Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine – J F Bethune-Baker 1903

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Preface

In the preparation of this volume the writer has been guided by the general purpose of the Series of Theological Handbooks of which it is a part. A continuous narrative is given in the text, with as much freedom from technical treatment as the subject allows; details and authorities are relegated to footnotes, and some special questions and difficulties are dealt with in notes appended to the several chapters.

The chief aim which has been kept in view throughout has been to offer to the student of the history of Christian Doctrine during the first four centuries of the life of the Church such information with regard to the facts and the sources as will enable him to prosecute his study for himself.

It is only a limited period with which the book deals, but a period in which the Christian theory of life—of the relations between God, the World, and Man—was worked out in its chief aspects, and all the doctrines to which the Church of Christ as a whole is pledged were framed. The authority of these doctrines is only to be understood by study of their history. Their permanent value can only be appreciated by knowledge of the circumstances in which they came to be expressed, knowledge which must certainly precede any restatement of the doctrines, such as is from time to time demanded in the interests of a growing or a wider faith.

That Christian thinkers have been guided at various times, in later ages, towards fuller apprehension of various aspects of human life, and fuller knowledge of the divine economy, must be thankfully acknowledged. But whatever reason there is to hope for further elucidation from the growth of human knowledge in general, and the translation of old doctrines into the terms of the new knowledge, it seems certain that the work of the great leaders of Christian thought in the interpretation of the Gospel during the earlier ages can never be superseded. They were called upon, in turn, to meet and to consider in relation to the Gospel and to Jesus Christ nearly all the theories of the world and God which human speculation and experience have framed in explanation of the mystery of human life; and the conclusions which they reached must still be at least the starting point for any further advance towards more complete solution of the problems with which they had to deal. Christians, whether conservative or progressive, will find in the study of the course through which doctrines were evolved their strongest stay and safeguard.

On the one hand, if defence of Christian doctrines be needed, it is found at its best in the bare history of the process by which they came into existence. On the other hand, in an age when other than the Catholic interpretations of the Gospel and of the Person of Christ are put forward and find favour in unexpected quarters, much heart-searching and laborious enquiry may be saved by the knowledge that similar or identical explanations were offered and ably advocated centuries ago; that they were tried, not only by intellectual but also by moral tests, and that the experience of life rejected them as inadequate or positively false. The semi-conscious Ebionism and the semi-conscious Docetism, for example, of much professedly Christian thought today may recognize itself in many an ancient heresy, and reconsider its position.

The mass of materials available for the study of even the limited part of the subject of Christian Doctrine which is dealt with in this book is so great that it has been necessary to exercise a strict economy in references to books and writers, ancient and modern, both English and German, from which much might be learned. I have only aimed at giving guidance to young students, leaving them to turn for fuller information to the larger well-known histories of Doctrine in general and the many special studies of particular doctrines. And as the book is designed to meet the needs of English students, I have seldom cited works that are not accessible to those who read no other language than their own.

I wish that every student of Christian Doctrine could have had the privilege of hearing the short course of lectures which Professor Westcott used to give in Cambridge. For my own part, I thankfully trace back to them the first intelligible conception of the subject which came before me. Some of these lectures were afterwards incorporated in the volume entitled The Gospel of Life.

Dr. Harnack’s History of Doctrines occupies a position of eminence all its own, and will remain a monument of industry and learning, and an almost inexhaustible treasury of materials. To the English translation of this great work frequent references will be found in the following pages. But the student who is not able to examine the evidence and the conclusions, and to make allowances for Dr. Harnack’s peculiar point of view, will still, in my judgement, find Hagenbach’s History of Doctrines his best guide to his own work on the subject, although he will need sometimes to supplement the materials which were available when Hagenbach wrote.1 He will learn a great deal also from Dorner’s Doctrine of the Person of Christ (vol. 1vol. 2vol. 3), from Neander’s History of Christian Dogmas and Church History, and from the works of the older English divines, such as Bull’s Defence of the Nicene Creed (vol.1vol. 2) and Pearson’s Exposition of the Creed. Works such as these are in no way superseded by the many excellent books and treatises of later scholars, some of which are cited hereafter in regard to particular points.2 Many of the articles in the Dictionary of Christian Biography (ed. Smith and Wace), the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities (ed. Smith and Cheetham vol. 1vol. 2, and Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (vol. 1 vol. 2 vol. 3 vol. 4 vol 5) are of great value, while for the Creeds the collection of Hahn (Bibliothek der Symbole und Glaubensregeln der alien Kirche) is indispensable.

To two friends, who have special knowledge of different parts of the subject—I am much indebted for help in the revision of the proof-sheets the Rev. A. E. Burn, rector of Kynnersley, and the Rev. J. H. Srawley, of Selwyn College, the latter in particular having generously devoted much time and care to the work. Their criticisms and suggestions have led in many cases to clearer statement of a point and to the insertion of notes and additional references which will make the book, I hope, in spite of all the imperfections that remain, more useful for its purpose than it would otherwise have been.

In the earlier part of the book I had also the advantage of the criticism of Dr. Robertson, the Editor of this Series, who, even when the pressure of preparation for his removal from London to Exeter left him no leisure, most kindly made time for the purpose.

Finally, I have to thank the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press, and the Dean of Westminster, as Editor of the Series Texts and Studies, for permission to make use of various notes—and in some cases whole pages—from The Meaning of Homoousios in the ‘Constantinopolitan’ Creed, which I contributed to that Series (vol. vii no. 1). I have not thought it necessary to include within inverted commas such passages as I have taken straight over, but when I have merely summarised conclusions, for which the evidence is more fully stated there, I have appended a reference to the volume.

The book, as I have indicated, makes no claim to originality. It only aims at being a sketch of the main lines of the historical development of doctrine down to the time of the Council of Chalcedon.3 But I am, of course, conscious that even history must be written from some point of view, and I have expressed, as clearly as I can, the point of view from which I have approached the subject in the introduction which follows.

I believe that this point of view, from which Christian doctrines are seen as human attempts to interpret human experiences the unique personality of Jesus of Nazareth supreme among those human experiences, is a more satisfying one than some standpoints from which the origin of Christian doctrines may appear to be invested with more commanding power of appeal. As such I have been accustomed to offer it to the attention of students at an age when the constraint is often felt for the first time to find some standpoint in these matters for oneself.

But any point of view—any kind of real personal conviction and appropriation—is better than none: and one which we cannot accept may serve to make clearer and more definite, or even to create, the point of view which is true for us. Salvo jure commimionis diversa sentire—different opinions without loss of the rights of communion—opposite points of view without disloyalty to the Catholic Creeds and the Church—these words, which embody the conception of one of the earliest and keenest of Christian controversialists and staunchest of Catholics,4 express a thought more widely honoured now than it was in Cyprian’s day.

It is in the hope that this sketch of some parts of the early history of Christian doctrines may be useful in some such way that it is published now.

J. F. BETHUNE-BAKER

Pembroke College, Cambridge,

1st May 1903


Notes to Preface:

1. If he reads German he will do well to tum to Loofs’ Leitfaden zum Studium der Dogmengeschichte (Ritschlian), Seeberg’s Lehrbuch (Protestant), and Schwane’s Dogmengeschichte (Roman Catholic). For introduction to the chief patristic writings he may consult Bardenhewer’s Patrologie, or Swete’s Patristic Study in the Series ‘Handbooks for the Clergy’.

2. Special attention may be directed to two volumes of this series—Mr. Ottley’s Doctrine of the Incarnation (vol. 1vol. 2)and Mr. Burn’s Introduction to the History of the Creeds, and to Dr. Swete’s The Apostles’ Creed.

3. Though much independent work over old ground has been bestowed upon it, and no previous writer has been followed without an attempt to form an independent judgement, yet the nature of the case precludes real independence, except to some extent in treatment.

4. They are the words in which Augustine (de Baptismo 17—Migne P.L. xliii p. 202) describes the principles of Cyprian.


Preface to the Second Edition

In the studies of which this book, published in 1903, was the outcome, I had set before myself an aim as purely objective as possible. I desired to ascertain, and to state as clearly as I could, what had been the actual course of the development of Christian Doctrine so far as it was exhibited in contemporary documents as they have come down to us. I wanted to detect and to mark the stages that bridge the interval between the New Testament and the Council of Chalcedon, and to understand, rather than to account for and explain, what the leaders of thought in the Church actually said and meant. Only so far as was necessary for this main purpose was I concerned with the roots of any particular elements of their thought in current philosophies or popular religious speculation and worship.

It was not my purpose to vindicate the results of the wonderful process by which One who was undoubtedly a man was found by Christian experience to have the value of God; and earlier ideas of God, His being and nature, were amended and enlarged in the light of this experience, and the doctrine of the Incarnation and the Trinity elaborated. Nor was I concerned to justify, or to claim finality for, the definitions of the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries, closely dependent as could not fail to be on the historical—and the knowledge the philosophical and scientific conceptions of the time and conceptions which I certainly cannot regard as nearer finality than are those of our own age when the latter conflict with the former.

The problem before the Christian philosopher today is how to appraise and retain the religious values of old beliefs of the Church which have lost their original correspondence with contemporary knowledge and ideas. Critical study of the origins of these old beliefs, such as is absent from this book, is necessary before a valuation of this kind can be made. During the last twenty years much fresh knowledge has come to hand about these origins. Old documents have been studied by minds not hypnotised by orthodox presuppositions, and fresh materials have been discovered or made more generally accessible. Were I today attempting to write a critical history of Christian Doctrine I should have to draw on many sources of information which were not utilised by me in the years before 1903.

But owing to the restricted range of the subject dealt with in the book, I find but little that I should wish to alter if I were free to rewrite the whole. Only perhaps at three points would it be desirable to make modifications of any moment, if I kept to my original scheme.

The real evolution of the study of the subject that has taken place in recent years concerns much more the very earliest beginnings than the succeeding history, the religious thought and practice of the first century and the second, the documents of the New Testament, rather than the writings of the Fathers. The Gospels and the other books of the New Testament are no longer so isolated as they have been in the past from other religious literature of their period neither in language nor in ideas. We are able to appreciate more justly the originality that belongs to them when we study them in relation to their real background. And when we no longer make the portentous assumption that the Gospels are a photographic representation in writing of the actual facts of our Lord’s life and the very words of His teaching, the writers being miraculously preserved from any of the errors and tendencies which affect other historians and propagandists, we are for the first time in a position to make a critical study of the origins of the Christian Religion and to form a sane judgement as to the real course of events. We can discriminate sources and strata, tendencies and purposes, points of view and schools of thought. To some extent at least we can detect earlier and later versions of incidents; we can compare different traditions and estimate their historical values. But nothing of this kind was possible for the men who framed and formulated the traditional Doctrine of the Church. Though some of them were peculiarly influenced by one or other of the many lines of interpretation and exposition which the New Testament reflects, yet for the Church it was the Bible as a whole parts of the Old Testament quite as certainly as the New—to which Doctrine must conform. The Bible was accepted as it stood, without any critical discrimination, as wholly authoritative. Accordingly, for the understanding of the doctrinal development of the ancient Church, we have to exclude from our minds the results of modern investigation into the literary connexions and the historical value of the documents that make up our New Testament. Discussions about the true text and the true meaning of different passages were common enough, and if more ‘heretical’ writings had been preserved we should probably find reflected in them much more of the modern historical sense than survived in the doctrinal system of the Church; but that system was built up on the assumption that the sacred books of the Church were infallible guides to truth, and we should not be helped to understand the subject before us by any other view of them.

Apart, therefore, from details of minor importance, so far as concerns the subject of this book, it is with regard to Gnosticism, the Mystery Religions, and Nestorianism only, I think, that fresh investigations since 1903 have added materially to our knowledge, either of the background of Christian thought and institutions or of the actual facts. But even here competent judges are by no means entirely at one as to the true interpretation of the new facts that have come to light, and I am not clear that I could amend what I have written on the subjects with advantage to the class of students who have found the book useful.

Accordingly, in these difficult times I have not thought it necessary to make alterations in the text which would entail the cost and labour of re-setting the book as a whole. I have contented myself with correcting a few misprints and supplying an Appendix with references to fresh work and evidence and brief indications of the new points to which the attention of students should be directed. Some of these additional notes are, in my judgement, of considerable importance.

The Council of Chalcedon was, of course, deliberately chosen as the limit of the period to be treated, The decisions arrived at then have been normative for the Church to a degree not reached by later decisions. Yet the questions at issue become far clearer in the light of the later Monophysite and Monothelite controversies, without study of which the real spirit and the full drift of the Doctrine of the ancient Church cannot be adequately understood. As regards restatement of Doctrine, almost all that happened afterwards down to the eighteenth century may be ignored, but not the Monophysite and Monothelite controversies themselves. The best short account of these controversies known to me is given in the third volume of M. J. Tixeront’s excellent Histoire des Dogmes (Paris, 1905- 1912), where also other controversies bearing on the nature of the conditions of our Lord’s life on earth may be studied. These are live questions to-day.

Absurd as it is, in my judgement, to permit the doctrinal speculations of the Church of the first or of any later century to fetter and control the thought of the Church of the twentieth, I am yet convinced that study of the early period is the best preparation for that reconstruction of Christian Doctrine in relation to modern knowledge that must be effected in the near future if the Church is still to offer men a Gospel worthy to claim the allegiance of their mind, their heart, and their soul, and so to engage their whole personality and become the faith by which they walk.

J. F. B-B

Cambridge, 19th Nov., 1919


CONTENTS

Chapter 1

Introductory

The scope of the book—What Christian Doctrines are
The part played by Heresies (note 1)
Gradual Progress and Development
Notes: Dogma
αἵρεσις
θεολογία—θεολογεῖν

Chapter 2

The Beginning of Doctrines in the New Testament

The New Testament gives the earliest interpretations
The doctrine of God
The doctrine of Man—of sin
The doctrine of Atonement
The doctrine of the Church and the Sacraments
Baptism
the Eucharist

Chapter 3

The Development of Doctrine

Different Theories in the explanation of the development of Doctrine—
(1) Corruption and Degeneration (the Deists)
(2) Disciplina arcani (Trent)
(3) Development (Newman)
In what sense development occurred
Influence of Greek thought on the expression of doctrine
Note: οἰκνομία, ‘Accommodation,’ ‘Reserve’

Chapter 4

The Sources of Doctrine: Oral Tradition—Holy Scripture

Earliest idea of Christian inspiration
. . . . . . . . . . . of tradition
Inspiration of Scripture: different conceptions
Jewish
Gentile
Philo
The Apostolic Fathers
Muratorian Fragment of Canon
The Apologists
Irenaeus
Clement and Origen
Interpretation of Scripture. The written word—
Homer
Philo
Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement
Origen’s theory
The Cappadocians—Tyconius, Augustine—The School of Antioch
The place of tradition in interpretation—
Irenaeus
Tertullian
Vincent

Chapter 5

Jewish Attempts at Interpretation—Ebionism

Characteristic Jewish Conceptions
Ebionism—
Different degrees
Cerinthus
The Clementines
Note: Chiliasm

Chapter 6

Gentile Attempts at Interpretation—Gnosticism

Characteristics of Oriental Religious Thought
Two problems of Evil
Oriental ideas applied to the Christian Revelation
The Gnostics—their aims and classifications of the various schools
The earlier representations of Gnostic Conceptions
Marcion and his followers
Carpocrates and his followers—The Cainites and the Ophites
The School of Basilides
The Valentinians
The influence of Gnosticism on the development of Christian Doctrine
Note: Manichesim

Chapter 7

The Reaction against Gnosticism. Monarchianism

The ‘Monarchian’ School of interpreters prompted by ‘orthodox’ intention
Attempts at Explanation which should maintain alike the oneness of God and the Divinity of Christ
Two Main Schools—
(a) Dynamic or Rationalistic
(b) Modalistic or ‘Patripassian’
The Alogi the point of departure for both Schools
(a) The Theodotians
— Artemon
— Paul of Samosata
(b) Praxeas and Noetus
— Sabellius and his followers
Sympathy with Sabellius at Rome
Notes:
— Novatian
— Hippolytus
Beryllus
— Monarchian exegesis
— Lucian
Paul of Samosata and ὁμοούσιος

Chapter 8

The Correspondence between Dionysius of Rome and Dionysius of Alexandria

Significance of the Correspondence
The points at issue
Diverse uses of the equivocal terms οὐσία and ὑπόστασις and confusion due to Latin rendering of οὐσία by substantia

Chapter 9

The Logos Doctrine

The doctrine fully expressed in outline in the prologue to the Gospel according to St. John, but not fully appreciated; different aspects and relations of the doctrine represented by different early Christian writers—these to be regarded as typical and complementary rather than as mutually exclusive.
The Epistle of Ignatius
ἀγένητος and ἀγέννητος (note 12)
The Letter to Diognetus
Justin Martyr
– The Human Soul in Christ (note 21)
Tatian
Theophilus
– In all three the distinction recognised is cosmic rather than hypostatic.
Athenagoras—his fuller recognition of the problem
Irenaeus—important contributions to the doctrine
Clement of Alexandria
The Logos Doctrine superseded by the Doctrine of Sonship

Chapter 10

Tertullian’s Doctrine of the Godhead

Tertullian’s use of terms and analogies
Doctrine of the Sonship and the Trinity
The full Nicene and Chalcedonian doctrine

Chapter 11

Origen’s Doctrine of the Godhead

The great importance and influence of Origen
The basis of his doctrine
The eternal generation of the Son
The Trinity
Apparently contradictory teaching

Chapter 12

The Arian Controversy

Introductory—the previous course of the doctrine and the causes of the controversy
Arius and his teaching
The sources of knowledge of Arian theories
The development of the doctrine of the Person of Christ before Arius (note 2)
The sources of knowledge of Arian theories (note 3)
Arian interpretation of Scripture
Outbreak of controversy and history up to the Council of Nicaea
The Council of Nicaea and its Creed
The reaction after Nicaea—personal and doctrinal
Attempts to supercede the Nicene Creed—Council of Antioch 341
-Its second Creed
Its other Creeds
Opposition of the West to any new Creed—Council of Sardica 343
Renewed attempts to secure a non-Nicene Creed—the μακρόστιχος ἔκθεσις 
Condemnation of Photinus and tranquilization of the ‘moderates’: subsidence of fears of Sabellianism
Development of extreme form of Arianism after death of Constans
The Council of Sirmium 357
Arianism in the West (note 65)
The Sermian manifesto (note 66)
Protests of ‘moderates’ in the East
The ‘Homoean’ compromise.
The gradual conversion of ‘Semi-Arians’ and convergence of parties into the Nicene definition.
Final victory of the Nicene interpretation at the Council of Constantinople.
The Constantinopolitan Creed (note 84)
Arianism outside the Empire, and the causes of the failure of Arianism (note 85)
Notes-
Marcellus
Homooiousios and the Homoeans
The meaning of Homoousios in the ‘Constantinopolitan’ Creed
‘By the will of the Father’
Μονογενής— Unigentus—Unicus

Chapter 13

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity

The course through which the doctrine went
The Old Testament and the New Testament doctrine
The early Church
The full doctrine expressed by Tertullian
Origen’s exposition of the doctrine—the first systematic attempt at a scientific expression of it in view of difficulties suggested
The teaching in the Church just before the outbreak of Arianism—
Gregory Thaumaturgus
Dionysius of Alexandria
Eusebius of Caesarea

The Arian theories—not emphasised and for a time ignored
The teaching that was given in the Church in the middle of the fourth century shewn by Cyril of Jerusalem lectures
Need for authoritative guidance as to the doctrine
The teaching of Athanasius (the Letters to Sarapion)
and of Hilary (the de Trinitate)

The new theories of Macedonius
The doctrine declared at Alexandria in 362 and at subsequent synods in the East and in the West
The Epiphanian Creed
The procession of the Spirit—relation to Father and Son (note 63)

Basil’s treatise on the Holy Spirit
Gregory of Nyssa, ‘that there are not three Gods’
The prevailing uncertainty reflected in the sermons of Gregory of Nazianzus
The Council of Constantinople

Augustine’s statement of the doctrine
The περιχώρησις (note 83)
Niceta on the doctrine of the Spirit (note)
Notes
Substantia
Persona
οὐσία and ὑπόστασις

Chapter 14

The Christological Controversies—Apollinarianism

The results of previous developments of doctrine
The point of departure of Apollinarius and his theories
objections to them and his defence
The union of the two natures not satisfactorily expressed.
Notes
The human soul in Christ
The human will in Christ
How can Christ be ‘complete man’ and ‘without sin?’
The Athanasian Creed

Chapter 15

Nestorianism

The theological schools of Alexandria and Antioch
The teaching Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia
The outbreak of the controversy—Nestorius at Constantinople
The title θεοτόκος
Cyril of Alexandria—denunciation of the Nestorius teaching
Cyril’s Anathemas and the answers of Nestorius
Their significance and the reception given to them
Cyril’s dogmatic letter
Earlier teaching in the Church on the subject (Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius)
The Council of Ephesus and the victory of Cyril
The terms of agreement between Cyril and the Antiochenes—the Union Creed
Dissatisfaction on both sides with the definitions—Cyril’s defence of them
The strength and weaknesses of Nestorianism
Suppression of Nestorianism within the Empire
Notes:
θεοφορος ἄνθρωπος
The Nestorian (East-Syrian) Church

Chapter 16

Eutychianism

The teaching of Eutychius—his condemnation
Appeal to the West and counter-attack on Flavian
The Council of Ephesus
Victory of the Eutychians through the Emperor’s support
Death of Theodosius—A new council summoned
The Council of Chalcedon and its Definition of Faith
The Letter of Leo to Flavian
The later history of Eutychianism—Monophysites
Notes:
The communicatio idiomatum
Christ’s human nature impersonal
The Κένωσις

Chapter 17

The Doctrine of Man—Sin and Grace—Pelagianism

Introductory: the difficulties of the doctrine not faced in the earliest times
Different theories as to the origin of the Soul
Different conceptions of the Fall and its effects
The teaching of Augustine
Contrast between him and Pelagius
His doctrine of human nature, sin grace
His doctrine of freedom of will
Novel teaching on other points—predestination, reprobation
The opposition of Pelagius
His antecedents and the chief principles which controlled his thought and teaching
The Pelagian controversy—Coelestius
The first stage at Carthage—condemnation of Coelestius
The second stage in Palestine: attack on Pelagius and by Jerome and Orosius—acquittal by Palestinian bishops
The Third stage—appeal to Rome: condemnation of Pelagius and Coelestius by Innocent, followed by their acquittal by Zosimus
The Fourth stage—condemnation of all Pelagian theses by the Council of Carthage in 418, followed by imperial edicts against the Pelagians, and their final condemnation at Rome.
The ultimate issue of the controversy
Julian of Eclanum (note 53)
Attempts to mediate between the two extremes of Pelagianism and Augustinianism—Semi-Pelagianism and Augustinianism—Semi-Pelagianism
John Cassian—his teaching
Faustus of Lerinnum Rhegium
The later history of the doctrine

Chapter 18

The Doctrine of the Atonement

Different points of view, but no definite theory, early times
The Apostolic Fathers (Clement, Epistle of Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius
Justin Martyr
The Writer to Diognetus
Tertullian
Irenaeus—doctrine of the Incarnation and theory of Satan’s dominion
Origen—Ransom to the devil
Other aspects of the Atonement
Gregory of Nyssa
Rufinus
Gregory of Nazianzus
Athanasius
Augustine
Summary of the teaching of the Period
Notes:
“Heretical” conceptions of the Atonement
The Doctrine of Merit (Tertullian and Cyprian)

Chapter 19

The Church

General conceptions (no thought-out doctrine till Cyprian)
A new spiritual society and organisation
One holy, catholic, apostolic:—these ‘notes’ implied from the first
Ignatius
‘Catholic’ (note 9)
Irenaeus—the Church as teacher
Tertullian’s conception
The commission to Peter (note 25)
Clement and Origen
Cyprian’s conception
The Episcopate (note 35)
Cyril of Jerusalem
Augustine
Notes
The Penitential System
The Bishops as the centre of unity

Chapter 20

The Sacraments—Baptism

General Conception of a Sacrament—the use of the term
Early Conceptions of baptism: the names for it, the form, what it effected—The New Testament and later
Justin Martyr on baptism
Tertullian
The idea of water (note 20)
Cyprian
Cyril of Jerusalem (the rites and their significance)
Ambrose on baptism (his peculiar conceptions)
Notes:
Martyrdom as baptism
Heretical Baptism
Baptism by layman
The Unction and Confirmation

Chapter 21

The Sacraments—The Eucharist

[The different theories which have been held in later times, namely:—
Transubstantiation
Consubstantiation
the ‘sacramentarian’ theory
the ‘receptionist’ theory
the Anglican statement of real presence]
The Eucharist at first connected with Agape
Early conceptions of the effect of consecration:—
the Dicache
the Christians of Bithynia
Ignatius
Justin
Irenaeus
The Conception of the elements as symbols (only a distinction in thought)
The Conception of the Eucharist as a sacrifice
Clement
Ignatius
Justin
Cyprian
Clement of Alexandria (the Agape) and Origen
Cyril of Jerusalem
Eusebius and Athanasius (n0te)
Gregory of Nyssa (marked development of conceptions)
Chrysostom
Ambrose and Augustine
Notes:
Infant Communion
Death-bed Communion
Daily celebration of the Eucharist
Reservation of the Sacrament
Oblations for the dead
The Ancient Mysteries
The Eucharist as an extension of the Incarnation (Hilary)
The Eucharistic doctrine in the Early Liturgies

Appendix


Chapter 1

Introduction

Christian Doctrine and Theology—Heresies

The scope of this book is not the presentation of a system of dogmatic theology, but only a sketch of the history of Christian doctrine during the first four hundred years of its course. We have not to attempt to gain a general view of Christian truth so far as it has been realized at present in the Christian society, but only to trace through some of its early stages the gradual development of doctrine. In Christianity the student of Christian doctrine needs always to remember is not a system, but a life; and Christian doctrine is the interpretation of a life. Jesus taught few, if any, doctrines: his mission was not to propound a system of metaphysics or of ethics. If the question be put, What is the Christian revelation? the answer comes at once. The Christian revelation is Christ himself. And Christian doctrine is an attempt to describe the person and life of Jesus, in relation to Man and the World and God: an attempt to interpret that person and life and make it intelligible to the heart and mind of men. Or, from a slightly different point of view, it may be said that Christian doctrines are an attempt to express in words of formal statement the nature of God and Man and the World, and the relations between them, as revealed in the person and life of Jesus.

The history of Christian doctrine must therefore shew the manner in which those statements were drawn up, the circumstances which called them forth: how the meaning of the earthly life and experiences of Jesus was more and more fully disclosed to the consciousness of the Church in virtue of her own enlarged experience.

The history of Christian doctrine is not concerned with the evidences of Christianity, internal or external; nor with the proof or the defence of the doctrines thus formulated. That is the province of Apologetics. Nor does it deal with religious controversy, or Polemics, except so far as such controversy has actually contributed to the development of doctrine and the elucidation of difficulties. Thus, while we have to follow up the history of many heresies, we have to do this only insofar as they constitute one of the most impressive instances of the great law of ‘Progress through Conflict’ which is over the history of human life:—the law that the ultimate attainment of the many is rendered possible only the failure of the few, that final success is conditioned by previous defeat.1

The supreme end to which Christian theology is directed is the full intellectual expression of truth which was manifested to men, once and for all, in the person and life of Jesus; and the history of Christian doctrine is the record of steps which were taken in order to reach the end in view—the record of the partial and progressive approximation to that end.2 For several centuries men were but feeling after satisfactory expressions of the truth. To many of them St Paul’s words to the Athenians on the Areopagus still applied.3 Even those who accepted Jesus and the Christian revelation with enthusiasm were still groping in the dark to find a systematic expression of the faith that filled their hearts. They experienced the difficulty of putting into words the feelings about the Good News. Language was inadequate to portray the God and the Saviour whom they had found. Not even the great interpreters of the first generation were enabled to transmit to future ages the full significance of the life which they had witnessed. And as soon as ever men went beyond the simple phrases of the apostolic writers and, instead of merely repeating by rote the scriptural words or terms, tried to express in their own language the great facts of their faith, they naturally often used terms which were inadequate which, if not positively misleading, erred by omission and defect. Such expressions, when the consequences flowing from them were more clearly seen, and when they were proved by experience to be inconsistent with some of the fundamental truths of Christianity, a later age regarded only ‘archaisms’ if it was clear that those who used them intended no opposition to the teaching of the Church.4 Often, it is evident, men were led into ‘heresy’ by the attempt to combine with the new religion ideas derived from other systems of thought. From all quarters converts pressed onto the Church, bringing with them a different view of life, a different way of looking at questions, and they did not easily make the new point of view their own. They embraced Christianity at one point or another, not at all points; and they tried to bring the expression of the Christian doctrine into harmony with preconceived ideas. And not un-frequently it would seem that Christian thinkers and teachers, conscious of the force of objections from outside, or impressed by the conviction that beliefs which were widely current must contain some element of truth, were induced to go halfway to meet the views of those they wished to win. In the main, however, it would appear that heresies arose from the wish to understand. The endowments of man include a mind and a reasoning faculty, and doctrine which is offered to him as an interpretation of his whole being—the whole of his life—he must needs try to grasp the whole of his nature. He must try to make it his own and express it in his own words, or else it cannot be real to him, it cannot be living. In this process,  he is certain to make mistakes. And the remarkable fact about the history of Christian doctrine is that in almost every case the expression of Christian doctrine was drawn out was indeed forced upon the church as a whole by the mistakes of the early theologians. By their mistakes the general feeling of the faithful their great common sense of the Catholic Church—was aroused and set to work to find some phrase which would exclude the error and save the members of the church in future from falling into a like mistake. So it was that the earliest of creeds were of the scantiest dimensions, and slowly grew—to their present from, step by step, in the process of excluding—on the part of the church as a whole—the erroneous interpretations of individual members of the Church. Such individuals had drawn their inferences too hastily; fuller knowledge, longer deliberation, and consideration of all the consequences which would flow from their conclusions shewed them to be misleading, inadequate to account for all the facts. Those who persisted in the partial explanation, the incomplete and therefore misleading theory, after it had been shown to be inadequate, the Church called heretics, factious subverters of the truth. Clearly they could not be allowed to proclaim a mutilated gospel under the shelter of the Catholic Church. As members of that church they had initiated discussion and stimulated interest, without which progress in knowledge, the development of the doctrine—the nearer approximation to a full interpretation—would have been impossible. But when they seized on a few facts as though they were all the facts, and from these few framed theories to explain and interpret all when they put forward a meagre and immature conception as a full grown representation of the Christian idea of life—then the accredited teachers of Christianity were bound to protest against the one-sided partial development, and to meet it by the expansions of the creed which exclude the error, and to frame formal statements of the mind of the Church to serve as guides to future generations—landmarks to prevent their straying from the line of ascertained truth. So creeds grew, and heresies were banished from the Church.

Dogma

The word properly means that which has seemed good, been agreed or decided upon: so an opinion, and particularly, as having been determined by authority, a decree or an edict, or a precept. In this sense it is used by Plato, and Demosthenes, and in the Septuagint; and in the New Testament of (1) a particular edict of the emperor (Luke 2.1) ; (2) the body of such edicts (Acts vs 17.7); (3) the ordinances of the Mosaic law (Eph 2.15, Col. 2.14); (4) the decisions of the apostles and elders at the ‘Council’ at Jerusalem (Acts 16.4, cf. Acts 15.20), which dealt particularly with ritual questions. It is nowhere in the New Testament used of the contents or doctrines of Christianity. The Stoics, however, employed the word to express the theoretical principles of their philosophy (e.g. Marc. Aurel. Medit. 2.3, ταῦτα σοι ἀρκείτω, ἀεί δόγματα ἔστω), and it bears a similar sense in the first Christian writers who used it: Ignatius ad Magn. 13, ‘the dogmata of the Lord and the Apostles’ (here perhaps ‘rules of life’); the Didache 11. 3 (a similar sense), and Barnabas Ep. 1. 6; 9. 7; 10.1, 9; and more precisely in the Greek Apologists, to whom Christianity was a philosophy of life, who apply the word to the doctrines in which that philosophy was formulated. And though much later Basil de Spiritu Sancto 27 seems to contrast δόγματα, as rites and ceremonies with mystic meaning derived from tradition, with κηρύγματα, as the contents of the Gospel teaching and Scripture; yet generally the term in the plural denoted the whole substance of Christian doctrine (see e.g. Cyril of Jerusalem Cat. iv.2, where δόγμα as relating to faith is contrasted with πρᾶξις, which has to do with moral action “The way of way godliness composed of these two things, pious doctrines and good actions,” the former being the source of the latter; and Socrates Hist, ii.44, where δόγμα is similarly set in antithesis to ἠ ἡθικὴ διδασκαλία). Hence the general significance a doctrine which in the eyes of the Church is essential in the true interpretation of the Christian faith, and therefore one the acceptance of which may be required of all Christians (i.e. not merely a subjective opinion or conception of particular theologian). It is not the interpretation of any individual, or of any particular community, that can be trusted. Just as the ecumenicity of a council depends upon acknowledgement by the Church as a whole, and a council at which the whole Church was not represented might attain the honour of ecumenicity by subsequent recognition and acceptance (eg. the Council of Constantinople of 381); so no ‘dogma’ (though individuals may contribute to it expression) is authoritative till it has passed the test of the general feeling of the Church as a whole, the ‘communis sensus fidelium’, and by that been accepted.

ΑἵρεσιςHeresy

Αἵρεσις, the verbal noun from αἱρἐω, αἰρεῖθαι is commonly used both in the active sense of ‘rapture’ and in the middle sense of ‘choice’. It is the middle sense only with which we are concerned, and especially the limited sense of ‘choice of an opinion,’ Hence it is used of those who have chosen a particular opinion of their own and follow it a—’school of thought’, a party, the followers of a particular teacher or principle.

In this usage the word is originally colourless and neutral, implying neither that the opinion chosen is true nor that it is false.

So it is used in the New Testament of the ‘schools’ of the Sadducees (Acts 5.17) and Pharisees (Acts 15.5), and of the Christians—’the αἱρεσις of the Nazaraeans (Acts 24.5, Acts 24.14). It is true that in all these cases the word is used by those who are unfavourably disposed to the schools of thought which are referred to; but disparagement is not definitely associated with it. And Constantine uses it of the doctrine of the Catholic Church (ἡ αἵρεσις ἡ καθολική—Euseb. X 5. 21), just as Tertullian frequently uses ‘secta’.

But though the Christian Society as a whole may be in this way designated a αἵρεσις, inside the Society there is no room for αἱρέσιες. There must not be parties within the Church. It is Christ himself who is divided into parts, if there are (1Cor. 12.13). And so, as applied to diversities of opinion among Christians themselves, the word assumes a new colour (1Cor. 11.19), and is joined to terms of such evil significance as ἐριθεῖαι ‘factions’ and διχοστασίαι ‘divisions’ (Gal. 5.20).

The transition from the earlier to the later meaning of the word is well seen in the use of the adjective in Titus 3.10, where St Paul bids Titus have nothing to do with a man who is αἱρετίκος if he is unaffected by repeated admonition. This is clearly the ‘opinionated’ man, who obstinately holds by his own individual choice of opinion (‘obstinate,’ ‘factious’).  So the man who in matters of doctrine forms his own opinion, and, though it is opposed to the communissensus fidelium, will not abandon it when his error is pointed out, is a ‘heretic’.

To the question What is the cause of heresies? different answers were given. The cause was not God, and not the Scriptures. “Do not tell me the Scripture is the cause.” It is not the Scripture that is the cause, but the foolish ignorance of men (i.e. of those who interpret amiss what has been well and rightly said)—so Chrysostom declares (Hom. 128 p. 829). The cause is rather to be sought in (1) the Devil— so 1Tim 4.1 was understood and Matt. 13.25: Eusebius reflects this common opinion; (2) the careless reading of Holy Scripture—”It is from this source that countless evils have sprung up—from ignorance of this source the murrain of heresies has grown (Chrys. Proef. Ep. ad Rom.) and (3) contentiousness, the spirit of pride and arrogance.

As to the nature of their influence and the reason why God permits their existence, see supra p. 2 note 1. On the latter point appeal was made to St Paul’s words 1Cor. 11.19, “for there must be ‘heresies’ among you, in order that those that are approved may become manifest among you.” Heresies serve as a touchstone of truth; they test and try the genuineness of men’s faith. So Chrysostom (Horn. 46 p. 867) make the truth shine out more clearly. “The same thing is seen in the case of the prophets. False prophets arose, and by comparison with them the true prophets shone out the more. So too disease makes health plain, and darkness light, and tempest calm.” And again (Hom. 54 p. 363) he says: “It is one thing to take your stand on the true faith, when none tries to trip you up and deceive you it is another thing to remain unshaken when thousands of waves are breaking against you.”

Θεολογία—θεολογεῖν

Four stages in the history of these words may be detected.

(1) They were originally used of the old Greek poets who told their tales of the gods, and gave their explanations of life and the universe in the form of such myths. Such are the ‘theogonies’ of Hesiod and Orpheus, and the ‘cosmogonies’ of Empedocles. These men were the θεολόγοι of —what is called the pre-scientific age. It was in the actions of the gods—their love and their hate—that they found the answers to the riddles of existence. So later writers (as Plutarch, Suetonius, and Philo) use the expression τὰ θεολογοὺμενα in the sense of ‘inquiries into the divine nature’ or ‘discussions about the gods ‘.

(2) Still later the words are used to express the attribution of divine origin or causation to persons or things, which are thus regarded as divine or at least are referred to divine causes. So in the sense ‘ascribe divinity to ‘, ‘name as God’, call God’, ‘assert the divinity of’, the verb θεολογεῖν is used by Justin Dial. 56 (in conjunction with κυριολογεῖν), by the writer of the Little Labyrinth (θεολογησια τὸν χριστόν, οὐκ ὄντα θεόν—’call Christ God, though he is not God’—Eusebius H. E v. 28), and by later writers of all the Persons of the Trinity and in other connexions.’5

(3) The verb is found in a more general sense ‘make religious investigations’ in Justin Dial. 113; while in Athenagoras Leg. 10, 20, 32 the noun expresses the doctrine of God and of all beings to whom the predicate deity belongs. (Cf. also the Latin “theologia” Tertullian ad Nat. ii 2.)

(4) Aristotle describes Θεολογία as ἡ πρώτη φιλοσοφία to the Stoics the word was equivalent to ‘philosophy’—a system of philosophical principles or truths. For Hellenic Christians at least the transition from this usage to the sense familiar now was easy. Theology is the study or science that deals with God, the philosophy of life that finds in God the explanation of the existence of man and the world, and endeavours to work out theoretically this principle in all its relations; while Christian theology in a specific sense starts from the existence of Jesus, and from him and his experiences, his person, his life, his teaching, frames its theories of the Godhead, of man, and of the world. (See note on the words, Harnack Dogmengeschichte Eng, tr. vol. ii p. 202, Sophocles Lexicon, and Suicer Thesaurus.)


Notes on the Introduction

1. In this way ‘heresies’ have rendered no small service to theological science. The defence of the doctrines impugned and the discussion of the points at issue led to a deeper and clearer view of the subject. Subtle objections when carefully weighed, and half-truths when exposed, became the occasion of more accurate statements. “A clear, coherent, and fundamental presentation is one of the strongest arguments. Power of statement is power of argument. It precludes misrepresentation it corrects mis-statements (Shedd). It is true the early Christian orthodox writers seldom regard the influence of ‘heretics’ as anything but pernicious (e.g. Eusebius reflects the popular opinion that all heretics were agents of the devil, and applies to them such epithets as these—grievous wolves, a pestilent and scabby disease, incurable and dangerous poison, more abominable than all shame, double-mouthed and two-headed serpents. See H.E. i 1; ii 1, 13; iii 26-29; iv 7, 29, 30; v 13, 14, 16-20) Yet some of the greatest of the Fathers were able to recognize this aspect of the matter. See Origen Hom,. ix in Num.”Nam si doctrina eccle.siastica simplex esset et nullis intrinsecus haereticoram dogmatum assertionibus cingeretur, non poterat tam clara et tam examinata videri fides nostra. Sed idcirco doctrinam catholicam contradicentium obsidet oppugnatio ut fides nostra non otio torpescat, sed exercitiis elimetur.” And similarly (as Cyprian de unit, eccles. 10, before him), Augustine Confess, vii 19 (2.5), could write: “Truly the refutation of heretics brings into clearer relief the meaning of thy Church and the teaching of sound doctrine. For there needs must be heresies, in order that those who are approved may be made manifest among the weak,” (Cf, Aug. de Civ. Dei xviii 51.) written over the history of human life”

2. Professor Westcott used to define Christian doctrine as ‘a partial and progressive approximation to the full intellectual expression of the truth manifested to men once for all in the Incarnation’. Cf. Gospel of Life.

3. Acts 17.27

4. Thus Augustine de Praedestinatione 14, says “What is the good of scrutinising the works of men who before the rise of that heresy had no need to busy themselves with this question, which is so hard to solve. Beyond doubt they would have done so, if they had been obliged to give an answer on the subject.” So against the Pelagians he vindicates Cyprian, Ambrose, and Rufinus. Cf. de dono Perseverantiae‘. c. 20, and the two volumes of his own Retractations. In like manner Athanasius defended Dionysius of Alexandria against the Arians (see infra), and Pelagius ii (Ep. 5.921) declared “Holy Church weigheth the hearts of her faithful ones with kindliness rather than their words with rigour”.

5. In relation to the Son, in particular, θεολογία is used of all that relates to the divine and eternal nature and being of Christ, as contrasted with οίκονομία, which has reference especially to the Incarnation and its consequences (so Lightfoot notes Apost. Fathers II ii p. 75). But this is only a particular usage of the term in a restricted sense.


Chapter 2

The Chief Doctrines in the New Testament Writers

The Beginnings of Doctrines in the New Testament

Christian theology (using the word in the widest sense) is, as we have seen, the attempt to explain the mystery of the existence of the world and of man by the actual existence of Jesus. It is in him, in his experiences—in what he was, what he felt, what he thought, what he did—that Christian theology finds the solution of the problem. In the true interpretation of him and of his experiences we have, accordingly, the true interpretation of human life as a whole. In tracing the history of Christian doctrines, we have therefore to begin with the earliest attempts at such interpretation. These, at least the earliest which are accessible to us at all, are undoubtedly to be found in the collection of writings which form the New Testament. We are not here concerned with apologetic argument or history of the canon, with questions of exact date of writing or of reception of particular books. We are only concerned with the fact that, be the interpretation true or untrue, apostolic or sub-apostolic, or later still, the interpretations of the person of Jesus which are contained in these books are the earliest which are extant. In different books he is regarded from different points of view: even the writers who purpose to give a simple record of the facts of his life and teaching approach their task with different conceptions of its nature; in their selection of facts—the special prominence they give to some—they are unconsciously essaying the work of interpretation as well as that of mere narration. “The historian cannot but interpret the facts which he records.” The student of the history of Christian doctrines is content that they should be accepted as interpreters: to shew that they are also trustworthy historians is no part of his business. From the pages of the New Testament there is to be drawn, beyond all question, the record of the actual experiences of the Christians nearest to the time of Jesus of whom we have any record at all. Their record of their own experiences, and their interpretations of them and of him who was the source of all, are the starting-point from which the development of Christian doctrines proceeds. In this sense the authors of the Gospels and Epistles are the first writers on Christian theology.1 No less certainly than later writers, if less professedly and with more security against error, they tried to convey to others the impression which Jesus, himself or through his earliest followers, had made upon them. In him they saw not only the medium of a revelation, but the revelation itself. What had before been doubtful about the purpose of the world and of human life—it origin and its destiny—all became clear and certain as the studies him, and from the observations which they could make of him, and of his relations to his environment, framed their inductions. Not only from his words, but from his acts and his whole life and conduct, they framed a new conception of God, a new conception of His relations to mankind, a new conception of the true relations of one man to another. They could measure the gulf that separates man as he is from man as he is meant to be, and they learnt how he might yet attain to the destiny which he had forfeited. Under the impulse of these conceptions—this revelation—the authors of the Gospels compiled their narratives, and the writers of the other books of the New Testament dealt with the matters which came in their way. Their method is not systematic: it is in the one case narrative, and in the other occasional. But in no case are we left in doubt as to the interpretations which they had formed and accepted. It is, for example, absurd to suppose that the doctrine of the Person of Jesus which they held did not correspond to the teaching which they record that he gave of his own relation to God. And when an Apostle claims to have received his mission directly from Jesus himself, and not from men or through any human agency, it is obvious that he regards him as the source of divine authority. The writers of the New Testament have not formulated their interpretations in systematic or logical form perhaps; but they have framed them nevertheless, and the history of Christian doctrines must begin by an account of the doctrines expressed or implied in the earliest writings of Christians that are extant, and then proceed to trace through later times variations or developments from the interpretations which were then accepted as true.

The existence of God and of the world and of man is—needless to say—assumed throughout; and it is certain that the doctrine of creation by God (through whatever means) was accepted by all the writers before us, inherited as it would be from the Scriptures of the Jews. Of other doctrines all were not certainly held by all the writers, and in the short statement of them which can rightly have a place here it will only be necessary to indicate the main points. We shall take in order God (the Trinity), Man, the relations between God and Man (Atonement), the means by which the true relations are to be maintained (the Church, the Sacraments).

The doctrines are, as has been said, expressed in incidental or in narrative form, and so it is from incidental allusions and from the general tenor of the narrative that we infer them. They grow up before the reader.

The Doctrine of God in the New Testament

The doctrine of God, for example, is nowhere explicitly stated. It is easy, however, to see that there are three main conceptions which were before the writers of the New Testament. The three descriptions of God as Father, as Spirit, and as Love, express together a complete and comprehensive doctrine of the Godhead; and though the three descriptions are specially characteristic of different writers or groups of writings, respectively, yet it is easy to see that the thought of God as Spirit and as Love is present und natural to the minds of the writers who use more readily the description of him as Father, which indeed is the title regularly employed by all the writers of the New Testament.2 It is the conception of God as Father that is most original. Not that the conception was entirely new.

The doctrine of God which is to be found in the pages of the New Testament has doubtless for its background the Jewish monotheistic belief, but the belief in the form in which it presented itself to the psalmists and the prophets rather than to the scribes and rabbis. To the latter the ancient faith of their fathers in one God, tenaciously maintained against the many gods of the nations round about them, had come to convey the idea of an abstract Unit far removed from all contact with the men and the world He had created, self-centred and self-absorbed, the object of a distant reverence and awe. The former, on the contrary, were above all else dominated by the sense of intimate personal—relation between themselves and God; and it is this conviction—the certainty that such a close communion and fellowship exists—that the followers of Jesus discerned in him and learnt from his experience. But in his experience and in his teaching the conviction assumed a form so different from that in which the prophets realized it, that his conception of God seems to stand alone. Others had realized God as Father of the universe (the Creator and Sustainer of the physical world and of animate things) and by earlier teachers of the Jews He had been described as—in a moral and spiritual sense—Father of Israel and Israelites,3 physical, but their sense of fatherhood had been limited and obscured by other conceptions.4 In the experience and teaching of Jesus this one conception of God as Father controlled and determined everything. It is first of all a conviction personal and peculiar to himself,—’My Father’, he claimed Him.5 But he also spoke of Him to his disciples as ‘your Father’6, and so the intimacy of relationship which they saw he realized they came to look upon as possible too for them,—and not only for them—the first disciples of Jesus—but also for all mankind. The Fatherhood of God extended to the good and the evil alike, the just and the unjust; and to all animate things—even the fowls of the air. God was Father in the highest and fullest sense of the word. So the earliest followers of Jesus understood his teaching and explained his life. That they also thought of God as essentially spiritual will not be disputed. The idea of God as Spirit is in one sense co-ordinate with the idea of Him as ‘Father’, though definite expression is scarcely given to the idea except in the writings of St John.7 This special description or conception brings into prominence certain characteristics which must not be passed over. The absolute elevation of God above the world and men is expressed when He is designated Spirit, just as the most intimate communion between men’s life and His is expressed when He is styled their Father. As Spirit He is omnipresent, all pervading, eternal, and raised above all limitations.8 He is the source of all life, so that apart from Him and knowledge of Him there can be no true life.”9

When to the descriptions of God as Father and as Spirit St John adds the description that is—in words—all his own, and declares that the very essence of the being of God is Love;10 when he thus sums up in a single word the revelation of the teaching and life of Jesus, he certainly makes a contribution to Christian doctrine which is of the highest value. It is not too much to say that in the sentence ‘God is Love’ we have an interpretation of the Gospel which covers all the relations between God and man. And yet it is only the essential character of all true fatherhood that the words express St John is only explaining by another term the meaning of Father, whatever fresh light he may throw upon the title by his explanation.

