Hippolytus of Rome on the One God Being the Person of the Father in Particular

Hippolytus of Rome is among the earliest orthodox church fathers to defend classical trinitarianism against classical modalism when it became an issue in the late second and early third centuries. Sabellius himself stayed at Rome; Hippolytus directed his treatise against Noetus, another classical modalist.

Sabellius and Noetus, however, were not bishops, and Sabellius was condemned by council for his heresy. But the church of Rome’s problems with modalism were not over; the bishops of Rome themselves, Popes Zephyrinus and Callixtus, were classical modalists, and for this reason were strongly opposed by Hippolytus.

Hippolytus was elected as a rival bishop of Rome, and continued to oppose the papacy. During a period of peresecution Hippolytus was enslaved and put to hard labor in Roman mines, likely dying as a martyr.

Hippolytus wrote much in opposition to modalism; his teaching the classical doctrine that the one God of the Christian faith is the Father was only a small part of that. On that point he wrote:

“For it is right, in the first place, to expound the truth that the Father is one God, “of whom is every family,” “by whom are all things, of whom are all things, and we in Him.”” Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 3.

“If, therefore, all things are put under Him with the exception of Him who put them under Him, He is Lord of all, and the Father is Lord of Him, that in all there might be manifested one God, to whom all things are made subject together with Christ, to whom the Father hath made all things subject, with the exception of Himself. And this, indeed, is said by Christ Himself, as when in the Gospel He confessed Him to be His Father and His God. For He speaks thus: “I go to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.”” Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 6.

With these brief statements Hippolytus adds his name to a long list of early Christian theologians who articulated this scriptural truth. For more quotes on this topic, see I believe in one God, the Father Almighty

Aphrahat of Assyria On the One God Being the Person of the Father in Particular

Aphrahat of Assyria is not a household name in Western Christianity, but his Demonstrations serve as a valuable window into the theology and practice of the churches of the middle east around the time of the Nicene Council. By the time of the council, the Christian church stretched from Britain in the West to India and China in the East, and had not yet been divided by the later schisms that have left so many churches cut off from one another. In English, at least, it is difficult to find the writings of ante-nicene and Nicene era Christian authors who lived farther East than Persia. Most of those commonly known in the West today come from Europe, North Africa, and the Western edge of the Asian continent. Who knows what excellent theologians may have lived in the ancient churches of India and China, today unknown to later generations.

Aphrahat’s writings prove themselves a rare treat to Western Christians as a chance to peer into the often overlooked but enormous ancient churches of the East, where Syriac, instead of Greek or Latin, was used by the churches.

Aphrahat of Assyria, however far he was geographically from other orthodox fathers we may be familiar with such as Irenaeus of Lyons (modern-day France), was not far from them at all in his theology. Like Irenaeus and the fathers at the Nicene Council, Aphrahat taught that the one God is very same person who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“For if they worship, and honour with the name of worship, the heathen— those who in their heathen wickedness deny even the name of God — and yet do not worship them as their maker, as though they worshipped them alone, and so do not sin; how much more does it become us to worship and honour Jesus, Who converted our stubborn minds from all worship of vain error, and taught us to worship and serve and minister to the one God, our Father and our Maker. ” (Demonstrations, on Jesus Christ the Son of God)

We see Aphrahat express the classical trinitarian belief that men are brought by the Lord Jesus Christ to the one God, Who is our Father and Creator. The one God is not to Aphrahat the Trinity conceived of as though it were a single person, but rather the one God is explicitly the person we know as Father, to Whom the Lord Jesus Christ stands in relation as His only-begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit as His Spirit.

Aphrahat’s belief on this important point of doctrine stands in agreement with both scripture and the teaching of other orthodox fathers of the ante-nicene and nicene eras, as can be see here: I believe in one God, the Father Almighty

Athenagoras of Athens on the One God Being the Person of the Father in Particular

Second century church father Athenagoras of Athens is known best for his work Plea for the Christians, an apologetical work in which he urges the Roman authorities to stop unjustly persecuting Christians. Not much is known of his life, but he seems to have been an Athenian philosopher who converted to Christianity, and afterwards wrote in its defense.

