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 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)

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:

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.