And all the other descriptions of God which are to be found in the New Testament add nothing to these three main thoughts; indeed, they only draw out in more detail the significance of the relationship expressed by the one word Father.11

But much more is implied as to the Godhead by St John’s account of the sayings ofJesus in which he declared his own one-ness with the Father12—teaching which obviously lies at the back of the thought of St Paul13 and of the writer to the Hebrews.14 And more again is seen in the references to the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, in the Gospel according to St John,15 and to the Holy Spirit in the other books of the New Testament.16 The Son and the Holy Spirit alike have divine functions to perform, and are in closest union with the Father. There are distinctions within the Godhead, but the distinctions are such as are compatible with unity of being. There is Father, there is Son, and there is Holy Spirit. Each is conceived as having a distinct existence and a distinct activity in a sphere of his own: but the being of each is divine, and there is only one Divine Being. Thus to say that the Godhead is one in essence, but contains within itself three relations, three modes of existence, is always at the same time actively existent in three distinct spheres of energy: this is only to say what is clearly implied in the language of the Gospels and Epistles, though the conception is not expressed in set terms, but is embodied in the record of actual experience. As from Jesus himself his disciples derived, in the first place, their consciousness of God as Father, so from him they first learnt of God as Holy Spirit; but their realisation of what was at first perhaps accepted on the evidence of his experience only, was soon quickened by experiences of their own which seemed to be obvious manifestations of the working of God as Holy Spirit.17

The doctrine of the triune God—Father, Son and Spirit—is required and implied by the whole account of the revelation and the process of redemption; but the pages of the New Testament do not shew anything like an attempt to enter into detailed explanations of the inner being of God in the threefold relation.

It is to this fact that we must look for the explanation of the subsequent course of Christian thought, and the puzzling emergence of theories that seem to be so utterly at variance with the natural interpretation of the apostolic writings that we find it difficult to understand how they could ever have claimed the authority of Scripture. There are at least three points which must be noted. First, the New Testament leaves a clear impression of three agents, but the unity and equality of the three remains obscure and veiled. Secondly, the doctrine of the Incarnation is plainly asserted, but the exact relation and connexion between the human and the divine is not defined; there is no attempt to indicate how the pre-existing Christ is one with the man Jesus—how he is at the same time Son of God as before, and yet Son of Man too as he was not before; and how as Son of Man he can still continue to be equal with the Father. Thirdly, that the Spirit is divine is assumed, but that he is pre-existent and personal is an inference that might not seem to be inevitable. And so it was with these points that in subsequent controversy dealt,—controversy that resulted resolving ambiguities, and led to the clearer and fuller expression of the Christian conception of God.

The Doctrine of Man in the New Testament

In like manner, with regard to the conception which the writers of the New Testament, the first Christian theologians, had formed of man and his place in the universe, we find no full and systematic expression, but only a number of isolated—and for the most part incidental indications—of a doctrine.

The teaching of the Old Testament must be assumed as the background and as the starting-point,—so far at least as regards on the one side, the dignity of man as made in the image of God18 and destined to attain to the likeness of God; and, on the other side, his failure to fulfil his destiny, and his need of supernatural aid to effect his redemption.

At the outset it is clear that the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God in itself declares the dignity of human nature. Man is by his constitution the child of God, capable of intimate union and personal fellowship with God. It is on this relationship that the chief appeals of Jesus are based: it is to make men conscious of their position that most of his teaching was directed. It is to make them realise the sense of privilege, which it allows, that was the chief object of his life. It is because of this kinship that men are bidden to be perfect, even as their Father which is in heaven is perfect.19 For this reason they are to look to heaven rather than to earth as the treasury of all that they value most.20 Man is so constituted that he is capable of knowing the divine will and of desiring to fulfil it;21 he has a faculty by virtue of which spiritual insight is possible22—,he cannot only receive intimations of the truth, but also examine and test what he receives and form right judgements in regard to it,23 Such, it is clear, is the sense in which the writers of the Gospels understood the teaching of Jesus, and the same theory of the high capacities of human nature is presupposed and implied by the general tenor of the teaching of St Paul.

At the same time the free play of this spiritual element in man is hindered by the faculties which bind him to earth—the elements represented by ‘the flesh;’ and the contrast between them and the higher constituent is strongly expressed—’the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’24 And so at the same time there is declared the corruption of human nature in its present state, so that sin is a habitual presence in man, from which he can escape only by the aid of a power which is not his own, even though that power must work by arousing and quickening forces which are already latent in him.

As to the nature of sin the pages of the New Testament reflect the teaching of the Old. The account of the Fall of Adam shews the essence of sin to be the wilful departure on the part of man from the course of development for which he was designed (the order determined by God, and therefore the order natural to him); and the assertion of his will against the will of God.The result of sin is thus a disordered world—a race of men not fulfilling the law of their nature and alienated from God, who is the source and the sustainer of their life. Exactly these conceptions are embodied in the treatment of the matter which is recorded, on the part of Jesus and the earliest Christian teachers, in the New Testament itself. The commonest words for sin denote definitely the missing of a mark or the breach of a law, the failure to attain an end in view or the neglect of principle.25 And the other words which are used imply the same point of view: sin is a ‘trespass’ or ‘transgression’, that is, a departure from the right path which man is meant to tread; or it is ‘debt’, in the sense that there was an obligation laid upon man, a responsibility to live in a particular way, which he has not fulfilled and observed.26 This manner of describing sin shews that it is by no means thought of as an act, or a series of acts, of wrong-doing. It is rather a state or condition, a particular way of living, which is described as sickness,27 or even, by contrast with true life, as death. Those who are living under such conditions are ‘dead’28,. Of this state the opposite is life, or life eternal—a particular way of living now, characteristic of which in knowledge of God and love of the brethren.’29 It is to give this knowledge and to quicken this love that is declared to be the special object of the life and death of Jesus.30 The condition of sin is one of entrapment from God and selfish disregard of what is due to others. It is a state which merits and involves punishment, and yet at the same time is its own punishment.31

The restoration of the true relations between God and man, from which will follow the establishment of the true relations between man and man, is thus the purpose which Christ was understood to have declared to be his purpose and his followers believed he had achieved.

The Doctrine of Atonement in the New Testament

Of the nature of the atonement which he effected there is no formal theory in the New Testament. It is certain that St John, at all events, understood his Master to have constantly taught that the knowledge of God and, with the knowledge of God, the increased knowledge of man’s own position, was to play a large part in the work. And this mental and moral illumination was effected by the whole life and teaching of Jesus, while by his death in all its circumstances the true meaning of his life was brought to the consciousness of his disciples. So that the conception of redemption through knowledge can certainly claim to be among the earliest conceptions. At the same time that the redemption was wrought in some special sense by this death of Christ—that the death in itself was one of the instruments by which the whole work of Christ became effective—is clearly implied by all the allusions to it.32 But the writers of the New Testament are content to treat the result as a fact and to emphasise some of its consequences. They do not attempt to explain the manner in which the result was obtained.

The work of the atonement is described under various images and metaphors, which may perhaps be grouped in four classes.

First, there is the idea of ‘reconciliation’ (καταλλαγή), expressed in some of the parables, as when the prodigal son is reconciled to his father, and in passages in which those who were once enemies and aliens are said to be reconciled to God by the death of His Son, and to have won ‘peace’ and union with God, or life in union with Him, as the result.33

Under another image sin is regarded as personified: man is held in bondage to sin, and has to be purchased or bought with a price out of the slavery in which he is held; so a ransom has to be paid for him.34

Again, corresponding to the notion of sin as a debt, there is the metaphor of ‘satisfaction’; as though a creditor was satisfied by the payment of the debt, or the debt was remitted. This is the thought when death is styled the wages of sin, when men are declared to be debtors to keep the law; when Christ is described as being made sin for us and bearing our sins on the tree, and when reference is made to the perfect ‘obedience’ of his life.35 Yet again there is the conception, derived from the ceremonial system of the old dispensation, of the life and death of Christ, pure and free from blemish, as a sacrifice and expiation which cleanses from sin, as ceremonial impurities were removed by the offerings of animals of old. And so ‘propitiation’ is made.36

A complete theory of the atonement must, it is clear, take account of all these aspects of the work of Christ to which the various writers of the New Testament give expression. But it is not probable that all of them were present to the minds of each of the writers; rather, it is probable that each approached the matter from a different point of view, and that none of them would have wished the account which he gives—the metaphors which he uses—to have been regarded as exclusive of the other accounts and metaphors which others adopted.

The Christian theologians of later times in like manner put forward now one and now another aspect of the mystery, only erring when they wished to represent some one particular aspect as a sufficient interpretation in itself, or when, going behind the earlier writers, they tried to define too closely what had been left uncertain. But the Church as a whole has never been committed to any theory of the atonement. The belief that the atonement has been effected, and the right relations between man and God restored and made possible for all men, in and through Christ, has been enough.

The Doctrine of the Church and of the Sacraments in the New Testament

As to the means by which these true relations are to be realised and maintained by individuals throughout their life on earth, the teaching of Jesus and the practice of the first Christians, as recorded in the New Testament, is clear, though not detailed.

Membership of the society which gathered round him in his lifetime upon earth was the first step to union with him. ‘He that is not with me is against me.’37 All who were sincere in the acceptance of him and their faith in him must ‘follow’ him,38 and thereby shew themselves his disciples. The realisation of the ‘kingdom’ was to be effected through the society which he founded.39 And after his death, at any rate, admission to the society was to be by baptism, baptism into himself; and the life of the society was to be sustained, and its sense of union with him kept fresh, by the spiritual food which the sacrament of his body and blood supplied. The Church is thus primarily the company or brotherhood of all who accepted Jesus as their Master and Lord, and shared a common life and rites of worship, recognising their common responsibility and obligations; and this company or brotherhood was one and the name society or Church although existing in separate local organisations. There is no trace in the New Testament of any idea on the part of the first Christians that it was possible to be a member of the Church without being a member of one of these visible local societies, or to receive in any other way whatever benefits membership of the Church bestowed.40

This new society was to inherit the promises and succeed to all the privileges which had been granted to the special people of God—the Church is the ‘Israel of God.’ The natural descendants of Isaac, the ‘Israel after the flesh’, having proved for the most part unworthy of the destiny assigned to them, their privileges do not pass to the faithful remnant only, but room is found for all who by their spiritual character are rightly to be regarded as the true children of promise. These are all grafted into the ancient stock, and take the place of the branches which are pruned away.’41

From another point of view the whole of this new Church is the body of Christ, he himself being its head, the centre of union of all the different members, which have their different functions to fulfil, the source of the life which animates each separate part and stimulates its growth and progress, the guiding and controlling force to which the whole body is subject.42 From this point of view, what Christ, while he was on earth, did through his human body, that he continues to do through the Church, which since his Ascension represents him in the world. It is his visible body: from him it draws its life and strength, and through it he acts.

And, in particular, he acts through the two great rites which he appointed—baptism and ‘the breaking of the bread.’ Neither of these rites has any meaning apart from membership of the Church. Except by baptism no one could enter the Christian society;43 that no one could remain a member of it without partaking in the one bread which was the outward mark of union and fellowship44 seems certain.45

Baptism is thus primarily the rite by which admission to the Church, and to all the spiritual privileges which membership of the Church confers, is obtained. It is administered once for all.46 It must be preceded by repentance of sins,47 and it effects at once union with Christ—membership of his body and participation in his death and burial and resurrection.48 It is thus the entrance into a new life, and so is styled a new birth, or a birth from above’—that is, a spiritual birth or ‘regeneration.’49  As such it involves the washing away or remission of sins which had stained the former life,50—a real purification, by which the obstacle to man’s true relationship to God is removed and he occupies actually the position of sonship which had always been ideally his.51

In the New Testament itself forgiveness of sins is always regarded as the accompaniment or result of baptism. It was to obtain remission of sins that Peter on the day of Pentecost bade the multitude be baptised52 every one of them (Acts 2.37-38); and ‘Be baptised and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord’, was the counsel Ananias gave to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22.16). St Paul’s own references in his Epistles to the effects of baptism shew the same conception (e.g. 1Cor. 6.11 and Eph. 5.25-26)53 and the allusion in the first Epistle of St Peter to its saving power is equally strong (1Pet. 3.21).

The fullest doctrine of baptism to be found in the writings of the apostles is given by St Paul (Rom. 6.3-11). It is above all else union with Christ that baptism effects—in that union all else is included. Baptism into Christ Jesus is baptism into his death, and that involves real union with him. The believer in a true sense shares in the crucifixion and literally dies to sin, and in virtue of this true union he is buried with him and necessarily shares also in the resurrection—the new life to God. It is through baptism, which he also elsewhere (Tit. 3.5) directly calls, ‘the bath of regeneration,’ that he reaches these results: and there is no kind of unreality about them—death, burial, resurrection are all intensely real and practical. “As many of you as were baptised into Christ did put on Christ” (Gal. 3.26-27), and are become ‘members of Christ’ (1Cor. 6.13).

The main points in this conception of St Paul were seized upon and utilised by subsequent writers on baptism, and became the text on which sermons to catechumens were preached.’54 But it was still forgiveness of sins that was commonly regarded as the chief gift in baptism.

St Paul’s conception of baptism was probably as original as any other part of his teaching; he applies to baptism his dominant thought of being ‘in Christ’, a ‘new creature’ in Christ: but from a slightly different point of view it is the same conception which St John expounds in his account of the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, the main principle of which was also seized and expressed by St Peter.

Except a man be born from above (anew), he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee. Ye must be born from above.”55 Here St John reports his Master as explaining the birth from above to be a birth of water and the Spirit, and it is clear that he understood it to mean a real change of inward being or life. ‘Becoming a child’ of God and ‘being begotten of God’ are other expressions which St John frequently uses of the same experience.56

It is a new relation to God into which the baptised person enters. Becoming one with Christ, he also becomes in his measure a son of God one of those to whom he gave “the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”.57

So too St Peter speaks of God as begetting us again (regenerating us),58 and of Christians as begotten again (regenerated), not from corruptible seed, but from incorruptible’,59 and seems to have St Paul’s teaching to the Romans in mind when he brings baptism and its effects into immediate connexion with the death of Christ in the flesh and the new life in the spirit.60

Seen then from slightly different points of view, but all consistent with each other, baptism is regarded by the writers of the New Testament as the manner of entrance into the Church, and so into the kingdom of God; or as conferring a new spiritual life and a closer relationship to God, as of a child to a father; or as effecting once for all union with Christ and all that such union has to give.

In like manner, as baptism, administered once for all, admits to union with Christ, and thus to membership of the Church, which is the body of Christ, so the Eucharist maintains the union of the members with Christ and with one another. Union with Christ necessarily involves the union with one another in him of all who are united with him, and it is as ensuring union with Christ that the Eucharist is treated in the only passages in the New Testament in which anything like a doctrine of the Eucharist is expressed.

In the first of these, the earliest in time of composition, St Paul is writing to the Corinthians, and trying to lay down principles by which to determine the difficult position of their relation to pagan clubs and social customs connected (directly or indirectly) with the recognition of the pagan gods (δαιμόνια, deities or demons). The reference to the Lord’s Supper is introduced incidentally to illustrate the question under discussion. It is intended to point, by contrast, the real nature and effect of participation in a ritual meal of which the pagan god is the religious centre. It is impossible, the writer argues, to separate the meal from the god. Christians know quite well, he assumes, the significance of the Christian meal. What is true of it and its effect is true mutatis mutandis of the pagan meal.61

In this connexion, accordingly, he describes the nature of the Christian rite62 the name ‘the Lord’s Supper.’63 He insists that in it there is effected fellowship with the blood of Christ and with the body of Christ.64 It is one bread which is broken, and therefore all who partake of it are one body. And so, in like manner, to eat of the things sacrificed to demons, to drink their cup and to partake of their table, is to become fellows (to enter into fellowship) with them. Such fellowship at one and the same time with demons and with the Lord is impossible. The two things are incompatible—communion with demons and union with the Lord. This then is the main thought: the Lord’s Supper means and effects the union with the Lord of those who partake in it. And it is in this sense that St Paul must be supposed to have understood the phrases used immediately afterwards in regards to the institution65—’This is my body which is (given) for your sakes,’ and ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.’ To eat of the bread and to drink the cup is to be incorporated with Christ. But though the act is thus so intimate and individual, it is also at the same time general and social. There is involved in it a binding together of the brotherhood of Christians one with another. In virtue of their sharing together in the one bread they are themselves one body. “Because it is one bread, we, who are many, are one body.”66

Another aspect of the rite as it presented itself to St Paul67 is shewn by the words, “Do this as a memorial of me”, and “As often as ye eat this bread and drink the cup, ye proclaim the death of the Lord”. It had not only union with Christ as its effect, but also the perpetuation of the memory of his death according to his own command. It was to be a memorial of him and of all that his death signified—the broken body and the shed blood; and it was to continue till his coming again. Such a commemoration was in its very nature also an act of thanksgiving, and thanksgiving was always an essential part of the rite.68 And if this memorial was to be observed with fitting dignity and solemnity, there was needed due preparation on the part of those who made the commemoration. They must be morally and spiritually worthy. So in this respect a subjective element in the rite must be observed.69

From yet another point of view, the incidental reference to the Manna and the Water from the Rock as spiritual food and spiritual drink (the Rock being interpreted as Christ),70 shew that St Paul also thought of the bread and the wine (the body and the blood) as the means by which the spiritual life of those who partook of them was nourished and sustained.

It is this latter thought that is dominant in the only other passage in the New Testament which treats at any length of the doctrine of the Eucharist, St John’s account of the discourse of Christ on the Bread of Life.71 The doctrine is worked out step by step. The Lord is represented as beginning with the reproof of the people for the worldly expectations which the feeding of the five thousand had aroused in them, and then (as saying after saying causes deeper dissatisfaction and bewilderment in the minds of some) giving, stronger and stronger expression to the doctrine, till many of his disciples were even driven away by the hardness of the saying.

First of all there is only the contrast between the ordinary bread, their daily food, and the food which he, the Son of man, will give. The earthly food has no permanence, it perishes; the other is constant and continuous, and reaches on into life eternal.

Then, in reply to the demand for faith in him, they ask for a sign, and hint that greater things than he has done were done for their fathers of old: he has only given them ordinary bread, but Moses gave manna,—bread from heaven. He declares that it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven, but that his Father gives the real bread from heaven, and that he himself is the bread of God (or the bread of life) which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,—hunger and thirst are done away with forever for all who come to him and believe on him.

‘I am the bread which came down from heaven’—this the Jews find hard to understand, and against their murmuring the doctrine proceeds a step further in expression. The bread of life gives life eternal. Those that ate of the manna died in the desert all the same, but he that eateth of the living bread which came down from heaven shall not die but shall live forever. And the bread which shall be given is the flesh of the speaker.

‘How can he give us his flesh to eat?’ The objection which is urged leads on to much more emphatic assertions. Not only does he who eats this bread have life eternal, but it is the only way by which true life at all can be obtained. And now the reporter records the words which shew beyond all question that he has the Eucharist in mind. The Christian must both eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ (‘Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves’),—that is the only food (the only eating and drinking) on which reliance can be placed. It is the only sustenance provided.

And then the discourse carries the doctrine a stage further on, and as it were explains the inmost significance of the rite. It establishes union between the Christian and Christ. By its means the Christian becomes one with Christ and Christ one with him; and because of this union he will receive life just as Christ himself has life because of his union with the Father. It is Christ himself who is eaten, so he himself is received, and with him the life which is his.72

The comments which follow serve to complete the doctrine by precluding any material interpretation of the realistic language in which it is expressed. It is a real eating and drinking of the body and the blood of Christ, and a real union with him, and a real life that is obtained. But it is all spiritual. “The Spirit is that which maketh alive (or giveth life), the flesh doth not profit aught.”73

The conception of the Eucharist as a sacrifice is not prominent in these early accounts, but the sacrificial aspect of the rite is sufficiently suggested. As the death of Christ was a sacrifice, ‘to proclaim the death of the Lord’ is to the proclaim sacrifice, or, in other words, to acknowledge it before men and to plead it before God. It was ‘on behalf of’ others that the body was given to be broken and the blood was poured out, and through the use of these words the Eucharist is unmistakably the memorial of a sacrifice.74 It is, however, only in the Epistle to the Hebrews that this conception is clearly implied, the sacrament on earth being the analogue of the perpetual intercession offered by the High Priest on high.

The later statements of the doctrine during the four following centuries are for the most part, as will be seen, merely amplifications and restatements of the various aspects to which expression is given in the New Testament itself.


Chapter 2 notes

1. If it were necessary for our present purpose to attempt to discriminate nicely between the various ideas expressed in different writings of the New Testament, we might begin with the earliest and work from them to the later—on the chance of finding important developments. “We might thus begin with the earlier epistles of St Paul, and shew what conceptions of the Godhead and of the person and work of Christ underlie, and are presupposed by, the teaching which he gives and the allusions which imply so full a background of belief on the part of those to whom he writes. And then we might go on to compare with these earliest conceptions what we could discover in the writings of later date that seemed different or of later development. But this would be an elaborate task in itself, and without in any way doubting that further reflection and enlarged experience led to corresponding expansion and fullness and elucidation of the conceptions of the early teachers of the Gospel, it seems clear that some of the books of the New Testament which are later in time of composition (as we have them now) contain the expression of the earliest conceptions; and therefore, for the purpose before us, we need not try to discriminate as to time and origin between the various points of view which the various writings of the New Testament reveal. We need only note the variety, and observe that the conceptions are complementary one to another.

2. The writer to the Hebrews is perhaps an exception, but see Heb. 1.2, 5; 12.9

3. See the references given by Dr. Sanday, Art. ‘God’ in Hastings’ D.B. vol. ii p. 208 (e.g. Deut. 1.31; 8.5; .32.6 Ps. 103.13, Jer. 3.4, 19, Isa. 63.16; 64.8) and for the whole subject see, besides that article, G. F. Schmid Biblical Theology of the New Testament.

4. In particular the image according to which Israel is depicted as Jehovah’s bride, faithless to her marriage covenant, is incompatible with the thought expressed by the Fatherhood of God. One broad difference cannot be missed. In the one image the main thought is the jealous desire of God to receive man’s undivided devotion, in the other it is His readiness to bestow His infinite love on man.

5. E.g. both as to natural and as to spiritual life, Matt. 11.27; 10.20; 6.4, 6, 8; John 2.16 5.17. Cf. St Paul’s frequent use of the phrase ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’, e.g. Col. 1.3; Eph. 1.3; 2Cor. 1.3; 11.31; Rom. 15.6; cf. 1 Pet. 1.3,—though he commonly writes ‘God the Father’, or ‘our Father.’

6. Matt 6.8, 15; 10.20; Luke 3.6; Cf. ‘Our Father,’ Matt. 6.9; ‘My Father and your Father’ John 20.17 The common addition of the designation ‘heavenly’, or ‘that is in heaven’, serves to mark the spiritual and transcendent character of the relation.

7. Eg. John 4.24. He alone has preserved the definite utterance of Jesus, ‘God is Spirit’, as he alone proclaims that God is Love.’

8. Eg. Matt. 6.4, 6, 13; John 4.21;

9. John 5.21, 26 cf. 5.17; 17.3.

10. 1 John 4.8. Though a triune personality in the Godhead is implied if God is essentially Love (cf. Augustine de Trinitate vi and viii), it does not appear that St John’s statement was charged with this meaning to himself. It seems rather, from the context, to be used to express the spiritual and moral relation in which God stands to man (cf. John 3.16), and not to be intended to have explicit reference to the distinctions within the Godhead.

11. As, for example, when God is described as holy and righteous, or as merciful and gracious; as judging justly, or as patient and long-suffering. In all aspects God is absolutely good, the standard and type of moral perfection, and His love is always actively working (Matt. 19.17 Luke 18.19, Mark 5.48; 7.11, John 3.16).

12. See John 1.18; 14.7-11; Cf. John 10.38; 13.20; 14.9, 20; 15.24; 16.32; 1John 1.1-3; Matt. 11.27.

13. Cf. 2Cor. 4.4, Col. 1.15; Phil. 2.6 (Christ the ‘image’ of God, and existent ‘in the form’ of God).

14. Heb. 1.2 (the Son the ‘effulgence’ of the glory and the exact impress of the very being’ of God). John 1.1-5, Phil. 2.6-8, Col. 1.15-18, and Heb. 1.1-3 should be carefully compared together.

15. John 14.16; 15.26; 16.7-14.

16. The baptismal commission, Matt. 28.19, which co-ordinates the Three would be the simplest and most decisive evidence, but if it be disallowed there remains in the New Testament ample evidence to the same effect (see the Pauline equivalent 2Cor. 13.14; Rom. 8.26; 1Cor. 12.11; Eph. 4.30).

17. Such experiences are represented as beginning on the day of Pentecost, and as continuing all through the history recorded in the Acts of the Apostles; and they are also implied, if not actually expressed, in most of the Epistles.

18. The phrase clearly refers to mental and moral faculties, such as the intellect, the will, the affections.

19. Matt. 5.48.

20. Matt. 6.19ff

21. Eg. John 5.17

22. Eg. Matt. 6.22-23; Luke 11.34-36

23. Eg. Matt. 11.15; 13.14, Luke 12.56-57; John 7.24

24. Matt. 26.41; cf. John 3.6: “That which is begotten of the flesh is flesh, and that which is begotten of the Spirit is spirit.” Similarly ‘flesh and blood’ together Matt. 16.17. (‘Flesh’ is the name by which mankind was commonly expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures, with particular reference to its weaker and more ‘material’ constituents.)

25. The words ἁμαρτία and ἀνομία—the essence of sin (ἁμαρτίαbeing declared by St John to be lawlessness or the absence of the (ἀνομία) 1John 3.4.

26. The words παράπτωμα, παράβασις, ὁφείλημα.

27. Eg. Matt. 9.12

28. Eg. John 5.21-25

29. John 17.3; 6.40, 47; 3.36; 5.40; 5.24.

30 John 10.10, 13.35, 15.13; 1John 4.8

31. The conception of sin expressed in St Paul’s epistles, though not essentially different from the conceptions which arc reflected in other writings of the New Testament, is characteristic enough to call for special notice.

It was the common belief of the Jews at the time that the personal transgression of Adam was the origin of sin, and further that death came into the world as the penalty for sin.

St Paul assumes this belief. The keynote to his meaning in the chief passage in which he discusses the matter (Rom. 5.12-21) is struck in the words ‘through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners’ (Rom 5.19). Sin, then, entered the world by Adam’s trespass, and death—which is the penalty of sin—followed. And, furthermore, death became universal, because all men sinned. Ἐφ ᾦ πάντεσ ἅμαρτον can only mean ‘because all sinned’: but the question remains whether by these words St Paul means to assert the personal individual sin of everyone since Adam, or whether he means that, in some sense, when Adam sinned, the whole race then and there became guilty of sin. It is also a question which the two conceptions were familiar to Jewish (Rabbinic) thought. (See Sanday and Headlam on the passage, and the discussion by GB Stevens The Pauline Theology p. 127ff. See also H. St J Thakeray The Relation of St Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought ch. 2 “Sin and Adam,’ and further “Pelagianism” infra 309). To determine the question we must look beyond the mere words to the argument of the context. Two things are clear—(1) the universality of sin is emphasised, and its connexion with Adam’ sin; (2) the redemption of sin actually accomplished through one man, Jesus Christ, is treated as parallel to the results of the sin of the one Adam.

In both cases alike there is implied the organic unity between the representative and the race (whether of all men, in one case, or of those who are ‘in Christ’, in the other case). Cf. 2Cor 5.14 “one died for all and therefore all died” (ie. to sin, an ethical death to be followed by an ethical raising again to life). The unity that exists between Christ (the head of the spiritual humanity) and Christians is parallel to that which exists between Adam (the head of natural humanity) and all mankind. (Cf. 1Cor 15.22 “as in Adam all died, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” But in regard to Adam, at all events, Paul does not attempt to define the way in which the connexion comes about. On this question the phrase ἥμεθα τέκνα φύσει ὀργῆς, Eph. 2.3 must be considered. The doctrine of original or birth-sin has been found in it. But the context must determine the meaning, and three facts must be noted—(1) the order of words shows that there is no stress on φύσει; (2) the expression ‘children of wrath’ is parallel to such Old Testament expressions as ‘sons of death’ and means ‘worthy of God’s reprobation’; (3) the reference is to individual personal sins actually committed; (4) so far as there is any emphasis on φύσει the intention is to mark the contrast between the natural powers of man left to himself, and the power of the grace of God effecting salvation. See the emphatic relation of χάριτι in the verses following. In this passage too, therefore, it is the actual prevalence of sin in the world, as a fact of general experience, that is in the Apostle’s mind, rather than any theory as to the propagation of sin or a tendency to sin. Cf. Gal. 2.5, where the Gentiles are regarded as sinners φύσει, i.e. belonging to the class of sinners—see Sanday and Headlam on Rom. 5.19.

Furthermore, it is clear that St Paul speaks of the σάρχ, in antithesis to the πνεῦμα, as the seat and sphere of manifestation of this sin. He uses the expression in different senses: (1) literal or physical, of the body actually subjugated and ruled by sin, conceived as the sphere in which, or the medium through which, sin actually works; (2) ethical, of the element in man which is, in practical experience, opposed to the spiritual; (3) symbolic, of unregenerate human nature. The three senses tend to pass over into one another, and the first and second, and the second and third, respectively, cannot always be exactly distinguished.

But when he describes the sins of ‘the flesh’ he includes many forms of sin which have their origin in the mind or the will—see e.g. Gal. 5.19ff; and the antithesis between the ‘spirit’ and the ‘flesh’ is not presented in the manner of Greek or Oriental dualism. (On Rom. 7.7-25, see Sanday and Headlam.)

32. On the meaning of the blood of Christ, see particularly Westcott Epistles of St John, where it is shewn that the blood always includes the thought of the life, preserved and active beyond death, though at the same time it is only through the death that the blood can be made available. On the New Testament doctrine of the atonement in general, see Oxenham, Catholic Doctrine of the Atonement p. 108ff.; and R. W. Dale, The Atonement, with the notes in the Appendix.

33. The words κατακλλαγή, καταλλάσειν in this sense are peculiarly Pauline (Rom. 5.10-11; 2 Cor. 5.18-20), and ἀποκαταλλάσειν (Eph. 2.16; Col. 1.20-21) and it must be observed that the conception is of the world and man being reconciled to God (not God to man), just as it is always man who is represented as hostile to God and alienated from Him. The change of feeling has to take place on the side of man. The obstacle to union which must be removed is of his making. (But see Sanday and Headlam on Rom. 5.11). For the result as peace, see John 14.27, Rom. 5.1, Eph. 2.14, 17; Col. 3.15; as union with God or life in Christ, see esp. St John, e.g. John 3.15-16; 20.31; 1John 5.11-12; cf. Col. 3.3-4; 2Tim 1.1; Rom. 5.10, Heb. 10.20.

34. The chief words used to express this conception are ἀγοράζω, 1Cor. 6.20; 7.23, Gal. 4.5; ἐξαγορόζω, Gal. 3.13; λυτρόω, λύτροσις, ἀπολύτροσις, Tit. 2.14, 1Pet. 1.18, Eph. 1.7, Col. 1.14, Rom. 3.24; Heb. 9,12, 15; and λύτρον, ἀντίλυτρον, Matt. 20.28; Mark 10.45; 1Tim. 2.6. It is only in connexion with this metaphor that Christ is said to have acted ‘instead of us᾽ (ἀντί), and even here the phrase in 1Tim. 2.6 is ἀντίλυτρον ὑπέρ ἡμῶν. He paid a ransom ‘instead of’ or ‘in exchange for’ us. In all other cases his death or sufferings are described as for our sakes or on our behalf (ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν), and more simply still as ‘concerning’ us, or ‘in the matter of’ sin or our sins (περὶ ἡμῶν or περὶ ἁμαρτίας, περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν). That is to say, it is the idea of representation rather than of substitution that is expressed. The conception is clearly stated in the words, ‘if one died on behalf of all, then all died’ (2Cor. 5.14) ; that is, in Christ the representative of the race all die, and because they have died in him, all are made alive in him (cf. such passages as Rom. 6.3-11). And, again, it must be observed that it is not said to whom the ransom is paid. It is indeed only when what is simply a metaphor is pressed as though it were a formal definition that the question could well arise. One thing, however, in this respect, is clearly implied—the person thus ransomed and freed from bondage belongs hence forward to his redeemer: it is only in him, by union with him, that he gets his freedom. See e.g. Rom. 6.15-7.6.

35. Rom. 6.23; Gal. 5.3; 3.13; 2Cor. 5.21; 1Pet. 2.24; Phil. 2.8; Heb. 5.8, 10.9; Ἀφεσις, ‘remission’ of sins, Matt. 26.28; Luke 24.47; Acts 2.38 et saepe, Eph. 1.7; Col. 1.14; cf Heb. 9.22.

36. This conception is expressed especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews and by St John. See Heb. 2.17, 9.19-28, 10.10, 12, 26; and 1John 1.7, 2.2, 4.10; but cf. also Rom. 3.25; Eph. 5.2. Here too it must be noticed that the idea of propitiating God (as one who is angry with a personal feeling against the offender) is foreign to the New Testament. Propitiation takes place in the matter of sin and of the sinner, altering the character of that which occasions alienation from God. See Westcott Epistles of St John, note on ἰλάσκεσθαι, ἰλασμός, ἰλαστήριον, p. 85. But see also Sanday and Headlam, l.c. supra.

37. Matt. 12.30, Luke 11.23. The saying may have been intended only to give emphatic expression to the truth that in the contest between Christ and Satan no one can be neutral. The side of Christ must be resolutely taken. But the interpretation which was apparently put upon the saying by those who recorded it, and by the Church from the first, was probably true for those days at all events. There might be here and there a secret adherent; but, in the main, discipleship of Christ and membership of the society were bound to go together, though there might be some interval of time between the inward conviction and the outward act. This interpretation is not excluded by the other saying: ‘He that is not against us (you), is for us (you) (Mark 9.40, Luke 9.50), though that saying was elicited by an act which was based on the principle that one who did not join the society could not be really a follower of Jesus. The chief purpose of this saying is to teach the apostles the lesson of toleration. One who was ready in those early days to publicly invoke the name of Jesus was not far from the kingdom and should not be discouraged. The half disciple might be won to full membership of the society. At least he should not be disowned.

38. Note the frequency of the expression in the Gospels.

39. The society was at first a society within the Jewish nation. On the process by which it outgrew its original limits, so far as it can be traced in the New Testament, see Hort The Christian Ecclesia. The kingdom was in one sense established when the first disciples left all and followed him; but they had to be trained for their work of spreading the kingdom (see Latham Pastor Pastorum), audit would not be realized till all nations of the world were made disciples (cf. the parables, Matt. 13.31-33 and the commission, Matt. 28.19). That the Church and the kingdom of God are not convertible terms in the teaching of Jesus is certain. See further A Robertson Regnum Dei p. 61ff.

40. If the idea finds any justification in such sayings of our Lord as ‘He that is not against us is for us’ (Luke 9.50, cf. Mark 9.40); ‘Other sheep I have which are not of this fold’ (John 10.16), at all events there is no evidence that they were so understood by his early followers.

41. See Rom 9.6; 1Cor 10.18; Gal. 6.16; Rom 11.16-24. So 1Pet. 2.9-10. The titles of used of the people of God are applied to Christians.

42. Eph 4.11-16, 5.22, 32; (Col 1.18, 24; 2.19); cf. 1Cor 12.12-27

43. Acts 2.41; 1Cor 12.13, 1.13.

44. 1 Cor. 10.17 It is because it is one bread of which all partake that the many are one body.

45. Acts 2.42, 46, 1Cor 10.16, 21; 11.17-31

46. It is clear from all that is said in the New Testament, and from the very nature of the rite as it is there represented, that repetition could never have been thought of in those days. It is perhaps to baptism that the strong assertion in Heb. 6.4-6 of the impossibility of ‘renewing again unto repentance those that have been once enlightened’ refers.

47. Acts 2.38; 8.36.

48. Gal. 3.27; cf. 1Cor. 12.27, Rom. 6.3-4.

49. John 3.3-5; Titus 3.5; cf. 1Peter 1.3, 3.21.

50. 1Cor. 6.11; Acts 22.16; Hebrews 10.22. So the whole of the Church, Eph. 5.25-26.

51. This is implied in the phrases ‘born anew or from above,’ ‘begotten of God,’ 1John 3.9 children of God 1John 3.1; sons of God’, (Rom. 8.14-16, Gal. 4.5). The term υἱοθεσία ‘adoption as sons’, is used (Rom. 8.14-16, Gal. 3.26-27) in specially close connexion with the action of the Spirit (more closely defined as ‘the Spirit of God’, or ‘the Spirit of His Son’). So Tit. 3.5, the laver of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit’. Whether the gift of the Holy Spirit was believed to be conveyed by baptism, or rather by the laying-on of hands as a subsequent rite, is not certain.The words of St Peter (Acts 2.38) appear to imply that the gift was a result of baptism. The narrative in Acts 8.14-17 clearly records two distinct rites, separated by some interval of time,—the first, of baptism, unaccompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit; the second, of ‘laying-on of hands’, which conferred the gift: the first performed by Philip, the second by the Apostles. From the narrative in Acts 19.1-6 a similar distinction is to be inferred, though the questions in verses 2 and 3 point to the closest connexion in time between the two rites. Cf. also 1Cor. 12.12. (See further A. J. Mason The Relation of Confirmation to Baptism, and note on ‘Confirmation’ infra p. 390.). The gift of the Holy Spirit, though actually conferred by a subsequent symbolic rite, was naturally to be expected as an immediate sequence to the washing away of sins which the baptism proper effected. Similarly, the writer to the Hebrews includes among the elementary fundamental truths familiar to all Christians ‘the doctrine of baptisms and of laying-on of hands’, at once distinguishing and yet most closely connecting the two parts of one and the same rite (Heb. 6.2).

52. It is ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’ that they are bidden to be baptised in this—the first recorded—instance of Christian baptism, and all later instances of baptisms in the New Testament are described as in or into the single name of Jesus (or Jesus Christ, or Christ); see Acts 8.16, 19.5 10.48, Gal. 3.27, Rom. 6.3. It is possible that the baptism was actually so effected,—in which case its validity (from the later standpoint when baptism was required to be into the names of the Trinity) could be entirely defended on the ground that baptism into one of the ‘persons’ is baptism into the Trinity (cf. the doctrine of circumincessio). But in view of the Trinitarian formula given in Matt. 28.19 (which it is difficult to believe represents merely a later traditional expansion of the words which were uttered by Christ) it is possible that the actual formula used in the baptism did recite the three names, and that the writer is not professing to give the formula but rather to shew that the persons in question were received into the society which recognized Jesus as Saviour and Lord and made allegiance to him the law of its life. The former view had the support of Ambrose, and the practice was justified by him as above (de Spir. Sanct, i 4), and probably by Cyprian in like manner (Ep. 73. 17, though he is cited for the latter view). See Lightfoot on 1 Cor. 1.13, and Plummer, Art. ‘Baptism’ Hastings D.B.

53. There is, however, no trace of any idea that baptised Christians could be preserved from future lapses without effort. Though St John could declare—from the ideal standpoint—that any one who was truly born again was, as such, unable to sin (1John 3.9); though in aim and intention sin was impossible for any one who was ‘in Christ’: yet the constant moral and spiritual exhortations which the Apostles pressed upon the Churches, and such a confession as St Paul’s, “the good which I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise” (Rom. 7.19), serve to shew that the Apostles did not consider that the hope of forgiveness was exhausted in baptism (cf. Jas. 5.16).

54. See e.g. Cyril of Jerusalem Cat. 20.4-7. Cyril particularly insists on the truth of each aspect of the rite, shewing how much more is involved in it than mere forgiveness of sins.

55. John 3.3-5

56. Eg. 1John 3.1, 5.2, 3.9.

57. John 1.12-13

58. 1Pet. 1.3

59. 1Pet. 1.23

60. 1Pet. 3.18ff

61. It is clear that the Christian rite—assumed to be understood in this way—is the starting-point of St Paul’s argument. But he might equally well, if his argument had so required, have reasoned from the pagan rite to the Christian; for recent studies have proved that the fundamental idea of sacrifice was that of communion between the god and his worshippers through the medium of the victim which was slain. Through participation in the flesh and blood of the victim a real union was effected between them, and so the divine life was communicated to the worshipper who offered the sacrifice. See especially Robertson Smith Religion of the Semites, and Art. Sacrifice in Encycl. Brit.

62. 1Cor. 10.16ff

63 1Cor 11.20ff

64. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not fellowship with the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not fellowship with the body of Christ? Because it is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1Cor. 10.16-17).

65.1Cor. 11.23ff

66. 1Cor. 10.17. This conception, which understands by the body not only Christ himself (and so a personal union with him), but also the society of Christians (and so membership of the Church), is easily detected in later times. Cf. Didache 9.4, Bp. Sarapion’s Prayer-Book, p. 62, S.P.C.K. ed.; Cyprian Ep. 73.13; Aug. Tract, in Joann. 25.13—in all of which passages the unity of the Church with its many members is associated with the idea of the loaf formed out of the many scattered grains of wheat collected into one.

67. This conception of the Eucharist as a perpetual memorial, expressly ordained by Christ himself as a rite to be observed by his followers till his coming again, is only found in St Paul and, as an early addition to the original account of the institution (possibly made by the author himself in a second edition of his work), in the Gospel of St Luke. It is not necessary here to attempt to determine whether this conception was introduced by St Paul. We need only note that it certainly was St Paul’s conception: that he claims for it the express authority of Christ’s own words delivered to him; and that there is no trace of any opposition to the practice as indicated by St Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian Christians, but on the contrary that all the evidence supports the assertion that Christ himself ordained the observance and that the idea of commemoration was present from the first. On the other hand, there is no evidence till later times that the words εἱς τὴν ἑμὴν ἀνάμνησιν were understood to mean a sacrificial memorial (e.g. Eusebius Demonstr. I.13 seems to conceive it so).

68. All the accounts of the institution give prominence to this aspect, and the early prevalence of the word (ἡ εὐχηαριστίαas the name for whole service shews how it was regarded.

69. Cf. 1Cor. 11.27ff

70. 1Cor. 10.1-5.

71. John 6.26ff. Whatever opinion be held as to the time when the rite was instituted, and as to the freedom which the author of this Gospel permitted himself in interpreting the teaching which he apparently professes simply to record, it cannot well be doubted that when he wrote this account he had the Lord’s Supper in mind, and that it expresses his doctrine about it.

72. “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him. Even as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so he that eateth me shall himself too live because of me.” It is not easy to determine what is the exact significance of the phrase ‘the flesh and blood’, but it seems that the manhood of Christ must be meant. The words ‘eat the flesh of Christ’ must mean something more than have faith in him. “This spiritual eating, this feeding upon Christ, is the best result of faith, the highest energy of faith, but it is not faith itself. To eat is to take that into ourselves which we can assimilate as the support of life. The phrase to ‘eat the flesh of Christ’ expresses therefore, as perhaps no other language could express, the great truth that Christians are made partakers of the human nature of their Lord, which is united in one person to the divine nature; that he imparts to us now, and that we can receive into our manhood, something of his manhood, which may be the seed, so to speak, of the glorified bodies in which we shall hereafter behold him. Faith, if I may so express it, in its more general sense, leaves us outside Christ trusting in him; but the crowning act of faith incorporates us in Christ.” Westcott Revelation of the Father p. 40. Cf. Gore The Body of Christ p. 24: “He plainly means them to understand that, in some sense, his manhood is to be imparted to those who believe in him, and fed upon as a principle of new and eternal life. There is to be an ‘influence’ in the original sense of the word—an inflowing of his manhood into ours.” And he goes on to note that “it is only because of the vital unity in which the manhood stands with the divine nature that it can be ‘spirit’ and ‘life’. It is the humanity of nothing less than the divine person which is to be, in some sense, communicated to us”.

73. On the patristic interpretation of this saying (sometimes as explaining, sometimes as explaining away, the previous discourse), see Gore Dissertations p. 303ff.

74. Besides the four accounts of the institution, cf. Heb. 13.10. The words τοῦτο ποιεῖτε naturally would have the meaning perform this action’, though the sacrificial significance of ποιεῖν may possibly have been intended (viz. offer this). But in any case, as is shewn above, the action to be performed is a commemoration of a sacrifice, [ποιεῖν is certainly used frequently in the LXX as the translation of asah in a sacrificial sense, but the meaning is determined by the context, and there is no certain instance of this use in the New Testament. Justin (Dial, c. Tryph. 41, 70) is apparently the only early Christian writer who recognises this meaning in connexion with the institution of the Eucharist).


Chapter 3

Development of Doctrine

We have had occasion to speak of the growth or development of doctrine. Exception is sometimes taken to the phrase, and the changes which have taken place have often been regarded as in need of justification. It is felt that a divine revelation must have been complete and have contained all doctrines that were true and necessary; yet it is undeniable that changes of momentous importance in the expression of their faith have been made by Christians and the Church. How are the differences between the earlier and the later ‘doctrines’ to be explained?

To this question various answers have been given. Some have been unable to see in the later developments anything but what was bad corruption of primitive truth and degeneration from a purer type. The simplicity of scriptural teaching has been, it is argued, from the apostolic age onwards, ever more and more contaminated. Men were not content with the divine revelation and sought to improve upon it by all kinds of human additions and superstitions. Above all, the Church and the priests, the guardians of the revelation, perverted it in every way they could to serve their own selfish interests, and so was built up the great system of ecclesiastical doctrines and ordinances under which the simplicity and purity of apostolic Christianity was altogether obscured and lost. Such a view as this was held and urged by the English Deists of the eighteenth century, when the wave of rationalism first began to sweep over the liberated thought of England. It is the dominant idea of a large part of Matthew Tindal’s Christianity as Old as the Creation, and still inspires some of the less-educated attacks upon the Church. But for the present purpose this notion of universal apostasy may be dismissed.1

More consideration must be given to another explanation which was accepted at the Council of Trent, and is therefore still the authoritative answer to the question given by the Church of Rome. It affirms that there are two sources of divine knowledge: one, Holy Scripture; and the other, traditions handed down from the Apostles, to whom they had been dictated, as it were, orally by Christ or by the Holy Spirit, and preserved in the Catholic Church by unbroken succession since. According to this theory, the later doctrines were later only in the sense that they were published later than the others, having been secretly taught and handed down from the first in the inner circle of bishops, and made known to the Church at large when the need for further teaching arose. This is the theory of ‘Secret Tradition’ or disciplina arcani, the latter term being one of post-Reformation controversy, which was applied to designate several modes of procedure in teaching the Christian faith. Between these modes we must discriminate, if we are to decide whether we have or have not in this practice the source of the development of doctrine. In the first place it is obvious that some reserve would be practised by teachers in dealing with those who were young in the faith or in years. For babes there is milk; solid food is for adults.2 Spiritual hearers and carnal hearers need different teaching.3 Wisdom can only be spoken among the full-grown.4 Knowledge must always be imparted by degrees, and methods must be adapted to the capacity of pupils. This is a simple educational expedient which was of course always employed by Christian teachers. The deeper truths were not explained at first; catechumens were not taught the actual words of the Creed till baptism, and were not allowed to be present at the celebration of the Eucharist. The spiritual interpretation of the highest rites was not laid bare to them.5 And the reticence observed toward catechumens was of course extended to all unbelievers. That which is holy must not be cast to dogs; pearls must not be thrown before swine. The mysteries of the faith must not be proclaimed indiscriminately or all at once to the uninitiated. Christian teachers had ever before them the parabolic method of their Lord. Rather than risk occasion of profanity by admitting catechumens or unbelievers to knowledge for which they were not prepared, they would incur the suspicion which was certain to fall upon a secret society with secret religious rites. But such a disciplina arcani as this could not be a source of fresh doctrines, even if it could be traced back to apostolic times. It was always a temporary educational device, not employed in relation to the initiated, the ‘faithful’ themselves, and always designed to lead up to fuller knowledge—to a plain statement of the whole truth as soon as the convert had reached the right stage. Of any reserve or œconomy of the truth among Christians, one with another, there is no trace: still less is any distinction between the bishops and others in such respects to be found.6 The nearest approach to anything of the kind which we have is to be seen in the higher ‘knowledge’ to which some early Christian philosophers laid claim. It was said that Jesus had made distinctions, and had not revealed to the many the things which he knew were only adapted to the capacity of the few, who alone were able to receive them and be conformed to them. The mysteries (τὰ ἀπόῤῥητα) of the faith could not be committed to writing, but must be orally preserved. So Clement of Alexandria7 believed that Christ on his resurrection had handed down the ‘knowledge’ to James the Just, and John and Peter and they to the other apostles, and they in turn to the Seventy. Of that sacred stream of secret unwritten knowledge or wisdom he had been permitted to drink. But this ‘knowledge’ of Clement was clearly not a distinct inner system of doctrine differing in contents from that which was taught to the many; it was rather a different mode of apprehending the same truths—from a more intellectual and spiritual standpoint—an esoteric theology concerned with a mystic exposition, a philosophical view of the popular faith.8 There is no reason to suppose that it was more than a local growth at Alexandria, the home of the philosophy of religion, or that it was the source of later developments of doctrine.