Athenagoras stands as another witness to the view of the orthodox church fathers of the second century, the view that the one God of the Christian faith is the person of the Father in particular; not the entire Trinity as a whole. The one God, after all, according to scripture, is a person, not some abstract divinity without real existence. The Trinity, however, is not a person, and certainly not the person of the one God. Rather, scripture teaches that the person of the one God is the same person Who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, His eternal Logos and Wisdom, and only-begotten Son.

“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 4:4-5 NAS

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

“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 NAS

We see Athenagoras express his beliefs on the matter thus:

“But, since our doctrine acknowledges one God, the Maker of this universe, who is Himself uncreated (for that which is does not come to be, but that which is not) but has made all things by the Logos which is from Him, we are treated unreasonably in both respects, in that we are both defamed and persecuted.” A Plea For the Christians, Chapter IV.

“That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being—I have sufficiently demonstrated. [I say “His Logos”], for we acknowledge also a Son of God.” A Plea For the Christians, Chapter X.

From both these quotations we see Athenagoras identify that Christians believe in one God; and that this one God created all thing through His Logos, Who is His Son. Thus we see Him clearly equate the “one God” with the person of the Father, while the Logos stands in relation to the one God as His divine Son.

This same language is used by the Nicene Creed, when it says “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things…”, afterwards going on to confess “one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, and one “Holy Spirit”.

For an extensive list of testimonies from the ante-nicene and nicene church fathers on this subject, see here: https://contramodalism.com/2017/03/08/i-believe-in-one-god-the-father-almighty/.

Demonstration From Scripture that the One God is the Father in Particular

It is important to see every point of doctrine proven from scripture in order to know with certainty that it is true; conversely we endanger ourselves if we rashly accept what merely seems plausible without a true demonstration from the scriptures. For scripture commands that we “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21)

For those who think this idea is merely a peculiarity of the protestant tradition, we may learn that this idea is in fact a patristic doctrine held by the early church fathers:

“Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.” (Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 4)

We see the same idea expressed by Clement of Alexandria:

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves… He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things. What is subjected to criticism is not believed till it is so subjected; so that what needs criticism cannot be a first principle. Therefore, as is reasonable, grasping by faith the indemonstrable first principle, and receiving in abundance, from the first principle itself, demonstrations in reference to the first principle, we are by the voice of the Lord trained up to the knowledge of the truth.
For we may not give our adhesion to men on a bare statement by them, who might equally state the opposite. But if it is not enough merely to state the opinion, but if what is stated must be confirmed, we do not wait for the testimony of men, but we establish the matter that is in question by the voice of the Lord, which is the surest of all demonstrations, or rather is the only demonstration; in which knowledge those who have merely tasted the Scriptures are believers; while those who, having advanced further, and become correct expounders of the truth, are Gnostics. Since also, in what pertains to life, craftsmen are superior to ordinary people, and model what is beyond common notions; so, consequently, we also, giving a complete exhibition of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, from faith persuade by demonstration.” (Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 16)

And Irenaeus of Lyons considered it so important to see even the most basic tenets of the Christian faith demonstrated from the scriptures, and not believed on the authority of mere human opinion, that he authored his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, in which he admirably shows the agreement of the holy tradition of the church with the holy and infallible scriptures, and proves each point of the traditional faith from the same.

And the teaching of these ancient Christians is itself well supported from the scriptures, which commend the Jews of Berea as “noble-minded”(Act 17:11) because they did not accept or reject what the Apostle Paul himself taught except upon seeing it proven from the scriptures, the Holy Spirit through the apostle in another place commanding every Christian to “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21).

Having then, demonstrated the need for demonstration from the scriptures itself from the scriptures, and having provided a few testimonies to the same effect from the holy fathers of the church, let us move on to our main subject, concerned with the identity of the one God.

The opinion of many, led astray by false teachers, is that the one God is a person who is the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The greater part who have been deceived have no idea of their own peril, but having uncritically accept what some teachers have told them, have been carried away by lies contrary to the teaching of scripture.

