Highlights from Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria is an important but often overlooked theologian of the late second and early third century. His student, Origen, is better known.

Like Origen, Clement himself has been a somewhat controversial figure in the eyes of later theologians. He is well received by the Coptic church, was declared a heretic a millennium or so after he lived by the Eastern Orthodox, was considered a saint by the Roman church until shortly after the Reformation when this honor was rescinded by the Pope, and has been popular among early Protestants due to his clear articulation of the doctrine that every point of doctrine must be proven from scripture if it is to be accepted as true.

Clement’s formulation of the doctrine that the one God of the Christian faith is the person of the Father does not differ from that of other theologians of the same era who articulated this first article of the Christian faith against various pseudo-gnostic heretics, such as Irenaeus. We see his belief stated explicitly in the following quote:

“Wherefore also the apostle designates as “the express image (χαρακτῆρα) of the glory of the Father” the Son, who taught the truth respecting God, and expressed the fact that the Almighty is the one and only God and Father, “whom no man knoweth but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal Him. That God is one is intimated by those “who seek the face of the God of Jacob;” whom being the only God, our Saviour and God characterizes as the Good Father.” (Stromata, Book 7, Chapter X.)

Of special interest is this next quote, included by Clement in his Stromata from the now lost source The Preaching of Peter, from which we see Peter explicitly teach that the one God of the Christian faith is the person of the Father:

“And that the men of highest repute among the Greeks knew God, not by positive knowledge, but by indirect expression, Peter says in the Preaching: “Know then that there is one God, who made the beginning of all things, and holds the power of the end; and is the Invisible, who sees all things; incapable of being contained, who contains all things; needing nothing, whom all things need, and by whom they are; incomprehensible, everlasting, unmade, who made all things by the ‘Word of His power,’ that is, according to the gnostic scripture, His Son.”” (Stromata Book 6, Chapter V)

The Trinity: Three Persons or Four?

If you ask anyone how many persons there are in the Trinity, they will likely tell you there are three. This is obvious- the very word “Trinity” comes from ‘Tri’=three, combined with ‘unity’, meaning three in unity. Three persons, of one essence, as the classical formulation goes.

Sadly though, if we actually take the time to examine how many persons many so-called trinitarians believe in, we will quickly see that there is an extra person afoot. This is because many theologians who have succumbed to the lies of semi-modalism have accepted the Trinity itself as a fourth person. These people take the one essence, or divine nature that is supposed to be shared by the three real persons of the Trinity and imagine it to be a person itself. Another variation of this is to simply imagine that the group of three persons is a single person. By personifying either the group of persons or the divine nature, these false teachers have craftily introduced a fourth person into the Trinity. Continue reading “The Trinity: Three Persons or Four?”

Fr. John Behr on Basil the Great’s Understanding of the One God

The following quote from Fr. John Behr was something I found of interest, commenting on Basil the Great’s understanding of Who the “one God” of the Christian faith is:

“For the Christian faith there is, unequivocally, but one God, and that is the Father: “There is one God the Father.” For Basil, the one God is not the one divine substance, or a notion of “divinity” which is ascribed to each person of the Trinity, nor is it some kind of unity or communion in which they all exist; the one God is the Father. But this “monarchy” of the Father does not undermine the confession of the true divinity of the Son and the Spirit. Jesus Christ is certainly “true God from true God,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, but he is such as the Son of God, the God who is thus the Father. If the term “God” (Θεός) is used of Jesus Christ, not only as a predicate, but also as a proper noun with an article (ὁ Θεός), this is only done on the prior confession of him as “Son of God, and so as other than “the one God” of whom he is the Son; it is necessary to bear in mind this order of Christian theology, lest it collapse in confusion.” (John Behr, The Formation of Christian Theology – Volume 2: The Nicene Faith – Part 2, pp. 307, 308.)

Thanks to David at http://articulifidei.blogspot.com/ for providing the source for this quotation.

Modern Eastern Orthodox Theologians on the One God being the Person of the Father

In recent years there has been something of a revival of aspects of mid-fourth century triadology in Eastern Orthodoxy. Several prominent EO theologians have argued for a return to a return to the belief that the one God is the Father, the first person of the triad, as opposed to the one God being a tri-personal “triune God”.

As in the last few centuries the Eastern church has undergone what some have referred to as a “patristic renaissance” it is no surprise to see their theology has moving away from a semi-modalistic direction and returning to what the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers articulated regarding the one God being the person of the Father in particular.