A third explanation removes the chief difficulty in the way of the apologist, by recognising the progressive character of revelation. The theory of development which Cardinal Newman worked out is not concerned to claim finality for the doctrines of the apostolic age. In effect it asserts that under the continuous control of a divine power, acting through a supernatural organisation—the Church, the Bishops, the Pope, there has been a perpetual revelation of new doctrines,9 Under divine guidance the Church was enabled to reject false theories and explanations (heresy), and to evolve and confirm as established truth all the fresh teaching which the fresh needs of the ages required.

By this explanation those to whom the theory of perpetual revelations of new doctrines seems to accord but ill with the facts of the case, may be helped to a more satisfactory answer to the question. It is not new doctrines to which Christians are bidden to look forward, but new and growing apprehension of doctrine: not new revelations, but new power to understand the revelation once and finally made. The revelation is Christ himself: we approximate more nearly to full understanding of him, and to the expression of that fuller understanding. Such expression must vary, must be relative to the age, to the general state of knowledge of the time, to individual circumstances and needs. It is impossible to “believe what others believed under different circumstances by simply taking their words; if we are to hold their faith, we must interpret it in our own language.”10  It is quite possible for the same theological language to be at one time accepted and at another rejected by the Church, according to the sense in which it is understood. The development of doctrines, the restatement of doctrine, thus understood, is only an inevitable result of the progress of knowledge, of spiritual and moral experience. It might well be deemed a necessary indication of a healthy faith, adapting itself to the needs of each new age, so that if such a symptom were absent we might suspect disease, stagnation, and decay. If Christian doctrines are, as is maintained, formulated statements designed to describe the Person and Work of Christ in relation to God and Man and the World, they are interpretations of great facts of life. Nothing can alter those facts. It is only the mode in which they are expressed that varies. “It can never be said that the interpretation of the Gospel is final. For while it is absolute in its essence, so that nothing can be added to the revelation which it includes, it is relative so far as the human apprehension of it at any time is concerned. The facts are unchangeable, but the interpretation of the facts is progressive. . . . There cannot be . . . any new revelation. All that we can need or know lies in the Incarnation. But the meaning of that revelation which has been made once for all can itself be revealed with greater completeness.”11 Certainly the student of the history of Christian doctrines cannot discourage the attempt to re-state the facts in the light of a larger accumulation of experience of their workings. It is to such attempts that he owes the rich body of doctrine which is the Christian’s heritage, and he at least will remember the condemnation passed on the Pharisees who resisted all reform or development of the routine of faith and practice into which they had sunk. Their fathers had stoned the prophets—the men who dared to give new interpretations and to point to new developments; but what was then original and new had in a later age become conventional and old, and the same hatred and distrust of a new development, which prompted their fathers to kill the innovators, led their children to laud them and to build their sepulchres.12

As a matter of fact, we can see that such developments have been due to many external causes, varying circumstances and conditions of personal life. Different nationalities, owing to their different antecedents, apprehended very differently. The conception that as Christ came to save all men through himself, so he passed through all the stages of human growth, sanctifying each in turn, was familiar in early days,13 and doctrine must correspond to the intellectual and moral and spiritual growth of man. To the expression of doctrine every race in turn makes its characteristic contribution, not to the contents of the Revelation but to the interpretation and expression of its significance. The influence of Hebrew, Greek, and Roman modes of thought and of expression is obvious during the early centuries with which we are concerned. It is indeed so obvious, for example, that it was from Greek thought that the Church borrowed much of the terminology in which in the fourth century she expressed her Creed, that some have been led to imagine she borrowed from Greek philosophy too the substance of her teaching. In disregard of the highly metaphysical teaching of St John and St Paul, and of the mystical conceptions underlying the records of the sayings of Christ himself, it is argued that the Sermon on the Mount is the sum and substance of genuine Christianity; that Christianity began as a moral and ‘spiritual’ way of life with the promulgation of a new law of conduct; and that it was simply under Hellenic influences, and by incorporating the terms and ideas of late Hellenic philosophy, that it developed its theology. An ethical sermon stands in the forefront of the teaching of Jesus Christ: a metaphysical creed in the forefront of the Christianity of the fourth century.14 What has been said already of doctrines and their development—of the finality of the revelation in Christ and of the gradual process by which expression is found for the true interpretation of it—recognises the element of truth contained in these over-statements.15 They seem to involve a confusion between conduct and the principles on which it is based; between the practical endeavour to realise in feeling and in act that harmony between ourselves, creation, and God, which is the end in view of all religion, and the intellectual endeavour to explain and interpret human life so as to frame a system of knowledge. It is with the early attempts to frame this system of knowledge that the student of Christian doctrines has to deal. They all rested primarily on the interpretations which were given by the first generation of Christians of the life and teaching and work of Christ.

οἰκονομία—Reserve

Such an ‘economy’ or ‘accommodation’ of the truth as is described above is evidently legitimate and educationally necessary.16 We must note, however, that among some leaders of Christian thought, through attempts at rationalising Christianity to meet the pagan philosophers and at allegorising interpretations of difficulties, the principle was sometimes extended in more questionable ways. In controversy with opponents the truth might be stated in terms as acceptable as possible to them. It would always be right to point out as fully as possible how much of the truth was already implied, if not expressed, in the faith and religious opinions which were being combated. It would be right to shew that the new truth included all that was true in the old, and to state it as much as possible in the familiar phraseology: such argumenta ad hominem might be the truest and surest ways of enlightening an opponent. But phrases of some of the Alexandrian Fathers are cited which sound like undue extensions of such fair ‘economy’. Clement declared (Strom, vii.9) that the true Gnostic ‘bears on his tongue whatever he has in his mind’, but only ‘to those who are worthy to hear’,  and adds that he both thinks and speaks the truth, unless at any time medicinally, as a physician dealing with those that are ill, for the safety of the sick he will lie or tell an untruth as the Sophists say (οὔποτε ψεῦδεται κἄν ψεῦδος λέγῃ). And Origen is quoted by Jerome (adv. Rufin. Apol. i.18 ; Migne I .L xxiii p. 412) as enjoining on any one who is forced by circumstances to lie the need of care to observe the rules of the art, and only use the lie as a condiment and medicine. To no one else can it be permitted. So his pupil, Gregory of Neo-Caesarea, used language about the Trinity confessedly erroneous,17 and was defended by Basil (Ep. 210.5; Migne P.G. xxxii p. 776) on the ground that he was not speaking  δογματικῶς but ἀγωνιστικῶς (controversially), that is, not teaching doctrine but arguing with an unbeliever; so that he was right to concede some things to the feelings of his opponent in order to win him over to the most important points.18 And Jerome himself claimed to write in this manner γυμναστικῶς, and cited in support of the practice numbers of Greek and Latin Christian writers before him, and even the high authority of St Paul himself (Ep. 48.13 ; Migne P.L. xxii p. 502). So Gregory of Nazianzus, in defence and in praise of Basil (see Ep. 58; cf. Orat. 43), insisted that true teaching wisdom required that the doctrine of the Spirit should be brought forward cautiously and gradually, and that he should not be described as God except in the presence of those who were well disposed to the doctrine. (See further Harnack DG. Eng. tr. vol. iv p. 116.)

Such expressions as these might easily lead to a perversion of the true pædagogic reticence. Yet language is, in any case, so inadequate to express the deepest thought and feeling on such questions, that it may well seem that if the true idea is secured it matters little in what precise language it is clothed. It is impossible to be certain that a particular term will convey the same idea to different people. The thing that matters is the idea. You want to convey your idea to your opponent—you may have to express it in his language. The limit would seem to be set only when feeling the ideas to be different you so express them as to make them seem the same. When reserve, economy, accommodation, gets beyond that limit, then and not till then does it become dangerous and dishonest. (See D.C.A. Art. “Disciplina Arcani”.)


Footnotes to Chapter 3

1. It must, however, be said that it is practically the same pessimistic estimate of the course of the history of doctrine that underlies Harnack’s great work on the subject. At all events, during the period with which we have to deal he does not recognize (unless perhaps in the case of St Paul) any progressive development of Christian truth, but rather a progressive veiling and corruption of the original Gospel through the spreading of Greek and other pagan influences in the Church. The disease, which he styles ‘acute Hellenization or ‘secularizing’ of the faith, wrought (he considers) deadly mischief, and obscured or even destroyed the original character and contents of early Christianity. It cannot, however, be claimed that any clear statement of the real constituents of this pure and uncorrupted early Christianity is given in the History of Doctrine, and still they are certainly determined without question we are left with no criterion by which to distinguish the later changes and accretions from the original teaching. This being so, we may adopt the words of a distinguished critic, who wrote that “where a definite conception, based on history, of the nature of Christianity is so wholly wanting, the question as to whether individual phenomena are truly Christian or a degeneration, corruption, and secularisation of true Christianity, can only be answered according to personal taste” (Otto Pfleiderer Development of Theology p. 299). Such a view remains subjective and defies scientific treatment. (We can now, however, refer to What is Christianity?).

2. Heb. 5.12-14

3. 1Cor. 3.1

4. 1Cor 2.6

5. ‘The earliest reference to such reticence is perhaps Tertullian’s “omnibus mysteriis silentii fides adhibetur” (Apol. 7); and his complaint that heretics threw open everything at once (de Praescr. 41). With regard to the secrecy of the Creed, see Cyprian Testim. iii 50, Sozomen H.E. i 20, Augustine Serm. 212.

6. See Additional Note οἰκονομία infra p. 39.

7. See the passage from Hypostaseis bk. 7 (not extant) quoted in Eusebius Ecc. Hist. 2.1. Cf Strom 1.1, 6.7 ad fin.; Strom. 5.10 ad fin. on Rom. 15.25-26, 29 and 1Cor 2.6-7; and on Matt. 7.6; 1Cor. 2.14.

8. See Strom. vi.15.

9. See the essay of the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845. Cf. however C. Gore Bampton Lectures. p. 253.

10. Westcott Contemp. Review July 1868

11. Westcott Gospel of Life preface p. xxiii. The revelation is in this sense is continuous, present, and progressive.

12. See Ecce Homo ch, 21.

13. Irenaeus 2.33.2 (ed. Harvey vil. i p. 330)

14. See Hatch Hibbert Lectures, and Gore Bampton Lectures iv. Cf. also Lightfoot Epistle to the Colossians p. 125.

15. It has been truly said that with the Incarnation of the Redeemer and the introduction of Christianity into the world the materials of the history of doctrines are already fully given in germ. The object of all further doctrinal statements and definitions is, from the positive point of view, to unfold this germ: from the negative, to guard it against all foreign additions and influences. This twofold object must be kept In view. The spirit of Christianity had to work through the forms which it found, attaching itself to what was already in existence and appropriating prevalent modes of expression. Christ did not come to destroy but to fulfil. All are God’s revelations—πολυμέρος καὶ πολυτρόπως God spoke of old. The Son in whom He spoke to us in these latter days He made heir of all the partial and manifold revelations. The student of Christian doctrines has to study the process by which the inheritance was slowly assumed, and the riches of the Gentiles claimed for his service.

16. See Newman Arians i 3, and his Apologia. See also his essay on Development of Christian Doctrine.

17. When he said Father and Son were two ἐπινοίᾳ but one ὑποστάσει (but really ὑπόστασις was then equivalent to οὐσία).

18. Cf. also Basil de Spir. Sancto 66 on the value of the secret unwritten tradition. See Swete Doctrine of the Holy Spirit p. 64, and C. F. H. Johnstone The Book of St Basil on the Holy Spirit. On Reserve as taught by the later casuists see Scavini, Theolog. Mor. ii 23, Pascal Letters, and Jeremy Taylor Ductor Dubit. iii 2 (Jackson ‘Basil’ N. and P.-N. Fathers vol. vii).


Chapter 4

The Sources of Doctrine: Oral Tradition—Holy Scripture

The original source of all Christian doctrines is Christ himself, in his human life on earth. The interpretations of him which were given by the apostles and earliest disciples are the earliest Christian doctrines. They were conscious that they had this work of interpretation of Christ to the world committed to them, and they believed they might look for the help of the Spirit which he had promised to send—the Spirit of truth—to guide them to the fulness of the truth.1 Under his guiding inspiration many things would grow clear as the human power of apprehension expanded, as their experience was enlarged: when their capacity grew greater they would understand the things of which their Master had told them he had many to say to them, but they could not bear them yet.2 For this function of witnesses and spokesmen—true ‘prophets’ of Christ—they would be more and more fitted by a living inspiration coming from him—a spiritual illumination and elevation which would intensify their natural powers and quicken their innate latent capacity into life and activity. Such was the earliest idea of Christian inspiration. It shewed itself in the earliest apostolic teaching, the oral record of which became at once the tradition to which appeal was made. To this tradition, which naturally dealt both with doctrine and with practice, St Paul referred his converts in one of his earliest and in one of his latest Epistles. ‘Hold fast the traditions which ye were taught,’3 he bids the Thessalonians, the tradition which ye received from us’;4 and again he urges Timothy to guard the deposit committed to him.5

By degrees this oral tradition was supplemented by the written tradition, so that already in his exhortation to the Thessalonians St Paul was able to place aide by side on a level the traditions which they had heard from him, whether by word or by letter, his teaching when with them and what he had written since. But between the two traditions there was no sense of discord, and we shall search in vain for any suggestion that one possesses a greater measure of inspiration than the other.6 The one and only source of the teaching was Christ; from him the stream flows, Scripture and ‘tradition’ are blended in one great luminous river of truth, and do not separate into divergent streams till later times. They were at first two forms of the same thing. Both together constitute the Tradition, the Canon or Rule of Faith.7

But that which is written has a permanent character which oral tradition lacks. It is less capable of correction if error or misunderstanding creep in. And as more and more of the would-be interpreters wrote their comments and expansions, and Christian literature of very various merit grew, and it became important to exclude erroneous interpretations, a distinction was made between the writings of apostles —and those of a later age. By the ‘sensus fidelium’ by the general feeling of believers rather than by any definite act—a selection was gradually formed.  In this process some have recognized a definite act of Inspiration, ‘the inspiration of Selection’.The selection, representative of so many types of interpretation, thus slowly completed, was sanctioned by Councils, and the ‘Canon’ of Scripture (the Canon in a new sense) was formed. And so in this way Holy Scripture came to be stereotyped as a source of doctrine, and regarded as distinct from the interpretations of the Church of post-apostolic times, whether contained in oral or in written tradition, which henceforth constitute a separate source of doctrine. So the testimonies of primitive and apostolic Christianity in collected form serve as an authoritative standard and present a barrier against the introduction of all that was either of a heterogeneous nature or of more recent date which was trying to press into the Church (Hagenbach).

It is no part of our work to study the process by which inspired Scriptures became an inspired book, invested with all the authority conceded to the Jewish collection, our Old Testament, which had been at first pre-eminently the Bible of the Christians. But in order to understand the growth of doctrine we must trace a little in detail the manner in which the early teachers of the Church viewed the authority of the Scriptures, their conception of Inspiration, their method of Exegesis, the place assigned to Tradition therein.

Inspiration of Scripture

Of Inspiration a formal definition was never framed. We can only point to personal conceptions and individual points of view, conditioned by various influences and differences of country and education as well as of temperament. Two broad lines of influence may be distinguished, Jewish and Gentile.

On the one hand there was the Jewish view of the verbal inspiration of their sacred writings, formed and fostered in connexion with the work of the scribes on the Law. After the return from the Exile and the establishment of Judaism on a new basis, the religious interest of the nation was enlisted in the work of microscopic investigation of the letter of the Law. The leaders of Judaism desired to regulate every detail of the life of the nation. Immense reverence for the Law stimulated the aim of securing its sanction on the minutest points and working them out to their utmost consequences. And so arose the system of exposition of the Law to make it apply to the purpose in view, till every letter contained a lesson. And side by side with this view of the written revelation, by a process the reverse of that which took place in regard to the Christian revelation, there grew up the idea of the oral tradition as well. The network of the scribe law—the tradition of the scribes—entirely oral—was regarded as of equal authority with the written law. There even arose the notion of a disciplina arcani going back to the time of Moses, who it was said had handed down a mass of oral traditions, which were thus referred to divine authority.

On the other hand was the Ethnic idea οf divination inspiration (ἡ μαντική) according to which the medium of divine revelation, who was usually a woman, became the mechanical mouthpiece of the God, losing her own consciousness, so that she gave vent in agitated trance to the words she was inspired to utter.9 Inspiration is thus an ecstatic condition, during which the natural powers of the individual who is inspired are suspended: it is an absolute possession which for the time holds the individuality of the prophetess entirely abeyance’. A typical instance of this it is kind of inspiration is described in the lines of  Virgil10

Struggling in vain, impatient of her load,
And lab’ring underneath the pond’rous God,
The more she strove to shake him from her breast,
With more and far superior force he pressed;
Commands his entrance, and, without control,
Usurps her organs, and inspires her soul.

If in later times under Platonic or Neo-Platonic influence a less external conception grew up, it probably did not establish itself or spread beyond the circle of philosophic thought.

The conception of Inspiration which was held by Christians was doubtless in some cases influenced by these Greek and Roman ideas, but it was probably in the main an inheritance from Judaism. This is a natural inference from the fact that the Jewish Scriptures were the first Christian Bible, and that the idea of verbal inspiration was at first associated much more definitely with them, and only indirectly and by transference with the selected Christian literature. The early Christian idea was, as we have seen, rather of inspired men than of an inspired book; though the transition is an easy one, as the writings of inspired men would naturally also be inspired. When we come to definite statements on the subject we find now the one and now the other influence strongest.

In Philo11 we might expect to find a transitional theory of inspiration, but he seems to combine the Jewish and the Ethnic views in their extremer forms. He applies the Ethnic conception of divination to the Hebrew prophets, and repeats with embellishments the fable of the miraculous translation of the Hebrew Scriptures by the Seventy. Even the grammatical errors of the Septuagint he regarded as inspired and rich in capacity for allegorical interpretation—a view of literal inspiration with which can be compared only the assertion by the Council of Trent of the sanctity and canonicity of the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament and the Apocryphal writings, ‘entire with all their parts as they are accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and in the old Latin Vulgate edition’. Philo’s conceptions are shewn with equal clearness in his system of interpretation, examples of which will be cited in their place.

To the Apostolic Fathers the Scriptures are the books of the Old Testament, though if there is a reference to a written Gospel it is introduced by the same formula as is used in the other citations. Barnabas makes explicit allusions to the different parts of the Old Testament (‘the Lord saith in ‘the Prophet” or ‘in the Law’) but it is clear that the whole collection is looked upon as one divinely inspired utterance—the voice of the Lord or of the Holy Spirit. There is of course no sign of a New Testament of definite books and of equal authority with the Old; but the Apostolic Fathers do separate the writings of Apostles from their own and disclaim apostolic authority.12 Thus Clement, in writing to the Corinthians,13 appeals to ‘the Epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle’ to them as authority alike for him and for them. It was ‘in the Spirit’ that he had charged them against the sin of making parties, and Clement refers to his warnings as commanding the same attention which they would obviously give to the writings ‘of the older ministers of the grace of God’.

A passage in the Muratorian Fragment throws light on the current conceptions of the authority of the written Gospels about the middle of the second century. “Though various principal ideas (principia) are taught in the different books of the Gospels, it makes no difference to the faith of believers, since in all of them all things are declared by one principal (or sovereign) Spirit (uno ac principali spiritu) concerning the Nativity, the Passion, the Resurrection, the manner of life (conversatione) [of our Lord] with his disciples, and his double Advent, first in lowliness and humiliation which has taken place, and afterwards in glory and royal power which is to come.”

About the same time and later on we have some indications of the prevailing view of inspiration in the writings of the Apologists and Irenaeus.

To Justin, for example, Scripture is the word of God, given by God through the Word, or through the Spirit. It is the Spirit of God who is the author of the whole of the Old Testament—the single author of one great drama with its many actors. The prophets were indeed inspired, but the words which they utter are not their own. We must not suppose, he says, “that the language proceeds from the men who are inspired, but from the Divine Word which moves them”14 It is to prophecy, to Scripture, that he makes his appeal: on the fulfilment of prophecy he relies for proof of the truth of the claims of Christ.

In Athenagoras—Athenian philosopher though he was, and perhaps connected with the school of Alexandria—we find a description of the process of inspiration derived from purely pagan sources. The Spirit uses men as its instruments, playing upon them as a flute-player blows a flute. They are entranced and their natural powers suspended, and they simply utter under the influence of the Divine Spirit that which is wrought in them.15

Theophilus, however, recognises much more fully the quality of the human instrument. The inspired writers were not mere mechanical organs, but men who were fitted for their work by personal and moral excellence, and on account of their fitness were deemed worthy to be made the vehicles of the revelation of God and to receive the wisdom which comes from Him.16

Tertullian too lays stress on the character of the medium chosen. “From the very beginning God sent forth into the world men who by their justice and innocence were worthy to know God and to make Him known—filled full of the Divine Spirit to enable them to proclaim that there is one only God …” and so gave us a written testament that we might more fully know His will.17 In the Scriptures we have the very ‘letters’ and ‘words’ of God. So much so indeed that, under the influence of Montanism, he argued that nothing could be safely permitted for which such a letter or word of God could not be cited in evidence. The principle that nothing is required for salvation which cannot be proved by Scripture18 was not enough for him: rather, Scripture denies that which it does not give instances of, and prohibits that which it does not expressly permit.19

To the Montanists the annihilation of all human elements was of the first importance. Prophecy must be ecstatic. Unconsciousness on the part of the person through whom the Spirit spoke was of the essence of Inspiration.

Irenaeus leaves us in no doubt about his view. The inspiration of the writers of the New Testament is plenary, and apparently regarded as different in degree from that of the prophets of old, whose writings—though inspired—were full of riddles and ambiguities to men before the coming of Christ: the accomplishment had to take place before their prophecies became intelligible. Those who live in the latter days are more happily placed. “To us . . . [the apostles] by the will of God have handed down in the Scriptures the Gospel, to be the foundation and pillar of our faith. . . . For after our Lord rose again from the dead the Holy Spirit came down upon them, and they were invested with power from on high and fully equipped concerning all things, and had perfect capacity for knowledge20 . . . and so were exempt from all falsehood (or mistake)—the inspiration saving them from blunders—even from the use of words that might mislead; as when the Holy Spirit, foreseeing the corruptions of heretics, says by Matthew, ‘the generation of Christ’ (using the title that marked the divinity) ,whereas Matthew might have written ‘the generation of Jesus’ (using only the human name).21 But this inspiration is not of such a character as to destroy the natural qualities of its recipients: each preserves his own individuality intact.

To the end of the second century or to the beginning of the third probably belongs the anonymous Exhortation to the Greeks which used to be attributed to Justin.22 It contains the following significant description of the manner in which inspiration worked. “Not naturally nor by human thought can men get to know such great and divine things, but by the gift which came down from above at that time (sc. under the Jewish dispensation) upon the holy men, who had no need of skill or art of words, nor of any debating and contentious speech. They only needed to present themselves in purity to the influence of the divine Spirit, so that the divine power by itself coming down from heaven, acting on those just men, as the bow acts on an instrument—be it harp or lyre, might reveal to us the knowledge of divine and heavenly things. So it was that, as if with one mouth and tongue they taught us in due gradation and concord one with another—and that too thought they imparted their divine teaching to us in different places and at different times—concerning God and the creation of the world and the formation of man and the immortality of the human soul and the judgement which is to be after this life.” Here it appears that moral fitness only is recognized as a necessary qualification for the medium of the revelation, and there is again the metaphor which seems to indicate a merely mechanical mode of inspiration. But the metaphor should not be strained, and the effect of the peculiar structure of the instrument in determining its tone must be taken into account.

Of the Alexandrines, whose special glory it was, in an age of wild anti-Christian speculation on the one side and fanatical literalism on the other, to lead men to the scholarly study of the Scriptures, Clement has little of special interest on the manner in which the inspiration worked. Recognising as he did the action of God in the moral teaching of Greeks and barbarians, who had in philosophy a covenant of their own, he believed that the God of the Christians was also the giver of Greek philosophy to the Greeks, and that He raised up prophets among them no less than among the people of Israel. But it was by the chosen teachers of His peculiar people that He led men to the Messiah; the Word by the Holy Spirit reducing man, body and soul, to harmony, so as to use him—an instrument of many tones—to express God’s melody.23

It is from Origen first that we get an express rejection of pagan conceptions in this respect. He assumes the doctrine of Inspiration to be acknowledged—it was the same Spirit who worked all along in the prophets of all ages: but it was to enlighten and strengthen them that His influence went—not to cloud or confuse their natural powers like the Pythian deity. By the contact of the Holy Spirit with their souls the divine messengers became clearer in vision and brighter in intuition both in mind and in soul. The preface to the Gospel of St Luke is cited as shewing that this was so: what others attempted they—the inspired writers—moved by the Holy Spirit actually wrote. And St Paul’s own words in his Epistles shew that he was conscious of speaking sometimes in his own person and sometimes with divine authority. None of the objections commonly alleged against the Scriptures in any way invalidated their claim to be received as containing a true revelation of God. What seemed to be unworthy of God, or beneath His dignity, should be understood as an accommodation to the intelligence of men, and things which we could not yet explain we should know hereafter.24

The method of interpretation adopted by Origen shews and illustrates his general conceptions. This method was partly his own, but largely an inheritance which he could not escape.

The Interpretation of Scripture

The ideas of inspiration, as applied to writings, and of exegesis, were formed, it has been said,25 while the mystery of writing was still fresh. A kind of glamour hung over the written words. They were invested with an importance and impressiveness which did not attach to any spoken words, giving them an existence of their own. Their precise relation to the person who first uttered them and their literal meaning at the time of their utterance tended to be overlooked or obscured. Especially in regard to the writings of Homer is this process seen. Reverence for antiquity and belief in inspiration combined to lift him above the common limitations of time and place and circumstances. His verses were regarded as having a universal validity: they were the Bible of the Greek races, the voice of an undying wisdom. So when the unconscious imitation of heroic ideals passed into conscious philosophy of life, it was necessary that such philosophy should be shown to be consonant with the old ideals and current standards. And when ‘education’ began it was inevitable that the ancient poets should be the basis of education. So the professors of education, the philosophers and ‘sophists’, were obliged to base their teaching on Homer, to preach their own sermons from his texts, and to draw their own meanings from them; so that he became a support to them instead of being a rival. “In the childhood of the world, men, like children, had to be taught by tales”— and Homer was regarded as telling tales with a moral purpose. The developing forms of ethics, physics, metaphysics, all accordingly appeal to Homer; all claim to be the deductions from his writings; and as the essential interval between them, between the new and the old conceptions, grew wider, the reconciliation was found in the exegetical method by which a meaning was detected beneath the surface of a record or representation of actions. In this way a narrative of actions, no less than the actions themselves, might be symbolical and contain a hidden meaning; and thus the break with current reverence for the old authority and belief in its validity would be avoided.

It is not true that this method was never challenged; but it had a very strong hold on the Greek mind. It underlay the whole theology of the Stoical schools; it was largely current among the scholars and critics of the early empire; and it survived as a literary habit long after its original purpose had failed.

The same difficulty which had been felt on a large scale in the Greek world was equally felt by Jews who had become students of Greek philosophy in regard to their own sacred books. By adopting the method which was practised in the case of the Homeric writings, they could reconcile their philosophy to their religion and be in a position to give an account of their faith to the educated Greeks among whom they dwelt. Of this mode of interpretation far the most considerable monument is to be found in the works of Philo, which are based throughout on the supposition of a hidden meaning in the sacred scriptures, metaphysical and spiritual. They are always patient of symbolical interpretation. Every passage has a double sense, the literal and the deeper. In every narrative there is a moral.

As an instance of this method may be cited Philo’s treatment of the narrative of Jacob’s dream—”He took the stones of that place and put them under his head”, from which he extracts the moral, and also support for his own peculiar philosophical ideas. “The words”, he says,26 “are wonderful, not only because of their allegorical and physical meaning, but also because of their literal teaching of trouble and endurance. The writer does not think that a student of virtue should have a delicate and luxurious life, imitating those who are called fortunate . . . men, who after spending their days in doing injuries to others return to their homes and upset them (I mean not the houses they live in, but the body which is the home of the soul) by immoderate eating and drinking, and at night lie down in soft and costly beds. Such men are not disciples of the sacred Word. Its disciples are real men, lovers of temperance and sobriety and modesty, who make self-restraint and contentment and endurance the cornerstones, as it were, of their lives: who rise superior to money and pleasure and fame; who are ready for the sake of acquiring virtue to endure hunger and thirst, heat and cold; whose costly couch is a soft turf, whose bedding is grass and leaves, whose pillow is a heap of stones or a hillock rising a little above the ground. Of such men Jacob is an example: he put a stone for his pillow … he is the archetype of a soul that disciplines itself, who is at war with every kind of effeminacy. . . . But the passage has a further meaning, which is conveyed in symbol. You must know that the divine place and the holy ground is full of incorporeal Intelligences, who are immortal souls. It is one of these that Jacob takes and puts close to his mind, which is, as it were, the head of the combined person, body and soul. He does so under the pretext of going to sleep, but in reality to find repose in the Intelligence which he has chosen, and to place all the burden of his life upon it.”

So when Christians came to the interpretation of their Scriptures, under this sense of their inspiration (whether articulated clearly or not), they had a twofold aim before them. Filled, on the one hand, with the conviction of the wealth of knowledge stored in them, they were bound, for practical as well as for speculative purposes, to explore as fully as possible the depths behind the obvious surface-meaning; and, on the other hand, they were bound to explain away all that, when taken in its literal sense, was offensive to human reason or seemed unworthy of the Deity.

Modern conceptions of careful scholarly interpretation and of the need of investigation into the exact sense of words, in connexion with the circumstances in which they were first used, were in those days unknown. The inspired Scriptures were separated by a wide chasm from all other books and writings—the heavenly from the earthly: and so the superficial meaning was the furthest from the real meaning. To the uninitiated Scripture was as a hieroglyph which needed a key that few possessed to decipher its enigmas. So from the first the method of typical and allegorical interpretation was practised. It was the way which some at least of the writers of the New Testament adopted in dealing with the Old, and understood that Christ himself had sanctioned.27 And the author of the Epistle to Barnabas28 carried on the same method in an elaborate application to Christ and to men of the imagery of the Day of Atonement.

It was never supposed that writings, because inspired, must be easily understood by everyone; but it was not till the time of Origen that a definite theory was framed which excludes from consideration the obvious literal sense of many passages.

Irenaeus was content to believe that there was nothing in Scripture which did not serve some purpose of instruction and yet to acquiesce in failure to explain all passages. There is nothing undesigned, nothing which does not carry with it some suggestion or some proof. But we are unable to understand all the mysteries; “and we need not wonder that this is our experience in spiritual and heavenly matters and things which have to be revealed to us, when many of the things which lie at our feet . . . and are handled by our hands . . . elude our knowledge, and even those we have to resign to God”.29 And he cannot see why it should be felt as a difficulty that when the Scriptures in their entirety are spiritual some of the questions dealt with in them we are able by the grace of God to solve, but others have to be referred to God Himself: and so it is always God who is teaching and man who is learning all through from God.30 The typical and allegorical method he condemns as used by the Gnostics, but he does not shrink from adopting it at times himself.31

In this he is at one with most of the early Fathers, of whom it has been said that since they knew nothing, thought of nothing, felt nothing but Christ, it is not surprising that they met him everywhere. Their great object was to shew the connexion between the Old and New Covenants—that the New was the spiritual fulfilment of the Old.

So Tertullian32 could say that the form of prophetical utterance was “not always and not in all things” allegorical and figurative, and he refused to admit limitations of time in things connected with the revelation of God.33 And Clement of Alexandria found rich meaning in the candlestick with its seven lights.34 

It is in Clement that was first find a definite theory of a threefold sense of Scripture.35 “The Saviour taught the Apostles”, he says, first of all in typical and mystic fashion, and then by parable and enigma, thirdly when they were alone with him clearly without disguise”,—the concealment which he practised leading men on to further enquiries.

Origen further developed this theory.36 According to his teaching the Holy Scriptures are the only source from which knowledge of the truth can be obtained, and they convey a three-fold sense which corresponds to the tripartite division of man into body, soul, and spirit. First, there is the grammatical or historical meaning, which corresponds to the body and may be called the bodily sense. And, secondly, there is the moral or anagogical meaning, which corresponds to the soul and may be called the psychic sense. And, thirdly, there is the mystical or allegorical meaning, which corresponds to the spirit and may be called the spiritual sense. “The individual ought,” he writes,37 “to portray the ideas of Holy Scripture in a threefold manner upon his soul: in order that the simple man may be edified by the ‘flesh’, as it were, of the Scripture, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a certain way [may be edified] by the soul, as it were. The perfect man, again, and he who resembles those spoken of by the apostle, when he says ‘We speak wisdom among them that are perfect . . .’ [may receive edification] from the spiritual law, which has a shadow of good things to come. For as man consists of body, soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture, which has been arranged to be given by God for the salvation of men.” This method of interpretation, Origen points out, is recognized in Holy Scripture—Christ distinguished between the first and second in the Sermon on the Mount and and on other occasions; and the allegorical and mystical senses were utilised in the arguments of the Epistles to the Galatians and to the Hebrews.38 The literal sense, however, was not always possible.39 Instances of things which have no religious bearing (such as genealogies), or are repulsive to morality, or unworthy of God, or opposed to the law of nature or of reason, must be spiritualised by allegorical interpretation. They do not instruct us if taken literally, and are designed to call men to the spiritual explanation. So with regard to contradictions in the narratives of the evangelists,40 he argues that the truth does not consist in the ‘bodily characters’ (the literal sense). His treatment of such cases goes far to justify the description of his method as ‘biblical alchemy’. It is applied by him to the New Testament as well as to the Old. The Temptation, for example, is not regarded as simple history, and precepts such as Take no purse41 and Turn the other cheek 42 are not to have their literal sense attributed to them. So too in respect of the miracles, he finds their most precious significance in the soul as it were. The man, and he who allegory which they include. He lays great stress on the need of study, which such a method obviously demands, and of attention and purity and reverence.43

The same method of exegesis was followed, to a large extent at all events, by the later Eastern Fathers, especially by the Cappadocians. See e.g. Gregory of Nyssa de comm. Not. p. 181 Migne, Or. Cat. 32, in Cant. Cant. p. 756 Migne, c. Eunom. vii p. 744 Migne.

After Origen the first attempt at a formal statement of the principles of interpretation that calls for notice was that of Tyconius, an African Donatist (c. 370-420). He drew up seven rules of interpretation which Augustine a little later discussed and, with some reservations, recommended as useful though incomplete. (See the edition of F. C. Burkitt Texts and Studies vol. iii no. 1, and Augustine de Doet. Christ, iii chs. xxx-xxxvii.—On Augustine as Interpreter, see W. Cunningham Hulsean Lectures ‘St Austin’.) Methods very Origen’s were followed by the chief leaders of the school of Antioch, but they were not systematised as his were. (See e.g. Theodore of Mopsuestia ed. Swete Introd. and Chrysostom—W. K. W. Stephens, p. 421 and ff.) In the West also, on the whole, a more literal and meagre method of interpretation prevailed, at least until the time of Ambrose, who brought back under the influence of the writings of Origen and Basil a richer and more varied treatment of the Scriptures.

The Place of Tradition in the Interpretation of Scripture

As long as such methods were accepted it is obvious that a great variety of interpretations was possible, and that Scripture by itself could hardly be considered a sufficient guide. It could be claimed by both sides on most questions. Hence in controversy, and particularly in controversy with the Gnostics, there originated the definite assertion that it can only be correctly understood in close connexion with the tradition of the Church. Such a claim was quite accordant with the primitive conception of tradition, not as an independent source of doctrine but as essentially hermeneutic, forming with the written words one river of knowledge.

Of the nature of this tradition somewhat different views were held, according as the security for its truth was found rather in the living personal voice of individuals (the continuous historical episcopate), passing on to one another from the earliest days the word of knowledge, or in the unbroken continuity of teaching which external descent of place guaranteed (the rule of faith). The latter offered, obviously, the easier test, and the highest importance was attached to it.

Irenaeus is the first to argue out the matter. He puts the question—Supposing, as might have happened, that we had no Scriptures, to what should we have to make our appeal? “Should we not have to go back to the most ancient Churches, in which the Apostles lived, and take from them . . . what is fixed and ascertained? What else could we do? If the Apostles themselves had not left us writings, should we not be obliged to depend on the teaching of the tradition which they bequeathed to those to whose care they left the Churches?”44 We must go back to the most ancient Churches—it is here, in the consent of Churches, that Irenaeus sees the guarantee of truth. He takes for granted that the Apostles are the ultimate authority, and when the question of the meaning of the Christian revelation is disputed it is to them that all men would agree to make appeal. To the Apostles themselves, in person, appeal is no longer possible; but their representatives and successors are still to be found in every Church. The bishops, or the presbyters (for Irenaeus uses either word for the heads or governing bodies of Churches), were appointed at first and taught by them; and they in turn, generation by generation, in unbroken succession, have handed on to their successors the same tradition. Irenaeus seems to have in mind the possibility that in a particular case there might be some flaw in this traditional teaching—so he appeals to the general consensus of many such Churches. That in which you find the Churches of apostolic foundation agreeing, scattered as they are over many regions of the world that, at all events you may be sure is part of the genuine apostolic tradition. As an instance he points to the one Church in the West which was supposed to be able to claim apostolic foundation—the Church of Rome. The prestige which attached to it, from its central position in the world’s metropolis, made it the most convenient and conspicuous test.45 Christians from all lands were continually coming and going, and therefore any departure from the tradition would be most easily detected. The Church of Rome was, in this way, always before the eyes of the world and under the judgement of other Churches, so that no innovation there had any chance of escaping notice and criticism. The tradition preserved at Rome might therefore be regarded as having the tacit sanction of all the other Churches, and by reference to it any one in doubt might easily convince himself of the oneness of the apostolic tradition of the whole Church. And so he could say that “the tradition of the Apostles, made manifest as it is through all the world, can be recognized in every Church by all who wish to know the truth;”46 and to the pretended secret doctrine of heretics he opposes the public preaching of the faith of the apostolic Churches; against the mutability and endless varieties of their explanations he sets the unity of the teaching of the Church; against their novelty, her antiquity; against their countless subdivisions into schools and parties, the uniformity and universality of her traditional witness.47 It is this which he regards as the chief instrument in the conversion of the nations, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

A similar estimate of the authority of ecclesiastical tradition in the interpretation of Scripture was maintained by Tertullian, though he gives it different characteristic expression. In dealing with heretics he conceives them as arraigned before a tribunal as defendants in a suit which the Church as plaintiff brings against them. He does not take their many false interpretations one by one and proceed to prove them wrong, though he was ready to do this vigorously on occasion; but he exercises the right, allowed by Roman law to plaintiffs in an action, to limit the enquiry to a single point; and the point he chooses is the legitimacy of the heretics’ appeal to Holy Scripture. He aims, that is, at shewing cause why the interpretations of any one outside the Church should be dismissed without examination, apart from any consideration of their intrinsic merit. If he establishes this point the heretics are at once ruled out of court, as having no locus standi; while, if he fails, it is still open to him, according to the principles of Roman law, to take fresh action on all the other points excluded from the suit. He insists,48 accordingly, on this limitation of the question, and asks, “Whose are the Scriptures? By whom and through whose means and when and to whom was the discipline, (the teaching or system) handed down which makes men Christians? Wherever you find the true Christian discipline and faith, there will be the truth of the Christian Scriptures and expositions and all traditions.” It is the Church which is the keeper and guardian of all these possessions, and therefore it is the Church and the Church only which can determine the truth. Heretics have no right to use Scripture in argument against the orthodox, who alone are able to decide what is its meaning.

Clement of Alexandria goes so far as to say that he who spurns the ecclesiastical tradition ceases to be a man of God.49

And Origen, for all his elaborate system of interpretation, declares, in the Prologue to the work in which it is expressed, the necessity of holding fast to the ecclesiastical preaching which has been handed down by the Apostles in orderly succession from one to another, and has continued in the Churches right down to the present time.” That alone ought to be believed to be truth which differs in no respect from the ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.”50

It is still the consent of Churches that is the test of truth.  Athanasius seems to be the first to quote the Fathers as witnesses to the faith,51 but more particularly as guaranteeing its antiquity than as being themselves invested with personal authority as interpreters. So Cyril of Jerusalem, who strongly asserts the importance of Scripture, recognises the authority of the Church at its back. It is from the Church that the catechumen must learn what are the books to which he must go.52 And Augustine was only expressing the common sentiment when he declared that he would not believe the Gospel if it were not for the authority of the Catholic Church.53

The most elaborate, as the most famous, statement of the case for tradition was not drawn up till towards the middle of the fifth century, when Vincent of Lerinum was roused by the apparent novelty of Augustine’s doctrines of Grace and Predestination to expound the principles by which the Faith of the Church might be determined.54 The two foundations which he lays down are still the divine law (or Holy Scripture) and the tradition of the Catholic Church. The first is sufficient by itself, if it could be rightly understood, but it cannot be understood without the guidance of the tradition, which shews what has been believed everywhere, always and all. Quod ubique quod semper, quod ab omnibus—this is the great principle on which Vincent takes his stand. But he recognises that it is not always easy of application, and he has to support it by the testimony of majorities either of the Church as a whole or of teachers as against minorities, antiquity as against novelty, general Councils as against individual or local errors. If part of the Church separates itself from the common body, it is the larger society that must be followed; if a false doctrine arises and threatens the Church, the best test is antiquity, which can no longer be misled; if in antiquity itself particular teachers or localities have erred, the decision of a general Council is decisive, if a general Council has pronounced upon the matter; if not, the Christian must examine and compare the writings of the recognised teachers, and hold fast by what all alike in one and the same sense have clearly, frequently, and consistently upheld. All innovations are really wickedness and mental aberration: in them ignorance puts on the cloak of knowledge, weak-mindedness of ‘educidation’, darkness of light. Pure knowledge is given only in the universal, ancient, unanimous tradition. It is antiquity that is the really decisive criterion of truth.

Assertions such as these might seem to be prohibitive of any kind of growth or progress in Religion; but Vincent was much too scholarly and sound a thinker to commit himself to such a negation. When the argument brings him to the question, ‘Is there in the Church of Christ a progress in Religion?’ he answers, Yes; there has been great progress. And he shews by the images of the increase of a child and of a plant the nature of the progress. It is an organic growth, which consists in deepening rather than in change. No innovation comes in, for a single innovation would destroy all. Religion is strengthened with years and widened with time, and built up more elegantly with age; but all remains fundamentally the same. What the Church has always had in view has been the explanation and strengthening of doctrine already believed: greater plainness, more exact precision of statement, finer discrimination of sense. Aroused by the novelties of heretics, she has, by decrees of Councils, confirmed for posterity the tradition received from her ancestors; for the sake of enlightenment and better understanding she has embraced in a few letters a mass of things, and by a new term sealed the sense of the faith which was not new.

Yet in spite of this high estimate of the value of tradition, Vincent is obliged in some cases to fall back upon Scripture. Heresies which are already widely extended and deep-rooted cannot, he sees, be disproved by the appeal to the unanimity of teachers: so many of them could be cited in support of erroneous views. Old heresies, never quite destroyed, had had opportunity in the long course of time to steal away the truth, and their adherents to falsify the writings of the Fathers. In such cases we must depend on the authority of Scripture only.

It is hardly true to say that this admission involves the bankruptcy of tradition.55 It may rather be taken as shewing the fair balance of the author’s mind. He does not profess to give an easy road to truth. He lays down criteria, almost all of which demand for their use no little research and patience. He believes that the great majority of teachers have rightly interpreted the Christian revelation from the first, but where their consensus is not obvious he would decide the ambiguity by appeal to the Book which embodies the traditional interpretation of the earliest ages. He is really, in this, referring back to the standard tradition. And there never was in those days a time when the leaders of Christian opinion were not prepared to make a similar reference of disputed questions to that court, and to check by the authority of Holy Scripture too great freedom in reading into Christianity ideas that were foreign to its spirit. So staunch a champion of tradition as Cyprian could say that custom without truth is the antiquity of error”56 and that “we ought not to allow custom to determine, but reason to prevail”57 even as Tertullian had insisted “Our Lord Christ called himself the truth, not the custom. . . . You may be sure that whatever savours not of truth is heresy, even though it be ancient custom “.58

Such then were the principles which prevailed during the period with which we are concerned, in which the Creeds were framed and most of the great doctrines formulated. By such principles the partial and misleading explanations and theories were tested and banished from the Church as heresies, and the fuller and more adequate interpretations were worked out. It is the course of this progress that we have to trace.

It was, as we have seen, from Gentile quarters that the chief stimulus to the actual formulation of doctrines came, and it is with attempts at interpretation which spring from Gentile conceptions that we shall be most concerned. But first of all must be noted certain peculiar readings of the revelation in Christ, and of the relations in which the Gospel stands to the revelation given in Judaism, which are characteristic of Jewish rather than of Gentile thought.


Footnotes to Chapter 4

1. John 16.7, 13

2. John 16.12

3. 2Thess. 2.15

4. 2Thess 3.5

5. 1Tim 6.20

6. It might perhaps be inferred that in early times the oral tradition was regarded as more trustworthy than the written account. Cf. the Preface to the Gospel according to St Luke, and the Introduction to the work of Papias quoted by Eusebius H.E. iii 39. Cyprian apparently styles Scripture divinae traditionis caput et origo (Ep. 74. 10), appealing to it as the ultimate criterion, but this conception is unusual.

7. The same terms κανών, regula (sc. fidei), παράδοσις, traditio, are applied to both.

8. See Liddon’s Sermon before the University of Oxford with this title.

9. See F. W. H. Myers “Greek Oracles” in Essays—Classical.

10. Aen. vi 77-80—Dryden.

11. See William Lee Inspiration of Holy ScriptureAppendix F.

12. Cf. Westcott The Bible in the Church, p.86. (the citations are all anonymous Clement has, ‘it is written’, ‘the Scripture saith’, ‘the Holy Spirit saith; Ignatius, ‘it is written’; Polycarp, no formula.)

13. Cf. §§ 47, 8.

14. Apol. i.36 (cf. 33, and ii.10)

15. Legatio 9

16. Ad Autol. ii.9 (cf. Eus. Hist. Eccl. iv.20)

17. Apol. 18

18. Cf. Article vi

19. De Monog.  4; de Cor. 2

20. See Adv. Haereses iii.1 & 5—Harvey vol. ii. pp. 218

21. ibid. iii.17—Harvey ii. p. 83

22. Eusebius Hist. Eccl. iv.18 mentions two writings of Justin to the Greeks but neither extant Oratio ad Gentiles nor the Cohortatio which contains the above passage is believed to be the work of Justin.

23. “But he that of David and was before him, the Word of God, despising lyre and harp—mere lifeless instruments—took this cosmic order—yes, and the microcosm man, his body and soul, and attuned it to the Holy Spirit [or by the Holy Spirit), and so through this instrument of many notes he sings to God.” Protrept ch. i—Migne P.G. viii p. 60.

