34The only reason we today refer to ‘Arians’ is that Athanasius invented the term to falsely label his opponents with a theology that was already formally rejected by the church.
    • The Dedication Creed – AD 341 35This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if Emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
    • The Long Lines Creed – AD 344 36In contrast to the one-hypostasis view of the Western manifesto at Serdica in 343, the Long Lines Creed reflects a three-hypostasis theology.
    • Did Arians describe the Son as a creature? 37‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
    • Homoian theology 38In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
    • Homoi-ousian theology 39This was one of the ‘strands’ of ‘Arianism’. It proposed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same.
    • How did Arians interpret Colossians 2:9? 40Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.

THE PRO-NICENES

EMPEROR THEODOSIUS

AUTHORS 

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

LATER

TRINITY DOCTRINE – GENERAL

    • Elohim 51Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being?
    • The Eternal Generation of the Son 52The Son has been begotten by the Father, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father. Eternal Generation explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

OTHER

Dr. Tuggy discusses this creed in podcast 172.

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    “… the suspicion of Sabellianism which hung around the one Western theological statement which had appeared since the controversy began, the Formula accompanying the Encyclical of the Western bishops at Serdica.” (RH, 311)
  • 2
    “The remainder of the 340s requires much less discussion. Richard Hanson rightly characterizes this period as one in which the failure of Serdica eventually prompted attempts at rapprochement.” (LA, 126)
  • 3
    The Christian church originated in Jerusalem but, in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church.
  • 4
    “In ecclesial terms (what form of appeal is possible following conciliar condemnation? can eastern and western councils interfere in each other’s business? can one appeal to Rome?) and in extra-ecclesial terms.”
  • 5
    incapable of suffering or feeling pain
  • 6
    not subject to change
  • 7
    “This does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father ‘who alone has existence from himself, and alone gives this abundantly to all others’.” (LA, 128)
  • 8
    “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.”
  • 9
    “Only the Father of Christ is unbegotten and unbeginning.” (RH, 310) “We must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun.” “The Father is the Son’s origin.” (RH, 310) Only the Father is selfsufficient and invisible. (RH, 310)
  • 10
    “The Son is generated from the Father’s will as the only alternative to being generated by necessity.” (LA, 129)
  • 11
    The Son is “subordinate to his Father and God.” (LA, 127)
  • 12
    “Three realities or persons … does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father … ‘alone has existence from himself’.” (LA, 128)
  • 13
    The Macrostich describes “the Father’s generation of the Son as a sharing of the divine existence, but … without materialist connotation. … The hierarchical scheme within which this occurs remains unaltered.” (LA, 129)
  • 14
    The pre-Nicene fathers described the Son as “our God” but the Father as “the only true God,” implying that the Son is not “true” God. This confusion is caused by the translations.
  • 15
    Sabellius taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three portions of one single Being.
  • 16
    If we define Sabellianism as that only one hypostasis – only one distinct existence – exists in the Godhead, was Tertullian a Sabellian?
  • 17
    The Controversy gave us the Trinity doctrine but the traditional account of the Controversy is a complete traversy.
  • 18
    RPC Hanson states that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed but that is not entirely true. This article shows that subordination was indeed ‘orthodox’ at that time.
  • 19
    The term “Arianism” implies that Arius’ theology dominated the fourth-century church. But Arius was not regarded in his time as a significant writer. He left no school of disciples.
  • 20
    Over the centuries, Arius was always accused of this. This article explains why that is a false accusation.
  • 21
    There are significant differences between Origen and Arius.
  • 22
    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?
  • 23
    New research has shown that Arius is a thinker and exegete of resourcefulness, sharpness, and originality.
  • 24
    The word theos, which is translated as “God” in John 1:1 is not equivalent to the modern English word “God.”
  • 25
    Constantine took part in the Council of Nicaea and ensured that it reached the kind of conclusion which he thought best.
  • 26
    Eusebius of Caesarea, the most respected theologian at the Council, immediately afterward wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain why he accepted the Creed and how he understood the controversial phrases.
  • 27
    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.
  • 28
    Does it mean that Father and Son are one single Being, as the Trinity doctrine claims? How was it understood before, at, and after Nicaea? – Summary of the next article
  • 29
    The Nicene Creed describes the Son as homoousios (same substance) as the Father. But how was the term used before, during, and after Nicaea?
  • 30
    The term homoousios was not mentioned by anybody during the first 30 years after Nicaea. It only became part of that controversy in the 350s.
  • 31
    The word is not found in the Bible or in any orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea.
  • 32
    The Creed seems to say that the Father and Son are the same hupostasis. This is Sabellianism.
  • 33
    There was no Arian Conspiracy. It was a campaign against the claim that homoousios identifies Sabellianism as the church’s official theology.
  • 34
    The only reason we today refer to ‘Arians’ is that Athanasius invented the term to falsely label his opponents with a theology that was already formally rejected by the church.
  • 35
    This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if Emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
  • 36
    In contrast to the one-hypostasis view of the Western manifesto at Serdica in 343, the Long Lines Creed reflects a three-hypostasis theology.
  • 37
    ‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
  • 38
    In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
  • 39
    This was one of the ‘strands’ of ‘Arianism’. It proposed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same.
  • 40
    Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.
  • 41
    Eustathius and Marcellus played a major role in the formulation of the Creed but were soon deposed for Sabellianism.
  • 42
    Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of Biblical orthodoxy but this article argues that he was a Sabellian.
  • 43
    Many believe that these accusations were false but RPC Hanson shows that Athanasius was justly condemned.
  • 44
    The West deposed Athanasius for violence but the West, which, like Athanasius, preferred a one hypostasis theology, declared him blameless.
  • 45
    In the Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one substance or Being. This article shows that Basil taught three distinct substances.
  • 46
    This council reveals the state of Western theology at that time.
  • 47
    It was a regional synod of Antioch and attended only by bishops who were friendly to the bishop of Antioch. But the emperor hijacked it.
  • 48
    A summary of this book, which provides an overview of the fourth-century Arian Controversy. Lewis Ayres is a Catholic theologian and Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology.
  • 49
    A very informative lecture on the Arian Controversy by RPC Hanson, a famous fourth-century scholar
  • 50
    In the fifth century, Arian ‘barbarians’ dominated the Western Empire, but they tolerated and even respected the Trinitarian Roman Church.
  • 51
    Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being?
  • 52
    The Son has been begotten by the Father, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father. Eternal Generation explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.