But the teaching of scripture stands, and the truth in unchanged by the false opinions of the multitude. And as Justin Martyr says “Neither shall light ever be darkness as long as light exists, nor shall the truth of the things pertaining to us be controverted. For truth is that than which nothing is more powerful. Every one who might speak the truth, and speaks it not, shall be judged by God.” I must then, although I would rather avoid the controversy entailed, do my best to speak the truth, although I am the least of all Christians.

The points of doctrine then, which I undertake to prove from the scriptures, that you may have a true knowledge of them, not founded on human opinion or plausible arguments, but upon proof from very voice of God speaking in the holy scriptures, are these:

  1. That the “one God” of scripture is a person.
  2. That the person of the one God is the Father in particular.

Firstly, let us fix in our minds what a “person” is: a person is commonly acknowledged to be an individual of a rational nature. For instance, we may speak of human persons, since individual men are individual and possess a rational nature. We may also regard angelic creatures as persons, since they also exist as individuals and possess a rational nature. God, His Son, and His Spirit are also persons, since each of them is an individual of a rational nature. Persons, since they are by definition rational and individual, possess their own distinct consciousness, will, and mind. As rational individuals, they act, think, and speak.

That the “one God” scripture reveals is a person is demonstrated from;

  • That it is self-evident that the “one God” is individual.
  • His actions demonstrate that He is rational.
  • That He is God proves He is rational, since rationality is necessary to exercise dominion and rule as God does.
  • Scripture’s use of singular personal pronouns for Him demonstrates that He is an individual.

Thus, once we see all these points proven, we will have it proven that the one God is both rational and individual; thus, by definition, a person.

We see that the one God acts in these passages of scripture:

“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another By profaning the covenant of the fathers?” (Malachi 2:10)

“since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:30)

We see that God is rational from these passages of scripture:

““Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28)

“For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;” (Proverbs 2:6)

Having it proven then from the holy scriptures that the one God is rational, and from the very term “one God” itself having it self-evident that He is individual, we have proven that He is a person. But scripture gives us further proof of this by using singular personal pronouns for Him; since by definition a singular personal pronoun indicates a single person.

We have already quoted above:

“since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:30)

The “one God” then is not an “it” and so impersonal, but is rather called by scripture “who”, thus teaching us that the one God is a person.

“So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”” (Mark 12:32-34)

Here the scribe says that there is one God, and calls Him “He”. If then, the one God were not a person, then the scribe did not indeed answer wisely, since he speaks of Him as one. But Christ, the Wisdom of God, acknowledges that “he answered wisely”.

Again the Spirit through Paul teaches

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

We see then the one God spoken of with the singular personal pronouns “whom” and “Him”.

Lastly we will cite Ephesians 4:6:

“one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Here again we see the one God is proven to be a person by the use of the personal pronoun “who”.

So we see it proven again that the one God is a person, having proved it first from the fact that scripture shows the one God to be an individual of a rational nature, and thus a person by definition, so also we have now shown that scripture declares that the one God is a person by using personal pronouns for Him. We have then, demonstrated from infallible scripture this first point of doctrine, that the one God is a person.

On then, to the second point of doctrine of our demonstration, that is, having established that the one God is a person, proving now from the scriptures that He is the person of the Father in particular.

This is made clear from the following passages:

“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 4:4-5 NAS

Here the one God is explicitly shown to be the same person as the Father.

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

Here the Lord teaches us to call the Father the “only true God” by His own example when He prayed to the Father on the night He was betrayed.

“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 NAS

Here the Holy Spirit expressly declares through the apostle that the one God is the Father.

From these explicit testimonies is clearly demonstrated the fact that the one God is the Father. And He cannot be, as some have though, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit if He is a person; for a person, as we have said, is an individual, and thus singular. And we also noted the use of singular, not plural, personal pronouns used for the one God, thus proving that the one God is not a company of persons but a single person, and that this person is none other than the Father, the one Whom the Lord Jesus Christ called “the only true God”.

Here then both points of doctrine have been clearly and thoroughly proven from the scriptures; let he who has ears hear. What you may once have safely regarded as mere opinion is now declared to you by the voice of God to be sure and certain truth, which cannot be safely disregarded.