24. See de Princip. bk iv. Cf. Greg. Nyss. de comm. Not. p.181 (Migne P. G. xlv).

25. Hatch, Hibbert Lectures, 1888, from which (p. 50ffthe following paragraphs are taken.

26. Phil de Somneiss i.20 on Genesis 28.11—Hatch l. c.

27. Eg. as to Elias—Matt. 17.10; Mark 9.11ff; cf. Epistle to the Hebrews all through; and St Paul eg. Gal. 4.22ff.

28. Ep. Barn. 1.7.

29. Adv. Haer. ii.41—Harvey vol. i p. 350

30. ibid. 351

31. See further , Harnack DG. Eng. tr. vol. ii, p. 251

32. The allegorical method was universally accepted, and it was only the extravagant employment of it by the Gnostics in support of the wildest conceptions to which exception could be taken. Far-fetched as the interpretations of some of the Fathers seem to a modern scholar, they were sane and commonplace in comparison with the meanings which Gnostic ingenuity discovered in plain and simple passages of Scripture.

33. De Resurrectione Carnis 20 ad fin.

34. Cf. ‘Non habet tempus Aeternitas’ adv. Marc. iii 5, i. 8

35. Clem. Al. Strom v. 6.

36. Strom. i.28 q. v. and fragment 66. “The sense of the law is to be taken in three ways—either as exhibiting a symbol or laying down a precept for right conduct, or as uttering a prophecy.” Here is the triple sense of Scripture—mystic, moral, prophetic. Cf. Stromvi.15.

37. See esp. de Princip. vi §§ 1-27, esp. § 11.

38. De Princip. iv. § 11, Tr. A. N. C. Library

39. Origen cites Gal. 4.24; 1Cor. 10.6-11; Heb. 4.8-9

40. Ibid. § 12; cf. Hom. ii in Gen. 6.

41 Cf. Hom. 10 in John

42. Luke 10.4.

43. Matt. 5.39 and so 1Cor. 7.18.

44. Cf. Athanasius de Incarnatione Verbi, ad fin. “For the investigation and true knowledge of the Scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul and Christian virtue. . . . He who wishes to understand the mind of the divines must previously wash and cleanse his soul by his life. . . .”

45. Iren. adv. Haer. iii.4.1Harvey vol. ii pp. 15-16. It will be noted that though priority is claimed for the tradition, yet it is appealed to not as an independent source of doctrine but as a means of determining the true sense of the Scriptures.

46. Such no doubt is the meaning of the phrase ‘propter potentiorem principali tatem‘—’on account of its more influential pre-eminence’, i.e. its prominence and influence (Ibid iii.3.1—Harvey vol. ii. pp. 8-9). See also the note on ‘principalis ecclesia in Abp. Benson’s Cyprianp. 537.

47. Iren. adv. Haer. iii.3.1.

48. See further Lipsius, Art. “Irenaeus’ in D. C. B.

49. De Praescriptione Haereticorum “Concerning the Limitation of the Suit against the Heretics”, esp. §§ 15, 19, ed. T. H. Bindley, who rejects the common explanation of praescriptio as meaning the ‘preliminary plea’ or objection lodged at the commencement of a suit, which—if maintained—dispensed with the need of entering into any discussion of the merits of a case. Praescriptio technically meant a clause prefixed to the intentio of a formula for the purpose of limiting the scope of an enquiry (excluding points which would otherwise have been left open for discussion before the judex), and at the time when Tertullian wrote it was used only of the plaintiff. ‘Demurrer’ is thus technically wrong, and somewhat misleading as a title of the treatise.

49. Strom. vii.16

50. De Princip. Proem 1.

51. See this letter on the Dated Creed in Socrates H. E. ii.37, and the Ep. Encyl. 1

52. Cat. iv.33

53. ‘Ego vero evangelio non crederem, nis me catholicae ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas (c. ep. Manich 6).

54. Adversus profanas omnium novitatcs haereticorum Commointorium, written about 434, attention having been aroused in the West to the question of tradition by the Donatist and Pelagian controversies. Vincent seems to have adopted some of Augustine’s rules, though he would use them against him. He was a member of the famous monastery on the island near Cannes, now known as L’ile Saint Honorat, from Honoratus the founder. A good analysis of the Commonitorium will be found in Harnack DG. ii, pp. 106-108 (Eng. tr. vol. iii pp. 230-232 note) ; handy editions in vol. ix of Hurter’s S. Patrum Opuscula Selecta, and in the Sammlung Quellenschriften ed. Krüger.

55. As Harnack l.c.

56. Ep. 74 § 9.

57. Ep. 71 § 3.

58. Tert. de Virg. Vel.  § 1.


Chapter 5

Jewish Attempts at Interpretation—Ebionism

Characteristic of Jewish Conceptions

Rooted in Jewish thought were two ideas, from the obvious significance of which the dominant conceptions of the Christian revelation seemed to be drifting further and further. Characteristic of Judaism were its strong monotheism and its belief in the eternal validity of the Mosaic Law. There was one God and only one, a God of righteousness, far removed from the world; and the ‘divinity’ of Christ seemed to be a kind of idolatry, and to have more in common with the polytheistic notions of the heathen than with the truth revealed of old to the Israelites. And again, the Law was given by God: it was a divine revelation and therefore it must have the characteristics of the divine, and be eternal, unchanging, and final. And therefore the mission of Jesus of Nazareth, if from God, was a mission to purify and revive the old revelation, and the Gospel does not supersede but only elucidates the Law.

For views such as these it is clear some support could be found in primitive Christian teaching before the full force of the revelation in Christ was widely felt. In the teaching of Christ himself, as recorded in the Gospels, there is no antagonism to the Law: the traditions of men which were a pernicious growth round it are brushed aside, but the Law is treated with reverence and its teaching developed rather than superseded. Disregard of the Law by Christians of Jewish birth, at any rate, might seem to lack all primitive authority; and we need not wonder if such Christians lagged behind the progress to a purely spiritual interpretation of the Jewish ordinances, which was so largely stimulated by the constantly increasing preponderance of Gentile over Jewish influence in the Church.1 And the fear lest the doctrine of the divinity of Christ might endanger the truth that God is one was, as a matter of fact, amply justified by the difficulty that was experienced in finding any satisfactory expression to account for all the facts.

Ebionism

These two ideas were the source of what are called the Judaizing heresies,2 the representatives of which are known as Ebionites.3 We have no record of their origin as a distinct and separate body.4 It is as schools of thought within the Church that Justin, our earliest informant, seems to regard them.5 He speaks of some Christians who still keep the Law, and maintain that it is necessary to salvation, and would enforce it on all members of the Church, and of others who only observe the ordinances of the Law themselves without desiring to impose them upon all. With the former he does not agree, and he thinks they ought to be excluded from Christian communion; with the latter he has no quarrel, they are still brothers, though some Christians refused communion to them.6 He also speaks of some who regard Jesus as Christ, the Messiah, yet pronounce him a man born of men, but he does not shew whether these were identical with the intolerant observers of the Law or not. The one distinction which is clear is based on the attitude to the Law, milder or stricter.7

On their teaching as to the person of Christ more stress is laid by Irenaeus8 who is the first to name them Ebioneans, and describes them as holding a view like that of Cerinthus and Carpocrates, referring no doubt to denial of the divinity rather than to any ‘Gnostic’ conceptions. All such are condemned by him as heretics.

Origen9 distinguishes two classes, and says that both rejected St Paul’s Epistles (no doubt because of their views as to the Law). And Eusebius10 after him, more precisely, makes the difference to consist in higher and lower conceptions of the person of Christ, both classes insisting on the observance of the Law. One class held a natural birth and the superior virtue of a plain and ordinary man as a sufficient explanation: the others accepted the super-natural birth, but denied his pre-existence as the Word and Wisdom of God (did not, that is, accept the eternal Sonship and the doctrine of the Logos); they rejected the Pauline writings and used only the Gospel according to the Hebrews, while they still observed the Sabbath and other Jewish customs, but also the Lord’s Day in memory of the Resurrection.

Later still Epiphanius 11 could assign different names to the two schools, regarding them as separate sects—Nazaraeans and Ebionaeans. But Epiphanius probably erred in this precision. There seems to be no evidence that there were two distinct communities with different designations. It is probable that ‘Nazaraeans’ was the title used by the Jewish Christians of Syria as a description of themselves in the fourth century and before,12 while ‘Ebionaeans’, an equally genuine popular term,13 had become the traditional name in ecclesiastical literature.

That these schools of thought died hard is shewn by the judgement passed on them by Jerome,14 who prefaces his reference by the words “What am I to say of the Ebionites who pretend to be Christians?”, and then goes on to speak of some who in his own times were spread over the East, commonly known as Nazarene, who believed in Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, and say that he suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, in whom, he says, ‘we also believe’; but yet, he avers, they only pretend to be Christians, and while they want to be at one and the same time both Jews and Christians, they succeed in being neither Jews nor Christians.

These words of Jerome plainly shew that the belief in the eternal validity of the Law and in the need for observance of its ordinances survived as anachronisms in some circles, claiming the name of Christian, in which the ‘orthodox’ explanation of the nature and person of Christ was accepted.

Cerinthus and His School

Of all—the Ebionites one individual only is known to fame, Cerinthus and he had almost as much in common with the ‘Gnostics’ as with them. Really he stands with his followers as a separate school, distinct from both. The most trustworthy evidence as to the time at which he lived is furnished by the tale15 of his meeting with St John in one of the public baths at Ephesus, when St John espying him rushed out, saying he was afraid the walls of the bath might fall and crush them, since Cerinthus the enemy of truth was there.

The province of Asia was probably the scene of his activity, though Hippolytus, without mentioning Asia, says he was trained in Egyptian lore. In his teaching, side by side with the ‘Judaizing’ elements, such as have been noticed (Jesus, the Son of Mary and Joseph, born as other men; circumcision and the observance of the Sabbath obligatory; rejection of the writings of St Paul, the Acts, and all the Gospels, except the Gospel of St Matthew in Hebrew, or more probably the ‘Gospel according to the Hebrews’), there stand quite different and fresh ideas, which are akin to the conceptions of the Gnostics’. These have to do with the relations between the world and God, and between the human and the divine in the person and work of the Lord.

The creation, he taught, was not effected by God Himself, but by angels—powers distinct from God—one of whom was the God of the Jews and the giver of the Law. As to the person of the Redeemer, he held that his Sonship to God could only be due to his ethical merits, which qualified him for a special gift of grace and spiritual power. God might not arbitrarily make a person holy. So the man Jesus was first tested in early life, and then at his baptism there descended upon him, in the form of a dove, the Spirit of God, the power from above, the Christ (regarded evidently as a pre-existent personality16), who revealed to him the Father, and enabled him to do his miraculous works, and before the Passion parted from him and returned to the place from whence he came.17 Furthermore, he taught that the Resurrection of Jesus was still future. There was thus only a conjunction between the divine and the human in him, no real union of the Christ and Jesus. The principal object of the mission was educational rather than redemptive, fulfilling the prophetic office of Messiah; the sufferings were human only, and the revelation was of doctrine. Another object, corresponding to the kingly office of Messiah, was the introduction of the millennial reign, although its realisation was still future. Of the millennium, the thousand years’ reign of Christ upon earth, during which his followers would be rewarded for their loyalty, he held most sensual and material views18 but millenarianism was too widely accepted in the Church to be characteristic of any particular school of thought.19

Clementines

Besides the Cerinthians we have knowledge of another set of Ebionites, who certainly worked out a peculiar system of doctrine and usage—’the men of the ‘Clementines’. Their teaching is embodied in the writings that have come down to us under the name of Clement, entitled The Homilies (extant in Greek), and The Recognitions (in the Latin translation of Rufinus and also partly in Syriac); which are probably independent abridgements of a voluminous book called the Travels of Peter, which was current early in the third century.20 This book was of the nature of a historical novel composed with a controversial purpose, professing to narrate the circumstances in which Clement became the travelling companion of the Apostle Peter, and to give an account of Peter’s teaching. It originated among the sect of Elchasaites (Helxaites) who held the book Elchasai, (Helxai)21 sacred. These were probably Essenes of Eastern Palestine, who, after the destruction of the Temple and the abolition of the system of the Temple services and sacrifices, were brought to recognise Jesus as a true prophet, though regarding the idea of his divinity as a delusion. With this and other usual notes of Ebionism they combined some Essene tenets as to sacrifice and repeated purificatory washings and abstinence from the use of flesh and ascetic practices, speculations about angels and a form of ’emanation’ theory; but they were free from Gnostic notions of creation and docetism.22 Most characteristic, perhaps, is their conception of the Christ (identical with the Son of God) as the eternal Prophet of Truth, who appears from time to time incarnate in perfect men. By virtue of their inward spirit men are akin to the divine, the highest order of existence in the created world; but they have also in them earthly desire, which tends to lower them to earth and so their state becomes one of alienation from God, as the earth-spirit exerts its irresistible attraction. Therefore, to save men from utter deterioration must the Christ appear in successive incarnations. Wherever the idea of man—appears perfectly in an individual, there is a form of the appearance of Christ the created idea of man. His appearance shews God’s image for the age in which it happens. Such incarnations were recognized in Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus. The manifestation in Jesus is regarded as the last, after which the Christ has permanent repose. To his death and resurrection no significance appears to be attached. His mission has an educational purpose only, to exhibit to men a kind of object-lesson.

Other details of the system represented in the ‘Clementine’ books (as well as the supposed attack on St Paul under the name of Simon Magus and the twisting of ‘texts’ of Scripture to support the views described) call for no further treatment here. It is enough to notice that it exhibits “the Judaizing principle, furnished with all the means of culture which the age supplied, gathering itself for its last stroke”, and the failure of Judaism, reinforced by ascetic and other speculations selected from various philosophies, in its attempt to capture Christianity.

A similar endeavour from another quarter, doomed to like failure, comes before us next in Gnosticism.

Chiliasm

From the earliest times no doubt the Christian conception of salvation centred round two main ideas, one of which was the more intellectual or spiritual, and the other the more practical and material. The one was based on the conviction that in the person of the Christ there was given a full revelation of God—he was the Truth—and so salvation consisted essentially in the knowledge of God, as contrasted with the errors of heathendom and the defective conceptions of even the chosen people; a knowledge which included the gift of eternal life and all the privileges and joys of the highest spiritual illumination.23 This is obviously an idea which requires for its full appreciation more cultivation of the mind and the spiritual faculties than the masses of men possess. More widely attractive was the other idea which saw in salvation membership of the glorious kingdom which Christ was about to establish on earth on his return, when a new order of things would be inaugurated, and for a thousand years his disciples would share the blessedness of human life under the happiest conditions. In this connexion the highest importance was attached to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.24 This conception of the reign upon earth of the Christ differed little from the common Jewish expectation, only the kingdom would be composed of Christians instead of the nation of Israel: and the Christian hopes in regard to it were largely derived from the Jewish apocalyptic writings, as were their conceptions of the fate of  the enemies of their Lord and all who rejected his claims.25 The imagination pictured, and hopes were fixed on, a fairyland of ease and pleasure and delight. This was ‘the great inheritance which the Gentile Christian communities received from Judaism, along with the monotheism assured by revelation and belief in providence’, and though it was destined to be gradually dissipated—partly through the anti-judaistic spirit of the Greek and Roman communities,—and partly through the growth of higher moral and spiritual conceptions—it was for a long time enjoyed and tenaciously held in wide and influential circles of Christian life.  The second coming, in glory, involving the resurrection of the dead, judgement of living and dead, was probably deemed imminent by the great mass of early Christians, and the hope of it was their stay in persecution, and must have greatly aided them to bear their sufferings, whether associated with the further belief in the thousand years’ reign upon earth or not. (It was equally foretold as the first coming in kingdom, dishonour and suffering; cf. Justin Apol. i 52, and Iren. i.10, who distinguishes it as παρουσία from the first ἔλευσις.) This belief (so far as it was Christian rather than Jewish in origin) was based on sayings of Christ such as those in which he speaks of drinking with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom (Matt. 26.29), and promises that those who now hunger and thirst shall hereafter be satisfied (Matt. 5.6), and that faithful service shall be rewarded by rule over many cities (Luke 19.17, 19),— sayings which received a literal material interpretation.26 And the definite assignment of a thousand years as the extent of the duration of the kingdom was made by the author of the Apocalypse (Rev. 20.1-10). For a thousand years the devil would be imprisoned, and martyrs and all who had not worshipped the beast and were free from his mark would come to life again and reign with Christ. This was ‘the first resurrection’, and only these—it appears—would have a share in the millennial kingdom of which apparently Jerusalem ‘the beloved city’ was to be the centre. Among earlier writers27 the belief was held by the authors of the Epistle of Barnabas,28 the Shepherd, the second Epistle of Clement, by Papias, Justin, and by some of the Ebionites, and Cerinthus, according to the accounts of the Roman presbyter Caius in his treatise against the Montanists, quoted by Eusebius (H.E. iii 28). Of these Papias is one of the chief landmarks. Because of his belief in the millennium, Eusebius passed a disparaging criticism on his sense29 “I suppose he got those ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic account, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken mystically in figures. For he appears to have been of a very limited understanding, as one can see from his discourses.” The materialistic character of their expectations is illustrated by the famous parable which he gives: “The days will come when vines shall grow, each having ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each twig ten thousand shoot.”, and in every one of the shoots ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty measures of wine.” Justin shews the belief in exacter form. The Lord, Jesus Christ, was to return to Jerusalem, which was to be rebuilt, and there to eat and drink with his disciples,30 and the Christian people were to be gathered together there and live in happiness with him and with the patriarchs and prophets.31 This belief is not regarded by Justin as an essential part of the Christian faith (he acknowledges that many genuine Christians do not hold it), but he suggests that many who reject it reject also the resurrection of the dead (i.e. of the body), which is essential. For a thousand years the kingdom at Jerusalem would last for all believers in Christ, and then would take place the universal and eternal resurrection of all together and the judgement.32 In support of the belief he cites the prophet Isaiah33 and the apostle John,34 and applies the imagery of the prophet Micah35 to describe the happiness of the time when heaven and earth will be renewed,36 but it will still be the same earth, and all who have faith set on Christ and know the truth expressed in his and his prophets’ words will inherit in it eternal and imperishable blessings.37

These hopes were fully shared by Irenaeus (who derived them from Papias direct perhaps),38 Melito,39 Hippolytus,40 Tertullian,41 and Lactantius.42  The Gnostics were the first to reject such conceptions (Marcion referred them to the prompting of the God of the Jews the only resurrection possible was spiritual, partial here in this world, and in perfection hereafter). The Gnostics were followed by ‘Caius’ and by by Origen, who condemns the views as most absurd;43 but the most formidable assault upon Chiliastic teaching was made by Dionysius of Alexandria in his treatise On the Promises, rejecting the apostolic origin of the Apocalypse, which was the strongest support of all Chiliastic ideas. To this work he was roused by one Nepos,44 a bishop in the district of Arsinoe, who in the Chiliastic interest had written against the allegorical interpretation of the Apocalypse, insisting that it must be taken literally.45 The opposition of Dionysius seems to have been widely influential and effective in banishing all such materialistic expectations from the common faith of the Church.’46 The Alexandrian theology made them impossible. By the middle of the fourth century they had come to be considered heretical, and a final blow was struck by Augustine, who taught that the millennium was the present reign of Christ, beginning with the Resurrection,47 and destined to last a thousand years.


Footnotes to Chapter 5

1. It is clear from the Epistle of Clement that by the end of the first century all traced of the controversy between Pauline and Judaistic Christianity had vanished at Rome and at Corinth.

2. Judaizing may not be the most accurate designation for what perhaps is only in origin an archaic form of interpretation, but relatively to the Catholic interpretation of the Person and Gospel of Christ it expresses the facts sufficiently exactly.

3. Heb. Ebionim, “poor men”: i.e. men who taught a beggarly doctrine. Cf. the bad sense at first attaching to the name ‘Christiani’, ‘Messiah-men;’ and cf. Origin de Princip. iv.1.22: Ἐβραίοις, τῆς πτωχῆς διανοίας ἐπώνυμοι⋅ Ἐβιών γὰρ ὁ πτωχός παρ᾽Ἐβραίοις ἀνομάζεται.

4. Dr. Hort supposed they might have come into existence through the scattering of the old Jerusalem Church by Hadrian’s edict. Some, like Hegesippus, who maintained the tradition of St James, when once detached from the Holy City would in a generation or two become merged in the greater Church without. Others would be driven into antagonism to the Gentile Church of Asia and become Judaistic in principle as well as in practice, being isolated and therefore less receptive of the influence of other Churches. (It should be noted that such Judaistic Christians are heard of only in the neighbourhood of Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor.)

5. Justin Dial. c. Tryph. 47 and 18.—See Hort, Judaistic Christianity, p. 196, on whose discussion the following statement of the facts is based.

6. See Hort—the two lines, development and supersession of the Law, in the teaching of Christ himself (ibid. ‘Christ and the Law‘, Lect. 2).

7.Before the time of Justin, Ignatius had had to denounce some Judaizing Christians who were lagging behind the revelation of Christ, refusing credence to anything which could not be proved from the Old Testament and anxious still to maintain the old associations intact. See Philad. viii ; Magn. viii-xi, and infra Gnosticism, p. 80 note 2.

8. Iren. adv. Haer. 1.22—Harvey vol. 1, p. 212, and iv. 52v. 1.3—Harvey vol. 2, pp. 259, 316.

9. Contra Cels. v.61, 65

10. Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 3.27.

11. Epiph. adv. Haer. 29 & 30.

12. Acts 24.5

13. Cf. Matt. 5.3.

14. Ep. 112 § 13.

15. Reported by Irenaeus iii 3, 4— vol. Harvey ii p. 13 and twice quoted by Eusebius (Hid. Ecd. iii 28, iv 14). Irenaeus also says (iii 11. 7—Harvey vol. ii p. 40) that the Gospel of St John was directed against Cerinthus (e.g. the doctrine of Creation by the Logos). Cf. Robert Browning A Death in the Desert. Epiphanius (i.c.) says he was the ringleader of St Paul’s Judaizing antagonists at Jerusalem. Hegesippus does not seem to have mentioned him, nor does Justin, nor Clement, nor Tertullian.

16. There is no evidence that he used the Gnostic term “Aeon” of Christ.

17. Cf. the ‘Gospel of Peter’. “Power, my power, thou hast deserted me!” This is the only docetic element in the teaching of Cerinthus.

18. Eusebius, the determined opponent of ‘Chiliasm’, speaks specially of this (l. c.).

19. See infra p. 68, Note on Chiliasm.

20. Hort Judaistic Christianity p. 201 See also D.C.B. ‘Clementine Literature’, and Dorner

21. See Hippol. Refut. haer. ix.13. They professed to have obtained this book from the Seres, a Parthian tribe (a mythical race like the Hyperboreans of Greek legend), who were perfectly pure and therefore perfectly happy, the recipients of a revelation which had been first made in the third year of Trajan (100 A.D.). Helxai (Elchasai)—an Aramaic word meaning ‘the hidden power’—was both the name of the divine messenger, who imparted the revelation, and the title of the book in which it was recorded. The book appears to have been a long time in secret circulation before it became known to the orthodox teachers of the Church.

22. See infra p. 75

23. For this idea chief support was to be got from the Gospel according to St John.

24. Probably the earliest indication of this is to be found in the case of the Thessalonians, some of whom feared that their relations and friends who had already died since they became Christians could have no share in the Messianic kingdom on earth.

25. Eg. the Apocalypse of Ezra, Enoch, Baruch, Moses. Cf. the Apocalypse of Peter

26. Against the interpretation of Origen de Princip. ii.11 § 2

27. There is no reference to the millennial belief in Clement of Rome and Ignatius, Polycarp, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus. But we are not justified in arguing from their silence that they did not hold it.

28. E. g. Barn. 4, 5.

29. See Eus. H. E. iii.9

30. Justin Dial. c. Tryph 51.

31. ibid. 80. This would be the first resurrection.

32. ibid. 81. Justin thus recognizes a twofold resurrection, as Irenaeus does. Apoc. XX was so understood. Tertullian seems to teach an immediate resurrection of those who are fitted for it, and a deferred resurrection of the more guilty, who must make amends by a longer course of purification in the under-world. See de Anima 58, where the suggestive thought is expressed that, as the soul must suffer, when disembodied, for the evil done in and by the flesh, so it may have refreshment on account of the pious and benevolent thoughts in which the flesh had no part. See also de Res. Carn. 42and cf. Robert Browning Rabbi Ben Ezra.

33. Isa. 65.17-25.

34. Apoc. 20.4-6

35. Mic. 4.1-7

36. Dial. 113.

37. Ibid. 139.

38. It is Irenaeus to who we owe the parable of Papias quoted supra (see Iren. v. 33-35). The letter from the Churches of Lugdunum Vienna shews Chiliastic ideas (Eus H. E. v.1ff).

39. See Polycrates in Euseb. H. E. v.24.

40. See e.g. in Dan. iv.23.

41. See esp. adv. Marc. iii and de Res Carn.

42. Inst. Div. vii § 11f. (esp. §24).

43. See de Princip. ii.11 § 2.

44. See Euseb. H. E. vii.24

45. The Refutation of the Allegoristsprobably aimed at Origen. (Euseb. l. c.).

46. They died hard, however, among the monks of Egypt, as is shewn by the survival in Coptic and Ethiopic of materialistic Apocalypses which ceased to circulate elsewhere among Christians. So Harnack DG. Eng. tr. vol. ii p. 30.

47. See e.g de Civ. Dei xx. “Even now the Church is the kingdom of Christ . . . even now his saints reign with him.” At an earlier time Augustine had conceived of a corporeal ‘first’ resurrection of the saints, succeeded by a millennial rest upon earth, the delights of it being spiritual enjoyment of the presence of the Lord.


Chapter 6

Gentile Attempts at Interpretation

Characteristics of Oriental Religious Thought

Though it was to Jews that the earliest attempts at interpretation of the revelation in Christ were committed, and to Jews accordingly that the earliest explanations of the person and work of Jesus are due, it was not long before the Gentiles came in to take their share in the  development of Christian doctrine.

The first great movement which they originated came rather from the East than from the West; for the difference between the contemporary religious thought of the East and of the West was very marked.1 The most fundamental feature of Oriental thought is probably ‘the schism and unrest of the human mind, in view of the limitations of human nature, with uncontrolled longings after the infinite and absorption into God’;2 but Hellenism found in the world so much of beauty and of pleasure that its aspirations after the unseen were much less real. Both had in view, no doubt, the same end—the unity of the divine and the human; but Orientalism sought it by the annihilation of the human, while the method pursued by Hellenism certainly tended to annihilate the divine. The distinction between the two was not maintained. Characteristic of Oriental religions are frequent incarnations (or emanations) of God in the most perfect form available, to teach men knowledge of truth and conduct them to heaven; but all are transitory, there is no permanency about them and no true assumption of humanity: the human is to be absorbed in the divine. The Greeks, on the other hand, began from below; by virtue and valour men must for themselves mount up to the heights of Olympus and attain to the life divine, becoming as gods—the apotheosis of man. The divinity, such as it was, was distributed through the powers of nature, in many gods with limitations, Fate—a mysterious power—at the back of all (polytheism); or else it was regarded as the soul of the universe, diffused through all things, and not to be separated from the world, having no existence outside it (pantheism). In either case there is no God, as Jews and Christians conceived of God.

The Problem of Evil

The distinction between the religious thought of the East and of the West is readily seen in the different answers which were given to the question of the origin of evil, which was the great religious question. For the Jews no answer was provided in their sacred writings: they were only taught that the source of evil was not matter, that it was not inherent in the visible material universe who made (which God, saw ‘was good’); they were taught that its essence was the assertion of the individual will against the will of God, or selfishness; and that God permitted its existence, being represented even in dramatic fashion sometimes as the cause of that which he permitted. By the writers of the New Testament no solution of the problem was attempted. But the Greek and Oriental philosophies had their answers ready.

The metaphysical schools of Greek philosophy hardly grappled with the problem.3 It is the Stoics who represent the Greek solution, and their main object was to reconcile the fact of the existence of evil with the supposed perfection of the universe. The conclusions which they reached are expressed in the following theses. The imperfection of the part is necessary to the perfection of the whole: some things which appear evil are not really evil4 and again, on the other hand, evil is; necessary to the existence of good, inasmuch as one of two contraries cannot exist without the other (so the existence of good connotes the existence of evil, the idea of one being necessary to the idea of the other). These theses, it is rightly pointed out,5 are not philosophical explanations of the origin of evil in the world, but examinations of the difficulties which its existence involves in relation to other facts or doctrines. The answer, such as it is, is negative rather than positive: evil is an unripe form of good, or the absence of good. It is the pantheistic solution with the murk of somewhat flimsy optimism6 on it: the unity of nature is preserved, but the reality of evil and of sin is sacrificed.7 It was in keeping with the temper of the Greek, who worshipped nature ‘naked and not ashamed’, who was least of all men disposed to look on the gloomy side of the visible world, whose feelings opened out to all that was bright and beautiful and beneficial in nature.8 The Hellenic mind was never much impressed by the sense of evil; and consequently Hellenic ethics had little influence in the earlier times on Christian doctrine. The influence of Hebraism was too strong.

The religious thought of the East, on the other hand, was much more deeply imbued with the sense of evil. Two principal theories characteristic of Persian and of Hindu thought respectively stand out. The first is dualistic, based on the hypothesis of the existence of two eternal principles of good and of evil, between whom an original and perpetual struggle is maintained. The second supposes one original existence absolutely pure, the primitive source of good, from which by continuous descents (emanations) proceed successive degrees of lower and less perfect being, a gradual deterioration steadily taking place, till the final result is reached in evil, the form of being farthest removed from the primitive source of all existence.

Corresponding to these two theories of existence are two different views of evil. The first is embodied in the Zoroastrian system, according to which the material world was in the first place created by the power of good (Ormuzd) in the space between light and darkness,—first the heavens, then water, then in succession the earth, the trees, cattle, men: and so far all was good. But the power of evil (Ahriman) obtained a footing upon earth and attempted to counteract the work that had been done by creating animals and plants of a contrary kind, and inflicting upon men the evils of hunger, weariness that calls for sleep, age, disease, and death, while leading them away from their allegiance to the power of good. And so the struggle goes on, and man alone has the power of choosing on which side he will fight, and so of partaking of good or evil. According to this (the Persian or dualistic) theory of the universe, matter is the production of a beneficent being and not essentially evil; the source of evil is spiritual, and evil is a terrible reality.

Quite different is the view which follows from the Hindu theory of existence. The highest and truest mode of being is pure spirit entirely good; the lowest form of being is matter, and entirely evil—it is indeed not properly to be called ‘being’ at all: the only reality is spirit and matter is—to speak accurately—a mere appearance and illusion, inasmuch as it lacks true being. Yet for practical purposes matter is synonymous with evil, and the great aim of all religion is to free men from its contamination, even at the cost of their annihilation.

Oriental Ideas applied to the Christian Revelation

Matter is essentially evil—this was the dominant principle of Oriental religious thought to which its converts to Christianity clung most strenuously, though it was in flagrant opposition to the early Christian tradition. If matter is evil, the Supreme God (who is good) cannot have created the world, and the Redeemer (who is divine) cannot have come in the flesh. The creator of the world, the Demiurge, must be distinct from the Supreme God—either an eternal power confronting him or a rebellious servant. And the body of Christ was not real, but only seemed to be (Docetism); and so either the sufferings were only apparent, or else the Redeemer who could not suffer was separate from the man in whom he appeared.

The Gnostics—their Aims and Classification

The ‘Gnostics’ were thinkers who, starting from Oriental principles such as these, find feeling the need of redemption by a special divine revelation, believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Redeemer sent to save sinners, and tried to work out this belief and their principles into a philosophical theory of the universe. It is this conviction of the need of Redemption, and the recognition of the person and work of Christ (in however perverted a form), which distinguish Gnosticism in all its schools as a real attempt at interpretation (i.e. a religious heresy) from a mere philosophical extravagance.9 “The time gone by,” wrote one of the soundest and soberest of modern scholars,10 “when the Gnostic theories could be regarded as the mere ravings of religious lunatics. The problems which taxed the powers of a Basilides and a Valentinus are felt to be amongst the most profound and difficult which can occupy the human mind. . . . It is only by the study of Gnostic aberrations that the true import of the teaching of Catholic Christianity, in its moral as well as in its theological bearings, can be fully appreciated.” They tried to find answers to such questions as, How can the absolute give birth to the relative? unity to plurality? good to evil? There is no doubt that they made ‘the first comprehensive attempt to construct a philosophy of Christianity’, and they have even been called the first Christian theologians.

They were schools of thought in the Church, esoteric philosophers, rather than sects, still looking to find in the Gospel the key to the enigmas of life, with no wish to withdraw from communion; asking only for freedom of speculation, and finding no fault with the popular modes of presenting the Christian faith for the people.11 But they drew a distinction between the popular simple faith, which was founded on authority and tradition, and the real knowledge—the Gnosis—which they themselves possessed. The former they regarded as merely the shell of the Christian theory of life, while they claimed a secret tradition of their own as the basis of the ‘Gnosis’, and jealously guarded it as a mystery from all but the chosen few.12 No canons of interpretation, no theory of inspiration, had as yet been framed; and the open tradition and standards of the Church fell short of the aim they set before themselves—the apprehension of the spiritual contents of the Gospel in a spiritual manner in relation to aspects of life which seemed to be ignored.13 In this way they constituted themselves an intellectual aristocracy, for whom alone salvation in the full sense of the word was reserved; and they were therefore labelled ‘Gnostics’ (knowing ones) by those who were not willing to admit the claim. The label seems to have been affixed with little exact discrimination. At all events it is used to cover very various forms of teaching, to some of which it scarcely applies at all; and no satisfactory classification of the Gnostics can be made. A classification may be attempted based on two opposing views of the religion of the Jews. By some it was regarded as an imperfect preparation for a Christian philosophy, which Christianity should complete and so supersede. By others it was regarded as a system fundamentally hostile to Christianity, which Christianity was to combat and overthrow. So Christ was differently regarded by different Gnostic schools as coming either to complete an imperfect revelation or to deliver the world from bondage to an evil creator and governor; and correspondingly diverse views of the Demiurge were held. Another classification rests upon a broad distinction that was early noted—a moral difference; Some of the Gnostics being ascetic, and some, it was said, licentious. The charge of immorality has always been brought against religions opponents in all ages and must never be received without examination; but in this case it appears to be justified, some of the Gnostics indeed making it a principle. If matter was essentially evil and antithetical to spirit, and yet man in his human life could not escape from it, two courses in regard to it were open to him. He might pursue a policy of rigorous abstinence, aiming at freeing his soul as much as possible from bondage to the material elements by which it was surrounded, and so of course refusing to marry and enthral new souls in the prison of the body: and thus he would win by ignoring, till he became unconscious of, the body. Or else he might adopt a ‘superior’ attitude to all that was material, and abandon all attempts to purify the hopelessly corrupt. Deeds of the body could not affect the soul—’to the pure all things are pure’: it was even a duty to put the body to shame and set at nought the restrictions which had been imposed by commands of the malevolent being who shut up the souls of men in matter—’Give to the flesh the things of the flesh and to the spirit the things of the spirit’.14 So they would keep the spirit pure, and triumph over the body by putting it to the most licentious uses.

But none of the classifications suggested15 (Judaizing, anti-Judaistic, Hellenizing, ascetic, licentious) are more than partial descriptions of these chameleon forms of thought, of which neither the history nor the geography can be given,16 older forms maintaining themselves side by side with later developments, and representative teachers and writers of the most diverse kinds finding their way to the smaller communities as well as the greater centres of intercourse.

We must be content to take, as examples, particular teachers and schools, without examining too closely their origin and mutual relations, and to frame, from accounts which are often defective and inconsistent with one another, such a statement of the case as the evidence allows.

The Earlier Representatives of Gnostic Conceptions

The early Fathers almost unanimously trace the origin of Gnosticism to Simon Magus, the chief of the Powers (emanations) of God17 an account of a work attributed to; Hippolytus gives an account of a work attributed to him, called ‘The Great Announcement’18 and Menander is named as his pupil and successor. So too the Nicolaitans of the Apocalypse were usually considered Gnostics,19 and the Gospel of St John was supposed to have been written to oppose the Gnostic views. Irenaeus cites the saying of St Paul, ‘knowledge (Gnosis) puffeth up but love edifieth ‘,20 as a condemnation of the Gnosis; but it is extremely improbable that the word has any such associations here or elsewhere in the New Testament, nor does the term ‘aeon’ occur in the Gnostic sense of ’emanation’.21 In the false teaching opposed in the Epistle to the Colossians, and perhaps in the Epistles to Timothy, the seeds of something like the Gnostic conceptions may be detected,22 but they are probably of Jewish rather than ‘Gnostic’ origin.

The docetic view of the person of Christ, however, is certainly under consideration in the reference in the First Epistle of St. John23 to “Jesus Christ come in flesh” and the condemnation of those who do not confess Jesus—Such as do not recognize the humanity of the divine Redeemer—this is what the expression means—are not ‘of God’; nay they are Antichrist. It is not enough to acknowledge his divinity; that he was also ‘very Man’ is of the essence of the faith. He who tries to distinguish the man Jesus from the Christ is far from the truth.24

And it is a similar docetic view, which made the human nature and the sufferings of the Lord unreal, that roused the strenuous opposition of Ignatius.25 “He verily suffered, as also he verily raised himself again: not as some unbelievers say, who talk of his seeming to suffer, while it is they themselves who are the ‘seemers’ and as they think, so it shall happen to them, body-less and spectral as they are.”26 They who would make of Christ’s but a humanity nothing spectre are themselves but spectral men. And again—with a personal appeal to his own experiences on his way to martyrdom, which were in vain—if Christ had not by a real Passion won for men a real salvation—he insists “He was really crucified and died . . . Why, if it were as some godless ones (that is, unbelievers) assert, who say that he seemed to suffer, while it is they who are the ‘seemers’—Why am I in chains?2It was indeed as man he was made manifest, though he was God.28 He must be recognised as one person, though having the twofold experiences of the human and the divine natures. There is one Physician in flesh and in spirit (i.e. human and divine), generate and ingenerate (or originate and unoriginate), God in man (i.e. in human form) . . . first capable of suffering and then incapable of suffering.”29

To docetic thinkers the divinity of Christ presented no difficulties. It was the humanity (with its close relation to matter) that they could not acknowledge. It was only the channel by which he came into the world. “Jesus”, they said, “passed through Mary as water through a tube.”30 He was ‘through’ or ‘by means of’ but not ‘of’ Mary; that is to say, he derived from her no part of his being. “For as just water passes through a pipe without receiving any addition from the pipe, so too the Word passed through Mary but was not derived from Mary.”31 The humanity was only the organ of revelation, the momentary vehicle for the introduction into the world of the eternal truth, and when the end was attained it was allowed to perish. Such denial of the fundamental idea of the Incarnation naturally aroused the most vigorous opposition wherever it was found.

The first of the heads of schools whose names have come down to us is Saturninus (or Saturnilus), a Syrian (of Antioch), in the reign of Hadrian (117-138AD). He seems to have believed in the malignity of matter and in the existence of an active principle of evil. God the Father was unknowable, he held; without origin, body, or form; and He had never appeared to men. He created the angels, and seven of the angels created the world and man. The God of the Jews was only one of the angels, who kept men under his control; and Christ came to abolish his power and lead men back to the truth.

Cerdo, also a Syrian, who came to Rome a little later, carried out further still the distinction between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament: the former was ‘just’ and could be known, the latter was ‘good’ and unknowable.32 It was perhaps from Cerdo that Marcion derived his leading thought.

Marcion and his Followers

Marcion33 is perhaps hardly to be classed with other Gnostics. He had no emanation theories and no such extravagant allegorising as they indulged in; and while all the rest regard the redemptive work of Christ as consisting in his doctrine, whether treated mainly from the theoretic or from the ethical point of view, he laid due stress on the Passion and Death, as shewing the highest proof of love, and on faith rather than on knowledge. In this respect, at least, he was immeasurably nearer the Catholic standpoint than they: his interest was predominantly soteriological. But he and his followers wore commonly reckoned Gnostics by their opponents, and the instinct of such men as Irenaeus and Tertullian was probably not much in error. It is at any rate certain that the dualism of the Gnostics, which was always felt to be destructive of all true interpretation of the Gospel, was carried out in some respects more thoroughly by Marcion than by any others. Starting from the conviction of the antagonism between the Law and the Gospel, he could not believe them both to have been given by one God: the teaching of the God of the Jews and the teaching of Christ were too different for both to have come from the same source; and he wrote a book to point out the contradictions between the Old Testament and the Gospel. So the practical antagonism to the Jewish law, which some of the writings of St Paul exhibited, became with him theological too; and he conceived two Gods. One was the God of the Jews, who made this world; the author of evil works, bloodthirsty, changeable—far from perfect, and ignorant of the highest things, concerned with his own peculiar people only, and keeping them in subjection by means of the Law and the terror of breaking it. The other was the God of love and of Christ, the creator of the immaterial universe above our world. The God of the Jews might be said to be just, inasmuch as he carried out all scrupulously all the provisions of the Law: ‘Eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth’—’Thou shalt love him that loveth thee, and hate thine enemy.’ This might be just, but it was not good. Goodness was the attribute of the God who bade men, if smitten on one cheek, to turn the other also, to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors; and this conception of God was new and peculiar to the Gospel of Christ. Things in which evil is found could not proceed from the good God, and the Christian dispensation could have nothing in common with the Jewish. Most characteristic of Marcion was this idea of the absolute newness and grandeur of Christianity as separate from all that had gone before; and his absolute rejection of Judaism and of all the historical circumstances and setting of Christianity. Of evolution or development in religion, of a progress in the self-revelation of God adapted to the age, he had no notion. So, naturally, his conception of Jesus corresponded to his other theories. Jesus appears suddenly on the earth with no preliminary preparation, sent down by the Supreme God the Father from the higher regions where he dwelt.34 With a material body he could have nothing to do, nor with a birth35 but a body in some sense—capable of suffering he had, assumed for the special purpose of his mission—to reveal to men the God of Love and to abrogate the law and the prophets36 and all the works of the God who had created and ruled their world. This God—the Demiurge—he conquered and cast into hell, but his influence remained, and it is against him that the struggle for men still lies. For victory in this conflict he urged the need of an ascetic and celibate life, that the kingdom of the Demiurge might not be increased. The earthly body and its desires must be kept in check; it was doomed in any case to perish; the soul only could attain to blessedness, and the way to it lay through virtue.

The practical character of the Marcionite school no doubt contributed largely to its growth. In this and in its opposition to Judaism37 its strength undoubtedly lay. It could not have been on moral grounds that Polycarp professed to recognize “in Marcion Satan’s firstborn”.38 It is recorded of one of Marcion’s distinguished followers39 that he maintained that those who had their hope set on the Crucified would be saved, only if they were found doers of good works. His teaching proved extraordinarily attractive. Justin declared it was diffused through every race of men.40 Tertullian compared the Marcionites, who had “churches” with bishops and presbyters and songs and martyrs of their own, to swarms of wasps building combs in imitation of the bees,41 As well as their own churches and organisation, they had their own Canon of Scripture, based on the conviction that Paul alone had understood the teaching of Jesus42 and some of their alterations and corrections exerted a disturbing influence on the text which was current outside the Marcionite communities.43 The popularity and permanence of the movement (there were Marcionite churches in existence till the seventh century) is of great significance in the history of the interpretation of the Christian revelation, although the interpretation which was championed at the time by Justin and Irenaeus and Tertullian prevailed.44

Carpocrates and his Followers

Another of the ‘Gnostics’ who really stands in some respects alone is Carpocrates,45 a Platonic Philosopher at Alexandria, early in the second century: the sect which he founded being still active at Rome in the time of Irenaeus, who took elaborate pains in his refutation of their teaching. In common with Marcion he held the view that redemption was only possible for him who had the sense to despise Judaism, and that it was to be found in escape from the control of the powers who ruled the material world. Not through any obedience to their laws, but through faith and love would man be saved. Works were ‘indifferent’—having no moral value or bad in human—opinion only; that is to say, the human standard is untrustworthy.

This antinomianism seems with Carpocrates to have remained theoretic, and he inculcated a life of perfect purity (the reproach of  licentiousness is not supported by the oldest sources of information). But his followers carried out the principle into practice, and became proverbial for deliberate immorality, indulged in without scruple.46 Indeed it was the Gnostic’s duty to enlarge his experiences of every kind of life to the utmost. So taught his son Epiphanes, and the Cainites, who got their name from taking the murderer of Abel as their hero. They and Ophites47 absolutely inverted the commonly accepted notions of good and evil, and of the Old Testament all through. The creator of the world being regarded as an evil power acting in hostility to the Supreme God, the Fall became the emancipation of man from the authority of a malevolent being: the serpent was the symbol of true wisdom and freedom, wishing to be man’s friend against the jealous Jehovah; and so the usual reading of the Old Testament was reversed—the bad characters becoming good, oppressed by the servants of Jehovah.

Of sects with these general principles there wore many varieties and degrees. In principle probably, and in practice certainly, they are the furthest removed of all the Gnostic schools from the Catholic view of the purport of the Christian revelation, and exhibit the greatest admixture of foreign elements.48

The School of Basilides

For the finest representatives of the Gnostic philosophy of life we must turn to very different men—Basilides and Valentinus.

Basilides was probably of Syrian origin, but taught at Alexandria in the second quarter of the second century. Of his system very different accounts are given49 for the present the following may be taken as a general description.

The Supreme God, the unbegotten Father, could only be described by negations. To reach to knowledge of Him it was necessary to ascend through a long series of grades of spiritual being which had emanated from Him. Of these the highest—the first emanations from Him—were a group of eight (the first Ogdoad), comprising in descending order Mind (or Reason in itself), Reason or Word or Speech (the expression of Mind), Understanding (or practical Wisdom), Wisdom, Power, Virtues, Chiefs, and Angels.50 These made or comprised the first heaven, the highest region or grade in the spiritual world; and from them as source proceeded, in succession, each in turn from the one immediately preceding it, a series of emanations and heavens, till there were in all no fewer than three hundred and sixty-five gradations of spiritual being.51 The lowest of these heavens is the one which is seen by us. Its angels made and rule the terrestrial world we know. Their chief is the God of the Jews (the Ruler), who wished to make all nations subject to his, but the other heavenly powers arrayed themselves against him, as the other nations arrayed themselves against his nation. But for the redemption of man there was needed the entrance of some superior power from the higher worlds into the lower terrestrial world; and the Father, seized with compassion, sent forth his first-born ‘Mind’ (the first of the emanations), who is Christ, to deliver all who believe in him from the powers that rule the world. He appeared in human form, uniting himself with the man Jesus at his baptism: the man Jesus not being the Redeemer, but merely the instrument selected by the redeeming God for the purpose of revealing himself to men. It was only in appearance that he was subjected to death upon the Cross, and those who believe in the Crucified One are still under the dominion of the rulers of the world. The body must needs perish, the soul only is immortal; and for this reason Christ suffered his bodily nature to perish and be resolved into formlessness, while the constituents of the higher nature ascended to their own region.52 So all who are capable of redemption are gradually illuminated by the divine light of knowledge, and purified, and enabled to ascend on high: and when all who are capable are redeemed the rest will be involved in utter ignorance of all that is above them, so that they have no sense of deficiency or of unsatisfied desire, and thus the restoration of all things will be effected. The ethical work of man is the extirpation of all traces of the low grade of life which cling to him, as appendages which must be torn away.53

The strength and the weakness of the system of Basilides has been well appraised when it is said that of all the Gnostic systems it “least recognises any break or distinction between the Christian revelation and the other religious of the world. His leading thought is the continuity of the world’s development—its gradual purification and enlightenment by a progressive series of movements succeeding one another by a fixed law of evolution. But while the system thus gains in philosophical unity, it loses in moral and religious significance. No place is left for the special providence of God, nor for the freewill of man: there is almost a Stoical pantheism, quite a Stoical fatalism. . . . The Supreme God is impersonal, capable of no religious relation to man, introduced … to give the first impulse to the mechanical movement of the world’s self-development. … As he is elevated to the position of an absolute first principle, he is stripped of the attributes which alone can make him the object of moral obedience or religious worship.”54

The Valentinians

Similar to the teaching of Basilides, at least in many of its chief conceptions, was the system of Valentinus,55 who lived at Alexandria and in Cyprus till towards the middle of the second century he came to Rome, and only late in his life, it is said, seceded from the Church. His system seems to have been the most comprehensive and the most eclectic of all, but three leading ideas may be detected. From Plato comes the conception that the higher existences of the terrestrial world have their superior and real counterparts in the celestial world, the earthly shadows only imperfectly reflecting the ideal substances. From the pantheistic philosophy of India he derived the thought that the origin of material existence was due to an error or fall or degradation of some higher mode of being—a transient blot on the perfection of the absolute. This thought he nevertheless combined with the belief derived from Judaism that the creation of the world was to be attributed to the wisdom of God, regarded nearly as a separate personality as in the later writings of the Jews.