I wanted to share a few quotes from some of these theologians below:

John Meyendorff:

The same personalistic emphasis appears in the Greek Fathers’ insistence on the “monarchy” of the Father. Contrary to the concept which prevailed in the post-Augustinian West and in Latin Scholasticism, Greek theology attributes the origin of hypostatic “subsistence” to the hypostasis of the Father—not to the common essence. The Father is the “cause” (aitia) and the “principle” (archē) of the divine nature, which is in the Son and in the Spirit. What is even more striking is the fact that this “monarchy” of the Father is constantly used by the Cappadocian Fathers against those who accuse them of “tritheism”: “God is one,” writes Basil, “because the Father is one.” (Byzantine Theology, 2nd ed, 1983, page 183)

John Zizioulas:

Among the Greek Fathers the unity of God, the one God, and the ontological “principal” or “cause” of the being and life of God does not consist in the one substance of God but in the hypostasis, that is, the person of the Father. The one God is not the one substance but the Father, who is the “cause” both of the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit. (Being As Communion, 1985, pages 40-41)

Thomas Hopko:

“… in the Bible, in the creeds, and in the Liturgy, it’s very important, really critically important, to note and to affirm and to remember that the one God in whom we believe, strictly speaking, is not the Holy Trinity. The one God is God the Father. In the Bible, the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. He is God who sends his only-begotten Son into the world, and Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Then, of course, in a parallel manner, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of God, that the Holy Spirit, being the Spirit of God, is therefore also the Spirit of Christ, the Messiah, because the Christ is the Son of God, upon whom God the Father sends and affirms his Holy Spirit.” (From the online transcript of the podcast, The Holy Trinity)
Source:   http://articulifidei.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-monarchy-of-god-father-and-trinity.html

Irenaeus Highlights

Irenaeus of Lyons, unlike many church fathers, is one relatively well known to modern Christians. The second century bishop of Lyons is famous for his staunch opposition to the various pseudo-gnostic heresies that faced the church in his day, and especially for the multi-volume work Against Heresies that he authored to combat them. He also authored a lesser-known work summarizing an orthodox understanding of the Christian faith and proving its tenets from the scriptures called Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, which I highly recommend.

Here I want to briefly examine some quotes from his writings that highlight his strongly held and clearly-articulated belief that the one God of the Christian faith is the person of the Father in particular.

“And others of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a stedfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Against Heresies, Book I. Chapter III. 6.)

Due to the clarity of these quotes, comment is largely unnecessary. While Irenaeus is writing against the heretics of old his words still hold a strong rebuke for the modern semi-modalists who have taken up their mantle.

“The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God” (Against Heresies, Book I. Chapter X. 1.)

“These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics.” (Against Heresies, Book III. Chapter I. 2.)

“Since, therefore, this is sure and stedfast, that no other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word, and those who receive the Spirit of adoption, [3805] that is, those who believe in the one and true God, and in Jesus Christ the Son of God; and likewise that the apostles did of themselves term no one else as God, or name [no other] as Lord; and, what is much more important, [since it is true] that our Lord [acted likewise], who did also command us to confess no one as Father, except Him who is in the heavens, who is the one God and the one Father;–those things are clearly shown to be false which these deceivers and most perverse sophists advance” (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter I. 1.)

“And therefore it is right first of all to believe that there is One God, the Father, who made and fashioned all things, and made what was not that it should be, and who, containing all things, alone is uncontained.” (The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

“This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building, and the stability of our conversation: God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things: this is the first point of our faith. The second point is: The Word of God, Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was manifested to the prophets according to the form of their prophesying and according to the method of the dispensation of the Father: through whom all things were made; who also at the end of the times, to complete and gather up all things, was made man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death and show forth life and produce a community of union between God and man. And the third point is: The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and the fathers learned the things of God, and the righteous were led forth into the way of righteousness; and who in the end of the times was poured out in a new way upon mankind in all the earth, renewing man unto God.” (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

Dr. Sam Waldron on the one God being the Father in particular

While the doctrine that the person of the one God is the Father in particular has fallen on hard times (for a very long time), there are a few modern theologians from varying traditions that have noted this fact. Here is an excerpt from a blog series by Dr. Sam Waldron, President of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary.

He does this in the third installment of a series of blog posts he authored back in 2011 on the topic of the Trinity. The original can be found at: https://cbtseminary.org/whos-tampering-with-the-trinity-3/

Dr. Waldron writes:

“I suspect that many evangelicals today would choke on the very first words of the Nicene Creed—if they are really thought about what they were confessing. Here is the first paragraph of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

How far many of us have drifted from historic Trinitarianism is revealed by how queasy these words make us feel when we think about. “Surely,” we think, “The Son is also the Maker of heaven and earth. And does the Nicene Creed really mean to say that there is some distinct sense that we are to identify the Father as God? Does this imply that the Son and Spirit are not God?”

If these kinds of questions and concerns come to us when we really think about what we are confessing in the Nicene Creed, it should make us wonder if we have really understood and whether we entirely hold the historic Trinitarian creed. So what are we missing?

We are missing, first of all, that the creed is squarely biblical. In a number of important passages when the persons of the Trinity are being delineated the Father is given the personal name, God.