But someone will perhaps not regard the testimony of scripture alone as sufficient, but will require an official ruling from the church. Such foolishness deserves no answer; but that they may through the truth be drawn to repentance, let them read only the first line of the Creed composed by the Council of Nicea, the first ecumenical council, when it says “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things..” and they will know that what I have already demonstrated from the scriptures is indeed true.

 

Above scripture quotations taken from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.

Origen on the One God Being the Father

 

Origen has long been a controversial figure in church history. The third century church father was student of Clement of Alexandria, and taught at the Catechetical School at Alexandria. For better or worse, Origen was highly influential on several generations following him, until he was eventual posthumously condemned as a heretic many centuries after he lived by an ecclesiastical council. Prior to this there had been protracted controversy about his orthodoxy for centuries, with many church fathers writing in opposition and in defense of him.

Without commenting further on Origen’s contributions to theology at large, it will serve our purposes simply to note that Origen stands amid a long line of early Christian theologians who taught that the one God of the Christians faith is not the Trinity, but the person of God the Father in particular. We see this belief expressed by Origen in the following quotes:

“The particular points clearly delivered in the teaching of the apostles are as follow:– First, That there is one God, who created and arranged all things, and who, when nothing existed, called all things into being–God from the first creation and foundation of the world–the God of all just men, of Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, Enoch, Noe, Sere, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets; and that this God in the last days, as He had announced beforehand by His prophets, sent our Lord Jesus Christ to call in the first place Israel to Himself, and in the second place the Gentiles, after the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel. This just and good God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself gave the law and the prophets, and the Gospels, being also the God of the apostles and of the Old and New Testaments.” De Principiis, Preface 4.

“But whether Orpheus, Parmenides, Empedocles, or even Homer himself, and Hesiod, are the persons whom he means by “inspired poets,” let any one show how those who follow their guidance walk in a better way, or lead a more excellent life, than those who, being taught in the school of Jesus Christ, have rejected all images and statues, and even all Jewish superstition, that they may look upward through the Word of God to the one God, who is the Father of the Word.” Origen Against Celsus, Book VII. Chapter XLI.

“Accordingly, we worship with all our power the one God, and His only Son, the Word and the Image of God, by prayers and supplications; and we offer our petitions to the God of the universe through His only-begotten Son.” Origen Against Celsus, Book VIII. Chapter XIII.

This matches with the apostle Paul’s inspired confession in 1 Corinthians 8:6 “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.” (NAS), as well as the later teaching of the Nicene Creed which begins by stating that “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…”. For an extensive list of quotes from other church fathers on the same subject, see here: https://contramodalism.com/2017/03/08/i-believe-in-one-god-the-father-almighty/ .

Semi-modalism in the Liturgy of St. James

The Liturgy of St. James is renowned as being one of the oldest liturgies in Christianity, supposedly going back all the way to the apostle James the brother of the Lord. Although the liturgy is reputed to have an apostolic origin, it continued to see modification for several centuries, the version used today perhaps dating back to the fifth or sixth centuries.

Because of such modifications to an ancient document, it is of course difficult to ever say with absolute certainty what is original and what is not. Certain things can easily be conjectured to be additions however as they bear the mark of later theological controversies that a first century liturgy would not have spoken to. The language in many places is seen to date from the post-nicene era.

One such instance of an anachronism in the liturgy is that its second paragraph is expressly semi-modalistic, something otherwise unheard of in orthodox churches in the ante-nicene era. It says:

“II Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, the triune light of the Godhead, which is unity subsisting in trinity, divided, yet indivisible: for the Trinity is the one God Almighty, whose glory the heavens declare, and the earth His dominion, and the sea His might, and every sentient and intellectual creature at all times proclaims His majesty: for all glory becomes Him, and honour and might, greatness and magnificence, now and ever, and to all eternity. Amen.”

A more explicitly semi-modalistic statement would only be possible if it came right out and called the Trinity as a whole a “person” (like Cornelius Van Til did: https://contramodalism.com/2018/01/15/van-tils-views-on-the-trinity/ ).

We see that this liturgy expressly contradicts the Nicene Creed, which begins by defining the one God of the Christian faith as the person of the Father saying “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” Instead the Liturgy defines the one God as the Trinity itself.