The term ‘aeons’ seems to have been used first by Valentinus to denote the personifications of the divine attributes,56 which all together formed the whole spiritual world to which the name Plerôma was given (the totality of spiritual functions and life—ideal being). Of these aeons, thirty in all, there were three orders; the first of eight, the second of ten, the third of twelve. They proceeded always in pairs,57 male and female; the first pair in each successive order from the lowest pair in the order above it. The first order, the Ogdoad, represent the original existence of the Divine Being, in his absolute nature, inscrutable and unspeakable, and in his relative nature, manifesting himself in operation. The second order, the Decad, represent the action of the Deity through his attributes in the formation of a world—ideal, primary, and immaterial. The third order, the Dodecad, represent the divine operations in nature or grace. All these are of course supra-sensual, immaterial, ideal: the spiritual types and patterns and realities,58 as it were, of anything that afterwards came within the range of human experience. In this way all existence is conceived as having its origin in the self-limitation of the Infinite and it is of supreme importance that each form of being should remain within the limits of its own individuality, keeping its proper place in the evolution of life. This principle is personified in Horos (Boundary), the genius of limitation, who fixes the bounds of individual existence and carefully guards them against disturbance. Even in the spiritual world this function had to be exercised, for there too there was an idea an archetype of the fall and redemption of the world. Of all the aeons one only was, by the will of the Supreme, cognisant of his nature—Mind, the first of the pair which proceeded immediately from him. In the others arose a desire for the knowledge which Mind alone enjoyed, and in the youngest of all the aeons, Sophia (Wisdom), this desire became a passion. Then Horos came, to fulfil his function, and convinced her that the Father was incomprehensible by her; and so she recognized her limitations and abandoned her design. And in order to prevent any recurrence of the kind a new pair of aeons issued from Mind, Christus and the Holy Spirit, who conveyed the same truth to all the aeons, and they then combined to produce a new aeon-Christ ‘the most perfect beauty and constellation of the Pleroma.’ This is the prototype of the process of redemption in the world.

The design which Sophia abandoned was itself personified and banished to the region outside the Pleroma (or spiritual world), which is styled the Kenôma (the region void of spiritual being). As the result of this fall of the lower Sophia (or Achamoth) in some way or other59 life is imparted to matter, and the Demiurge (Jaldabaoth) who creates the lower world we know is formed, and the first man Adam. In man is deposited, through the agency of Achamoth, a spiritual seed, and it is to redeem this spiritual element and draw it back to its proper spiritual home that the last emanation from the aeons, the Christ, by his own wish and with their consent, assumes a spiritual body60 and descends from the Pleroma. As Saviour he awakes the soul of men out of sleep and fans into flame the spiritual spark within them by virtue of the perfect knowledge he communicates; and, as the consort of Achamoth, by the sign of the cross leads back the souls that he rescues out of the power of the Demiurge into the region of spiritual life. And so there is a restoration of the heavenly element in the human frame struggling to return to its native place, and the material part is dissolved. But it is not all men who are capable of such redemption. By Valentinus the nature of man was conceived as threefold: the bodily part (itself twofold, one subtle, hylic, and one gross, earthy), the soul derived from the Demiurge, and the spirit derived from Achamoth. And men themselves fell into three classes according as one or other of these elements prevailed. The spiritual were only a select few from among men, and they were certain of salvation; the bodily were incapable of salvation; the others, forming an intermediate class between the two extremes, might either rise to the higher or sink to the lower lot. By the introduction of this middle class Valentinus intended no doubt to soften the hardness of the line of demarcation between the Gnostic and all other men. But the principle remained the same, and the general feeling in regard to it was fairly expressed by Irenaeus61 when he declared that it was “better and more expedient for men to be ignorant and of little learning, and to draw near to God through love, than to think themselves very learned and experienced and be found blasphemers against their Lord.”62

The Influence of Gnosticism on the Development of Christian Doctrine

It is not easy to compute exactly the influence of Gnosticism on the development of Christian doctrine. It is certain that its triumph would have meant the overthrow of Christianity as a historical religion and the disruption and ruin of the Church. It is said that its influence was almost entirely negative—in that it discredited Dualism and the negation of the human free will and Old Testament criticism, and by its appeal to apostolic writings and tradition which were not genuine occasioned the formal establishment of genuine apostolic standards in the Church.63 If, however, it is difficult to point to any definite positive influence of Gnostic thought on the development of the doctrine of the Church (which had, of course, begun and went on independently); it seems probable that it played an important part in rousing or stimulating interest in Christianity, as not only the practical way of salvation but also the truth and the way of knowledge in its widest sense; and that it did much to introduce studies, literature, and art into the Christian Church,64 and to force the great teachers to shew that in Christianity was contained the essence of all the truth there was in the pre-Christian religions.65

To this end, at any rate, some of the greatest devoted their energy, and in the working out of the doctrine of the Divine Logos,66 and of his Incarnation in Jesus Christ, there was found—as a substitute for the wild conceptions of the Gnostics—the expression which seemed to the more philosophical and cultured Christians to satisfy the unique conditions of the Gospel revelation.67

But there were other difficulties in the way of the acceptance of the Logos doctrine, and strong currents of thought and feeling stemmed before the haven of agreement could be reached.

Manicheism

Manicheism was a school of thought in some of its chief features closely akin to Gnosticism, aiming at similar ends; but it is not easy to give in short compass a satisfactory account of it. A few notes on its connexion with the history of Christian doctrine must suffice.

(1) The source of nearly all Christian accounts is the Acta Archelai, which professes to report dialogues between Manes and Archelaus (a Bishop of Carchar in Mesopotamia) in the reign of Probus (supposed to have been composed in Syriac and translated into Greek but, probably spurious and composed in Greek in the fourth century—now extant in a Latin translation from the Greek, long fragments of which are quoted by Epiphanius adv. Haer. Ixvi 6, 25-31 ; cf. Cyril Cat. vi 27 ff.). More is to be learnt from Titus, Bishop of Bostra, in Arabia (c. 362-370), who wrote four books against the Manichaeans (the first two of which are extant in Greek, and all in a Syriac translation). He derived his information from a book of a follower of Manes, but softened down the doctrines so as not to give offence, and thereby opened the way to misunderstanding. But most trustworthy is the testimony of Mohammedan historians of later times (ninth to twelfth centuries), who had better opportunities of information about the literature (Babylon having been the birthplace and remaining the centre of the movement till the tenth century, the head of the sect residing there), while they had no polemical purpose, being led to their investigations by a genuine scientific curiosity. For the form which Manicheism assumed in the West the works of Augustine on the system are the chief authority.

(2) Manes was born about 215 at Ctesiphon, whither his father had moved from Ecbatana. Originally an idolater, he had joined the sect of ‘Ablutioners’ (who also laid special stress on vegetarianism and abstinence from wine), and Manes was brought up in this sect, and its essentially ascetic character was the chief mark of the hybrid type of religion which he conceived. He first came forward as a teacher at a great festival in March 242, and preached for years in the East of Babylonia, and in India and China, obtaining favour in high quarters—from officers of state and the king himself. But between 273 and 276, through the hostility of the Magi, he was put to death as a heretic, and flayed, and his head was set up over a gate still known by his name in the eleventh century.

(3) The religion was essentially dualistic, based on the contrast between light and darkness, good and evil, conceived in poetical form (as was usual in the East) as a struggle between personal agents, and elaborated in a manner somewhat similar to that of the Gnostic cosmologies. No distinction was drawn between the physical and the ethical, and thus “religious” knowledge could be nothing but the knowledge of nature and its elements, and redemption consisted exclusively in a physical deliverance of the fractions of light from darkness . . . Ethics became a doctrine of abstinence from all elements arising from the realm of darkness” (Harnack). The powers of darkness or evil sought to bind men (who always had some share of light) to themselves through sensuous attractions, error, and false religions (especially that of Moses and the prophets); while the spirits of light were always trying to recall to its source the light which was in men, by giving them the true gnosis as to nature—through prophets and preachers of the truth, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus (in some form), and Manes himself—who was held to be the last and greatest prophet, the guide, the ambassador of light, the Paraclete, by whose instrumentality the separation of light from darkness is accomplished. Practical religion thus became a rigorous asceticism, abstaining from all sensuous enjoyment (the three seals, the signaculum oris, manus, et sinus the—mouth, the hand, the breast—symbolised the complete abstinence from everything containing elements of darkness), practising constant fasts (in all about a quarter of the year) and ablutions and prayers four times a day. Such an asceticism, however, was only possible for comparatively few, and a twofold moral standard was permitted, only the ‘perfect’ Manichaeans—the elect—fulfilling these strict rules, while the lower class of secular Manichaeans, catechumens or hearers (auditores), were only required to avoid idolatry, witchcraft, and sensual vices, and to kill no living creature. Worship consisted exclusively of prayers and hymns; they had no temples, altars, or images.

(4) To the difficult question why Manicheism spread so far and wide, Harnack gives the answer that its strength was due to the combination of ancient mythology and a vivid materialistic dualism with an extremely simple spiritual cultus and a strict morality—supplemented by the personality of the founder. It retained the mythologies of the Semitic nature-religions, but substituted a spiritual worship and a strict morality. It offered revelation, redemption, moral virtue, and immortality and spiritual blessings, on the ground of nature-religion; while the learned and the ignorant, the enthusiast and the—man of the world, could all find a welcome. And it presented a simple—apparently profound and yet easy solution of the pressing problem of good and evil.

(5) Why it should have gained recruits among Christians is a further question. To Western Christians there were great obstacles in the foreign language and the secret script in which the books were written, and they must have derived their knowledge from oral sources. Manes himself seems to have been very little influenced by Christianity; as presented by the Church he must have regarded it as full of errors, but he probably drew from the forms it had assumed among the followers of Basilides and Marcion. His system had points of contact with the ancient Babylonian religion—the original source of all the gnosis of Western Asia, transformed by Christian and Persian elements into a philosophy of the world and of life (Buddhism seems to have made no contributions). The doctrine of the Incarnation was rejected; yet the Western Manichaeans succeeded in giving the system a kind of Christian colour, while retaining its rigid physical Dualism, its rationalising character, and its repudiation of the Old Testament. At its first appearance in the Roman Empire it was probably as a sect originating in Persia, an inveterate enemy and object of fear to the Roman government, that it was denounced by an edict of Diocletian, c.287 or 308. Eusebius knew little about them, but by the middle of the fourth century they had spread widely in the empire, particularly among the monks and clergy of Egypt and North Africa. Owing to their principle of mystical acceptance and interpretation of orthodox language, they could hold the position of Christian bishops or conform outwardly to Mohammedan rites. Besides the distinction between Electi and Auditores there was a carefully graduated hierarchy of travelling missionaries, deacons, presbyters, seventy-two bishops, and twelve apostles—with a thirteenth (or one of the twelve) representing Manes as head of all. Severe laws against them were promulgated by Valentinian (372) and Theodosius (381), but they were very active in the time of Augustine, who was for nine years an auditor. They also reached Spain and Gaid, through Dacia, along the highroad to North Italy (they were feared and denounced as pseudo-ecclesia by Niceta of Remesiana +c. 414—’Sermon on the Creed’ Migne P.L. lii. p. 871); and at Rome itself their doctrines had a large following. Active measures against them were taken by Leo, supported by the civil power, and edicts of Valentinian III and Justinian made banishment, and even death, the penalty. Yet Manicheism lasted till far on into the Middle Ages in East and West. [See D.C.B. Art. “Manichaeans”, and Harnack D.G. Eng. tr. vol. iii p. 316ff. I am also indebted to a lecture by Prof. Bevan.]


Footnotes to Chapter 6

1. Eg. Indian and Persian compared with Greek.

2. Neander Hist. of Doct. vol. i p. 6 (Bohn), cf. Church Hist. vol. ii.

3. The Eleatics assert the dogma that the One alone exists, plurality and change have no real being (of. the Parmenides). Plato did not elaborate any systematic treatment of the question, though apparently regarding matter as the source of evil—τὸ μὴ ὄν contrasted with τὸ ὄν (which is identified with τὸ ἀγαθόν, e.g. in the Timaeus). This conception was adopted by the Neoplatonists, e.g. Plotinus, and influenced Origen and other Christian thinkers. Aristotle deals with evil simply as a fact of experience. See further Mansel The Gnostic Heresies p. 23.

4. This is illustrated by a saying of Seneca (Ep. 85. 30)—Grief (or pain) and poverty do not make a man worse; therefore they are not evils.

5. Mansel l. c.

6. With it may be compared the position of Shaftesbury as represented by Pope, from which easily follows the complete subordination of the individual and the negation of personal religion, the natural transition to atheism—

“Whatever wrong we call
May, must be, right as relative to all.
Discord is harmony not understood
All partial evil universal good.”

7. Hebraism, with one perfect God of righteousness outside the world, could realise sin. Hellenism, with no idea of perfection about its gods, had no place for sin in its thought: to break law, not to live in accordance with nature, was folly, not sin.

8. Mansel l. c.

9. So Bigg (Christian Platonists of Alexandria p. 54) insists that “the interest, the meaning, of Gnosticism rests entirely upon its ethical motive. It was an attempt, a serious attempt, to fathom the dread mystery of sorrow and pain, to answer that spectral doubt which is mostly crushed down by force—Can the world as we know it have been made by God?” He says “it is a mistake to approach the Gnostics on the metaphysical side.”

10. Lightfoot—Preface to Mansel’s Gnostic Heresies

11. Yet at least, when their teaching was repudiated by the official heads of the Church, they became rival Churches, and were obviously regarded as competitors by their ‘orthodox’ opponents (cf. Tert. adv. Marc, iv 5). They claimed to have all that the Church had, and more besides.

12. ‘From this point of view they have been called ‘the first Freemasons’ rather than the first theologians, though a closer analogy might be found in the practice of the Greek mysteries.

13. Loofs (pp. 70, 73) distinguishes the chief variations of Gnosticism from (a) the Christian tradition (i.e. the popular creed) and (b) the Christian ecclesiastical philosophy. He notes (a) the separation between the highest God and the Creator of the world (sometimes regarded as the God of the Jews in the Old Testament)—the emanations or series of aeons—docetic conception of the person of Christ—cosmical origin of evil and corresponding conception of Redemption—abandonment of early Christian eschatology; and (6) salvation dependent on secret knowledge, or at least the Gnosis has promise of higher bliss than Faith alone can attain—a syncretic system in which the Christian elements are overpowered by foreign elements, Babylonian and Hellenic, which it continually took to itself in increasing volume— supersession of the genuine apostolic tradition through unlimited allegorical exegesis and its secret ‘apostolic’ tradition.

For fragments of Gnostic writings see especially Stieren’s edition of Irenaeus

14. Iren. i.1.11, τὰ σρακικὰ τοῖς σαρκικοῖς καῖ τὰ πνευματικὰ τοῖς πνευματκοὶς ἀποδίδοσθαι λέγουσι. Cf. Clem. Al. Strom iii.5.

15. Westcott (Introduction to the Study of the Gospels ch. iv) points out the relation of the different Gnostic schools to the different modes of apprehension of Christian principles to which the New Testament bears witness. Cerinthus and the Ebionites exhibit an exaggeration of the Jewish sympathies of Matthew and James; the Docetae of the Petrine view represented by Mark (cf. Peter’s refusal to face the possibility of the sufferings of Christ); Marcion of Pauline teaching if pushed to extreme consequences; while Valentinus shews the terminology of John if not the spirit.

16. Loofs, p. 71. The greatest mixture of Eastern and Western religious and philosophical thought prevailed in Mesopotamia and Syria; and it is probable that Jewish and Christian conceptions working on this ‘syncretic’ soil produced in one direction the Judaizing heresies which have been already considered, and in the other these manifold forms of the Gnosis. Both have the same birthplace.

17. Acts 8.9-10.

18. Ἡ Ἀπόφασις μεγάλη—Hippol. Refut. Haer. vi.9ff.

19. Iren. iii.11.7, says they were forerunners of Cerinthus.

20. 1Cor. 8.1. Cf 13.8, and contrast 2Cor. 11.6.

21. Probably not till its use by Valentinus. Similarly πλήρομα (Eph. 1.23; 4.13) has no technical sense, though its use in Col. 1.19, 2.9 of the totality of the divine attributes approximates towards the Gnostic conception.

22. Eg. the higher knowledge, Col. 2.8, 18; ascetism, Col. 2.20-23; 3.3-5; incipient Docetism, Col. 2.9 (‘bodily’); and the evil matter, 2Tim. 2.16-18 (matter being evil could not be eternal, so the resurrection would be spiritual only).

23. 1John 4.2-3; Cf. 2John 7.

24. 1John 2.22.

25. The ‘Judaistic’ and the ‘docetic’ heresies, which are combated by Ignatius, seem to be distinct. In the letter here cited there is no reference to any Judaistic form of error. There are only two cases in which there is even apparent conjunction of Judaistic and docetic conceptions, and in both it is only apparent, namely, the Epistles to the Magnesians and to the Philadelphians. In both cases he passes at once from argument against the Judaizers to the supreme argument which the facts of the Gospel history furnish, and in this connexion lays stress on the reality of those facts. [Philad. viii to those who said “unless I find it foretold in the Old Testament (the ‘archives’) I do not believe it”, he replies “my archives are the actual facts; and Magn. viii-xi in warning against μυθεύματα τὰ παλαιά(we cannot go back,—that would be to confess that we had not got grace under our present system—with which compare St Paul’s argument that if salvation can be got in the Law, then the death of Christ was gratuitous) he turns them to the present. Look at the actual facts, from which our present grace is derived.] If there had been docetic teaching in these two Churches it is inconceivable that he would not have expressed himself plainly and strongly in regard to it. As it is, it is not the reality of the humanity of the Lord to which he refers, but the reality of the Gospel itself—the very facts which speak for themselves.

26. Smyrn. 2

27. Trall. 9, 10

28. Eph. 18.

29. Eph. 7.

30. Iren. iii.11.8

31. [Origen] Dial. adv. Gnosticos iv p.21 (Rufinus v.9) Cf. Tert. de Carne Christi 20 (Hahn p. 10); Theodoret Ep. 145 (Migne P. G. lxxxiii 1380B).

32. Views similar to those of Saturnis and Cerdo seem to have been adopted late in life by Tatian. Bardesanes, another Syrian, at the end of the second century (whose hymns were in use by the Syrian Christians till the time of Ephraem two centuries later), had more in common with Valentinus.

33. The son of a bishop of Sinope in Pontus (said to have been expelled from the Church by his own father, but this is probably a libel—Epiph. adv. haer. xlii 1), who came to Rome in the first half, towards the middle, of the second century.

34. It is not clear in what relation he held Christ to stand to the Supreme God: perhaps he made no distinction between Father and Son—the Supreme God Himself appearing without any mediator in the world. (So a kind of Modalism, see infra p. 97).

35. The birth and infancy and the genealogy he excised from the only Gospel which he admitted (viz. our Gospel according to St Luke amended to harmonise with his views). Against this ‘docetic’ conception of Marcion see Tertullian de Carna Christi, who maintains that Christ was as regards his flesh and body altogether one with us (concarnatio and consisceratio).

36. Christ was not the Messiah of whom the prophets conceived. Their Christ was a warrior king come to save Israel, ours was crucified to save the world.

37. They regarded the Church as still in the chains of the Law—’sunk in Judaism’. See Tert. adv. Marc, i 20—”They say that Marcion by his separation between the Law and the Gospel did not so much introduce a new rule of faith as restore the old rule when it had been falsified.”

38. The tale is told by Irenaeus (iii.3.4). Marcion had known Polycarp in the East; but him when they met at Rome. “Do you not know me” cried Marcion. “I know you [to be] Satan’s firstborn” was Polycarp’s uncompromising answer.

39. Apelles (with his companion Philumene, a ‘prophetess’)—opposed by Rhodon (see Euseb. Hist. Eccl. v.13) Hippolytus and Tertullian (de Carne christi 6, 8).

40. Ap. i.26.

41. I. c. the Catholics (Tert. adv. Marc. iv.5).

42. Their Bible had no Old Testament, and only a mutilated edition of the Gospel according to Luke and of the ten Epistles of St Paul (Gal., 1, 2Cor., Rom., 1, 2Thess., Eph., Col., Phm., Phil.), the pastoral Epistles being rejected. Marcion’s own book, the Ἀυτιθέσις, was also standard.

43. See Rendel Harris Codex Bezae, p. 232.

44. The writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian only are extant, though Justin Dialogue so describes the Gnostic schools. Eusebius mentions also works by Theophilus of Antioch, Philip of Gortyna, Dionysius of Corinth, Bardesanes, Rhodon, and Hippolytus.

45. Mentioned in the list of Hegesippus (Euseb. H.E. iv.22). Our chief authority is Irenaeus i.20; ii 48—II. vol. i pp. 204 ff., 369 f.; cf. Clem. Al. Strom. iii 2. Dorner calls him ‘a religious genius’. Apart from the usual Gnostic notions of a special secret doctrine and of emanations of angels and powers, the lowest of whom had created the world, the theory of Carpocrates derived its special character from an adaptation of the Platonic conception of Recollection Ἀνάμνησις expressed in the great Phaedrus myth (Plato Phaedrus 246 ff.). The souls of men had been carried round the immaterial heavens, and in their course had been granted vision of the supra-sensual Ideas (Truth, Beauty, Virtue, and the like, as they really, i.e. spiritually, exist). To their recollection of what they then saw, the souls, when joined to bodies, owe all their knowledge of higher than mundane things. Those that are able to reach the Ideas receive from above a spiritual Power which renders them superior to the powers of the world. Such a power was received by Homer and Pythagoras, and Plato and Aristotle, and Peter and Paul, as well as pre-eminently by Jesus—the perfect man; and every soul which like Jesus was able to despise the powers of the world would receive the same power. With this conception went also that of Transmigration of souls:—he who has lived in perfect purity goes on death to God; but all other souls must expiate their faults by passing successively into various bodies, till at last they are saved and reach communion with God.

46. See page 78 supra

47. Ophiani (Clem., Orig.), Ophitai (Hippol., Epiph.) worshippers—i.e. of the serpent ; or Naassenes (the Hebrew form of the same word) (see Iren. i 28. 3—II. vol. i p. 232). Hippolytus says they were the first to assume the name ‘Gnostics’, asserting that they alone knew the deep things (v 6). No names of individuals are recorded. The use of the serpent as a religious emblem (a relic of Totemism) was common in countries which were specially receptive of Gnosticism (e.g. among the Phoenicians and Egyptians). The serpent represented the vital principle of nature; and the figure of a circle with a snake in the middle (like the Greek letter 9) symbolised the world. It was said that the Ophites allowed tame snakes to crawl about and ‘sanctify’ the Eucharistic bread; and their teaching and actions no doubt encouraged the belief of the heathen in the tales of debauchery practised at the Christian love-feasts.

48. One of the chief Gnostic works that is extant seems to belong to this Ophite school (though there are in it no signs of its immoral practices). It is entitled Pistis Sophia, i.e. Sophia penitent and believing, and is extant in a Coptic version, though incomplete. It is thought to have been written originally in Greek c. 200 A.D. The work is composed in the form of a dialogue in which the disciples, male and female, put questions to Jesus and elicit answers giving expression to Gnostic conceptions. There is a Latin translation by Schwartze, and an English translation published by the Theosophical Publishing Society.

49. The Basilides of Irenaeus is described as an emanationist and dualist; the Basilides of Hippolytus as an evolutionist and pantheist (Stoic and monistic). So Bigg (p. 27) says the aeons have no place at all in his system, following the account of Hippolytus Refut, Haer. His teaching was probably understood, or developed by his followers, in different ways.

50. Νοῦς, Λογός, Φρόνησις, Σοφία, Δύναμις, Ἀρεταί

51. The whole spiritual world, the totality of spiritual existence, is thus expressed by the mystical watchword often found on Gnostic gems, ‘Abraxas’ (the Sun-God), which stands for 365 according to the Greek reckoning by letters of the alphabet (αl, β = 2, ρ = lOO, ξ = 60, ς = 200).

52. It was also said that he did not suffer himself to be crucified, but substituted Simon of Cyrene in his stead.

53. So Isodorus, the son of Basilides, if not Basilides himself.

54. Mansel Gnostic Heresies p. 165.

55. Of the Valentinian school there are some literary remains. His disciple Heracleon is the earliest commentator on the gospels,—fragments of his work on St John’s Gospel are extant (see the edition of A. E. Brooke Texts and Studies vol. i no. 4). A letter by Ptolemaeus, another disciple, who roused the opposition of Irenaeus, is given by Epiphanius [adv. Haer. xxxiii 3-7); and also an extract from an anonymous work (ibid, xxxi 5, 6). Fragments from Valentinius are in Clem. Strom, ii.8, 20 ; iii.7, 13; vi.6; and Hippolytus vi.29-37. Irenaeus gives a detailed account of the system (i.1-21) and a criticism of it (ii).

56. Αἰῶνες, probably from Plato’s use of the singular ‘aeon’ to express the ever-present form of the divine existence prior to time,—so applied by Valentinus to the manifestations of this existence.

57. Each of these pairs is the consort (σύζυγος) of the other. Their names are as follows. The Ogdoad—Ἄῤῥητος (or βυθός or Πατήρ ἀγέννητος) and Σιγή (or Ἔνοια or χάρις); Νοῦς (or Πατήρ or Μονογενής) and Ἀλήθεια (forming together the highest tetrad, from which proceeds a second tetrad); Λόγος and Ζωή; Ἄνθρωπος and Ἐκλλησία. [the ideal man, the most perfect expression of the divine thought, is the Gnostic—separated from the rest as the Church spiritual man, (the ideal society) is from the world]. The Decad βύθιος and Μίξις; Ἀγήρατος and Ἕνωσις; Αὐτοφής and Ἡδονή; Ἀκίνητος and ῾Σύγκρασις; Μονογενὴς and Μακαρία. The Do-decad—Παράκλητος; Πίστις, Πατρικὸς; and Ἐλπίς; Μητρικὸς and Ἀγάπη; Αἰώνιος and Σύνεσις; Ἐκκληεσιαστικός and Μακαριότης, Θελητὸς and Σοφία. The term βυθός (the abyss) for the first great cause, expresses the infinite fulness of life, the ideal, where the spirit is lost in contemplation. See Irenaeus, i.1.1 (Epiph. adv. Haer. xxxi); of. Tert. adv. Valent.

58. It is in connexion with this conception, with special reference to the idea that the crucifixion under Pontius Pilate was only of the animal and fleshly Christ—a delineation of what the higher Christ had experienced in the higher, the real, world—that Tertullian styles them Christians in imagination rather than in reality. “Ita omnia in imagines urgent, plane et ipsi imaginarii Christiani” (adv. Valent. 27; cf. Ignatius loc. cit. supra.)

59. The accounts differ in details. All that is clear is ἡ κάτω σοφία, that as having been in the Pleroma, has in her something of the spiritual or real existence, and therefore imparts to the matter into which she falls the seed of life.

60. This is what was visible in Jesus. According to Irenaeus (i.1.13—H. vol. i p. 61) the nature of Christ, as conceived by Valentinus, was fourfold: (1) a πνεῦμα or spiritual principle (such as was derived from Achamoth); (2) a ψυχή or animal soul derived from the Demiurge; (3) a heavenly body, formed by a special dispensation, visible, tangible, passible, not of the substance of the Virgin—who was only the channel by which it came into the world; (4) the pre-existent Saviour who descended in the form of a dove at the Baptism and withdrew with the spiritual principle before the Crucifixion. (There was thus no real humanity or body; it was only apparent, docetic.)

61. Iren. ii.39—H. vol. i, p. 345

62. Of the school of Valentinus was Theodotus, whose writings were well known to Clement. See the Excerpta ex Scriptis Theodoti (extracts made perhaps by Clement for his own use); Migne P. G. ix pp. 653-698. An account of his system in Bigg I.c. p. 31ff.

63. E.g. Loofs, p. 73.

64. See King Gnostic Gems. So Dorner Person of Christ Eng. tr. vol. i p. 254 writes “hardly any one could wish that the Church might have escaped the Gnostic storms”.

65. See Harnack’s account of the results—DG. Eng. tr. vol. ii p. 317.

66. Before Gnosticism the term Logos (cf. St John’s Gospel) seems to have been little used and taken rather in the sense of Reason. Christ was more commonly spoken of in this connexion as the Wisdom (cf. 1Cor. 1.24, Col. 2.3, Matt. 14.9, Luke 1.35, 11.49).

67. Dorner (i, p. 252) points out the witness both of Ebionism and of Gnosticism to the Christological conceptions of the early Church. Ebionism asserted that the genuine Church truth held only the humanity of Christ. This clearly shews that the humanity was universally acknowledged—otherwise Ebionism could not, in laying stress on this, have claimed a Christian character. Gnosticism, on the other hand, proposed to find the deeper meaning of Christianity by emphasising the higher element in Christ. This presupposes that the Church recognized this element, but did not give it adequate expression from attaching weight also to the humanity.


Chapter 7

Attempts to Maintain, on ‘Monarchian’ Lines, alike the Oneness and Sole Rule of God and the Divinity of Christ

Monarchianism 

It was in conflict with Monarchianism that the doctrine of the Logos (and of the Trinity) was developed. Against Gnosticism, with its number of ‘aeons’ intermediate between God and Creation, the champions of the primitive Christian faith in the second century were driven to insist on the sole and independent and absolute existence and being and rule of God. “On the Monarchy of God” was the title of a treatise written at this time, it is said, by Irenaeus to a presbyter of Rome, Florinus, who had been led to Gnostic views. One God there was, and one God only, who made and rules the world, and Christians could recognize none other gods but Him: and it was possible to hold this belief without believing that this one God was the maker of evil.1

So, in origin, Monarchianism was an orthodox reaction to an earlier tradition. But it was soon turned against the orthodox themselves.2

The doctrine of the divinity of Christ, accepted at first without precision of statement by the consciousness of Christians, when subjected to closer logical examination, seemed to be irreconcilable with the belief in the unity of God, and so to endanger the dominant principle that God is One. Many who differed in other ways agreed in their dread of undermining this belief. Tertullian describes them as “simple folk (not to call them shortsighted and ignorant) of whom the majority of believers is always composed”, who “since the very Creed itself brings them over from the many gods of the world to the one true God, not understanding that He is to be believed as one, but in connexion with His own ‘economy’, are afraid of the divine ‘economy.’3 And so they keep saying that two—yea, three—gods are preached by us, while they themselves profess to be worshippers of the one God. We hold fast, they say, to the Monarchy”. So Hippolytus described Zephyrinus, on account of similar fears, as “an ignorant man inexperienced in the definitions of the Church;” and Origen wrote of the matter as “one which disturbed many who, while they boasted of their devotion to God, were anxious to guard against the confession of two gods.4 Such men accordingly were called ‘Monarchians ‘, and during the third century the Church had to devote itself to the attempt to attain a true conception of God, consistent with the unity of His being, and yet with the divinity of Christ.

To Monarchians two alternatives were open. They might defend the monarchy by denying the full divinity of Christ, or reducing it to a quality or force: or else they might maintain the divinity to the full, but deny it any individual existence apart from God the Father. So we find two classes of Monarchians, akin respectively to the Ebionites and to the Gnostics. The one class (rationalist or dynamic Monarchians5) resolved the divinity of Christ into a mere power bestowed on him by God, while admitting his supernatural generation by the Holy Spirit, and regarded Jesus as attaining the status of Son of God rather than by essential nature being divine. Of such were the Alogi, Theodotus, Artemon, and Paul of Samosata. The other class, merging the divinity of Christ into the essence of the Father, recognized no independent personality of Christ, regarding the Incarnation as a mode of the existence or manifestation of the Father. To this class belong Praxeas, Noetus, Callistus, Beryllus, and Sabellius. They are known as Patripassians (see infra p. 103 n. 2), or Sabellians (from the chief exponent of the system in its most developed form), or ‘modalistic’ Monarchians.

The Alogi

The earliest representatives of these Monarchians seem to have been the ‘Alogi’, so called because they rejected not the Logos doctrine altogether, but the Gospel of St John, which was its strongest apostolic witness. They believed Cerinthus to have been the author of it, and based their doctrine on the Synoptic Gospels only, accepting the supernatural birth, and in some sense the divinity, but not the developed Logos doctrine, nor the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. They did not, probably, admit distinctions within the Godhead; such deity as resided in Christ being the deity of the Father, pre-existent therefore, and brought into peculiar union with the man Jesus, but whether in that union remaining personal or being a mere force seems not to be determined. And so the Alogi were possibly the point of departure for both forms of Monarchian thought; but very little is known about them, and it is not clear that they ever existed as a definite sect at all.6

(a) Dynamic Monarchianism

Theodotians

Theodotus, the first representative of the dynamic Monarchians whose name is recorded, was described by Epiphanius as an ‘offshoot of the heresy of the Alogi’, and by the author of the Little Labyrinth as the captain and father of this God-denying heresy’. In common with the Alogi he laid most stress on the reality of the human nature and life of Christ and the Synoptists’ record, and while refusing the title God to him believed he was at baptism endowed with superhuman power.7 He was a leather-seller who came to Rome, and was excommunicated by the Bishop Victor (c. 195), himself a ‘modalist’.

The same views were held by a second Theodotus, a banker at Rome, a student of the Peripatetic philosophy and a critic and interpreter of Scripture8 in the time of Zephyrinus (199-217).

The Theodotians regarded the Logos as identical with the Father, having no personal existence of his own, but only the ‘circumscription’9 of the Father attaching to him from eternity in which alone we are enabled to know God. That is to say, the Logos is a ‘limitation’ of the Father—the infinitude of God brought, as it were, within bounds. In effect, the Logos is God in the aspect of revelation to man. It was the image of the Logos that Christ bore. In becoming incarnate in him the Logos took not only flesh but personality from man, and used it for the purpose of his mission. The person of Christ is thus entirely human, with the Logos as controlling Spirit. Similar incarnations had taken place in the prophets.

Artemon

Artemon (al. Artemas), a later member of the school at Rome, asserted that it was an innovation to designate Christ ‘God,’ appealed to Scripture and the Apostle’s preaching, and tried to prove that all the Roman bishops down to Victor had been of his opinion. This attempt to claim the authority of Scripture and tradition for such views was vigorously contested of the Little Labyrinth,10 who aimed at shewing; that from the earliest limes Christians had regarded Christ as God, and he succeeded so far at least that this form of Monarchianism soo passed into obscurity in Rome. The explanation that Christ was supernaturally born, superior in sinlessness and virtue to the prophets, and so attaining to unique dignity, but yet a man, not God—this was felt to be no adequate interpretation of the power wielded in his lifetime and ever since over the minds and hearts of men. Yet in the West it lingered; and the hold which it had is shewn by the fact that Augustine, a little time before his conversion, actually thought it was the Catholic doctrine. “A man of excellent wisdom, to whom none other could be compared” he thought a true description of Christ, “especially because he was miraculously born of a virgin, to set us an example of despising worldly things for the attainment of immortality”. . . . And he held that he merited the highest authority as a teacher, “not because he was the Person of Truth, but by some great excellence and perfection of this human nature, due to the participation of wisdom.”11

Paul of Samosata

Of this dynamic or rationalist Monarchianism—the most influential teacher was a Syrian; Paul of Samosata, a man of affairs as well as a theologian, for some years Bishop of Antioch and chancellor to Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, to whose kingdom Antioch at this time belonged.12 Following Artemon, and laying all stress on the unity of God as a single person, he denied any ‘hypostasis’ of the wisdom or Logos of God—regarding the intelligence or reason in the human heart as analogous. They could not ever come into personal existence; even though he might be called the Son of God, such a title was only a description of the high nature of the power of the divine Logos. A real incarnation of the Logos was thus impossible; He existed in Jesus not essentially or personally, but only as a quality.13 The personality of Jesus was entirely human;14 it was not that the Son of God came down from heaven, but that the Son of man ascended up on high. The divine power within him grew greater and greater as the course of his human development proceeded, till at last through its medium he reached divinity.15 Whether this goal was attained after the Baptism or not till after the Resurrection is not decided; but the union, such as it is, between God the Supreme and Christ the Son of God is one of disposition and of will—the only union possible, in the thought of Paul, between two persons.

He was thus represented as teaching that Jesus Christ was ‘from below’, and that the Son was non-existent before the Nativity; and the synods which considered his conceptions were at pains to maintain the distinct individual existence of the Logos as Son of God before all time, who had himself taken active personal part in the work of Creation, and was himself incarnate in Jesus Christ.16

His condemnation by no means disposed of his views.17 If we cannot say with certainty that he is the direct ancestor of Arianism, we know that Arius and the chief members of the Arian party had been pupils of Lucian (a native of the same city of Samosata), who, while Paul was bishop, was head of the theological school of Antioch, and seems to have combined the Monarchian adoptionism of Paul with conceptions of the person of Christ derived from Origen;18 while in the great theologians of Antioch, a century later still, a portion of the spirit of Paul of Samosata lived again, and in the persons of Theodore and Nestorius19 was again condemned.

(b) Modalistic Monarchainism

The rationalist or ‘dynamic’ form of Monarchian teaching was so obviously destructive of the real divinity of Jesus that it can scarcely have been a serious danger to the faith in the Incarnation. Much more likely to attract devout and earnest thinkers was the ‘modalistic’ doctrine. While maintaining the full divinity of Christ it was safe from the reproach of ditheism, and free from all connexion with emanation theories and subordination. The doctrine of an essential or immanent Trinity (the conception of three eternal hypostases) had not as yet been realized in full consciousness. The chief concern of the exponents of Christian doctrine had been to establish the personal pre-existence of Christ and his essential unity with the Father (against Ebionism), and so the distinction between him and the Father might be somewhat blurred; and though, of course, opposition to Ebionism was never carried so far as to ignore the real humanity of Christ, still it would tend to relegate to the background the evidence for the distinction between the Father and the Son which is implied in the incarnation. And to all who felt the infinite value of the atonement effected by Christ—the power of the death upon the Cross—the theory which seemed to represent the Father Himself as suffering would appear to furnish a more adequate explanation of the facts than Ebionism had to offer.20 So it is easy to understand the great impression which was made by the earliest representatives of the ‘modalistic’ school of thought, Noetus and Praxeas,21 both of whom came from Asia Minor (the home of Monarchian views) to Rome towards the end of the second century.

Praxeas and Noetus

Praxeas, already a confessor for the faith, was welcomed in Rome, and with the information he was able to give of the excesses of the Montanists in the East proved to be a strong opponent of the new movement which was then threatening the order of the Church. The ‘modalism’ which he represented was for some time prevalent and popular at Rome, and it appears that the erroneous character of his teaching was not discovered till after his departure to Carthage. Early in the third century22 Tertullian wrote against him (using his name as a label for the heresy and in epigrammatic style described him as having done ‘two jobs for the devil at Rome’—”He drove out prophecy and introduced heresy he put to flight the Paraclete and crucified the Father”. In this rhetorical phrase he expressed the inference which was promptly drawn from the teaching of Praxeas and Noetus. If it was the case that the one God existed in two ‘modes’, and the Son was identical with the Father, then the Father Himself had been born, and had suffered and died. Hence the nickname Patripassians,23 which was generally applied in the West to this school of Monarchians. In word, at all events, it was unfair. While denying the existence of any real distinction in the being of God Himself (which would amount, they thought, to ‘duality’, however disguised), they seem to have admitted a distinction (dating at least from the Creation) between the invisible God and God revealed in the universe, in the theophanies of the Old Testament, and finally in the human body in Christ; and the name Father was restricted to the invisible God, who in revelation only could be called the Logos or the Son. A compromise perhaps was found24 in the that the Father, unborn, invisible (Though as Spirit, as invisible God, He could not suffer) somehow participated in the sufferings of Christ, the Son who was born—”The Son suffers, the Father however shares in the suffering;” though really in such a compromise the essential principle of Modalism would be lost.25

Noetus, however, when brought face to face with the logical issue, seems to have scorned all compromise. There was one God, the Father, invisible or manifesting Himself as He pleased, but whether visible or invisible, begotten or unbegotten, always the same. The Logos is only a designation of God when He reveals Himself to the world and to men. The Father, so far as He deigns to be born, is the Son. He is called Son for a certain time, and in reference to His experiences on earth; the Son, or Christ, is therefore the Father veiled in flesh, and it was the Father Himself who became man and suffered. The distinction seems accordingly to be not merely nominal, but is connected with the history and process of redemption, though it leaves the Incarnation on an act of will. The two dependent great aims of these Monarchians—to safeguard the unity of God (against what they regarded as the di-theistic tendencies of their opponents), and to uphold the divinity of Christ—are curiously shewn in the two different versions which have come to us of the answer which Noetus made to his assailants.—”Why! what harm have I done? I believe in one God”—so Epiphanius reports him; or ” Why! what harm am I doing in glorifying Christ?”—as Hippolytus gives his words.26

Sabellius and his followers

For these two aims so much support could naturally be obtained, that in spite of excommunication the teaching of Noetus was carried on by his pupil Epigonus and later by Cleomenes and Sabellius as heads of the party at Rome. What exactly each contributed we cannot tell: even of Sabellius the full accounts belong to the fourth century.27 To him the developed form of the teaching—embracing the whole Trinity—seems to be due,28 and it is by his name that the champions of the theory were best known throughout the East (‘Patripassians’ or ‘Monarchians’ being the usual designation in the West).

God is, according to his teaching, essentially one, and the Trinity which he recognises is a Trinity not of essence but of revelation; not in the essential relations of the Deity within itself, but in relation to the world outside and to mankind. The relations expressed by the three names are coordinate, forming together a complete description of the relations of the one self-evolving God to all outside Him.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are simply designations of three different phases under which the one divine essence reveals itself—three names of one and the same being.29 He seems to have adopted the language of the Church so far as to speak of three ‘persons’, using the term πρόσωπα, but in so different a sense (meaning parts or roles of manifestation rather than ‘persons’) that the word was altogether discredited in the East. These different parts or functions were assumed to meet the varying needs of the occasion; one and the same God appearing now as Father, now as Son, and now as Holy Spirit, The account that Basil gives implies a merely temporary assumption of each part, but it is possible that Sabellius taught30 that God had, rather, put forth His activity in separate stages: first, in the ‘person’ of the Father as Creator and Lawgiver; secondly, in the ‘person’ of the Son as Redeemer (in the work of the Incarnation up to the Ascension); and thirdly, after the redemption was effected, in the ‘person’ of the Spirit as giver and preserver of life. In any case it is clear that there is no permanence about such ‘personalities’. There is no real incarnation; no personal indissoluble union of the Godhead with the Manhood took place in Christ. God only manifested Himself in Christ, and when the part was played and the curtain fell upon that act in the great drama there ceased to be a Christ or Son of God. This conception of a merely transitory personality of Christ31 (which seems to involve the negation of an eternal personal life for any one) is essentially pantheistic. All the Monarchian theories really strike in this way at the root of the Christian interpretation of life. If God Himself, as final being, as a whole, so to speak, comes forth in revelation and nothing is left behind, then God passes over into the world and becomes the world, and nothing but the world is left. It is clearly impossible, on any Christian theory of the world and of the divine economy, that God should exist even for a moment only in a single mode, or that the Incarnation should be only a temporary and transient manifestation.

And, further, Sabellianism, in recognizing only a Trinity in human experience, disregards the fact that such a Trinity of revelation is only possible if the very being of the Godhead, which is thus revealed, is itself a Trinity.

Partial Sympathy with Sabellianism at Rome

In Rome, though the fierce opposition of Hippolytus32 got little support, and Callistus33 at first was favourable to the modalistic conceptions, Sabellius was condemned and excommunicated, and the Monarchians soon found few followers in the West,34 though, as Harnack points out, the hold which they had had for twenty or thirty years on the Roman Church left a permanent mark. It was Rome that condemned Origen, the ally of Hippolytus. Rome was invoked against Dionysius of Alexandria. Rome and the West were chiefly responsible for the ὁμοούσιον formula of Nicaea (so long opposed as Sabellian). Rome received Marcellus, who carried out the Sabellian principles, and rejected τρεῖς ὑπόστασεις and supported the Eustathians at Antioch, And finally, it was with Rome that Athanasius was most at one. Indeed, Sabellianism no doubt prepared the way for the Nicene theology—the full recognition of the truth underlying the principles of modalism being a necessary step in that direction; though it also led immediately, on the other hand, to the development of the Origenistic Christology in the direction of Arianism. One of the intermediate stages—the prelude to the Arian struggle—was the controversy between Dionysius of Alexandria and Dionysius of Rome.

Novation

That the Sabellian view did not prevail at Rome is seen from the treatise On the Trinity by Novatian, the most learned of the presbyters of Rome in the middle of the third century. It is the theology of Africa—an ‘epitome of Tertullian’s work’, as Jerome styled it. It professes to be an exposition of the Rule of Faith, and as such includes “a doctrine of God in the sense of the popular philosophy, a doctrine of the Trinity like Tertullian’s (though without all his technical terms), and the recognition of the true manhood of Christ along with his true God-head” (Loofs). His doctrine of the Trinity can, however, still be described as ‘economic’ rather than essential. Though he regards the existence (or generation) of the Son as eternal in the past, he speaks of the future consummation as though the distinction of persons (Father and Son) would cease. The idea of communio substantiae (ὁμοουσία) is combined with that of subordination. It is clear that he makes it his special concern to oppose Sabellianism, and to maintain the personality of the Son. So he keeps the personarum distinctio, speaks of Christ as secunda persona post patrem and of the proprietas personae suae, and regards the union in its moral aspect as concord. He even speaks of the Son as proceeding from the Father when the Father willed. But at the same time he insists on the substantiae communio. In respect of the person of Christ he is concerned to maintain both the true deity and the true humanity—the filius dei and the filius hominis. The union is emphasized—the filius hominis is made by it the filius dei— but the nature of the union is not discussed. The doctrine of the Logos falls into the background. [The authority of Jerome de Vir. III. c. 70. who names the treatise as Novatian’s, while he notes that many “Who did not know thought it was Cyprian’s (or Tertullian’s) may be accepted, in spite of more modern doubts; cf. Harnack Gesch. der alt christ. Litteratur i 652-656. The treatise is printed in Migne P.L. iii 885-952. With it may be compared the Tractatus Origenis discovered by Batifol and ascribed by Weyman to Novatian, though Dom Butler with greater probability assigns it to an anonymous writer of the fifth or sixth century. See J.T.S. vol. ii pp. 113ff. and 254ff.]

This work of Novatian is described by Harnack as creating for the West a dogmatic vade mecum. 

The Theology of Hippolytus

It is worth while over against the theories of the Noetians; and Sabellians to set the theory of their uncompromising opponent, Hippolytus—whose own theology gave almost equal offence and was charged with ditheism. It is to be found in his Refutatio Haeresium and in his sermon against Noetus (which was earlier and less definite, but expresses the same views, often in the same words). For his Christology, see especially Ref. Haer. x.33, and c. Noet. 10-15. The following is a summary of Dillinger’s account in his Hippolytus and Callistus.

God—one and only—originally was alone, nothing contemporary with him. All existed potentially in him and he himself was all.

From the first he contained the Logos in himself as his still unsounding voice, his not yet spoken word, and together with him the yet unexpressed idea of the universe which dwelt in him.

This Logos—the intelligence, the wisdom of God—without which he never was, went out from him according to the counsels of God—i.e. ὅτε ἠθέλησεν, καθὼς ἠθέλησεν—in the times determined beforehand by him, as his first begotten—prince and lord of the creation that was to be. He had within him as a voice the ideas conceived in the Father’s being, and in response to the Father’s bidding thereby created the world in its unity ἀρέσκων θεῷ.

The whole is thus the Father, but the Logos is a power proceeding from the whole—the intelligence of the Father, and therefore his ὁυσία, whereas the world was created out of nothing.