This happens in John 1:1-2: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The context of these verses it is to be noted is not the economy of redemption. Orthodox Christians read these verses as speaking of the period at the beginning of the creation of the world. One cannot read into them the incarnation and the economy of redemption in which The Son became a man. They are speaking of the Trinitarian relationships which existed before the creation of the world—at the beginning. In speaking of these eternal relationships describes one person of the Trinity as “the God.” (The Greek definite article is present in both occurrences of the prepositional phrase, “with God,” in these verses.) The Apostle describes the other person of the Trinity as “the Word.” So in these verses you have two persons: “the God” and “the Word.” Both of these persons possess the entire divine essence. The Word is as to His substance and being God. Yet in the language of these verses, He is not “the God.” Clearly, in some distinct personal sense the Father is God, while the eternal and divine Son is “His” Word. Thus, the Nicene Creed confesses and must confess: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

Another illustration of this way of describing the Father is found in one of the most important assertions of the Trinity in the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 13:14 contains this Trinitarian benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” Exegetes have often noted the unusual order of this benediction in which the Son is mentioned first, the Father is mentioned second, and the Holy Spirit is mentioned third. Egalitarian Trinitarians have leaped to the conclusion that this means there is no particular order in the Trinity. This conclusion is misguided for a lot of obvious reasons. First, it ignore that there is a common, ordinary, and dominant order in the mention of the person of the Trinity in the New Testament. It is usually Father, then Son, and then sometimes Holy Spirit. It is simply wrong to use the unusual order of 2 Corinthians 13:14 to contradict and undo this usual order and deny that there is a particular order in the eternal Trinity. Other objections to this use of 2 Corinthians 13:14 might be mentioned, but the true explanation of the order of this benediction is that the Father is here given the central position in the benediction. The grace of the Son is traced up to the love of the Father and brought down all the way down to us in the fellowship of the Spirit. So even in the order of this benediction the first-ness of the Father is maintained. And what makes this so clear is the name given to the Father here. He is not called the Father in this benediction. In language which echoes John 1:1-2 he is called “the God.” How can we miss the implication that in some sense the Father occupies the first place among the persons of the Trinity? That is why the Nicene Creed must confess first its faith in “one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.””

Myriad Modalists

Statistics are always tricky, but according to some estimates there are about 330 million “oneness pentecostals” worldwide. For those not familiar with the group, their theology is that of classical modalism. This would not account for all the additional classical modalists in other traditions.

Given these numbers, it is interesting to note that classical modalists today outnumber JWs by about 42:1. I think that’s interesting given the fact that it seems like so much attention and energy in the church is given to combatting the heresies taught by the watchtower association, and yet I see relatively little directed against modalism.

Of course, if semi-modalism were included in these statistics, the numbers would be off the chart. But it’s worth noting that at least in terms of numbers the neo-arianism of the JWs is not nearly as big of a threat to the contemporary church as modalism is.

We Believe in One God, the Father Almighty…

Most ancient creeds, including the Nicene, begin by declaring faith in one God, the Father Almighty. This belief that God is one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (that is, Unitarianism) is given as the first article of the Christian faith in these ancient creeds and confessions. The identification of the one God with the person of the Father in particular is not only easily proved from the scriptures, but is also extensively witnessed to by the ante-nicene and nicene church fathers. A non-comprehensive list of quotes showing this is given below.

Scriptural Proof:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NASB)

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NASB)

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6 NASB)

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25 NASB)

Ancient Patristic Witness:

Clement of Rome:

“Why are there strifes, and tumults, and divisions, and schisms, and wars  among you? Have we not [all] one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us?” 1 Clement, Chapter XLVI.

“We beseech Thee, Lord and Master, to be our help and succor. Save
those among us who are in tribulation; have mercy on the lowly; lift
up the fallen; show Thyself unto the needy; heal the ungodly; convert
the wanderers of Thy people; feed the hungry; release our prisoners;
raise up the weak; comfort the fainthearted. Let all the Gentiles
know that Thou art the God alone, and Jesus Christ is Thy Son, and
we are Thy people and the sheep of Thy pasture.” 1 Clement, Ch 59

“For concerning faith and repentance and genuine love and temperance
and sobriety and patience we have handled every argument, putting you
in remembrance, that ye ought to please Almighty God in righteousness
and truth and long suffering with holiness, laying aside malice and
pursuing concord in love and peace, being instant in gentleness; even
as our fathers, of whom we spake before, pleased Him, being lowly
minded toward their Father and God and Creator and towards all men.” 1 Clement, Ch 62

Ignatius of Antioch:

“On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by His grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased Him that sent Him.” Epistle to the Magnesians (shorter version), Chapter VIII. Continue reading “We Believe in One God, the Father Almighty…”