That the Trinity is treated as a single person is also abundantly clear, as it goes on to use singular personal pronouns such as “his” for the Trinity several times.

It is sad to see semi-modalism encapsulated in the Liturgy which is perhaps in its original form the oldest liturgy we have still in use. The liturgy of St. James is commonly used by various Eastern churches, including the Syriac Orthodox church and occasionally by the Eastern Orthodox Church, which despite this part of its liturgy, is actually making great strides in returning to classical trinitarianism such as that articulated by the Nicene Creed (see: https://contramodalism.com/tag/eastern-orthodox/ ).

Augustine vs. Athanasius on the Identity of the “One God”

Between Augustine and earlier church fathers like Athanasius of Alexandria there exists a great deal of doctrinal agreement. But there are also some crucial areas of disagreement between these two influential theologians.

As has been previously noted on this blog, Augustine was a strong early proponent of the idea that the one God of the Christian faith is the Trinity conceived of as a single person itself. We see this idea expressed in his own writings in the following:

“That one God, therefore, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who will not appear, except for joy which cannot be taken away from the just…” (On the Trinity, Book 1, Ch. 13)

“…neither here does it appear plainly whether it was any person of the Trinity that appeared to Abraham, or God Himself the Trinity, of which one God it is said, You shall fear the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” (Book 2, Ch. 10)

“O Lord the one God, God the Trinity, whatever I have said in these books that is of Yours, may they acknowledge who are Yours; if anything of my own, may it be pardoned both by You and by those who are Yours. Amen.” (Book 15, Ch. 28)

In contrast, Athanasius was clear in affirming the well-established doctrine that the one God of the Christian faith is the person of the Father in particular:

“But if this is not to be seen, but while the creatures are many, the Word is one, any one will collect from this, that the Son differs from all, and is not on a level with the creatures, but proper to the Father. Hence there are not many Words, but one only Word of the one Father, and one Image of the one God.” (Against the Arians, Discourse II.)

“For there is One God, and not many, and One is His Word, and not many; for the Word is God, and He alone has the Form of the Father.” (Against the Arians, Discourse III.)

“For the Word, being Son of the One God, is referred to Him of whom also He is; so that Father and Son are two, yet the Monad of the Godhead is indivisible and inseparable. And thus too we preserve One Beginning of Godhead and not two Beginnings, whence there is strictly a Monarchy” (Against the Arians, Discourse IV.)

“For the one God makes and creates; but Him He begets from Himself, Word or Wisdom.” (Against the Arians, Discourse IV.)

Not least of all would be the opening line of the Nicene Creed, a creed which Athanasius not only affirmed and spent his life defending the truthfulness of its content, which begins by saying:

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible…”

Although Augustine would allege the support of scripture for his position, in light of the language of scripture, it is clear which of these viewpoints actually represents the biblical position:

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

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

“…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 NAS

Semi-modalism: A Study in the Bizarre

A person who is three persons. A single mind controlling three individuals. A plurality of persons with a single united consciousness. An intelligence speaking and acting through three manifestations. An intelligent ‘thing’ that exists as a three rational persons.

What am I talking about? Science fiction, or semi-modalism?

Hard to tell, isn’t it?

In fact, I would be so bold as to say that without further description, it would be downright impossible to tell. I could be referring to something similar to the alien monster from John Carpenter’s science fiction masterpiece The Thing, or I could be talking about the intelligent “thing” that semi-modalists say is the three real persons of the Trinity (and yes, I have actually had it articulated to me by them in those terms).

What I am trying to point out here is how bizarre semi-modalism is. Now an idea seeming bizarre, of course, does not mean that it isn’t true, and I will grant that there is a good bit of subjectivity that goes into deciding what is bizarre and what isn’t. But in the case of semi-modalism, we are dealing with doctrinal error, serving to obscure the glory of God and to harm the church. Semi-modalism isn’t false because its bizarre, but in the vast and varied sea of doctrinal errors that Christianity has encountered throughout history, I would argue semi-modalism ranks among the most bizarre (although anyone who has studied ancient pseudo-gnosticism like that of Basilides and Valentinius knows semi-modalism still doesn’t take first place).