There was thus another God by the side of the first, not as if there were two Gods, but as a light from the Light, water from the Fountain, the beam from the Sun. He was the perfect, only-begotten Logos of the Father, but not yet perfect Sonthat he first became when he became man. Nevertheless God already called him Son because he was to be born (c. Noet. 15).

Hippolytus thus distinguishes three stages or periods of development in the second hypostasis—the Logos:—

(1) He is still impersonal in indistinguishable union with God as the divine intelligence: potentially as the future personal Logos—and inherently as the holder of the divine ideas (patterns after which the universe was to be created).

(2) God becomes Father, by act of will operating upon his being—i.e. he calls his own intelligence to a separate hypostatic existence, placing him as ἕτερος over against himself: yet only in such wise as a part of a whole which has acquired an existence of its own—the whole remaining undiminished: as the beam and the Sun. The Logos has thus become hypostatic for the purpose of the manifestation of God in creation: and the third moment ensues.

(3) The Incarnation—in which he first completes himself as the true and perfect Son; so that it is also through the Incarnation that the idea of the divine Fatherhood is first completely realized.

Objectionable or doubtful points in this view are—

(1) the existence of the Logos as a person is προαιώνιος before all time, but not from eternity ὑῖδιος;

(2) strict subordination: the Son is merely a force to carry out the Father’s commands; (3) the Trinitarian relation is not original in the very being of God, but comes into existence through successive acts of the divine will; (4) his representation of the Logos as the κόσμος νοητός—the centre of the ideas of the universe or the universe conceived ideally,—which is foreign to primitive Christian tradition, being borrowed from Philo,—is not really balanced by his maintenance of the substantial equality of Father and Son.

Specially objectionable is (3) (an idea which was later a main prop of Arianism), as it leaves open the possibility for the Logos to have remained in his original impersonal condition, and so for the Son never to have come to any real hypostatic existence, i.e. for God to have remained without a Son. Hence arose later the fierce contest for or against the proposition that the Father brought forth the Son by an act of his own free-will: on which see infra p. 194.

And thus Hippolytus was viewed with suspicion, although the Church was wont then to be very tolerant of attempts made by Christians of philosophic culture to explain the mystery of the Trinity by the help of Platonic speculations.

Beryllus

A kind of midway position seems to have been occupied by thinkers of whom we have a representative in Beryllus, Bishop of Bostra in Arabia, a learned writer and administrator of high repute. Almost all that we know of his teaching is expressed in a sentence of Eusebius (H.E. vi.33; cf vi.20) recording that “he dared to assert that our Saviour and Lord did not pre-exist in an individual existence of his own35 before his coming to reside among men, and that he did not possess a divinity of his own, but only that of the Father dwelling in him”. This seems to indicate a semi-Monarchian or conciliatory tendency, rejecting the doctrine of the hypostatical existence of the Logos, but repelled by the hypothesis of an incarnation of God the Father Himself, and so seeking a solution in the recognition of (1) a distinct personality after—though not before—the Incarnation, and (2) an efllux from the divine essence of the Father rather than whole deity in Christ. Thus a divine power was, as it were, sunk into the limitations of human nature and so became a person. Dorner regards Beryllus as a connecting link between the Patripassians, who allowed no πρόσωπον side by side with the πατρική θεότης, and Sabellius, with his recognition of a  distinct πρόσωπον or περγραφή both of the Logos and of the Spirit. Origen is said to have convinced him of his error at a synod held c. 244.

Monarchian Exegesis

The Monarchians claimed, of course, to have the authority of Scripture —on their side. Praxeas seems to have depended chiefly on the texts:—”I am the Lord and there is none else; beside me there is no God” (Isa. 45.5) “I and the Father are one” (John 10.30); “Shew us the Father. . . Have I been so long with you. . . and dost thou not know me? I am in the Father, and the Father in me ” (John 14.9-10). Against his interpretation of such passages, see Tertullian chs. xxi-xxiv. Other texts which Noetus used were Ex. 3.6 20.2, Isa. 44.6 45.14; Bar. 3.36; Rom. 9.5 (Christ—God over all)—see Hippolytus contra Noetum.

Lucian

Lucian appears after the deposition of Paul, to have been in a state of suspended communion for some time, but to have been ultimately reconciled to the bishop. He was a man of deep learning and ascetic life, held in the highest honour by his pupils, and his death (7th January 312), as one of the last victims in the persecution begun by Diocletian, won for his memory universal esteem. For our knowledge of his teaching we have little first-hand evidence. On two vital points he seems to have been much nearer the Catholic doctrine than was Paul, recognizing the personality of the Logos and his incarnation in the historical Christ (in whom he was as soul, having taken to himself a human body). But nonetheless he did not regard the Christ as essentially one with the eternal God, clinging to the conception of a perfect human development (προκοπή) as the means by which he reached divinity and he seems to have distinguished between the Word or Son;—in Christ (the offspring of the Father’s will) and the immanent Logos the reason of God. So it is said to have been counted a departure from Lucian’s principles to acknowledge the Son as ‘the perfect image of the Father’s essence’, though this phrase is used in the Creed of the Council of Antioch (341), which was believed to have been based on Lucian’s teaching, if not his very composition, (See Sozomen H.E. iii 5 and vi 12; but possibly it was the fourth Creed, in which there is no such clause, that was Lucian’s, and not the second. So Kattenbusch, see Hahn p. 187.)

He is probably fairly described as ‘the Arius before Arius (Harnack DG. ii p. 182), and among his pupils were, besides Arius himself, Asterius, the first Arian writer, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea, Maris of Chalcedon, and Athanasius of Anazarba. His activity in textual criticism and exegesis is certain, whether there was actually produced in his famous academy a revision of the text of the New Testament (the ‘Syrian’ Text) or not (see Westcott and Hort Introduction to the New Testament pp. 138, 182).

Paul of Samosata and the term ὁμοούσιος

The Council which condemned Paul condemned also the use of the word Homoousios to express the relation between Christ and God the Father. But whether it was that Paul had used the word himself, or that he was able to produce ingenious arguments against it, must remain uncertain. The accounts of Athanasius, Hilary, and Basil are at variance.

Athanasius (de Syn. § 45), having said that he has not himself seen the bishops’ letter, accepts the statement of the Semi-Arians that it was rejected because it was taken in a material sense, and Paul used the sophistical reasoning that “if Christ did not become God after starting as man, he is Homoousios with the Father, and there must be three Ousiai, one principal and the two derived from it”, so that to guard against such a piece of sophistry they said that Christ was not Homoousios—the Son being related to the Father as Paul imagined.

Hilary (de Syn. §§ 81, 86) implies that the word was used by Paul himself to express the idea that the Father and Son were of one single and solitary being. (But this seems to be more like the teaching of Sabellius than the teaching of Paul.)

It seems possible that objection was taken to Paul’s reasoning that the Logos was one person with God as the reason is one with man, on the ground that the doctrine of the Church required one God but more than one πρόσωπον, and that to neet this objection he recognised such πρόσωπα—God and Christ standing over against each other as Homoousioi—meaning alike personal (οὐσία being taken in the sense of particular, individual being); (τόδε τι) This would be, in the opinion of the opponents, to introduce a human personality into the Godhead, and so the word would be rejected. (It is of course quite clear that if ούσία were taken in the sense of substance or essence, Paul would not have accepted the term).

Basil (Ep. 52 [30])—so far agreeing with the account that Athanasius gives—regards Paul as bringing argument against the word which was certainly familiar in later times, viz.—that if Christ was not made God out of (after being) man, but was Homoousios, then there must have been some common substance (Ousia) of which they both partook, distinct from and prior to the divine persons themselves, and that out of it two beings—the Father and the Son—were produced as two coins are struck out of the same metal.

The term may therefore have been withdrawn as being likely to perplex weak minds. So Bull Def. N. C. ii.1 and Newman Arians ch. i suggest. In any case, as Athanasius insists, caring, as always, little for the words and much for the sense, it was capable of being understood in different ways, and it was rejected in one sense by those who condemned the Samosatene and championed in another sense by those who resisted the Arian heresy. “It is unbecoming to make the one conflict with the others, for all are fathers; nor is it pious to determine that the one spoke well and the others ill, for all of them fell asleep in Christ” (de Syn. § 43). “Yes, surely each Council has a sufficient reason for its own language.”

[The tradition that the use of the term ὁμοούσιος was considered and disapproved by the Council of Antioch has recently been questioned by Dr. Strong in the Journal of Theological Studies  vol. iii p. 292. There does not seem, however, to be sufficient reason to doubt what Athanasius, Hilary, and Basil accepted as an awkward fact which they had to explain as best they could, though the Acts of the Council contain no reference to the matter, and the positive evidence for it comes to us from Arian sources.]


Footnotes to Chapter 7

1. The full title of the treatise is given by Eusebius H.E. v 20, ‘Concerning Monarchia, or that God is not the Author of Evil Things’. It is clear (though Eusebius misunderstood the difficulty of Florinus) that Irenaeus wrote to shew that the belief in a single first principle did not necessarily lead to the conclusion that evil was His work.

2. So Tertullian adv. Prax. 1 that the Devil, who vies with the truth in various ways says, makes himself the champion of the doctrine that God is One, in order to manufacture heresy out of the word ‘one’.

3. οἰκονομία—the providential ordering and government of the world, so the plan or system of revelation, so especially in the Incarnation tert. adv. Prax 3.

4. Origen on John 2.2.

5. Harnack labels them ‘Adoptionist’, but the title does not seem to be specially appropriate to them, and it belongs peculiarly and by common consent to a mode of thought of later date.

6. ‘Alogi’ is nicknamed by Epiphanius adv. Haer. 51. It is uncertain from what source he derived his information about this school of thinkers, and it is possible that, with his love for rigid classification, he is mistaken in representing them as a definite sect. But Irenaeus adv. Haer. iii.11, H. ii p. 51 (misunderstood by Harvey of the Montanists) seems to justify his account in this respect.

7. He is said by Tertullian de Praescr. 53 to have regarded Christ as a mere man, though born of the Virgin. But neither he nor any of the school really held Christ to be an ordinary man. Their creed was probably: Jesus miraculously born, equipped by baptism, and prepared for exaltation by the resurrection (so that the title God might be given him when risen); stress being laid on his moral development (προκοπή) and the moral proof of his sonship—by growth in character he grew to be divine.

8. On the biblical criticism and textual ‘corrections’ and dialectic method of the Theodotians, see Euseb. H.E 5.28.13, quoting the Little Labyrinth. The author of this refutation of their teaching charged them with falsifying and corrupting the Scriptures, and with preferring Euclid and Aristotle and Galen to the sacred writers. The charge may be true; but it is at least possible that they were genuine biblical critics making bona fide attempts to secure the true text in an uncritical age, and to apply scientific methods of interpretation. So Harnack is disposed to hail them as better scholars than their opponents (DG. Eng. tr. vol. iii p. 25). They themselves, in turn, after the time of Zephyrinus, brought a counter-charge against the Roman Church, accusing it of having recoined the truth, like forgers, by omitting the word One with God in the primitive Creed (so Zahn Apostles’ Creed Eng. tr. p. 35).

9. περιγραφή is the word used see infra p. 110 n. 1.

10. Anonymous, perhaps by Hippolytus (c. 230 or 240); extracts in Euseb. H.E. v.28.

11. Augustine Confessions, vii.19 [25], ed. Bigg.

12. See Euseb. H.E. vii 30. He was appointed bishop in 260, and deposed on account of his heretical views by the Council held at Antioch in 268 or 269, two previous synods having proved ineffective. He refused, however, to submit to the decree of deposition, and would not vacate the episcopal residence, and so became the cause of the first appeal by the Church to the civil power, technically on a question of property. After the fall of his protectress Zenobia in 272 Aurelian decided against him; the ecclesiastical fabrics were to belong to the bishop who was recognized as such by the Bishops of Italy and Rome. Political motives, as well as ecclesiastical, probably contributed to this decision. Paul’s fall was one of the early victories of Rome.

13. οὑκ οὐσιωδῶς ἀλλὰ κατὰ ποιότητα.

14. So Eusebius says “he was caught describing Christ as a man, deemed worthy in surpassing measure of divine grace”.

15. Cf. Athanasius de Synodis 26, 45, quoting Macrostich  ἐκ προκοπῆς τεθεοποιῆσθαι—ἐξ ἀνθρώπου γέγονε θεός. See Hahn § 159.

16. See Hahn § 151. See note on Paul’s use of ὀμοούσιος infra p. 111.

17. Harnack points to the Acta Archelai §§ 49, 50, as shewing the prevalence of similar conceptions in the East at the beginning of the fourth century. The Council of Nicaea, by ordering the rebaptism of followers of Paul, treated them as not being Christians at all.

18. See Additional note on Lucian infra p. 110.

19. Paul seems to be differentiated from Nestorius chiefly by the denial of the personality of the Logos.

20. The unreflecting faith of the Church and the vagueness of its doctrine at this time is shewn in the phrases used by Irenaeus (e.g. ‘mensura Patris filius’) and Clement of Alexandria (e.g. ‘the Son is the countenance of the Father’) and Melito (θεὸς πέπονθεν ὑπὸ δεξιᾶς ἱσρεηλἰτιδος).

21. Our knowledge of Noetus comes from Hippolytus (Ref. Ηaer. ix ad init., x.23, 72. and the special treatise c. Noεt.). Hippolytus does not mention Praxeas, against whom Tertullian wrote as the originator of the heresy, without mentioning Noetus. Probably Praxeas had founded no school at Rome, and Hippolytus had no knowledge of him.

22. The exact date is uncertain—c. 210 Harnack.

23. Those who Origen explains Patripassiani as those who identify the Father and the Son and represent them as one person under two different names. They did not themselves accept the inference; e.g. Zephyrinus avowed, “I know one God Christ Jesus, and besides him no other originate and passible”,—but also, “It was not the Father who died, but the Son.” In two cases only that are known to us was the Creed expanded (to exclude the idea that the Father suffered) by the addition of the words ‘invisible’ and ‘impassibile’ to the first article: viz. in the Creed of the Church of Aquileia (Hahn p. 42), and in the Creed of Auxentius, the semi-Arian predecessor of Ambrose as bishop of Milan, whose Creed may bo the baptismal Creed of Cappadocia (Hahn p. 148).

24. Possibly by Callistus, whose modified ‘Praxeanism’ Tertullian is thought to be attacking under the name of Praxaes. “Filius patitur, pater vero compatitur.” “Compassus est pater filio.”

25. It involves a distinction in the person of the Lord between Christ the divine and Jesus the human—the latter suffering actually, the former indirectly; the latter being the Son (the flesh) and the former the Father (the spirit). Cf. Irenaeus, Hahn p. 7. Cf. the Arian conception—the Logos compatitur with the human which. patitur in the person of Christ. See Hahn § 161 (the Synod of Sirmium 357), and infra pp. 180, 181 notes.

26. τί οὖν κακόν πεποίηκα´ἕνα θεόν δοχάζω—Epiphanius  τί οὖν κὰκον ποιῶ δοξάζων τὸν Χριστόν—Hippolytus.

27. He was by birth a Libyan of Pentapolis in Africa, active at Rome in the early part of the third century (c. 198-217). Of his writings, if he wrote anything, phrases may be extant in Hippolytus (Ref. Haer. ix) and in Athanasius (e.g. Or. c. Ar. iv)—the earliest accounts of him. Cf. Basil Epp.. 210, 214, 235 ; Epiph. adv. Haer. 62. It is probable that ideas of which Marcellus was the originator have been erroneously attributed to him, but Athanasius (l. c. esp. §§ 13, 14, 25) certainly says that conceptions of expansion and contraction were taught by Sabellius, and not, as some have argued, that their natural consequences were Sabellian.

28. It is possible that he went beyond Noetus only in including the Holy Spirit in theory.

29. He even coined a word υἱοπάτωρ (Son-Father) to exclude the thought of two beings.

30. As Harnack understands Epiphanius and Athanasius.

31. Contrast with it the Catholic interpretation according to which Christ is the eternal centre of regenerated humanity.

32. See esp. Ref. Haer. bk. ix, and see Additional Note on Hippolytus infra p. 108.

33. Callistus was bitterly attacked by Hippolytus for his protection of the school of which Epigonus and Cleonienes, and later on Sabellius, had been head. It is probable that Callistus, as Zephyrinus before him, simply wished to secure as much toleration and comprehension as possible, to protect the Church from the rabies theologorum (as Harnack phrases it). The compromise which he attempted has been alluded to above. He was ultimately driven to excommunicate the leaders on either side, both Sabellius and Hippolytus.

34. Cyprian could class Patripassnani with ceterae haereticorum pestes (Ep.73.4).

35. κατ’ ἰδίαν οὐσίας περιγραφήν—περιγραφή primarily ‘limit-line,’ ‘circumscription,’ so used of personal individual existence, regarded as a ‘limitation’ of absolute existence.


Chapter 8

The Correspondence between the Dionysii

The result of the struggle with the Monarchian tendency, which emphasized unduly the unity of the Trinity, was to mark more precisely the distinctions and gradations, so that in some cases a pronounced system of subordination ensued. In the West, as we have seen, the conviction of the unity of essence was too strong for other elements to overpower it; but in the East the fear of Sabellianism and the loss of the personal distinctions which it involved led to the use of phrases which were hardly consistent with the equality of the persons and unity of essence.

A conspicuous example of this tendency we have in Dionysius ‘the Great’, Bishop of Alexandria (247—265 A.D.), who was equally distinguished as a ruler and as a theologian.1 In controverting Sabellianism he used expressions which later on became the watchwords of the Arian party. In his anxiety to maintain the personality of the Son and his distinction from the Father, he said the Son did not exist before he was begotten (or came into being); that there was a time when he did not exist; and he styled him with reference to the Father a thing made (or work), and different (or foreign) in being (οὐσία), and so not of the same being with the Father (homoousion). Jesus himself had said ” I am the vine, my Father is the husband-man”, and so it was right to describe the relation between him and the Father as analogous to that of the vine to the husbandman, or that of the boat to a shipbuilder He insisted on the fact that there were three distinct hypostases in the Godhead, and for these and other similar expressions he was charged with error by Rome members of the Alexandrian Church, and the judgement of the Bishop of Rome, his namesake (Bp. 259-268), was invoked. A synod, accordingly, was held at Rome,which condemned the views reported to it, proclaiming the verbally simple creed that the Father, Son, and Spirit exist, and that the three are at the same time one: and a letter was written by the bishop3 expressing the sentiments of the synod, exposing the erroneous nature of the arguments on which other views depended, and asking for an explanation of the charges. In reply Dionysius of Alexandria composed four books of ‘Refutation and Defence’ against the accusation made by his assailants and in justification of the doctrine he had taught. He carefully explained that the phrases used by him, to which objection had been taken, were only illustrations, to be interpreted in close connexion with their context. He gave them, he says, as examples cursorily; and then dwelt on more apposite and suitable “For I gave comparisons of human birth, evidently as being homogenous, saying that the parents were only other than their children in that they were not themselves the children, . . . and I said that a plant sprung from a seed or root was other than that from which it sprang, and at the same time entirely of one nature with it; and that a stream flowing from a well receives another form and name—for the well is not called a river, nor the river a well—and that both existed, and the well was as it were a father, while the river was water from the well. But they pretend not to see these and the like written statements, . . . and try to pelt me with two unconnected expressions like stones from a distance, not knowing that in matters unknown and needing preparation for their apprehension, frequently not only foreign but even contrary proofs serve to make the of subjects of investigation plain.”4 The word ‘homoousios’ he could not find in the Scriptures, but the sense, as expounded by the Bishop of Rome, he could find and accepted. The word ‘made’ he insisted was applicable to some relations between the Father and the Son, but when he said the Father created all things he did not reduce the Son to the rank of a creature, for the word Father was to be understood to be of significance in relation to the divine nature itself: that is to say, it includes the Son in the creative power; and when he has said Father he has already implied the Son even before he names him—the idea of Father connotes the idea of Son. He also shews his meaning by speaking of the generation of the Son as life from life’, and uses, to express the relation between the Son and the Father, the image of a bright light kindled from an unquenchable light. The life, the light, is one and the same. To the charge of tritheism, and of dividing the divine ‘substance’ into three portions, he answers that if, “because there are three hypostases, any say that they are partitive (divided into portions), three there arc though they like it or not, they must the divine utterly destroy the divine Trinity.”5 So he concludes, “we extend the Monad indivisibly into the Triad and conversely together the Triad without diminution into the Monad”.

It is obvious that the difference between the two bishops was a difference in the use of terms rather than in doctrine.6 The fact that the one was accustomed to speak and think in Greek and the other in Latin is almost enough in itself to account for the misunderstanding.

Ousia—Being, Existence, Essence—was used in two senses, particular and general. In the first sense it meant a particular being or existence or essence, and so in such connexions as this was almost equivalent to our word individual or ‘person’. To that the Son was of the same ousia as the Father would, in this sense of the word, be saying that they were one person,—and so plunging straightway into all the errors of Sabellius; and these were the very errors against which the Alexandrine was contending. But ousia was also used in the more general sense of the being or essence which several particular things or persons might share in common. This was the sense in which the Roman understood substantia, the Latin equivalent of the term, and in this sense Dionysius of Alexandria (though much more willing to declare unity of nature, i.e. much less than substantia meant) was induced to agree to proclaim the Son of one ousia with the Father.

Again, the word ὑπόστασις—hypostasis—could bear two different meanings. Primarily it was that which underlay a thing, which gave it reality and made it what it was. It was generally used by Greeks as almost equivalent to οὐσία in the general sense of underlying principle or essence or being, and the two words are interchangeable as synonyms long after the time at which the Dionysii discussed the matter. But hypostasis (as ousia) could also be used of the underlying character of a particular thing—of a particular essence or being—of individual rather than of general attributes and properties, and so it might bear the sense of ‘person.’In the general sense the Trinity was of course one hypostasis—one God; there could be only one existence or essence that could be called divine. But in the more limited and particular significance of the term the Christian faith required that three hypostases should be confessed, three modes of the one being, three persons making up the one divine existence—a Trinity within the Unity.

The matter was still further complicated as regards the terminology of East and West by the unfortunate translation of the Greek terms into Latin. Abstract terms (as abstract thought) found little favour with the concrete practical Roman. The proper rendering of οὐσία was ‘essentia’ (‘being’, ‘existence’ in the general sense), but though a philosopher here or there (as Cicero) might use the word, it never got acclimatised at Rome,7 and the more concrete term ‘substantia’ (substance)—with some suggestion of material existence—usurped its place. But this was the very word that was the natural equivalent of the Greek ‘hypostasis’. When Dionysius of Rome was told that his brother-bishop spoke of ‘three hypostases’, he could not fail to think he meant three ‘substances’, so dividing up the essence of the Godhead and making three separate Gods, whereas he only meant to express the triune personality. A Latin would of course have said three personae (persons), but the Greek πρόσωπον had (as we have seen) too bad a history,—the Sabellian use of it suggesting merely temporary roles assumed and played by one and the same person, as he pleased.

It was long before Greek-writing theologians themselves came to agreement to use the word ‘hypostasis’ always of the special characteristics and individual existence of each ‘person’ in the Trinity, and to keep οὐσία to express the very being (or the essence of the nature) of the Godhead. Till this was done, and the Latins realized that by hypostasis the Greeks meant what they meant by ‘persona’, and by οὐσία what they meant by ‘substantia’, there remained a constant danger and of misunderstanding and suspicion between the East and the West.

The correspondence between the Dionysii rather exposed this danger than removed it. It was only a few years later, in spite of it, as we have seen, that a council of bishops at Antioch withdrew the word ὁμοούσια from use. The great influence of Origen in the East supported the tendency to emphasise the distinction of persons even at the cost of their unity, so that at Alexandria itself Pierius, his successor, taught that the Father and the Logos were two οὐσία and two natures, and that the Holy Spirit was a third, subordinate to the Son; and Theognostus, in the time of Diocletian, worked out still further the subordination-elements in his theory. Pierius was the teacher of Pamphilus, the presbyter of Caesarea, whose great collection of hooks and devotion to the memory of Origen were inherited by Eusebius,—the spokesman and leader of the great majority of Eastern bishops in the controversy which, during the following century, seemed to threaten the very foundations of the Christian faith. That they did not more quickly appreciate the issues—the inevitable results of Arianism and of a necessity precise terminology to exclude it—was due to their theological lineage: men of whose orthodoxy they had no doubt, whose teaching they revered, whose children they were, had used some of the very terms in which Arius clothed his explanation of the person of Christ.

Before, however, we pass on to the Arian controversy we must retrace our steps in order to review the course of the development of the doctrine of the Logos which had been in progress all through the Monarchian teaching.


Footnotes to Chapter 8

1. He took a leading part in all the controversies of the time, the leading part concerning lapsed, re-baptism, Easter, Paul of Samosata, Sabellianism, and the authorship of the Apocalypse. Many of his letters, festal (ἐπιστολαί εορταστικαί) and others, are mentioned by Eusebius and Jerome (the sixth and seventh books of the history of Eusebius are mainly based on them), but nearly all are lost. Only fragments are extant, e.g. of a treatise περί φύσις—a refutation of materialism and the theory of atoms, of the περὶ ἐπαγγελίον—a thorough rejection of millennial expectations and a vindication of the allegorical interpretation of the prophetic descriptions of the Messianic kingdom (and incidental denial of the Johannine authorship of the Apocalypse).

2. So Athanasius implies, de Syn. 43; but cf. Art ‘Dionysius of Alexandria’ D. C. B.

3. Athanasius de Decr. Nic. 26 gives an extract from it. What more there was can only be inferred from the reply of Dionysius of Alexandria, of which considerable quotations of the most important passages are preserved in Athanasius de Sententia Dionysii (cf. de Synodis 44 and de Decr. Nic. 25), who was at pains to prove the orthodoxy of the great bishop whose authority the Arians claimed. The teachers condemned by the Bishop of Rome are “those who divide and cut in pieces and destroy the most sacred doctrine of the Church of God, the Monarchy, dividing it into three powers (as it were) and partitive ‘hypostases’ and three godheads, . . . and preach in some sense three gods, dividing the holy Monad into three hypostases foreign to each other and utterly separated “. The faith which he maintains is “in God the Father all-sovereign, and in Christ Jesus His Son, and in the Holy Spirit, and that the Logos is united with the God of the universe; … for it must needs be that the divine Logos is united with the God of the universe, and the Holy Spirit must be contained (repose) and dwell in God; and further, it is absolutely necessary that the divine Triad be summed up and gathered together into one, as into a summit, I mean the all-sovereign God of the universe” (Ath. de Decr. 26). It should be noted that Dionysius of Alexandria in the passage quoted uses the words ὁμογενής (and συγγενής) and ὁμοφυής as though they were near equivalents to ὁμοούσιος. This usage is significant. It shews, at least when regarded in connexion with the whole discussion of the question at issue, that he had not fully grasped the conception, which was traditional in the West, of the one substantia of Godhead existing in three personae. He thought more naturally of the three personae of the same genus and nature; that is to say, he was more ready to acknowledge the generic that the essential oneness of the Godhead. See further infra p. 236Note on ὑπόστασις.

4. Ath. de Sent. Dion. 18

5. Basil de Spiritu S. 72

6. Dionysius of Rome contented himself with shewing the false consequences of the teaching attributed to Dionysius of Alexandria. Athanasius at a later date, with fuller knowledge, vindicates the perfect orthodoxy of his predecessor, whether his language might be misunderstood or not.

7. Seneca 58. (Ep. 58, 6) apologises for using the word and shields himself under Cicero’s name, who also used indoloria, saying, “licet enim novis rebus nova nomina imponere” (see Forcellini); and Quintilian (ii.14.1, 2) speaks of it and entia together with oratoria (to represent ῥητορικήas equally harsh translations, but defensible on the ground of the poverty of language resulting from the banishment of terms formed from the Greek.


Chapter 9

The Logos Doctrine

In tracing the development of the Logos doctrine we are at once confronted by the statements in the preface to the Gospel according to St John1 which in untechnical and simple language seem to cover—and if their authority be accepted to decide—all the vexed questions which Monarchianism raised. The eternal pre-existence, the personality, the deity—all are stated in the first three clauses which describe the Logos in his divine relations in eternity before Creation. The second stage, if we may say so, is then set before us—the Logos in relation to Creation and to man, before the Incarnation: in which he is declared the universal life, the light of mankind—in continuous process coming into the world, though unrecognised by men. And thirdly, the same personal, eternal, and divine being is proclaimed as having become flesh and thereby in his Incarnation revealed himself and God to men. In this connexion the derivative character of his being is first suggested:—it is the highest form of derived being that of an only Son of his Father—whose being is at once derivative and yet the very same as that from which it is derived, equal in deity, on a level with its source.

Wherever the Gospel according to St John was current, there was witness borne that should have precluded all notions of imperfect deity or separate nature or external being of the Logos in relation to the Father, while at the same time his individual personality was clearly marked. The language used to express the eternity of the personal distinction is perhaps less obviously decisive, and misunderstanding might more easily arise in this than in other respects.

That the doctrine was not fully realized, even by well-instructed leaders of Christian thought, is obvious; and its full application to the interpretation of the person of Jesus was not easily made. Now to one aspect and now to another prominence is given. Now one relation, now another, is emphasised by different writers. The limitations of human thought and experience are such that we are perhaps justified in saying in such cases that only the particular aspect, the particular relation, was grasped by the writer or thinker in question. But such an inference—in view of the scanty character of the material available for our consideration—is at least always precarious; and it is often far too readily assumed (in the case of early Christian writers) that the particular aspect of the question which is presented was the only one with which the writer was familiar. It would probably be nearer the truth, as it would certainly be more scientific in method, to regard as typical and complementary, rather than as mutually exclusive, the following few representative points of view of the doctrine of the Logos.

In every case the historical Jesus Christ is identified with the Logos. The chief induction is this: Jesus was the Logos, or at least the Logos was in Jesus, That is the primary explanation of his person which is implied, whatever else is said. But inasmuch as the title Logos readily suggested the idea of reason ruling in the universe, when it was treated as the chief expression for the person of Christ there was great risk of too close or exclusive connexion with the universe, and so of the divine power of life in Christ being regarded as a cosmic force.2 This, and failure to distinguish precisely the individual personality of the Logos, were the chief difficulties in the way of the application of the induction. But it is surely going astray to reproach the writers of this period—or at least the apologists—with transforming the genuine gospel of Christ into natural theology. They were anxious, of course, to find what common ground they could with the Greeks or Romans whose hostility they desired to disarm, and so they naturally presented the doctrine of the Logos to them in the form in which they would most readily receive it. And, broadly speaking, the doctrines which are common to ‘natural theology’ and to Christianity were those which it was most necessary for them to set forward, pointing as they did to Christ as the centre of all, and to the confirmation of these doctrines, and the new sanctions in support of them, which the coming of Christ into the world supplied.3

The Ignatian Epistles

In the epistles of Ignatius references to the doctrine are incidental.—Jesus Christ is the “who came forth from silence”4—only Logos unlying mouth by which the Father spake truly;5 he is God made manifest in human wise”.6 The one God “manifested Himself through Jesus Christ His Son “.7 It cannot be said that these phrases, which Ignatius has used in the few hastily written letters which are all we have, give evidence of any clear conception of distinct personal relations between the eternal Son and the Father.8 The central idea of Ignatius is the conquest of sin and Satan and of death, the renovation of man, in Christ, by virtue of his divinity in union with his manhood—the beginner of a new humanity: but he is content to insist on both divinity and humanity without attempting to distinguish the relation of the divine to the human. In the chief passage in which he makes reference to this relation he uses language which in a later age would have been judged heretical, as it might be understood to mean that the distinct personality dated from the Incarnation only.

“There is”, he writes,9 “one Physician, fleshly and spiritual, begotten and unbegotten, God in man, true life in death, both of Mary and of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord.” And “Our God Jesus the Christ was borne in the womb by Mary according to the dispensation of God, of the seed of David, yet of the Holy Spirit: who was begotten and was baptized.”10 It seems that these sentences could not have been written by one who had clearly formed in his mind the conception of the eternal generation of the Son, or even perhaps of his pre-existence in the personal relation of sonship to the Father (n.b., first passible, and then impassible). Unbegotten the Logos, the Son, never was in his relation to God the Father—which is the relation of which the word is used. Yet Ignatius was obviously not really of opinion that the Logos first became a person at the Incarnation. He speaks of Jesus Christ “who was before the ages with the Father and in the end appeared”.11 And the explanation is to be found partly in a laxity in the use of terms due to some indistinctness (rather than inaccuracy) of theological conception; and partly also in the close similarity in the Greek of the words ingenerate or un-begotten and unoriginate or without origin. The doubling of a single letter changes the latter into the former, which Ignatius wrote, though he really meant the latter. By classical writers the distinction was always observed, but in Christian writings the one word used by Ignatius seems to have sometimes done duty for both.12 We may feel sure that Ignatius did not intend to deny the existence of the Son in eternity, although the generation of which he speaks is that in time of the Virgin.

The chief effect of his mission is to bring to men knowledge of God, but that knowledge gives incorruptibility to those who “become imitators of the Lord”, and “in all chastity and temperance abide in Jesus Christ both in the flesh and in the spirit,”13 breaking the one bread which is a medicine that gives immortality—a remedy against death—giving life in Jesus Christ for ever”.

The Letter to Diognetus

The writer of the letter to Diognetus14 declares the Logos to be no servant or angel or prince, but the Artificer and Creator Himself to whom all things are placed in subjection, sent by the Almighty in consideration and gentle compassion, as a king sends his son, himself a king—so God sent him as God and as man to men, with a view to his saving them, yet by persuasion not by constraint. The purpose of his mission was to reveal God to men, since till he came no man had really known God. It was His own only Son that He sent in His great mercy and loving-kindness and long-suffering, the incorruptible, the immortal, the Saviour able to save. That he distinguished the Logos as a person seems obvious from such expressions, though in almost the same breath he says that God (the Father) “Himself revealed Himself “, and “Himself in His mercy took upon Himself our sins”—phrases which shew at least how close, in his thought, was the union between the Father and the Son. And the function of the Logos previously to the Incarnation seems to be conceived particularly in relation to the world—it was the very Lord and Ruler of the universe who was sent, “by whom He created the heavens, by whom He enclosed the sea in its own bounds, whose secrets all the elements faithfully keep, from whom the sun received the measure of the courses of the day to keep, whose bidding to give light by night the moon obeys, whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, from whom all things received their order and limits and laws (to whom they are subject), the heavens and the things in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and the things in the sea, fire, air, the void, the things in the heights, the things in the depths, the things in the space between. Him it was He despatched to them.”

We probably ought, however, to recognize in such a passage as this, addressed to a heathen, a Stoic philosopher, an eloquent amplification of the majesty of the messenger and of his intimate connexion with the eternal universe rather than evidence that the writer was not familiar with the conception of the immanent relations of the Logos and the Father in the inner being of the Godhead.

Justin Martyr

A much more systematic treatment of the doctrine is found in the writings of the Greek Apologists. Justin Martyr, in the Dialogue with Trypho,15 gives deliberate expression to the chief conceptions in clear view of the objections to them from the monotheistic standpoint. He insists that Christians really hold monotheism inviolate and yet recognize true deity in Christ. Some of his phrases imply that the Logos existed with God before the creation potentially only, coming to actuality when the world was made; but he also speaks of him in relation to God before creation as “numerically other” (or distinct), and as being with the Father”,16i.e. as an individual person. All his highest titles, Glory of the Lord, Son, Wisdom, Messenger, God, Lord, Word, are his by virtue of his serving the Father’s purpose and being born17 by the Father’s will. Yet he is not the absolute God, who is unoriginate.18 The Logos has come into being. It might thus appear that there was a time when he was not, that his coming into being depended on the Father’s will, and that the being of God was in some way impaired by the separate (or distinct) existence of the Son. To exclude this inference the analogy of human experience is cited. When we put forth Logos (reason or speech) we generate Logos, not, however, by a process of curtailment in such a way that the Logos within us is impaired or diminished when we put it forth. And again, in the instance of fire being kindled from fire, the original fire remains the same unimpaired, and the fire which is kindled from it is self-existent, without diminishing that from which it was kindled. No argument, accordingly, can be brought against this interpretation of the person of Jesus that he is indeed the Logos—who was with God from the beginning and was His vehicle of creation and of revelation through the old dispensation—on the ground that such a conception detracts from the unity and fullness of being of the Godhead.

But thought Justin, with the other Greek Apologists, may be said to start from the cosmological aspect of the problem, yet the ethical interest—the soteriological aspect of the question—is really very strong with him. The one chief mission of the Logos in all ages has been to interpret the Father to men. He it was who appeared in all the instances recorded in the history of the Jews. In him every race of men has had a share;19 he was present among them from the first, disseminated as seed scattered among them,20 and those who, before his birth as the Christ in the time of Cyrenius and his teaching in the time of Pontius Pilate, lived in accordance with his promptings (i.e. with Logos) were Christians, even though they were deemed Godless;21 and those who lived otherwise (without Logos) were hostile to Christ and to God. It is because they all partook of the Logos that they are all responsible. It was because through disobedience to his guiding they had received corruption so deeply into their nature as to be unable to recover that the Logos at length assumed flesh.22 The essential life was united with that which was liable to corruption, in order that the corruption might be overpowered and cast out and man elevated to immortality.23 In Christ, and in Christ only, the whole Logos appeared, and fully revealed the Father so that all might know Him. It is in this fact that the newness and the greatness of the revelation in Christ are seen. And so Christ, the first-born of all creation, has become also the beginning (the principle) of another race,—the race which is born again by him through water and faith and wood (the tree), which possesses the secret of the cross.24 Those who are thus prepared beforehand and repent for their sins will escape (be acquitted in) the judgment of God which is to come.

Tatian

Tatian was, both as his pupil and in thought, closely connected with Justin. In his defence of Christian doctrine To the Greeks25 he is at pains to try to express the relation of the Logos to the Divine Being (the inner nature and existence of the Deity) and the manner in which he has a personal distinct existence without impairing the unity of the divine existence. He states the matter as follows: “God was in the beginning (at the first); and the beginning (the first principle),26 we have been instructed, is the potentiality27 of the Logos. For the Lord of the universe, who is himself the essence27 of the whole, in so far as the creation had not yet come to be, was alone: but inasmuch as he was all potentiality,28 and himself the essence of things seen and things unseen, in company with him were all things. In company with him, through the potentiality of the Logos, the Logos too, who was in him, himself essentially was (ὑπέστησεν, subsisted). By the simple will of God the Logos springs forth, and the Logos, proceeding not without cause, becomes (or comes into being as) the first-born work of the Father. Him (i.e. the Logos) we know to be the first principle (beginning) of the world. He came into being by a process of impartation, not of abscission: for that which is cut off is separated from that from which it is cut; but that which has imparted being, receiving as its function one of administration,29 has not made him whence he was taken defective. For just as from one torch there are kindled fires many, and the light of the first torch is not lessened on account of the kindling from it of the many torches; so too the Logos, by coming forth from the potentiality of the Father, has not made Him who has begotten him destitute of Logos. For I myself speak and you hear, and Ι who converse with you certainly do not become void of speech (Logos)30 through the passage of my speech from me to you.”

The Logos is here regarded mainly in relation to the world, as the principle on which it was made, and the vehicle of revelation. Personal existence seems to attach to the Logos in this connexion only. The hypostatic distinction in the being of God before Creation—and essentially—is not expressed. The  pre-existence is only potential (the only distinction is that of the Father from His own reason) God is all in all; the Logos is in him, but so are all things, and it is only when God wills that the Logos proceeds to personal being for the work which is assigned him.

Theophilus

A very similar view to that of Tatian appears, to have been held by Theophilus a little later.31 He was probably the first to use the actual term ‘Triad’ (Trinity) ‘ and to apply Philo’s terms ‘indwelling’  (or ‘immanent’) and ‘proceeding’ (or ‘projected’ or ‘transient’)32 to the Logos. Till God willed to create the world the Logos dwelt in Him, in His inner being, as counsellor—His mind and intelligence—this is the only kind of pre-existence which appears to be recognized, and it is not clear in what way the Logos could be distinguished from the Father. Before Creation He begat him ‘vomiting him forth.’:—He begat him as “proceeding, first born of all creation not himself being made empty of the Logos, but begetting Logos and continually consorting with his Logos”.33 The Logos is clearly regarded as the medium for the Father’s work in the world and among men. Always with God, he is the principle of all things. The Father Himself cannot be contained in space—but the Logos can; and so he assumed in the world the part34 of the Father—the Lord of all.

The Distinction of the Logos from the Father cosmic rather than hypostatic

Neither Justin nor Tatian nor Theophilus, accordingly, would seem to have clearly conceived a hypostatic distinction in the being of God Himself:—the distinction is found externally in relation to the world, and there is danger, on the one hand, of the Logos being identified with God. His essence (οὐσία), as it were rests eternally in God—immanent: his hypostasis is conceived only in the work of revelation. And so, on the other hand, as a personal existence it may be argued that the Logos is not really God, but only a manifestation of Him, and the Christology of the Apologists has thus been said to fall short of the genuine Christian appreciation of Christ—inasmuch as “it is not God who reveals Himself in Christ, but the Logos, the depotentiated God, a God who as God is subordinate to the highest God” (Loofs). The limits within which this criticism of the Apologists may fairly be accepted have been already noted at the outset.35

Athenagoras: his fuller recognition of the conditions to be accounted for

In Athenagoras is found a clearer view of the personal existence of the Logos (or the Son) before Creation, and a fuller perception of the problem how to secure the unity and yet assign its due place to the distinction.

It is the chief concern of the Christians, he writes “to know God and the Logos who comes from Him: to see what is the unity of the Son in relation to the Father, what the communion of the Father with the Son, what the Spirit; what is the union (ἕνωσις) of all these and the distinction (διαίρεσις) of the united—the Spirit, the Son, the Father:”36—proclaiming at the same time their power in unity and a distinction in their order”.37 This distinction is more clearly conceived of as independent of the creation of the world than by the other Greek Apologists. He speaks of the whole divine sphere as itself a ‘perfect world’ (κόσμος) and God as being in Himself, all to Himself, so that there was no necessity for the world we know to be created. The distinctions in the being of God are thus conceived as self-existent, and the part which the Logos afterwards plays in the work of creation he only plays because he is already in idea all that was required for the exercise of the special work of creation. The term ‘generated’ (‘a thing begotten’), and the epithet ‘first’ in connexion with it, are applied to him, yet “not as having come into being (for from the beginning God, since He is eternal Mind, had in Himself the Logos (reason), since He is eternally possessed of Logos (rational); but as having proceeded forth as idea and energy (i.e. in exercise of the idea)”.38 God’s Son is the Logos of the Father in idea and in operation.” He has thus a previous relation to the Father, as has the Holy Spirit—and the three names represent eternally existing distinctions within the being of the Divine itself. It is in this clear repudiation of the conception that the Logos first acquired a personal existence in connexion with the creation of the universe (while he fully recognises his operation therein), that Athenagoras seems to furnish a link between the earlier less precise and the later more exact expressions of the Christian consciousness. Precision of terminology is first to be found in Tertullian, but his contemporary Clement, and Irenaeus before him, make important contributions to the development of the doctrine.

Irenaeus

Irenaeus is one of the most conspicuous figures in history of the early church. It is unnecessary here to enlarge on the importance of the various parts he played. His thought was no doubt mainly moulded by his Eastern origin and built up on a foundation of early traditions and modes of thought current in Asia Minor,39 though largely developed and determined in opposition to Gnostic theories.40

It was Gnosticism that led him to lay such stress on the eternal co-existence of the Logos with the Father, to repel the idea that he was ever ‘made’ and to discriminate creation from generation, rejecting anything of the nature of an emanation as a true expression of the relation between the Logos and the Father. Nor does he ever tend to identify the divine in Christ with the world-idea or the creating Word or Reason of God. He is familiar with the conception of a twofold generation,41 and uses the terms Son and Logos alike—interchangeably (the Logos being always Son). He conceives of the Logos as the one great and absolute organ of all divine revelations from all time (so that in them it was not God Himself but the Logos who appeared), and apparently of some kind of subordination of the Logos,—but he is prevented by his religious feeling and his consciousness of the limitations of the human understanding from carrying far his investigations into the nature of the relations between Father and Son. They are a mystery. The Father is God revealing Himself; the Son is God revealed. The Father is the invisible of the Son, while the Son is the visible of the Father. But the personal distinction is strictly maintained: and he insists that it is one and the same person—Jesus Christ—the Logos—the Son of God—who created the world, was born as man, and suffered and ascended into heaven, still man as well as God.

The deepest interest of Irenaeus (however) does not seem to be centred in speculations of this kind, but in the Incarnation as the fulfilment of the eternal purpose of God which was manifested when He created man in His image after His likeness. Irenaeus marks the distinction between the image, which connotes reason and freedom, in which man was made, and the likeness, which is the capacity for immortality, to which he was destined to attain. A course of development was thus set before men by the Creator, following which they would become in very truth as He Himself was: but man in the exercise of his freedom, using the power which the ‘image’ gave him, departed from the course assigned him, and by his transgression (in the Fall) became subject to death and could no longer reach the goal of immortality. To restore to him the power of which he had been deprived was the purpose of the Incarnation, so that what had been lost in Adam might be recovered in Christ Jesus. In him the final predestined development was realized,—it had been interrupted, but he resumed and completed it. It is Irenaeus who first expresses the thought which others after him delighted to emphasise—”On account of his infinite love he became what we are, in order that he might make us what he himself is.” He summed up in himself the whole race and the whole course of development, completing thereby the whole revelation of God to man, and by passing through all stages of human life consecrated each and all. In this way in the person of Christ Jesus—the Person of the Logos become man—the whole race is again united to God, and becomes capable of attaining to incorruptibility. The possessor of immortality actually united himself with human nature, so that by adoption he might deify it and guarantee it the inheritance of life. He thus brought about the condition which God had ordained from the beginning—the realisation of which the entrance of sin had checked. So it is that Jesus Christ—he who is God and man—is the real centre of all history. He is the person who, as man, first attained the destination set before the race. Special means of reaching this consummation are offered to individuals in the institution of the Sacraments of Baptism (which gives forgiveness of sins) and the Lord’s Supper (partaking of the Eucharist our bodies are no longer corruptible but have the hope of the resurrection),— but there is also the mystic presentation which is summed up in the pregnant saying, “the vision of God is the life of man”43  The real life is the knowledge, the vision, of God. This knowledge, this vision, the Incarnation of the Word gave to men, and not only to those who actually saw him in his incarnate life upon earth, but also to all who afterwards should see him with the eye of faith—”They who see God will partake of life. It was for this reason that the infinite and incomprehensible and invisible offered himself to be seen and comprehended and contained by the faithful, so that he might give life to those that contain and see him by faith.”44 For them too the invisible is made visible, the incomprehensible, comprehensible, and the impassible, passible. But faith—believing in him—involves the doing his will;45 and it is, in turn, by the fulfilment of his commands, by obedience to him, that we learn to know him more completely. For the knowledge which is possible for man is essentially moral,46 the affinity between man and God is based on character. “Exactly in proportion as God is in need of nothing, man is in need of communion with God for this is man’s glory—to preserve and continue in the service of God.”47

It is his strong hold on the conception of the unity and continuity of God’s purpose and revelations of Himself thus manifested in the Incarnation as the natural sequence and culmination of the design of creation, not necessarily conditioned by the fall of man, that is most characteristic of the thought of Irenaeus. He was apparently the first of the great church teachers to follow up the clues which St Paul had given48 in this respect.

The thought and teaching of Clement of Alexandria is in several ways closely akin to his, and comparison of the one with the other is instructive. Clement’s travels before he went to Alexandria had taken him to ground familiar to Irenaeus in his earlier life before he settled down at Lyons, and there was much in common between the two contemporary teachers of the Egyptian and the Gallican Churches.

The characteristics of the Alexandrine school are clearly marked in Clement, one of its chief representatives. Its love of learning, its sympathy with intellectual activities, its enthusiasm for knowledge of every kind as the only avenue that would lead to true interpretation of the Gospel; its no less sincere recognition of the need of faith and of love in the search after truth, its desire to bring the whole of human life consciously under the rule of Christ, and to apply to every domain of thought and conduct the principles embodied in his life and teaching: these characteristics shew themselves in the work of all members of the school, and the result is an interpretation of the Gospel which is at once inclusive of the best Greek philosophical thought and genuinely Christian.

Clement of Alexandria

It was Clement who elevated ” the idea of the Logos, who is Christ, into the highest principle in the religious explanation of the world and in the exposition of Christianity”49“Christianity is the doctrine of the creation, training, and redemption of mankind by the Logos, whose work culminates in the perfect Gnostic.” But the perfect Gnosticism with Clement is the true knowledge of God, which is to be reached by disciplined reason. His ‘Gnostic’ is no visionary, no mystic. Though the father of all mystics, he is no mystic himself.”50

The doctrine of the Logos is the centre and mainspring of the whole system of Clement.

He was eternally with the Father, who never was without him as Son. The being which he has is the same as the being of God the Father.51 He is the ultimate beginning (cause or principle of all things that are, himself without beginning (or origination). He is author of the world, the source of light and life, in a sense himself at the head of the series of created beings, but, by reason of his divine being, specifically different from them. He is the interpreter of the Father’s attributes, the manifestation of the truth in person, the educator of the human race,52 who at last became man to make men partakers of his own divine nature.

That Clement thus held clearly a distinction between the Logos and the Father need not be argued. The real question which wills for consideration is whether he did not also so far distinguish between the Logos as originally existent and the Logos who was Son of God as to conceive two persons,52—the Logos proper who remains unalterably in God (the Logos immanent), and the Son-Logos who is an emanation of the immanent reason of God (the Logos proceeding forth in operation).

He is said to have written “The Son-Logos is spoken of by the same name as the Father’s Logos, but it is not he who became flesh, nor yet the Father’s Logos, but a certain power of God, as it were an effluence from the Logos himself, who became mind and visited continually the hearts of men.” This, however, is the only passage in which such a distinction is obviously drawn,53 and its real meaning is so obscure that apart from the context (which is not extant) it is impossible to use it in support of a view which is really contradicted by the whole conception of Clement’s great trilogy—the conception of the Logos, one and the same, from the beginning to the end of things, drawing men to faith, training them, and at last bringing them to the full knowledge of God.

Here, as in all similar cases, the only safe canon of criticism is that which bids us interpret the less known in a sense in keeping with the more known; and we must assume that the doubtful expression was less well said rather than let it subvert the whole purpose and aim of the mass of its author’s work.The general conception of Clement was certainly that the Logos—eternally equal with, but distinct from the Father as His Son,—was manifested all through the world’s history, and at last was incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. He cannot have intended, by any phrase that the exigencies of any particular line of argument may have brought to him, to evacuate that main idea of its proper force and consequences.54

There are frequent references to the Son being what he is and exercising the functions lie exercises ‘by the will’ and ‘according to the will’ of the Father, but they are obviously intended rather to safeguard the authority of the Father than to limit the power of the Son. Such phrases do not imply ”any non-Catholic conception of the subordination or ‘inferiority’ of the Son to the Father. They express the complete moral harmony between the Father and the Son; they exclude anything like dualism, anything that would mar the unity of the divine being; they certainly do not support any notion of temporal origin of the Son or of his derivation from any other source than the very essence of the divine.55

The influence of Clement on the development of doctrine was, however, not exercised so much directly as through his more famous pupil Origen, whose greater ability and untiring labours, continued over fifty years, made him the chief representative of the Alexandrian school.

Before, however, we pass to him, we must turn our attention to the great representative of the Church of Africa—in geographical position situated between Gaul and Egypt, but separated from each by sea and desert, and no less isolated by antecedents and character. The differences between the Churches of Africa on the one hand and Gaul and Egypt on the other is reflected in the thought and teaching of Tertullian on the one hand, and Irenaeus and Clement on the other. In passing from Clement to Tertullian we pass from sentiment and imagination to practical precision and legal reasoning, from poetry to prose. Instead of picturesque description we have attempts at accurate definition. We leave the mystic atmosphere of the Logos doctrine, with its blended beauties and obscurities, its lights and its shadows, and come into the region in which it is overpowered by the doctrine of the Sonship—the doctrine which is much more obviously in harmony with human analogies and experience, and by its greater simplicity was found to be much more easily grasped by the practical Western mind.

From this time forward the explanation of the person of Christ and of his relation to the Godhead as a whole, which was furnished by the Logos doctrine, tended more and more to recede into the background of theological thought. The main ideas had no doubt in large measure passed into the common stock, but the name was less and less used, and attention was concentrated rather on the group of ideas which the title Son suggests. The more philosophical conception gives way to the one which can best be brought to the test of conditions with which everyone is familiar.

So the conception of the Sonship occupies the chief place in the thought and exposition of an Origen no less than in that of less speculative and more prosaic theologians like Tertullian.


Footnotes to Chapter 9

1. See Westcott Gospel according to St John

2. To this effect Harnack D. G. Eng. tr. vol. 1, p. 330

3. See further on this point J. Orr The Progress of Dogma pp. 244849ff., against Harnack’s view (D.G. Eng, tr. vol. ii pp. 169-230).

4. Magn. 8

5. Rom. 8

6. Eph. 19.

7. Magn. 8.

8. There is some justification for the description of his theology as ‘modalistic’.

9. Eph. 7.

10. Ibid. 18.

11. Magn. 6

12. Cf. Justin Dial. c. Tryph. 5 and 8. The words in question are ἀγένητος and ἀγεννετος.  Against the argument that the interchange of the words is due to clerical error in the manuscripts—the ν being wrongly repeated or omitted, see Lightfoot Ignatius vol. ii, p. 90. Lightfoot points to the discussion by Athanasius in 359 (de Syn. 46, 47 on the meaning of ὁμοούσιος) of the twofold sense of ἀγέννητος—(1) that which exists but was nοt generated and has no originating cause, and (2) that which is uncreate. In the latter sense the word is applicable to the Son, in the former it is not; and so he says both uses are found in the Fathers, and therefore apparently contradictory language may be orthodox, a different sense of the word being intended. [In the other passages referred to by Lightfoot, de Decr. 28 and Or. c. Ar. i.30 (written earlier c. 350-355 and c. 357-358), it seems certain, as he implies, that the word under discussion is ἀγένητον. So Robertson insists that in the later passage (de Syn. 46, written in 359) Athanasius wrote ἀγένητος, not ἀγέννητος. See his note ‘Athanasius’ N. and P-N.F. p. 475.] Properly ἀγένητος denies origin, and so maintains eternal existence: while ἀγέννητος denies generation or parentage and thereby the ontological relation of Father and Son in the Godhead, whether in time or in eternity. The Arian controversy cleared up any uncertainty there was; and the Son was declared to be γεννητός, but not γενητός (“begotten, not having come into being”); and when the Arians tried to confuse the issue, saying the two words were the same, they were told that this was so only in the case of creatures, not in regard to God (Epiph. adv. Haer. Ixiv 8). In this way the Father only was ἀγέννητος, but the orthodox had no liking for the phrase and were disposed to retort upon the Arians that it was unscriptural (Epiph. adv. Haer. Ixxii 19). When, however, the fear of Arianism had passed, it became a convenient term by which to express the relation between the Father (ἀγέννητος) and the Son (γεννητός but not γενητός)—Lightfoot l.c.

13. Eph. 10, 20.

14. Ep. ad Diognetum vii-x.

15. See esp. ch. 61—Otto’s edition

16. This when arguing that it was to him personally that the words “Let us make man” were addressed.

17. It is uncertain here and frequently throughout the Dialogue whether Justin wrote the word meaning ‘come into being’ or the word ‘be born’ (i.e. γεννητός or γενητός), even if he discriminated between them at all, though in some cases the context is decisive as to the particular sense intended. See supra on Ignatius p. 122 n. 12.

18. See Apol. i 46. The Logos (Reason)is the divine element in all men—the Reason within them (almost the conscience).

19. Cf. Apol. ii.13: ὁ σπερματικός θεῖος λόγος, It was the seed of the implanted word that enabled them to see clearly realities (cf. ii.8).

20. He names among others Socrates and Heracleitus and Abraham and Elijah.

21. That Justin fully recognized the humanity of Christ, and asserted it strongly against Docetic tendencies, is patent. The Logos was made man (Dial. c. Tryph. 102, λόγος ἀνδρωθείς). The question has, however, been raised—Did he recognize a human soul in Christ? There is no doubt he speaks of σῶμα, λόγος, and ψυχή (body, Logos, soul) as the constituents of his person, and he uses ψυχή in the sense of ψυχή ἄλογος, the animal principle,—so that it might be inferred from this phrase that he regarded the Logos as taking the place of the human (rational) soul or spirit or mind. But he may have used the popular division of man into ᾽body and soul᾽ rather than the more precise and technical threefold division into σῶμα, ψυχή, πνεῦμα. There is, however, nothing to shew that the question had ever presented itself to Justin’s thought. All that can certainly be maintained is that he regarded the manhood of Christ as complete and would not have consciously used expressions which were inconsistent therewith.

22. Fragment—Otto vol. ii, p. 550 (Corp. Apol. iii. p. 256) The genuineness of the document is, however, disputed.

23. c. Tryph. 138.

24. Oratio ch. v (al. vii and viii). His own title was simply Τατιανοῦ πρὸς Ελληνας. The test of Otto is followed (but see ed. Schwartz).

25. ἡ ἀρχή‘beginning’, and also first cause or guiding governing principle.

26. δύναμις The conception is that the Logos was not actually, but only potentially existent (δυνάμει not ἐνεργαίᾳ).

27. ἡ ὑπόστασις—”that which makes things what they are and gives being or reality to them.” See on the Correspondence of the Dionysii p. 116. All things were potentially in Him.

28. “The part of οἰκονομια”, administration of the world, revelation.

29.  The twofold sense of λόγος, reason and the expression of it in speech, must be borne in mind; but the dominant thought in this passage is of the outward expression.

30. His defence of Christianity ad Autolycum, see esp. ii.10 and 22.

31. The Triad named is “God and his Word and his Wisdom”, of which the three days which passed before the lights in the firmament of heaven were created are said to be types.

32. ἐνδιάθετος and προφορικός. The use of these terms is of Stoic origin, marking the two senses of λόγος (reason and word), so mental and uttered or pronounced As representing two aspects of the same truth the use is recognized, but neither term isolated from the other would be accurate.

33. This idea of continuous generation has something in common with Origen’s doctrine of eternal generation.

34. The Word used is πρόσωπον.

35. See supra p. 120.

36. Leg. 12 (for the Son he writes παῖς). The best edition of Athenagoras is that of E. Schwartz, Leipzig 1891 (Texte und Untersuchungen).

37. Leg. 10. So “who would not be perplexed” he writes, “to hear described as ‘atheists’ men who believe in God the Father and God the Son and the Holy Spirit, and declare their power in unity and their distinction in order;” and again, “the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son by unity and power of the Spirit” (the conception expressed by the later term περιχώρησις see infra p. 226 n. 2).

38. Ibid. The terms are ἰδέα and ἐνέργειαthe latter being the actualisation of the former.

39. E. g. held to the early millennial expectations (adv. Haer. v.5 and 25ff., ed. Harvey).

40. See Loof’s Leitfaden p. 91ff. He points to Asia Minor as the scene of the greatest spiritual activity in the Church in the second half of the second century (cf. the Apologists : Melito of Sardis, Apollinarius of Hierapolis, Rhodon—a pupil of Tatian in Rome, Miltiades, Apollinarius, and other Montanist writers, whose names are unknown), and as the home of a special theology, of which he notes the following characteristics:—(a) The clear recognition of the distinction between the Old and the New Testaments, (b) The concern to make Christ the centre to which the whole history of the divine οἰκονομία converges, (c) The appearance of modalism which resulted from the close connexion of its Christology with the popular conception that Christ had brought perfect knowledge of God (the revelation of Christ—the revelation of God), and (as he styles it) the paradoxical contrasting of the real death and real humanity of Christ with his immortality and deity, (d) The connexion of the knowledge of God with the assurance of immortality, based on the saying, ‘This is eternal life, that they should know Thee’ (John 17.3); yet an essentially physical expression of the means of salvation.

41. The generation from eternity, whereby the Godhead exists both as Father and as Son in itself; and afterwards the generation in time, when the Son became man, being born into the world.

42. Irenaeus adv. Haer. iv.34.7 (ed. Harvey).

43. Ibid. 4.34.6

44. Credere autem ei est facere ejus volutatem (ibid. iv.11.3).

45. Ibid. l.c. and iv.24.

46. Ibid, iv.25.1 (ed. Harvey). Harnack finds in Irenaeus two main ideas—(1) The conviction that the Creator of the world and the Supreme God are one and the same; (2) the conviction that Christianity is real redemption, and that this redemption was only effected by the appearance of Christ. But these two ideas are part of the stock—the very root—of all Christian thought.

47. E.g. in the Epistle to the Ephesians 1.10; 3.11.

48. C. Bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria ch. iii, p. 98f.

49. “One must assume”, says Harnack, “that the word [Homoousios] was really familiar to Clement as a designation of the community of nature both with God and with men, possessed by the Logos.” He certainly wrote (Strom, iv.13) with reference to the Valentinian doctrine of a peculiar race sent to abolish death, who were themselves saved by nature, that if this doctrine were true then Christ had not abolished death unless he too was homoousios with them, and in another place (Strom, ii.16) that men are not ‘part of God and homoousioi with God’ (implying that the Son was homoousios with God).

50. Of the Greeks through philosophy, of the Jews through the Law, and afterwards, in Christ, of all who accept his teaching through faith leading up to knowledge, through knowledge to love, and through love to ‘the inheritance’. See e.g. Strom, vii.2 and vii.10. “The Greek philosophy, as it were, purges the soul and prepares it beforehand for the reception of faith” (Strom, vii 3 ; cf. i 13).

51. So Harnack (DG. Eng. tr. vol. ii, p. 352) says that in many passages he “expresses himself in such a way that one can scarcely fail to notice a distinction between the Logos of the Father and that of the Son “. See also Loofs Leitfaden p. 107.

52. In the Hypostyposeis (Harnack DG. Eng. tr. vol. ii, p. 352)

53. In Strom, v.1 Clement seems to me to be certainly objecting to the term λόγος προφορικός as applied to the Son, on the ground that it depreciates his dignity, and not (as Harnack and Zahn take it) himself sanctioning a distinction between the higher λὀγος ἐνδιάθετος and the lower λόγος προφορικός.

54. The prologue to the Exhortation to the Greeks is really quite decisive—
The Word is the harmonious, melodious, holy instrument of God (Exhortation to the Greeks i).
Inasmuch as the Word was from the first, He was and is the divine source of all things
He has now assumed the name of Christ . . . . the cause of both our being at first and of our well-being.
The very Word has appeared as man, He alone being both, both God and man.
The Saviour, who existed before, has in recent days appeared—He who is in Him that truly is—the Word—has appeared . . . as our teacher . . .
He pitied us from the beginning . . . but now he accomplished our salvation.
Our ally and helper is one and the same—the Lord, who from the beginning gave revelations . . . but now plainly calls to salvation.
The teacher from whom all instruction comes (ibid. xi).

And Clement puts these words into the mouth of Jesus, the one great High Priest of the one God his Father—an appeal to men, “Come to Me, that you may be put. . . under the one God and the one Word of God…I confer on you both the Word and the Knowledge of God, my complete self. . . . This am I . . . this is the Son, this is Christ, this the Word of God … I will give you rest” (ibid. xii ad fin).

Our Instructor is like His Father God, . . God in the form of man. . . the Word who is God, who is in the Father (Paed. i.2).
“The good Instructor . . . the Word of the Father, who made man . . . the Saviour . . . ‘Rise up’ he said to the paralytic (ibid.)
“One alone, true, good, just, in the image and likeness of the Father, His Son Jesus, the Word of God, is our Instructor” (ibid. ix)
“The Word Himself is the manifest mystery: God in man and the man God. And the Mediator executes his Father’s will: for the Mediator is the Word, who is  common to both—the Son of God, the Saviour of men: His Servant, our Teacher.

55. In the Stromateis (vii.2) he definitely calls him the paternal Word, declares him to be always everywhere, being detained nowhere; the complete paternal light . . . before the foundation of the world the counsellor of the Father . . . the power of God as being the Father’s most ancient Word before the production of all things and His wisdom. “The Son is”, he says, “so to speak an energy of the Father”, but this is said to shew that “being the Father’s power, he easily prevails in what he wishes”.


Chapter 10

Tertullian

It is in Tertullian that we first find the accurate definition and technical terms that passed over into Catholic theology, winning prompt acceptance in the West and securing—when the time came—the grudging but certain approval of the East.1 With his legal rhetorical training and ready application of forensic analogies to the expression of doctrine, and his genius for terse and pregnant description, he effectively moulded the Latin language to the service of ecclesiastical needs, and fashioned the formulas of the later orthodoxy. The terms seem to come to him so readily that one would suppose them already familiar, were it not that no earlier traces are found.

It will be remembered that he was a chief opponent of the modalistic form of Monarchianism, which he understood to mean that the Father Himself suffered; and it was under the provocation of this Monarchian teaching that his own conceptions were expressed and probably worked out.

Tertullian was perhaps less a philosopher than a jurist, and we are helped to understand his theory—his expression of the Christian doctrine of God and of the Person of Christ—by the legal use of the terms he employs.2 ‘Substance’ (substantia) meant ‘property’—the sense in which we use the word when we speak of a ‘man of substance’ a man’s possessions, estates, fortune, the owner’s rights in which were carefully protected by Roman law from invasion or infringement. ‘Person’ (persona) meant a being with legal rights, a ‘party ‘, an ‘individual’, whose being as such was recognized by law as one of the facts of which it took cognisance, a real existence (res) within its own limitations. Such a person’s position or—circumstances would be his status, or condition (status, condicio), perhaps (natura or proprietas), when looked at from a more inward point of view,—and obviously a number of persons might occupy the same status, or be in the same condition, or have the same nature. So too there might be various kinds of ‘substance’, each marked by special ‘characteristics’ or ‘properties’ (in the sense of that which is proper or peculiar to each) or nature (proprietas, natura).

Thus, if these human analogies be applied to the interpretation of the Christian revelation, one substance is divinity—all that belongs to the divine existence. This is, as it were, one piece of property; but, following still the human analogy, there is nothing to hinder its being held in joint ownership by three individuals with the same rights in it on equal terms. And so the description of the divine existence would be one substance shared by three persons in one condition (una substantia,—tres personaein uno statu). But there is also another substance’ all that belongs to human existence, all that is owned by men qua men. This is another piece of property, and, still from the point of view of Roman law, there is nothing to hinder one and the same person from holding at the same time two quite different pieces of property. So the two substances, divinity and humanity, might be owned, and all the rights and privileges attaching to each exercised and enjoyed, at one and the same time, by one and the same person, Jesus Christ.3 Thus there is no contradiction or confusion of thought in speaking as regards the being of God of one substance and three persons,4 and as regards the constitution of the person of Christ of two substances and one person, he being at once God and man (Deus et homo).

In this way the unity of the Godhead is strongly marked; it is one and the same divinity which all three share alike. This is “the mystery of the providential order which arranges the unity in a trinity, setting in their order three—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three, however, not in condition (status) but in relation (gradits), and not in substance but in mode of existence (forma), and not in power but in special characteristics (species); yes, rather of one substance and of one status and power, inasmuch as it is one God from whom these relations and modes and special characteristics are reckoned in the name of Father and of Son and of Holy Spirit.”5

When Tertullian passes from this juristic sense of substance to the wider philosophical use of the term, and declares that he always maintains in regard to the Godhead “the substance in three (persons) who together form the whole”,6 yet it is always with him something concrete—a particular form of existence. It has of course a particular character or nature of its own; but it is not its nature—rather its nature exists in it, and, in part at least, in other similar substances. “Substance and the nature of substance”, he writes,7 “are different things. Substance is peculiar to each particular thing; nature, however, can be shared by others. Take an example: stone and iron are substances: the hardness of stone and of iron is the nature of the two substances. Hardness brings them together, makes them partners; substance sets them apart (that is to say, hardness—their nature is what they have in common; substance is what is peculiar to each). . . . You mark the likeness of nature first when you observe the unlikeness of substance,”—that is to say, that you must first recognize that they are two things (as to substance) before you can compare them (as to nature).” ‘Substance’ can, accordingly, never have to Tertullian the meaning ‘nature’,8—the thing itself cannot be its properties. And so, in working out the doctrine of the Person of Christ, by the expression ‘two substances’ he does not mean simply two natures in any indefinite sense, but that the one person is both God and man, enjoying the two distinct possessions of deity and humanity.

It is in describing the nature of the relation between the Son and the Father that he most loses sight of the legal sense of the term ‘substance’, and employs it to express a particular form of existence; which is, however, still regarded as concrete. “The Son I derive”, he says, “from no other source but from the substance of the Father”9 where the substance of the Father is only an exegetical periphrasis for the Father Himself His own being:—so that he can use the single word, “We say that the Son is produced (projected) from the Father, but not separated from Him.”10

He who is emitted from the substance of the Father must of course be of that substance,11 and there is no separation between the two. The Word is “always in the Father … and always with God . , . and never separated from the Father or different from the Father”. He speaks, it is true, of the Father as being the whole substance’, while the Son is a ‘derivation from, and portion of, the whole’, and so made less than the Father;12 but his only purpose is to mark the distinction between them as real, and not as involving diversity between them or division of the one substance. The relation between them may be illustrated by human analogies. The root produces (emits) the shrub, the spring the stream, and the sun the ray. The former is in each case, as it were, the parent, and the latter the offspring: they are two things, but they are inseparably connected. The being of both, is one and the same. That which proceeds, moreover, is second to that from which it proceeds, and when you say ‘second’ you say there are two. It is in order to mark clearly tho distinct personality of the Son that he calls him ‘second’. There is no suggestion or thought of subordination, in any other sense than in regard to origin, and even that is merged in the unity of substance. In the case under consideration there is a third. The Spirit is third from God and the Son, just as the fruit which comes from the shrub is third from the root, and the river which flows from the stream is third from the spring, and the ‘peak’ of the ray third from the sun.”13 There is, moreover, a sense in which the Father is one, and the Son other, and the Spirit yet other; as he who generates is other than he who is generated, and he who sends than he who is sent. Yet there is no division of the one substance, though there are three in it, and each of the three is a substantive (substantial) existence out of the substance of God Himself.14

Seizing the Monarchian watchword, he turns it against themselves, and insists that no rule or government is so much the rule of a single person so much a ‘monarchy,’ that it cannot be administered through others appointed to fulfil their functions by the monarch. The monarchy is not divided, and does not cease to be a monarchy if the monarch’s son is associated with him in the rule. The kingdom is still the king’s; its unity is not impaired.15

That God was never really alone (since there was always with Him the Logos as His reason and word) is shewn by the analogy of the operation of human thought and consciousness,16 and by His very name of Father—which implies the existence of the Son, He had a Son, but He was not Himself His Son— as well as by numerous passages of the Scriptures. But between Him and the Son there was no division, though they were two (and though it would be better to have two divided gods than the one ‘change-coat’ God the Monarchians preached).

The treatise against Praxeas is more technical in phraseology and definitely theological in purpose than the Apology,17 which was intended for more general reading; but in the Apology he expresses the same thoughts in somewhat different language. God made the world by His word and reason and power (virtus). This is what Zeno and Cleanthes also said, using the word Logos—that is, word and reason—of the artificer of the universe. The proper substance of the Logos is spirit. He was produced from God, and by being produced was generated, and is called Son of God, and God, because his substance is one and the same as God’s. For God too is spirit. As in the case of a ray being shot forth from the sun, the ray is a portion of the whole sun; but the sun is really in the ray, because it is a ray of the sun; and the substance of the ray is not separated from the sun; but the substance of the sun is extended into the ray: so that which is produced from spirit is spirit, and from God God, just as from light is kindled light. So the Logos is God and God’s Son, and both are one. It was, as it were, a ray of God which glided down into a certain virgin, and in her womb was fashioned as flesh, and was born man and God blended together.18 The flesh was built up by the spirit, was nourished, grew to manhood, spoke, taught, worked, and was Christ.

The relation between the spirit and the flesh in the constitution of the person of Jesus Christ he discusses in the treatise against Praxeas.19 

It was not that the spirit was transformed (transfiguratus) when he became flesh, but that he ‘put on’ flesh. God, as being eternal, is unchangeable and incapable of being transformed. To have been transformed would have been to have ceased to be God; but the Logos never ceased to be what he was to begin with. If the Logos had really become flesh by any process of transfiguration and change of substance, then Jesus would have been a new substance formed out of the two substances flesh and spirit, a kind of mixture, a tertium quid. But there was no kind of mixture; each substance remained distinct in its own characteristics—the Word was never anything but God, the flesh was never anything but man. He who was Son of God as regards the spirit was man and son of man. “We see,” he says,”the double status, the two not confused but conjoined in one person, God and man (Jesus). . . .” This is Christ. “And the peculiar properties of each substance are preserved intact, so that in him the spirit conducted its own affairs, that is, the deeds of power and works and signs, . . . and the flesh underwent its sufferings, hungering in the instance of the Devil (the Temptation), thirsting in the instance of the Samaritan woman, weeping for Lazarus, sorrowful unto death; and finally it died.” It is clear, he insists, that both substances exercised their functions each by itself. Qua flesh and man and son of man, he died; qua Spirit and Word and Son of God, he was immortal. “It is not in respect of the divine substance, but in respect of the human, that we say he died.”20

It may thus be fairly said that the later developed orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and of the Person of Christ—even in details—is to be found in Tertullian. Certain crudities of thought may perhaps be detected,21 but as having developed and created a series of most important doctrinal formulae which became part of the general doctrinal system of the Catholic Church, his importance cannot be overestimated.22


Footnotes to Chapter 10

1. See infra p. 166, n.1, on the influence of the West (through Hosius) in framing the Nicene formula. It is an epitome of Tertullian that was made by Novatian, whose treatise On the Trinity was a dominant influence in the West. So it was Tertullian’s doctrine that Dionysius of Rome pressed on his namesake of Alexandria.

2. See Harnack DG. ii p. 285 ff. (Eng. tr. vol. iv pp. 122, 123). But the passages cited infra shew that the conceptions and expressions of Tertullian were by no means entirely controlled by legal usage, and the philosophical sense of the terms must also be borne in mind.

3. Melito (de Incarn. Christi (Ronth Rel. i p. 121)) uses οὐσία as Tertullian uses substantia in this connexion, and speaks in regard to Christ of τὰς δύο αὐτοῦ οὐσίας—the two realities, Godhead and manhood, which were his.

4. Tertullian seems, however, to avoid the use of the word personae in this connexion, using tres alone to express ‘the three’, without adding ‘persons’ in the case of the Trinity; just as later Augustine, while feeling compelled to speak of three ‘persons’, apologised for the term and threw the responsibility for it on to the poverty of the language (de Trinitate v.10, vii.7-10; see infra). Tertullian has the definite expression only when it cannot well be omitted—e.g. when supporting the doctrine of the Trinity from the baptismal commission, he writes “nam nec semel, sed ter, ad singula nomina in personas singulas tinguiniur” (adv. Prax. 26).
On the other hand, he has νο scruple about using the term personae of Jesus Christ, both man and God—combining in himself the two substantiae, but one person. Cf. adv. Prax 27 “Videmus duplicem statum, non confusum, sed coniunctum in una persona, deum et hominem Jesum.”

5. Adv. Prax. Tres autem non statu sed gradu, nec substantia sed forma, nec potestate sed specie. Apparently by gradus (relation or degree) is meant “the order whereby the Father exists of Himself, the Son goes forth immediately from the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son; so that the Father is rightly designated the first, the Son the second, and the Holy Spirit the third Person of the Godhead. And by the expressions formae and species (forms and aspects) he seems to have meant to indicate the different modes of subsistence (τρόπους ὑπάρξεως), whereby the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit subsist in the same divine nature” (Bp. Bull Def. N.C. ii, vii).
Between ‘species’ and ‘forma’ there is no perceptible difference, at least Cicero (Op. 7, cited by Forcellini) says the same thing is signified by species as by forma, which in Greek is ἱδέα.

6. Unam substantium in tribus cohaerentibus (adv. Prax 12)

7. De Anima 32. Similarly (adv. Prax. 26) he distinguishes between substantia and the accidentia or proprietaies uniuscuiusque substantiae.

8. See further Journal of Theological Studies vol. iii, p. 292 and vol. iv, p. 440.

9. Adv. Prax 4.

10. Ibid. 8

11. Ibid. 7.

12. Ibid. 9.

13. Adv. Prax. 8. Yet it is a ‘trinitas unius divinitatis‘. See de Pudicitia § 21.

14. Adv. Prax. 26, and cf. ibid. 25. “So the connexion of the Father in the Son and of the Son in the Paraclete produces three coherent one to the other. And these three are one thing (unum), not one person (unus) as it was said, ‘I and the Father are One (unum)’, in regard to unity of substance, not in regard to singularity of number.”

15. Adv. Prax. 3.

16. Ibid. 5.

17. See Apol. 21.

18. ‘Homo deo mixtus. ‘ Tertullian did not mean that the two together made a third thing. He expressly repudiates the conception, using the illustration of electrum, a compound of gold and silver, neither one nor the other (see adv. Prax. 27); and he emphasises the distinct parts played by the divinity and the humanity respectively as clearly as Leo himself (Ep. ad Flav.) more than two hundred years later. But had he lived in Leo’s time he probably would not have used this phrase. See infra p. 243 n. 3 and p. 247.

19. Adv. Prax. 27. Cf. also de Carne Christi, esp. § 18, where he insists on the distinct origin of the spirit and the flesh and discusses the interpretation of John 3.6 as spoken by Christ himself, shewing that each remains what it was.

20. Adv. Prax. 29, where he argues against the conception that the Father ‘suffered’ with the Son, on the main ground that in the divine substance (which was all the Father and the Son had in common) the Son himself did not suffer. On the parts played by the two substances see also de Carne Christi (§ 5), where the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum is expressed for the first time.

21. Harnack (DG. Eng. tr. vol. iv, p. 121) notes as obvious the following; (1) Son and Spirit proceed from the Father solely in view of the work of creation and revelation; (2) Son and Spirit do not possess the entire substance of the Godhead, but are ‘portiones’; (3) they are subordinate to the Father; (4) they transitory manifestations—the Son at last gives back everything to the Father; the Father alone is absolutely invisible, the Son can become visible and can do things which would be simply unworthy of the Father. But this criticism seems to emphasise unduly particular expressions in relation to others, and to be corrected by the excellent summary of the treatise adv. Prax, which follows it (Harnack DG. Eng. tr. vol. iv p. 122).

22. Cf. Harnack DG. Eng. tr. vol. ii p. 235. So Bull could write (Def. N.C. bk. ii ch. vii, Ox. tr.), “Read only his single work against Praxeas, in which he treats fully and professedly of the most holy Trinity; he there asserts the consubstantiality of the Son so frequently and so plainly, that you would suppose the author had written after the time of the Nicene Council.”


Chapter 11

Origen

Origen is one of the great landmarks in the history of doctrine.1 He was the first of the theologians whose work is really known to us to attempt the scientific systematic exposition of the Christian interpretation of life.And however much the knowledge of previous controversies may have stimulated his own thought and aided to determine his exposition, he has the great advantage over previous theologians that his work was not immediately called forth by apologetic motives and the exigencies of controversy. He was able to face the problems with the scholar’s and the teacher’s aim of clear and simple exposition only. There is no sign of haste or of heat about his work. He had not got to score a victory over dangerous enemies, within or without the Church: he had not to use argumenta ad hominem; he had perhaps some obiter dicta to recall,3 but his opinions were quietly formed, and there is little reason to doubt that even those which were not accepted by his own or later generations represented his deliberate and reasoned convictions. His system was built up on Tradition—as embodied in the Scriptures and the custom of the Church but he put his own mark upon it all and aimed at giving it his own expression. It is his great writing περὶ ἀρχῶν (de Principiis) that this expression is chiefly to be found.4

Basing the whole of his work on the teaching of the Church transmitted in orderly succession from the Apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day”, he first lays down a summary of the rule of faith as expressed in the Scriptures, and declares that every one must make use of elements and foundations of that kind if he desires to form a connected series and body of doctrine, following up each point by means of illustrations and arguments, whether found in holy Scripture or discovered by a correct method of deduction. He then proceeds, not without digressions and repetitions, to set out in three successive books the doctrine of God, of creation and providence, of man and redemption; and in conclusion, in the fourth book, he examines the questions of the inspiration and the interpretation of the Bible. The book was obviously not written for the simple believer, but for scholars who were familiar with the speculations of the Gnostics and of other—non-Christian—philosophers.

In his interpretation of the Christian revelation, accordingly, Origen started from the philosophical conception, to which Plato and the Neo-Platonists had given currency, of the One and the Many. The One represents the only real existence, the Source of all being: the Many represents the Universe with all its varying forms of apparent being, none of which have any real existence apart from the One from which they are derived. They do, however, in various ways portray the One, and in them alone can He be understood: for the One, the self-existent, the source of all that really is, is a living Person. In His absolute nature and being He is unknowable by man (or any of the Many), but He is relatively knowable so far as He is revealed through the medium of the universe which derives its existence from Him and in some measure reflects His nature and attributes. Such relative knowledge as is in this way attainable shews Him to be not only one, without origin, the cause of all that is, but also spiritual and eternal, and above all else absolutely good. His very essence is love. From this ethical conception, which is at the back of all his theology, Origen argues that He must impart Himself. Love cannot be thought of, except as giving. Goodness desires that all shall share in the highest knowledge. And so there must be some medium, some channel, by which He effects the revelation of Himself. As the required organ He chose the Logos.5 It is for the very purpose of revealing God that the Logos exists,6 and for this reason he has a personal subsistence side by side with the Father,’7 and must be (if he is to reveal Him truly), as regards his being, of one essence with God. He must be in his own being God, and not only as sharing in the being of God.”8 He is thus, as being the perfect image of God, the reason and wisdom of God, himself too really God.

His generation as Son is effected as the will proceeds from the mind, as the brilliance from the light, eternal and everlasting. It cannot be said that there was any time when the Son was not. No beginning of this generation can be conceived—it is a continuous eternal process.9 It is this conception of a continuous timeless process that brings the idea of the generation of the Son, which earlier thinkers had expressed, into the sphere of living reality. It ceases to be an act in time, and becomes an action outside—time living and moving and real. It is Origen’s chief permanent contribution to the doctrine of the Person of Christ.

The Son is indeed said to be begotten of or by the will of the Father10—but within the being of the Father no contradiction could be thought of—His will is of His very essence. And so, though there should be an act of will, there would he also an inner necessity for it, and the Son would be equally truly said to be begotten of the essence of the Father.’11

The function of revelation is also exercised by the Holy Spirit,12 who is the most exalted of all the beings that have come into existence through the Logos.13

These three existences together constitute the Trinity, which in its real inner being transcends all thought—essentially of one Godhead, eternal and co-equal.14

But in manifestation to the created universe a difference between the Persons may be seen, at least as to the extent of their action. “God the Father, holding all things together, reaches to each of the things that are, imparting being to each from His own; for He is absolutely. Compared with the Father the Son is less, reaching to rational things only, for he is second to the Father. And the Holy Spirit again is inferior, extending to the saints only. So that in this respect the power of the Father is greater, in comparison with the Son and the Holy Spirit; and the power of the Son more, in comparison with the Holy Spirit; the and again the power of the Holy Spirit more exceeding, in comparison with all other holy beings.15

As regards the Son, in particular, it is clear that Origen maintained his distinct personality,16 his essential Godhead (κατ’ οὐσίαν ἐστὶ θεός), and his co-eternity with the Father (ἀεὶ γεννᾶται ὁ σωτὴρ ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός): though he placed him as an intermediary between God and the universe, and spoke of the unity of the Father and the Son as moral, and insisted on the Father’s pre-eminence (ὑπεροχή) as the one source and fountain of Godhead, in such terms as to lead many, who believed themselves his followers and accepted his authority, to emphasise unduly the subordination of the Son.17

The special affinity in which the Son stands to rational beings establishes the fitness of the Incarnation, and through the human soul18 the divine Logos was united with the man Christ Jesus—perfect manhood, subject to the conditions of natural growth, and perfect divinity becoming one in him, while each nature still remains distinct. To describe this unity he was the first to use the compound word God-Man (Θεάνθρωπος), and the relation between the two natures was expressed by the image of the fire and the iron, when the fire heats and penetrates the iron so that it becomes a glowing mass, and yet its character is not altered—the fire and the metal are one, but the iron is not changed into something else.19

So, through the union of the divine and the human nature effected in the Incarnation, all human nature was made capable of being glorified, without the violation of its proper characteristics. The work of Christ was for all men. It was so revealed that it could be apprehended according to the several powers and wants of men—he was ‘all things to all men’. His manifestation to men is present and continuous. He is ever being born, and is seen as each believer has the faculty of seeing—and as each reflects him he becomes himself a Christ—an anointed one. For the union of man and God accomplished absolutely in Christ is to be fulfilled in due measure in each Christian as Christ had made it possible. His work is efficacious—for the consummation of humanity and of the individual both as a victory over every power of evil and also as a vicarious sacrifice for sin; for the whole world, and for heavenly beings (to whom it may bring advancement in blessedness), and for other orders of being in a manner corresponding to their nature.20

Origen’s doctrine of the Logos and the Sonship was an attempt to recognize and give due weight to all the conditions of the problem, so far as a human mind could realise them. Origen himself might see at once the many sides and aspects of the problem and succeed in maintaining the due proportion; but he was obliged to express himself in antithetical statements, and his followers were not always successful in combining them. They tended to separate more and more into two parties, a right wing and a left wing—the former laying more stress on the assertion of the unity of being of the Trinity (as Gregory Thaumaturges), the latter on the distinctness of personality and the subordination of the persons in regard at least to office.

It appears to have been the subordination element in the Christology of Origen with its safeguard against Sabellianism and its zeal for personal distinctions in the Godhead—that was most readily appropriated by his admirers in the East. And many of his phrases lent themselves at first sight more readily to the Arian conceptions of a separate essence and a secondary god, than to the Nicene teaching of identity of essence and eternal generation from the very being of the Father. Yet it cannot be doubted that Origen is really explicitly against the chief Arian theories, and at least implicitly in harmony with the Nicene doctrine of the Person of the Son.21 Nevertheless the sympathies of his followers in the East—in the great controversy which broke out in the following century—were rather with the Arians than their opponents.

Origenistic Theology and Controversies

Among the special conceptions and theories of Origen, which led at a later time to his condemnation as heretical (apart from misconception of his doctrine of the Trinity), are these. Moral evil is negative, a state from which good is absent, rather than a positive active force. All punishment is disciplinary, designed to effect the reformation of the sinner. Christ made atonement for the sins of all, and all will in the end be saved—all created beings, even Satan. There is no break in the moral—of continuity being. All souls were created—each by a distinct fiat at the beginning of Creation as angelic spirits: the souls of men sinned in their first condition and for their apostasy were transferred into material bodies, and their mundane existence is a disciplinary process (pre-existence and fall of the soul). There are more worlds than ours—the heavenly bodies are inhabited. The resurrection will be purely spiritual. God is Spirit, and all representation of Him under human form or attributes is untrue to His real nature.

Conceptions and theories such as these may have contributed to bring about the condemnation of Origen at Alexandria in his lifetime, though
ecclesiastical irregularities were the pretext.

Some of them were certainly attacked very soon by theologians who had no prejudice against a philosophic Christianity (as Methodius, Bishop of Olympus in Lycia, a martyr in the persecution under Maximin), and abandoned or corrected by ‘Origenistic’ bishops themselves. (Socrates (H.E. vi 13) quite unfairly speaks of them as ‘cheap’ critics, who were unable to attain distinction on their own merits and so endeavoured to attract attention by carping at their betters. He names Methodius first, and then Eustathius of Antioch, and Apollinarius, and Theophilus.)

The attack of course produced defenders. Chief among the champions, who included his successors Pierius and Theognostus, were Pamphilus and Eusebius of Caesarea, who together composed an elaborate Defence of Origen (of which one book only is extant, in the Latin translation of Rufinus), based on the distinction between speculation and doctrine. They shewed that on the essential points, on which the teaching of the Church was certain, Origen was ‘orthodox;’ and that his freedom of speculation was exercised only in relation to subsidiary questions.

In the Arian controversy many ‘Origenistic’ bishops, who were in great force in Palestine, were to be found on the side of the supporters of Arianism (Marcellus pointed to him as the originator of the mischievous mixture of philosophical speculations with the doctrines of the faith—see Zahn Marcellus p. 55ff.); and after a time (though not, it seems, in the early stages of the struggle) the authority of his great name was definitely claimed by them; and Athanasius, accordingly, argued against their inferences, and cited passages from his writings to prove that he was ‘Nicene’ rather than Arian, insisting that much that he had written was only speculative and experimental, and that only what he definitely declares ought to be taken as the real sentiment of the ‘labour-loving’ man (de Decr. 27 ; cf. ad Serap, iv 9 ff.), and highly approving his doctrine of the Trinity, What Basil and Gregory of Nazianzus thought of him is shewn by their selection from his works, the Philocalia, which included passages from the de Principiis; while Gregory of Nyssa adopted many of his speculations, and at least some of the Commentaries were translated into Latin—even by Jerome, who in his earlier days was full of admiration for him.

On the other hand, Epiphanius numbered him among the heretics and developed and emphasized the charges which Methodius had brought against him. (See esp. Ancoratus 13, 54, 55, 62, 63, and adv. Haer. Ixiv.) But it must be remembered that Epiphanius was in sympathy with the Egyptian monks represented by Pachomius, who were specially repelled by Origen’s repudiation of all anthropomorphic conceptions.

It was Epiphanius who, going to Palestine in 394, convinced Jerome, in spite of his previous admiration for Origen, of the unorthodox character of his writings, and stirred up the bitter strife which followed between him and his former friend Rufinus, and led to the condemnation of Origen by Anastasius, Bishop of Rome (though probably not at a formal synod), after Rufinus had translated into Latin the Apology of Pamphilus and the de Principiis. After much wrangling, and a change of sides by Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, who had supported the Origenists but was terrorized by the anthropomorphist monks, various synods condemned Origen and his writings (at Alexandria in 400, in Cyprus a little later, and at Chalcedon c. 403 in effect—in the person of Chrysostom, who was attacked because of his sympathies with Origenists). Still more distrust and suspicion were engendered by the supposed connexion between Origenism and the teaching of the Pelagians (Jerome regarded the two as closely allied), and his name was bandied about in the course of the christological controversies of the following years. Augustine was always opposed to anything that savoured of his teaching, and Leo the Great regarded him as justly condemned, at least for his doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul. But admiration for him was not crushed out, and early in the sixth century a revival of enthusiasm for his teaching led to disturbances among the monks of Palestine, and about the years 541-543 he was again condemned by a synod of bishops held at Constantinople (the ‘Home’ Synod), in obedience to their script of the Emperor Justinian, who had drawn up an elaborate statement of his errors, a refutation of them and anathemas on all his followers (Hahn p. 227). Whether this  condemnation was or was not renewed at the Fifth General Council which met in 553 cannot be determined. The belief that it was has prevailed from an early date, and he is included among other heretics in the eleventh of the anathemas ascribed to the Council (Hahn p. 168), but there is some reason to think that the name is a later insertion, and no direct evidence that his opinions were considered on that occasion. In any case, though the ideas of Origen have found supporters in all ages, Origenists as a party were effectually stamped out. [See A. W. W. Dale ‘Origenistic Controversies‘ D.C.B., and C. Bigg op. c. pp. 273-280.]


Footnotes to Chapter 11

1. Harnack says we can clearly distinguish in the history of dogma three styles of building, the names as masters of these styles, Origen, Augustine, and the Reformers (DG. i p.10)

2. This seems to be the fact, although it is true that “his writings represent an aspiration rather than a system, principles of research and hope rather than determined formulas” (Westcott ‘Origenes’ D.C.B., an article of the highest value. Cf. his Essay on Origen in Religious Thought in the West). See also particularly C. Bigg The Christian Platonists of Alexandria (Bampton Lectures, 1886), esp. pp. 152-192; but for the study of the conceptions of Origen the most helpful book is still perhaps that of Redepenning, with its rich quotations from his writings.

3. Cf. the saying of Jerome, that in some of his earlier treatises, written in the immaturity of youth, Origen was ‘like a boy playing at dice’.

4. Besides the de Principiis (228-231). the most important works in which his theological teaching is set forth are the Commentaries on St John (228-238), the Contra Celsum (249), and the de Oratione.

5. It is only in connexion with the revelation of God that Origen conceives, or at least expounds, the Trinity. God is goodness—the αὐτὸ ἀγαθόν: He must therefore reveal Himself. Origen does not, as later on Augustine did, derive the essential Trinity from this conception of Love as the very being of the Godhead, so that a plurality of Persons was a necessary inference from this main characteristic. It is only the Trinity of revelation (God in relation to the world) that he sets forth. See infra pp. 204, 228.

6. See e.g de Princ. i.2.6

7. Ibid. 1.2.2. “Let no man imagine that we mean anything personal . . . The only-begotten Son of God is His wisdom existing and hypostasis.”

8. Pamphilus (Apology for Origen c. 5 tr. Rufinus) quotes him as using, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, the very word ὁμοούσιος to express the identity of being of the Father and the Son, “And these similitudes . . . shew most clearly that the Son has communion of essence (substance) with the Father; for an effluence (aporrhoea) is evidently homoousios, that is, of one essence (substance) with the body of which it is an effluence or vapour.” Cf. also de Princ. i.2.5, “the only one who is by nature a Son, and is therefore termed the Only- begotten”; ibid, i.2.10, “in all respects incapable of change or alteration, and every good quality in him being essential and such as cannot be changed and converted;” ibid, i.2.12,”there is no dissimilarity whatever between the Son and the Father”. Cf. the similitude of the iron heated by the fire (ibid, ii.6.6), and of the statue (ibid. 1.2.8).

9. “Who . . . can suppose or believe that God the Father ever existed even for a moment without having generated this Wisdom (which is His only-begotten Son)” (i.2.2). “His generation is as eternal and everlasting as the brilliance which is produced from the sun” (i.2.4; cf. i.2.9); and “No one can be a father without having a son” (i.2.10; cf. iv.2.8). And in Jerem. Hom, ix.4, “The Father did not beget the Son and let him go from the Source of his generation (ἀπὸ τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ i.e. Himself the Father,—or perhaps ‘after, or in consequence of, his generation’), but He is always begetting him (ἀεὶ γεννᾳ αὐτοῦ).

10. E.g. de Princ. i.2.6, “who is born of Him, like an act of His will proceeding from the mind.”

11. Loofs (Leitfadan p. 125) sets in antithesis various phrases, extracted from different contexts, to shew the subordinate rank of the Son in relation to the Father. The Father alone is ἀγέννητος (de Princ. i.2.6; in Joh. 2.6), the Son in relation to Him a κτίσμα. [Justinian is the only authority for the assertion that Origen styled the Son a κτίσμα. Origen certainly never meant it in any Arian sense.]
The Father is αὐτόθεος and ἀληθινὸς θεός (in Joh. 2.3), the Son is δεύτερος θεός (c. Cels. 5. 39) and ἄξιος τῆς δευτερευούσης μετᾶ τὸν θεὸν τῶν ὅλων τιμῆς (ibid. 7. 57).
The Father is ἀπαραλλάκτως ἀγαθός, the Son is εἰκὼν ἀγαθότητος τοῦ θεοῦ, αλλ’ οὐκ αὐτοαγαθός (de Princ. i.13). [But this antithesis must be corrected by reference to de Princ. i.2.10 and ii.6.5, 6.]
The Father is ὁ θεός, the Son is θεός (in Joh. 2.2), and prayer should be made to the Father only (de Orat. 15). [But nevertheless the Son is equally with the Father an object of worship, Father and Son being two actualities τῇ ὑποστάσει, but one in unanimity and harmony and sameness of purpose (c. Cels. 8. 12). So worship is offered to Christ as he is in—as he is one with—the Father. And it is really only the highest form of petition which Origen says is to be addressed to the Father only in the Son’s name. (See Bigg l.c. p. 185.)]
In the case of such a writer as Origen it is peculiarly dangerous to isolate particular phrases:—it is of course just the error into which the Arians fell. They must be studied in their context and in their connexion with contemporary thought, if their general scope and proportion is not to be misconceived. (Cf. Westcott l.c. p. 133.) Any summary statement of his teaching must therefore be peculiarly precarious.