Along this line of thinking, I would suggest that if we did not live in a world where semi-modalism had gained longterm ascendency throughout much of the church, such that people became used to and familiar with its underlying ideas and terminology, semi-modalism would actually sound very strange to most Christians. The idea that there is a personal “triune God” who is Father, Son, and Spirit might sound perfectly normal if you’ve been indoctrinated with the ideas and have grown used to the lingo, but really, its a very weird idea being put forward.

To demonstrate this, step back from the doctrine of the Trinity for a moment and consider metaphysical personhood in general. Consider human persons for example. The idea that one human person can be multiple other human persons would break most classical philosophical definitions of personhood entirely. Imagine three men who shared one mind, one consciousness, who were three and yet at the same time, all just different parts of a single intelligent person who controlled them all. That is bizarre. And because we would never even consider such an idea in respect to humans outside of science fiction, its easy to recognize its oddity, and, if we really consider what personhood is, its impossibility.

Yet when we come to the Trinity we are fed the exact same sorts of ideas by semi-modalism. Yet they are accepted.

This too, is bizarre.

Highlights from Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril of Jerusalem is a notable fourth century theologian and church father, best known today for his Catachetical Lectures. This nicene-era archbishop of Jerusalem’s lectures provide us with a clear elucidation of classical trinitarianism, in which we also find strong apolegetics against both Arianism and modalism, both of which threatened the church of his day.

Like the Nicene Creed, Cyril very explcitly taught that the “one God” of the Christian faith is the person of the Father in particular. We see that doctrine greatly emphaized by him in the following quotes:

“Further, do thou neither separate the Son from the Father, nor by making a confusion believe in a Son-Fatherhood; but believe that of One God there is One Only-begotten Son, who is before all ages God the Word; not the uttered word diffused into the air, nor to be likened to impersonal words; but the Word the Son, Maker of all who partake of reason, the Word who heareth the Father, and Himself speaketh.” On the Ten Points of Doctrine (Lecture IV)

“For there is One God, the Father of Christ; and One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of the Only God; and One Holy Ghost…” On the Ten Points of Doctrine (Lecture IV)

“Of God as the sole Principle we have said enough to you yesterday:  by “enough” I mean, not what is worthy of the subject, (for to reach that is utterly impossible to mortal nature), but as much as was granted to our infirmity.  I traversed also the bye-paths of the manifold error of the godless heretics:  but now let us shake off their foul and soul-poisoning doctrine, and remembering what relates to them, not to our own hurt, but to our greater detestation of them, let us come back to ourselves, and receive the saving doctrines of the true Faith, connecting the dignity of Fatherhood with that of the Unity, and believing In One God the Father:  for we must not only believe in one God; but this also let us devoutly receive, that He is the Father of the Only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Father (Lecture VII)

“But let us adopt the godly doctrine of our Faith, worshipping one God the Father of the Christ…” The Father (Lecture VII)

“There is One God, the Father, Lord of the Old and of the New Testament:  and One Lord, Jesus Christ, who was prophesied of in the Old Testament, and came in the New; and One Holy Ghost, who through the Prophets preached of Christ, and when Christ was come, descended, and manifested Him.” On the Article, And In One Holy Ghost, the Comforter, Which Spake In the Prophets (Lecture XVI)

“The Father through the Son, with the Holy Ghost, is the giver of all grace; the gifts of the Father are none other than those of the Son, and those of the Holy Ghost; for there is one Salvation, one Power, one Faith; One God, the Father; One Lord, His only-begotten Son; One Holy Ghost, the Comforter. ” On the Article, And In One Holy Ghost, the Comforter, Which Spake In the Prophets (Lecture XVI)

There is much we could say about these quotes. It is firstly noteworthy that these all come from lectures given to new believers preparing to be baptised; they were intended to be doctrinal milk for spiritual children. The inclusion of this doctrine in these lectures then shows us the elementary nature of this doctrine in the eyes of Cyril. For Cyril, the truth that the one God of the Christian faith is the Father of Christ was not something esoteric, only to be discussed by theologians in ivory towers. Rather, it was regarded by him as among the most fundamental teachings of the Christian faith, a truth to be understood by every believer, from the advanced scholar to the illiterate farmer.

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)