12. De Princ. “All knowledge of the Father is obtained by revelation of the Son through the Holy Spirit”, but “we are not to suppose that the Spirit derives his knowledge through revelation from the Son”. He has the same knowledge and, just like the Son, reveals it to whom he will.

13. See Comm. in Joh. i.3 and infra p. 202.

14. See de Princ. i.3.7, nihil in trinitate majus minusve (trans. – there is nothing greater or less in the Trinity) (though Loofs, op. c. p. 126, regards Rufinus as responsible for this clause, it seems certainly to express the conviction of Origen with regard to the mutual relations of the three Persons in their inner being). See further infra p. 201, on the Holy Spirit; and on the impossibility for men of understanding anything but the Trinity in its manifestations (revelation), see the strong assertions de Princ. i.34 and iv.28.

15. De Princ. i.3.5, Gk. fr. Cf. Athanasius ad Serap, iv.10, and Origen de Princ. iv.27f.

16. This (namely, that the Son is not the Father) is certainly the meaning of the passage de Oratione 15: ἔτερος κατ’ οὐσίαν καὶ ὑποκείμενον τοῦ πατρός—οὐσία being used in its primary sense of particular or individual existence.

17. Bigg (op. c. p. 181) insists that to derive the Subordinationism which is a note of Origen’s conceptions from metaphysical considerations is to wrong him. “It is purely scriptural, and rests wholly and entirely upon the words of Jesus, ‘My Father is greater than I’, that they may know Thee the only true God ‘, ‘None is Good save One’. The dominant text in Origen’s mind was the last. Hence he limits the relativity to the attribute to which it is limited by Christ himself. The Son is Very Wisdom, Very Righteousness, Very Truth, perhaps even Very King; but not Very Goodness. He is Perfect Image of the Father’s Goodness, but not the Absolute Good, though in regard to us he is the Absolute Good. . . . Where he pronounces his real thought, the difference between the Persons is conceived not as quantitative nor as qualitative, but as modal simply. The Son qua Son is inferior to the Father qua Father. … He could not, he dared not, shrink back where the Word of God led him on. He could not think that a truth three times at least pressed upon the Church by Christ himself might safely be ignored. To his dauntless spirit these words of the Master seemed to be not a scandal but a flash of light.”

18. See de Princ. ii.6.3. It is “impossible for the nature of God to intermingle with a body without an intermediate instrument”, and the soul is “intermediate between God and the flesh”. The human soul with which the Logos was united was, according to Origen’s conception of the creation of all souls before all worlds at the beginning of creation, the only soul which had remained absolutely pure, by the exercise of free choice in its pre-existent state. Irrespective of Origen’s peculiar theory of the origin of the soul, it is to be noted that he was one of the first Christian thinkers to see the importance of the recognition of the human soul in Christ. See de Princ. ii.6.3, 5, where he explains how the nature of his rational soul was the same as that of all other souls (which can choose between good and evil), and yet clung to righteousness so unchangeably and inseparably that it had no susceptibility for alteration and change. See further on this point infra Apollinarianism p. 242, and Note p. 247.

19. See de Princ. ii.6.6. The human soul is the iron, the Word is the fire which is constant. The soul placed perpetually in the Word, perpetually in God, is God in all that it does, feels, and understands . . . and so possesses immutability. Yet the two natures remain distinct (ibid, i.2.1; ii.6.3).

20. Wescott (l.c.) who refers (for the statements in this paragraph) to c. Cels. iv.3f., 15; vi.68; iii.79; ii.64; iv.15; vi.7; iii.28; iii.17. On his theory of the atonement see infra p. 337.

21. The matter cannot be better put than it was by Bp. Bull Def. N.C. i, ix § 22 (Oxford translation): “In respect of the article of the divinity of the Son and even of the Holy Trinity, [Origen] was yet really catholic; although in his mode of explaining this article he sometimes expressed himself otherwise than Catholics of the present day are wont to do; but this is common to him with nearly all the Fathers who lived before the Council of Nice.” Cf. also Harnack DG. Eng. tr. vol. ii p. 374: “To Origen the highest value of Christ’s person lies in the fact that the Deity has here condescended to reveal to us the whole fulness of his essence. …”


Chapter 12

The Arian Controversy

By the beginning of the fourth century it seemed that, though fixity of theological terminology had not yet been secured, the lines of interpretation of the person of Jesus Christ had been safely and firmly laid, and so the development of doctrine might quietly proceed, keeping pace with enlarged experience and able to meet new conditions as they arose. The old religions and the old philosophies of the world had contributed to the process of interpretation what they could. The minds which had been trained in the old schools of thought had been brought to bear upon the Gospel and its claims. Sometimes they had, as it were, laid siege to it and tried to capture it, and so to lead it in their train. But assaults of this kind had all been repelled. The Church as a whole, while welcoming, from whatever sources it came, the light that could be thrown on the meaning of the revelation in Jesus in its fullest scope, had preserved tenaciously the traditional explanation and accounts of his life and of the Gospel history. So it was able to test all newer explanations by the earliest tradition, and though erroneous ones —faulty or partial—might win adherents for a time, the communis sensus fidelium had rejected in the end any that—when tested by fuller experience of their significance—were seen to be inconsistent with the principles which were involved in the ancient faith and institutions of the Church.

But when, at the beginning of the fourth century, persecution ceased, and the Church won peace and protection from the State, the ordinary course of development was interrupted. The influence of pagan conceptions was felt with fresh force within the Church, and victories which seemed to have been already achieved had to be fought for and secured again. No sooner had outward peace from persecution been won than the inward peace of the Church was shattered by the outbreak of the Arian controversy. It was in and round this controversy that all the forces of the old religions and philosophies of the world were massed in the effort to dictate an interpretation of the Christian revelation which would have nullified the work of the Church during previous centuries. The long continuance of the controversy was also due in part to the ambiguities and uncertainties of much of the teaching which had been prevalent in the East, which made men doubtful whether the Arian conceptions were really such innovations on the traditional faith as they seemed to the few who led the opposition to them. Thanks to the clear and simple teaching of Tertullian, the Western Church was never in such doubt, and Arianism never gained such hold in the West as it did in the East. That the leaders of the Church of Alexandria, where it originated, were able to detect its real nature at the outset was probably due in no small measure to the memories of the discussion in the time of Dionysius and the influence of the Western tradition which was then asserted.

The controversy was so important and the questions raised are of such permanent significance that we must trace its course at length, at least in regard to its chief features and the main turning-points of the history.1

Arius and his Teaching

Arius, like all the great heresiarchs, whatever defects of character he may have had, undoubtedly wished to carry to greater perfection the work of interpretation of the Christian revelation. He aimed, with sincerity and all the ability at his command, at framing a theory of the Person of Christ, which would be free from the difficulties presented to many minds by current conceptions, and capable of providing a solution of some of the problems by which they were met.

He tried to interpret the Christian revelation in such a way as to render it acceptable to men whose whole conception of God and of life was heathen. In doing this he shewed himself to be lacking in real grip of the first principles of the Christian conception, and in sound judgement and insight; but the long continuance of the controversy, and the wide acceptance which his theories won, prove clearly how great a need there was for further thought and teaching on the points at issue.2

Before tracing the history of the controversy we must note what were the principles on which Arius based his thought.To be included in his theory there was God, and the Son of God, and the Son had to be accounted for in such a manner as not to endanger the unity of God. For his strongest interest was the maintenance of Monotheism; and a first principle with him was the ‘simplicity’—the singleness—of God, as being absolutely One and transcendent, far-off, unknown, inaccessible, and incommunicable, hidden in eternal mystery and separated by an infinite chasm from men.  God willed to create the world; but in virtue of His nature he could not directly create the material universe, and so He created the Logos for the purpose as His Son. (This was the reason for his existence.) The Son of God is therefore before time and the world, independently of the Incarnation, and distinct from the Father—a middle being between Him and the world.

Two lines of reasoning by which Arius came to his results must be remarked. In the first place, accepting as true the Catholic teaching that Christ was the Son of God, he argued by the analogy of human experience that what was true of human fatherhood was true of the relation between God and His Son. In the case of human fatherhood there is priority of existence of the Father; therefore in regard to the Father and the Son there is such priority of existence of the Father. Therefore once there was no Son. Therefore he must at some time, however remote, have been brought into being.

And in the second place, as to the nature and manner of this divine Sonship, Arius held that the isolation and spirituality of the Father was a truth to be safeguarded above all else. But the idea of generation was inconsistent with this primary principle; for generation not only ascribes to the Father corporeity and passion (feelings) (which are human attributes) and involves some kind of change (whereas the divine must be thought of as absolutely immutable), but also it would imply unity of nature between the Father who generates and the Son who is generated, and so the singularity of God would be destroyed. Ingenerateness must accordingly be of the very essence of divinity, and the Son could not have come into being from or out of the essence (or being)4 of the Father, but only by a definite external process or act of the Father’s will. But ex hypothesi there was then nothing in existence but the Father, and therefore the Son was called into being out of nothing. This exercise of the Father’s will was equivalent to a creative act, and the Son therefore was created by the Father.5

By these lines of reasoning the Arians were convinced that the Son was not eternal and was a creature,6 though coming into existence before time7 and before all other creatures, and not like other creatures (inasmuch as they were all created mediately through him, while he was created immediately by the Father’s will). Yet since he was a creature, and in this sense external to the being of the Father, he must be subject to the vicissitudes of created beings, and so he must be limited in power and wisdom and knowledge. With free-will and a nature capable of change and morally liable to sin he must depend on the help of grace and be kept sinless by his own virtue and the constant exercise of his own will.

Yet, nevertheless, though in all these ways inferior to the Father, he was really Son of God and an object of worship. And he it was—the Logos—who, taking upon him a human body with an animal soul, having been the medium by which the whole universe was originally created, was afterwards incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.8

Such was the theory by which Arius sought to conciliate the pagan and the Christian conceptions of God and the universe.9 It seems to us quite clear that the Jesus to whom such a theory could apply would be neither really human nor really divine, and this was obvious at the time to some of the ablest and most far-seeing and intelligent of the leaders of Christian thought. But the doctrine of the Church had not yet been defined with exactitude: if it was not really confused, it was at any rate lacking in precision of terms; and to many it seemed that reason and Scripture alike gave strong support to the Arian conclusions.

All passages of Scripture which imply in any way that Christ was in the category of creatures; which ascribe to him, in his incarnate state, lack of knowledge or growth in knowledge, weariness, or sorrow, or other affections and states of mind which teach some kind of subordination of the Son to the Father—the Arians pressed into the service of their theory.10

Athanasius in particular is at pains to refute their exegesis, or to cite other passages which balance those to which alone they give attention. We may take three crucial cases in which to test the Arian arguments.

(1) Prov. 8.2-25 (LXX, which was regarded as authoritative by nearly all on both sides), The Lord created me a beginning of his ways for his works, before time (the age) he founded me in the beginning . . . before all hills he begets me. On this passage we have the comments of Eusebius of Nicomedia in his letter to Paulinus (Theodoret H.E. i.5 (6)). “The manner of his beginning, he says, is incomprehensible; but if he had been of Him, that is, from Him, as a portion of Him, or by an emanation of His substance (οὐσία), it could not be said that he was created or established . . . But if the fact of his being called the begotten gives any ground for the belief that, having come into being of the Father’s substance (essence), he has also in consequence sameness of nature, we take note that it is not of him alone that the Scripture uses the term begotten, but that it also thus speaks of those who are entirely unlike him by nature. For of men it says, ‘I begat and exalted sons, and they set me at nought’ (Isa. 1.2), and ‘Thou hast forsaken the God who begat thee’ (Deut. 32.18); and in other places it says, ‘Who is he that begat the drops of dew (Job 38.28), not implying that the nature of the dew is derived from the nature of God, but simply in regard to each of the things that have come into being, that its origination was according to His will. There is indeed nothing which is of His substance (essence), yet everything has come into being by His will, and exists even as it came into being. He is God; and all things were made in His likeness, and in the future likeness of His Word, having come into being of His free-will.—All things have come into being by his means by God. All things are of God.” The combination of apparent reasonableness and slippery argument in this exegesis speaks for itself.

(2) Col. 1.15  Who is the image of the invisible (unseen) God πρωτότοκος πάσες κτίσεως. If the last three words were isolated, their meaning might be doubtful, and it might be supposed that the πρωτότοκος; (first-born) was included in the πᾶσα κτίσις (all creation). The Arians took the passage so, and explained it as teaching that the Son was a creature, though created before all other creatures and superior to them. But the context shews plainly that though the intention is clearly to describe the relation in which Christ stands to the created universe, yet the πρωτότοκος does not himself belong to the κτίσις.  Such an attribution would be inconsistent with the universal agency in—creation ascribed to him in the words immediately following ‘in (or by) him were created all things’, and with the absolute pre-existence and self-existence claimed for him in the same breath, ‘he is before all things (αὐτός ἔστιν πρὸ πάντων). It would also be inconsistent with many other passages in St Paul.11

(3) John 14.28, My Father is greater than I . . . . This saying of Jesus seemed to the Arians conclusive proof of his inferiority to the Father and of the secondary character of his divinity. To Athanasius and those like-minded with him it had exclusive reference to the state of humiliation of the Incarnate Logos, voluntarily undergone and accepted when he ’emptied himself”; and the fact that he could use such a phrase was proof of his divinity. In the mouth of a created demi-god (such as the Arians conceived) it would be unmeaning and absurd. So Basil (Ep. 8) argues that the saying proves the oneness in essence—”For I know that comparisons may properly be made between things which are of the same nature. … If, then, comparisons are made between things of the same species, and the Father by comparison is said to be greater than the Son, then the Son is of the same essence as the Father.”

The Outbreak of the Controversy and its History up to the Council of Nicaea

The immediate cause of the outbreak of the controversy is not known.12 Arius was a presbyter of the Church of Alexandria, highly esteemed for his learning and gravity of life. He had been a pupil in the famous school of Lucian of Antioch, who seems to have combined in his theology the subordination element in Origen’s doctrine of the Person of Christ with a leaning to the Monarchianism of Paul of Samosata.13 About the year 317 his teaching excited attention, and exception was taken to its character. The Bishop, Alexander, seems to have been at first conciliatory: but Arius was convinced that he was right and would not yield. Persuasion and argument having failed, a synod was summoned in 321, and Arius was deposed from his office.—He enlisted support, however, both in Egypt and farther afield especially from fellow-pupils in tho school of Lucian, many of whom occupied positions of power and influence. In particular, he won the sympathy of Eusebius,14 bishop of the capital, Nicomedia, and high in the emperor’s favour, who called a Council at Nicomedia, and issued letters to the bishops in support of Arius. Many of the bishops, following the lead of Eusebius, thought Arius had been unjustly treated, and the deposition of the presbyter assumed more serious proportions. The rulers of the Church of Alexandria were put on their defence. They had to justify their actions. Accordingly, Athanasius, a deacon of the same Church, drew up at once a note of the proceedings at the synod of 321, with the signatures of the bishops present appended, and Alexander sent it out to place the facts before the bishops of the Church at large.15 Meanwhile the emperor, whose one wish was for peace and the unity of the Church, was induced to intervene, and sent in 324 a letter to Alexandria exhorting the bishop to restore peace to the Church; that was, to readmit Arius to his office. But the bearer of his letter, Hosius, the Bishop of Cordova, one of his chief advisers, had to return to him with a report which put a different complexion on the matter, and Constantino sent a rebuke to Arius. But feeling was too much roused by that time for any one’s intervention to be decisive, and, probably on the suggestion of Hosius, a Council of the whole Church was summoned by the emperor to meet in the following year (325) at Nicaea, in Bithynia.16 In this way it was hoped that the mind of the Church on the points at issue might be expressed.

The Council of Nicaea and its Creed

But the mind of the Church was not made up.The actual form of the question at issue was new and technical—a question for experts; and all the bishops were not experts. The Arians called Christ God, and Son of God, and offered him worship; and they professed entire allegiance to the teaching of Scripture. It might well seem to the mass of the bishops assembled in council that the Arians were sound at heart, and that technical details should not be pressed against them. This was the attitude of the great majority, composed of the bishops of Syria and Asia Minor. Largely influenced by as much of the teaching of Origen as they understood; dreading above all else Monarchianism and any Sabellian confusion of the Persons, and seeing something of the kind in the opponents of Arius, they simply did not realise the gravity of the crisis. They were very unwilling to go beyond the Scriptures, or to impose a new test, or to add to definitions; and they wished to be lenient to Arius and his friends. They wished to maintain the status quo, and they did not see that Arianism was utterly inconsistent with the traditional interpretation.17 With them, however, so far as voting power went, the decision lay; and in the person of Eusebius, the great Bishop of Caesarea, they found a spokesman and leader, whose historical learning and research and literary talents could not but command universal respect.18

Prominent in support of Arius were two Egyptian bishops, Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmarica, unfaltering in their opinions to the end: and with them at heart three other bishops, pupils of Lucian—Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea, and Maris of Chalcedon,  and a few more.

Of the resolute opponents of Arianism, Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria, was of course the centre, with Athanasius as his ‘chaplain’ and right-hand. But the most decisive part in the opposition seems to have been played rather by Hosius19 of Cordova, as representative of the Western bishops, and Eustathius of Antioch, and Marcellus of Ancyra, with a few other Eastern bishops. The test which was at last agreed upon emanated apparently from this small group.

Agreement was not easy. That the Arians proper were in a minority was evident at once. The heart of the Church repudiated the terms they freely used about their Lord and Saviour. But, as the question had been raised and the matter had gone so far, it was necessary to do more than simply negative the conclusions which they drew. Arian logic forced some closer definition on the Church. A positive statement of what the Church believed was required, as well as a negation of Arian teaching. It was in drawing up this that the difficulty was felt. The majority of the bishops assembled in council were very unwilling to employ new terms not sanctioned by tradition, not hallowed by apostolic use. But all the familiar scriptural phrases which were suggested in succession were accepted by the Arians. They could put their own interpretation on them.The historian of the Council draws a vivid picture of the scene—their nods and their winks and their whispers, and all the evasions by which they endeavoured to maintain their cause and elude condemnation. Little progress was made till the friends of Arius produced a creed in writing which was really Arian, and proposed that the Council should endorse it. It was torn in shreds amid the angry cries of the bishops.20 At all events the Council was not Arian.

At last Eusebius of Caesarea read out what was probably the Baptismal Creed of his Church,21 in the hope that it might be sufficient and that all would accept it. The Creed was received with general approval, but it was not precise enough to exclude the possibility of Arian interpretation, and the emperor—no doubt prompted by one of the Alexandrine group (probably Hosius)—proposed the addition of the single word ‘Homoousios’ (of one ‘substance’). Its insertion led to a few other small alterations; and at the end was added an express repudiation of the chief expressions of the Arians.22
The Creed thus modified was in its final form as follows:’-23

“We believe in one God the Father all-sovereign,24 maker of all things both visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, begotten from the Father as only-begotten God25 from God, that is from the [very] being of the Father26 [or ‘begotten from the Father as only (Son), that is from the being of the Father, God from God’], light from light,27 very God from very God,28 begotten, not made,29 sharing one being with the Father,”30 by means of whom all things came into being, both the things that are in heaven and the things that are on earth: who on account of us men and on account of our salvation came down and was incarnate, became man,31 suffered, and rose again on the third day, went up into heaven, and is coming to judge living and dead. And in the Holy Spirit.”

“And those that say there was once when he was not, and before he was begotten lie was not,32 and that he came into being out of nothing, or assert that the Son of God is of a different essence (subsistence)—or being33 or created or capable of change or  alteration34 the Catholic Church anathematizes.”

This Creed was signed by all the bishops present except Secundus and Theonas;35 and when shortly afterwards an imperial decree was issued banishing Arius and those who did not accept the decision of the Council, it seemed that Arianism was disposed of. But this result was far from being effected.

The Reaction after Nicaea—personal and doctrinal

The victory over Arianism achieved at the Council was really a victory snatched by the superior energy and decision of a small minority with the aid of half-hearted allies. The majority did not like the business at all, and strongly disapproved of the introduction into the Creed of the Church of new and untraditional and unscriptural terms.36 They might be convinced that the results to which Arianism led were wrong; but probably few of them saw their way to a satisfactory logical defence against the Arian arguments. A test of this kind was a new thing, and sympathy for Arius and its other victims grew. A reaction followed in his favour. This was the motive of the first stage in the complicated movements of the time between the two first General Councils of the Church. Sympathy with Arius connoted dislike of the chief agents of the party which procured his condemnation, and Athanasius and Marcellus37 were singled out as most obnoxious. They had to bear the brunt of the attack.

After years of intrigue and misrepresentation Arius was recalled and would have been reinstated but for his sudden death, and Athanasius and Marcellis were exiled (336 A.D.). Allowed to return on the death of the emperor, they were again within two years sent into exile, and the way was cleared for an attempt to get rid of the obnoxious Creed—the terms of which so relentlessly excluded Arian conceptions. The reaction ceases to be so personal, and becomes more openly doctrinal—a formal attack upon the definition ὁμοούσιος under cover of the pretexts to which reference has been made.

Attempts to supersede the Nicene Creed—Council of Antioch 341

The opportunity was found at the Council of Antioch in 341, when some ninety bishops assembled for the dedication of Constantine’s ‘golden church’. The personal question only came up for a moment, when a letter from Julius, Bishop of Rome, urging the restoration of Athanasius and Marcellus, was read; but the Council resented his interposition and proceeded to consider forms of Creed which might be substituted for the Nicene. Four such Creeds were produced,38 all of them carefully avoiding the terms by which Arianism was excluded. The first of the four, though prefaced by a specious repudiation of Arian influence (how should bishops follow the lead of one who was only a presbyter?), was Arianizing not only in its avoidance of any expressions which Arians could not have accepted, but also in its explanation of ‘only begotten’ and its marked attribution of the work of the Incarnate Son to the good pleasure and purpose of the Father. The majority of the Council, however, were not prepared to offer this as a substitute for the Creed of Nicaea, and a second Creed more acceptable to the ‘moderates’ was adopted by the Council in its stead. Its shews exactly how far the average ‘orthodox’ bishop of the time was prepared to go in condemnation of Arian theories and in positive statement of doctrine. It is as follows:—

“In accordance with the evangelical and apostolic tradition39 we believe in one God, Father all-sovereign, the framer and maker and providential ruler of the universe. And in one Lord Jesus Christ His Son, the only-begotten God,40 by means of whom [were] all things, who was begotten before the ages (worlds) from the Father, God from God, whole from whole,41 sole from sole,42 complete from complete, king from king, lord from lord, living Logos, living wisdom, true light, way, truth, resurrection, shepherd, door, unchangeable and unalterable,  invariable image of the deity—both being (essence) and purpose and power and glory—of the Father,43 the first-born before every creature44 (or the first-born of all creation), who was in the beginning by the side of (with) God, God the Logos, according to the saying in the Gospel: And the Logos was God—by means of whom all things came into being, and in whom all things consist: who in the last days came down from above and was begotten from a virgin, according to the Scriptures, and became man, a mediator between God and men, apostle of our faith and captain of life, as he says: I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.45 Who suffered on behalf of us and rose again on the third day, and went up into heaven and took his seat on the right hand of the Father, and is coming again with glory and power to judge living and dead. And in the Holy Spirit, who is given for comfort and hallowing and perfecting to those that believe, even as our Lord Jesus Christ commissioned his disciples, saying: Go ye forth and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—clearly meaning46 of a Father who is truly Father, and of a Son who is truly Son, and of the Holy Spirit who is truly Holy Spirit, the names not being applied in a general sense (vaguely) or unmeaningly, but indicating accurately—the peculiar existence47 (?individuality) and rank and glory belonging to each of the [three] named namely, that they are three in existence, (?individuality) but one in harmony.48

“Inasmuch therefore as this is the faith we hold, and hold from the beginning and to the end, before God and Christ we anathematise every heretical evil opinion. And if any one, teaches contrary to the sound right faith of the Scriptures, saying49 that there was or has been a time or season or age before the Son was begotten, let him be anathema. And if any one says that the Son is a creature as one of the creatures, or a thing begotten as one of the things begotten, or a thing made as one of the things made, and not as the divine Scriptures have handed down the aforesaid articles one after another—or if any one teaches or preaches differently from the tradition we received, let him be anathema. For we truly and reverently believe and follow all the things drawn from the divine Scriptures which have been handed down by the prophets and apostles.”50

This Creed seems a clumsy and cumbersome substitute for the clean-cut clauses of the Creed of Nicaea. Vague and verbose accumulations of scriptural phrases are no compensation for the loss of its well-balanced terse expressions. The spirit of its framers is shewn by their constant appeal to the Scriptures, and by the weakening down of the anti-Arian definitions. In effect such a Creed as this is powerless against Arianism, and takes things back to the indeterminate state in which they were before the outbreak of the controversy. In the Creed itself there is probably not a single phrase which Arians could not have accepted. The strongly worded rejection of a merely ‘nominal’ Trinity reflects the fear of Sabellianism by which the framers of the Creed were haunted, while their explanation of the nature of the Unity of the Godhead is compatible with different grades of deity. And the anathemas of the Creed of Nicaea, while apparently retained in the main, are so modified that, though they seem to put Arian teaching under the ban, they condemn positions which nobody, of any party, wished to maintain. Such as it is, however, it was approved by the Council as its official statement, and is known as the Creed of the Dedication.

A third formula, which was signed by all, is notable only for its condemnation of Marcellus, both by name and by the addition of clauses emphasising the personal and permanent existence of the Son. But it was the personal profession of faith of a single bishop, and not intended apparently as a complete creed.

Yet a fourth Creed was drawn up by a few bishops a little later after Council had really separated, and sent—as if from the synod—to the Emperor Constans in Gaul. It is much shorter than the Second, the scriptural phrases and appeals being curtailed or omitted. The eternity of the kingdom of the Son is strongly maintained against Marcellus (though he is not named), and the Nicene anathema against those who say ‘out of nothing or out of a different essence (ὑπόστασις)’ is qualified by the further definition ‘and not out of God’, so that though intended to be more acceptable to Nicenes it became the basis of the subsequent Arianizing confessions of the East.

Opposition of the West to any New Creed—Council of Sardica 343

Constans refused to receive the deputation. The Western bishops were averse to tiny tinkering with the Creed, and, in the hope of putting a stop to it, Constans, with the assent of Constantius, summoned a general Council to meet at Sardica.51 The Council met in 343, but the division between East and West revealed itself at once. The Western bishops refused to ratify the decisions against Athanasius, and the Eastern bishops thereupon withdrew and held a Council of their own at Philippopolis, at which they reaffirmed the condemnation of Athanasius and approved a Creed which was substantially the same as the Fourth of Antioch with the addition of new anathemas.52

The Westerns, left to themselves, declared Athanasius and Marcellus innocent of offence and protested against the wickedness of their accusers. An explanation of the Nicene Creed was proposed but not adopted (though it is included in the circular letter announcing the proceedings of the Council).53 In its stead a denunciation of any one who proposed a new Creed was agreed to. The Faith had been declared once for all and no change was to be considered—this was the attitude of the Western bishops throughout the whole period of the controversy from the Council of Nicaea onwards.

Renewed Attempts to secure a non-Nicene Creed

But in the following year (344—345) another synod that met at Antioch to deal with the case of the Bishop Stephen put out a fresh edition of the Fourth Creed of 341 (actually drawn up early in 342), with such expansions of the anathemas and such elaborate explanations intended to conciliate the West that it reached unprecedented dimensions and was known as the longlined or ‘prolix Creed’ (the Macrostich).54 The positive sentiments contained in it are for the most part unexceptionable: as when the eternal Sonship is maintained and the Arian phrases are rejected as unscriptural and dangerous and intruding on the incomprehensible mystery of divine processes, and the subordination of the Son is asserted but balanced by words declaring him to be by nature true and perfect God and like the Father in all things;55 or when the expression ‘not begotten by the will of the Father’ is denounced in the sense that it imposes necessity on God, whereas He is independent and free and unfettered in His action; or when the mutual inseparable union of Father and Son in a single deity is proclaimed. Yet the Nicene position is being covertly turned all through, and the real sympathies of the authors of this Creed are shewn in the incidental use of the phrase ‘like the Father in all things (which was soon to become the watchword of the Semi-Arian party), and in the peculiarly strong expressions which are used in condemnation of Marcellus and Photinus56 and all who thought as they thought.

In 346 Athanasius was recalled from exile and for the next ten years enjoyed a hard-won period of peace. This suspension of hostilities was mainly due to the political troubles of the time, which absorbed the energies of those friends without whose help the enemies of the Nicenes could do little against them. During this time, however, two events of the first importance occurred.

Pacification of the ‘Conservatives’ by Condemnation of Photinus

In 351 a synod was held at Sirmium at which Photinus, the chief follower of Marcellus, was condemned and deposed.57 This meant the final overthrow of the ideas attributed to Marcellus. In future the Conservatives had nothing to fear from that quarter. They could breathe freely again so far as Sabellianism was concerned. And so they were at liberty to reconsider their position in relation to their Arian allies, with whom the dread of ‘confusion of the persons’ had united them, and to reflect whether after all Arianism was compatible with the doctrine of the Lord’s divinity.

Development of Extreme Form of Arianism

By the death of Constans in 350 Constantius was left solo emperor, without the restraining influence of any colleague of Nicene convictions; and, as soon as he had secured his position against revolt, he was free to indulge to the full his own fanatical Arian sympathies. And so, under these favourable conditions, there was fostered an extremer development of Arianism (winning adherents in the West as well as in the East) than might otherwise have found expression, the leaders of the new party being Aetius,58 Eunomius,59 and Kudoxius.60

At Councils held by Constantius in 353 at Aries, after the defeat and death of Magnentius, and in 355 at Milan,61 the condemnation of Athanasius was voted; and in 356 took place a savage assault on his Church at Alexandria, his narrow escape and retirement into exile in the desert, and the apparently complete overthrow of the Nicene party in the East. This third exile of Athanasius lasted till 362, and during this time the fate of Arianism was really settled, though twenty years more elapsed before the victory was finally won.

The ultimate issue was made clear by the effect of the [Second] Council of Sirmium in 357. Under the leadership of Valens,62 Ursacius,62 and Germinius,63 the bishops agreed to a Creed which hints that the Son is not really God, declares with emphasis the superiority of the Father and the subjection of the Son along with all other things, and forbids the use of the term ‘substance’ or ‘essence’ (being) in any form, whether ‘of one substance’ or ‘of like substance (or being)’, on account of the difficulties to which such terms have given rise, and because they are not to be found in the Scriptures and transcend human knowledge.64 Such a declaration was of course a strongly Arian manifesto ‘Anomoean’ even in effect, since it condemns ‘ of like essence’ no less that the Nicene ‘of one essence.’ And as such it was at once denounced, and by the name which Hilary, the great champion of the Nicene Faith in the West,65 suggested—’the blasphemy of Sirmiun’66—it has since been known.67 It was much too late in the day day to seek to make peace by snatching the bone of contention away. A coalition formed with such an idea was bound to fail but it did much worse—it played into the hands of Arianism, and, whatever the East was, it was not really Arian. And so the coalition fell to pieces. Its Arian members had gone too far, and in the moment of victory they lost their half-unconscious allies. At a synod held at Antioch early in the following year, it is true, the flagrant blasphemies of Aetius and Eunomius were allowed by the president, Eudoxius, to pass; but the moderates (‘Conservatives’) were the more stimulated to take immediate action.

Protests of the Moderates in the East

They held a counter meeting at Ancyra under Basil, the bishop, at which they anathematized in general every one who did not faithfully confess the essential likeness of the Son to the Father, and in particular (with reference to numerous passages in the Gospel according to St John) all who so misinterpreted the sayings of Jesus as to conceive him to be ‘unlike’ the Father.68 The anathemas covered all the extreme Arian theses and the emphatic declaration that the Son was like the Father even in essence (i.e. in his very being) was at this juncture just the bridge which was needed to lead wanderers back to the Nicene faith in its fullness. But now the ‘moderates’ went too far for the temper of the time. The good effects of their action were largely undone when they procured a sentence of exile against Aetius, Eudoxius, and a large number of the Anomoean party, whom Constantius obliged them to recall after an Arian deputation had put their case before him. And so there was a deadlock, and a compromise had to be found.

The Homoean Compromise

A new party was formed—the party of compromise—intended to be the rallying-point of all moderates, with the watchword ‘like in all respects’, and the prohibition of technical terms. This compromise, promoted by Acacius, Bishop of Caesarea, was accepted by Basil of Ancyra (the president of the last Council) and the Emperor Constantius. To draw up a Creed embodying it, and to prepare the business for a great ecumenical Council to accept it, a conference was held at Sirmium, under the presidency of the emperor, in the month of May 359.69 The Creed which was approved is ‘moderate’ in tone, and unusually strong in its declarations as to the eternal generation of the Son (‘before all the ages, and before all beginning, and before all conceivable time, and before all comprehensible being (or substance)’). But it only says ‘like the Father who begat him, according to the Scriptures’, and ‘like the Father in all things, as the holy Scriptures say and teach’; and it forbids all mention of the term substance (or essence or being) in reference to God, on the ground that though it was used in a simple or innocent sense by the Fathers, yet it was not understood by the people and caused difficulties, and was not contained in the Scriptures. Such was the Creed70 by which it was hoped to unite all parties and bring back harmony to the Church. But though the ‘Cabinet-meeting’ of Sirmium could agree, the new party of ‘Homoeans’ (or ‘Acacians’, or ‘semi-Arians’) did not really unite the Church. Honestly interpreted, the formula like in all things would cover ‘like in substance (essence, being)’ and exclude all difference;71 yet the very word ‘like’ seems to connote some difference, and the divine οὐσία of Father and Son was one and the same. But the emperor meant this formula to be accepted, and with a view to greater ease of manipulation the bishops were summoned to meet in two synods—one for the Westerns at Arminum and another for the Easterns at Seleuceia.

The Western synod met,72 Ursacius and Valens representing the Homoean cause. But the bishops were so far from accepting the Dated Creed that they reaffirmed the Creed of Nicaea, with a declaration in defence of οὐσία, anathematized Arianism, and condemned the Homoean leaders (who at once went off to the emperor to secure his support), and sent a deputation to Constantius to explain affairs and urge that no change ought to be allowed. The emperor shewed all honour to Ursacius and Valens, and sent back the other deputation with a dilatory reply, so that at last the bishops of the Council, without being formally dissolved, returned to their cities. And then somehow or other at Nice in Thrace, near Hadrianople, a few bishops (whether the original deputies, or the partisans of Usacius73 only, is uncertain) published as the work of the Council of Ariminum a revised translation of the Dated Creed,74 in which the expression ‘likeness’ is weakened by the omission ‘of in all things’.

Meanwhile the Eastern synod met at Seleuceia. The majority were ‘moderate’ and wished simply to reaffirm the Creed of the Dedication of 341. But the leading spirit was Acacius, and in view of the present distress caused by the difficulties with regard to Homo-ousion and Homoi-ousion and the new term Anomoion (un-like), a declaration was put forward75 rejecting all three terms and anathematising all who used them, and simply declaring the likeness of the Son to the Father, in the sense intended by Apostle when he said (Col. 1.15), “who is the image of the unseen God “. And the Creed concludes with an assertion that it is equivalent to the one put forward at Sirmium earlier in the year. The leaders of the extreme Arian party were thus conjoined with the upholders of the Nicene faith, and all alike were put under the ban. It was of the proceedings of this year that Jerome said, “The whole world groaned and wondered to find itself Arian”.76

A Council held immediately afterwards at Constantinople (Dec. 359) completed the work, and early in the year 360 the modified form of the Dated Creed, which had been signed at Nice (with ‘in all things’ omitted), was issued as the faith of the Church77—and the victory of Arianism in the Homoean form was apparently complete. As representative and scape-goat of the Anomoeans, Aetius was abandoned—excommunicated and deposed; but Eudoxius and Acacius triumphed. ‘Comprehension’ was secured on these conditions. The Homoean formula allowed the freedom which was desired, and admitted all who repudiated the unlikeness of the Father and the Son. It was the ‘authorized’ Creed for the next twenty years, though all the time the way back to the full acceptance of Homo-ousion was being prepared.

Gradual Conversion of Semi-Avians and Convergence of Parties to the Nicene Definition

The first turning-point was the death of Constantius in 361. In the early part of the following year Athanasius returned to his see and held a synod at Alexandria, at which the Creed of Nicaea was of course presupposed. The synod decided that all that should be required of Arians who wished to be readmitted to communion78 was that they should accept this test, and anathematize Arianism and the view which spoke of the Holy Spirit as a creature.79 The Arian teaching as to the constituents of the person of Christ came under consideration, and the integrity of his human nature and its perfect union with the Word was asserted.80 Furthermore, in connexion with the most ‘practical’ problem before the Council—the position of affairs at Antioch, the dimensions between the Nicene party (Eustathians) and the Homoiousian party (Meletians)—the meaning of the word ‘hypostasis’ in relation to the Godhead was discussed. It was recognised that two usages were current, and that questions of words ought not to be allowed to divide those who really agreed in idea. Both ‘one hypostasis’ and ‘three hypostases’ could be said in a pious sense. The former was in accordance with the usage of the Creed of Nicaea, in which the word is an equivalent for οὐσία; the latter was equally accurate when the phrase was used to signify not three divine ‘substances’ (three gods), but three eternal modes of the existence of the one divine substance (three ‘persons’). In the East there had been some disposition to use the word hypostasis in this latter sense—the usage which finally prevailed; but since the time of the Dionysii the question had not arisen; and to get behind the terms to the sense in which they were used, and so to reveal to the disputants the merely verbal nature of their apparent difference, was a conspicuous success achieved by Athanasius.81

But hardly was the Council over when Athanasius was again expelled by Julian from his diocese—to return a little more than a year later by the new emperor’s consent.

In 363 a Council at Antioch too reaffirmed the Creed of Nicaea,82 but with a significant explanation of the keyword of the Creed. Homoousion, suspected by some, has received from the Fathers a safe interpretation—to signify ‘that the Son was begotten from the οὐσία of the Father’ and ‘that he is like the Father in οὐσία;’ and they add that it is not taken in any sense in which it is used by the Greeks, but simply to repudiate the impious Arian assertion in regard to Christ that he was ‘from nothing’.

A short-lived revival of Arianism marked the year 364, and some renewal of persecution by the ‘Augustus’ Valens in the following year drove Athanasius again into banishment for the winter, but the revolt of Procopius and the indignation of the people of Alexandria led to his speedy recall early in 366, and the remaining seven years of his life were free from any such disturbance.

A Council was held at Lampsacus in the autumn of 364, at which the formula ‘like in essence’ was accepted, but its supporters were powerless to take decisive action against opponents who were favoured by Valens. Imperial influence effectually barred the way to the complete establishment of the Nicene faith. In 375 Valentinian was succeeded by Gratian, who was entirely led by Ambrose; but it was not till Valens was killed in 378, and Theodosius—a strong Nicene—was appointed by Gratian in his place, that the unanimity of the emperors made possible for the Church as a whole the restoration of the Creed for which the struggle had been so long maintained.

Final Victory of the Nicene Interpretation at the Council of Constantinople

The Council which met at last in 38183 at the capital, Constantinople, solemnly ratified the faith of the Council of Nicaea in it original shape84 and condemned all forms of Arian teaching; and edicts of Theodosius were issued—in accordance with the decisions of the Council—forbidding Arians to occupy the existing churches or to build new ones for themselves. Attempts were made to bring Arians over and unite them to the Church; but, when they proved unsuccessful, the heresy was rigorously suppressed by force and expelled from the greater part of the empire.85

Marcellus

The chief authorities for the teaching of Marcellus, the chief representative of the supposed Sabellian tendencies of the Nicene Christology, are two treaties of Eusebius of Caesarea (contra Marcellum and the Ecclesiastica Theologia), which contain extracts from his own work On the Subjection of the Son; a letter to Julius in Epiphanius Haer. Ixxii; fragments of a writing of Acacius against him, and a Creed of the Marcellians, also in Epiphanius, l.c. (Migne P.G. xlii 383-388, 395-400). In Athanasius Or. c. Ar. iv (as Newman thinks, and Zahn insists) the system of Marcellus is probably attacked (without his name). Sec Th. Zahn Marcellus von Ancyra, Gotha, 1867.

He was a bishop of Ancyra in Galatia (perhaps as early as 315), and at Nicaea was one of the minority whose persistence secured the insertion of the test-word ὁμοούσιος; and after the Council he wrote his treatise περὶ τῆς τοῦ υἱοῦ ὑποταγῆς; against Asterius the literary representative of the Arians. His own interpretation, however, was by no means to the mind of the dominant (Eusebian) party, and was called in question at successive synods at Tyre and Jerusalem, and at Constantinople in 336, when he was deposed from his office on the charge of teaching false doctrine. Eusebius of Caesarea took in hand the refutation of his theories, and from his treatises it appears that Marcellus agreed with the Arians that the conceptions of Sonship and of generation implied the subordination Son, who was thus generated—he must have had a beginning and be inferior to the Father; he could be neither co-equal nor co-eternal. The notion of Sonship was accordingly improperly applied to the divine in Christ; it referred only to the person incarnate, as the use of the term in Scripture shewed. Of the eternal—the divine—element in Christ there was one term only used: not Son, but Logos. The Logos is the eternally immanent power of God, dwelling in him from eternity, manifested in operation in the creation of the world, and for the purpose of the redemption of mankind taking up a dwelling in Christ, and so becoming for the first time in some sense personal. The God-man thus coming into being is called, and is, the Son of God; but it is not accurate to say the Logos was begotten, nor was there any Son of God till the Incarnation. The title Logos is the title which must dominate all others, expressing as it does the primary relation. The relations expressed by other titles (e.g. πρωτότοκος) are only temporary and transient. When the work which they indicate has been effected the relations will cease to exist. The relation of Sonship will disappear: it is limited to the Incarnation and the purposes for which the Logos became incarnate, and the Logos will again become what he was from eternity, immanent in the Father.

For theories such as these little support could be expected; they had too much in common with Sabellianism—the bugbear of the East. Marcellus was regarded as teaching that the Son had no real personality, but was merely the external manifestation of the Father.

[Harnack names four contemporary objections to his system:—(1) That he called only the Incarnate Person the Son of God; (2) that he taught no real pre-existence; (3) that he assumed an end of the kingdom of Christ; (4) that he talked of an extension of the indivisible Monad.]

Basil describes his teaching as a “heresy diametrically opposite to that of Arius”, and says he attacked the very existence of the only-begotten Godhead and erroneously understood the term ‘Word’ (implying that he taught no permanent existence of the Only-begotten, but only a temporary ‘hypostasis’). See Epp. 69, 125, 263.

It is impossible to determine how far the picture of Marcellus, which Eusebius gives, is coloured by the widespread fear of Sabellian views in the East. Either Marcellus was an arch-intriguer and trimmer, as some do not hesitate to style him, or he was much misrepresented.

It must be borne in mind that opinion had scarcely yet been definitely formulated as to the eternity of the Son’s distinct existence in the future. St Paul’s words (1Cor. 15.28) ‘then shall the Son himself too be subjected to him that subjected all things to him, in order that God may be all in all,’ might be understood to point to an ultimate absorption of the Son in the Father. Tertullian, at any rate, and Novatian after him, had taught that the Son, when his work was accomplished, would again become—mingled with the Father ceasing to have independent existence (see Novatian de Trin. 31). And probably the West was more influenced by Novatian’s work than by any other systematic work on doctrine. So that on this point too support might be expected, in general, from the West.

In any case it is clear he could boast, as Jerome (de Virill. 86) asserts that he boasted, that he was fortified by communion with Julius and Athanasius, the chief bishops of the cities of Rome and Alexandria; and Athanasius could never be induced to condemn him by name at all events, and late in life when an inquisitive friend questioned him about Marcellus he would only meet an appeal with a quiet smile (Epiphanius, who tells the tale, adv. Haer. Ixxii 4). In 340 a synod at Rome, under Julius, pronounced him orthodox; and it is also certain that the Council of Sardica in 343, when the Eastern bishops had withdrawn, declared him orthodox. “The writings of our fellow-minister, Marcellus,” they wrote, “were also read plainly and evinced the duplicity of the adherents of Eusebius; for what Marcellus had simply suggested as a point of enquiry, they accused him of professing as a point of faith. The statements which he had made, both before and after the enquiry were read, and his faith were proved to be orthodox.

He did not affirm, as they represented, that the beginning of the Word of God was dated from his conception by the holy Mary, or that his kingdom would have an end. On the contrary, he wrote that his “kingdom had had no beginning and would have no end (Theodoret Hist. Eccl. ii.6 and P-N.F.).

Hilary indeed declares that at a later time, by some rash utterances, and by his evident sympathy with Photinus, he came to be supported by all men of heretical leanings; but in face of the evidence it is difficult to suppose him heretical at the earlier time, however strong the extracts in Eusebius (who was clearly biased) may seem.

What the followers of Marcellus said for themselves may be seen from a statement of belief which was presented on behalf of an ‘innumerable multitude’ by a deputation from Ancyra, sent to Athanasius, in or about the year 371 (shortly before the death of Marcellus), under the leadership of the deacon Eugenius (see Hahn p. 262). They expressly anathematize Sabellius and those who say that the Father Himself is the Son, and when the Son comes into being then the Father does not exist, and when the Father comes into being then the Son does not exist: and they proclaim belief in the eternal personal existence of the Son, as of the Father and the Holy Spirit; adding a further anathema on any who blasphemously taught that the Son had his origin in the Incarnation in his birth from Mary, They thus clearly maintain the eternal Sonship and the reality of the three ὑποστάσεις of the Deity.

Homooiousios and the Homoeans

To say that the Son is like the Father is not at first sight open to objection. The expression had been widely current without protest. Athanasius in his earlier treatises against the Arians was content to speak of the Son as being like the Father (see e.g. the Depositio Arii, c. 323, and the Expositio Fidei, ?328 a.d,, Hahn p. 264), and in argument with Arians he does not disallow the term even later (Or. c. Ar. ii.34, c. 356-360 ; cf. ad. Afros 7, c. 369). But at this later time he used it himself in general only with qualification (e.g. Or. c. Ar. ii.22, κατὰ πάντα, and i.40, iii.20 ; but alone ii.17).

So Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures (c. 348-350), while insisting on the necessity of scriptural language, and contradicting the doctrines of Arius (without mentioning his name), protests against terms of human contrivance (Cat. v 12) and uses ‘like the Father’ either ‘according to the Scriptures’ or ‘in all things’.

But as early as de Decr. 20 (c. 351-355) Athanasius had written that by saying the Son was “one in οὐσία” with the Father the Council meant “that the Son was from the Father, and not merely like, but the same in likeness …” his likeness being different from such as is ascribed to us: and he proceeded to show (§ 23) that mere likeness implies something of difference. “Nor is he like only outwardly, lest he seem in some respect or wholly to be other in οὐσία, as brass shines like gold or silver or tin. For these are foreign and of other nature, are separated off from each other in nature and virtues, nor does brass belong to gold . . . but though they are considered like, they differ in essence.” And later, de Syn. 53 (c. 359-361), he argued altogether against the use of the term ‘like’ in connexion with οὐσία on the ground that ‘like’ applies to qualities rather than to ‘essence’.

St Basil after him in Ep. 8 (perhaps dependent on de Syn.), c. 360. “We in accordance with the true doctrine speak of the Son as neither like nor unlike the Father. Each of these terms is equally impossible, for like and unlike are predicated in relation to quality, and the divine is free from quality. . . . We, on the contrary, confess identity of nature and accept the one-ness of essence. . . . for he who is essentially God is of one essence with Him who is essentially God.” So it was that when the partial truth of ‘likeness’ was put forward as the whole truth, the expression had to be abandoned. No form of likeness will really do. It would apply to some qualities and attributes perhaps; but in being God (that is, in their οὐσία Father and Son were not like but the same—of one οὐσία: in their special attributes and individual characteristics they were not like—they were distinct ὑποστάσεις.

The meaning of Homoousios in the ‘Constantinopolitan’ Creed.

Dr. Harnack (following Dr. Zahn and Prof. Gwatkin to some extent) maintains that though Homoousios triumphed at the Council of Constantinople and finally won its place in the Creed of the universal Church, yet it was accepted in the sense of Homoiousios. He speaks accordingly of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ orthodoxy, the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Nicenes—the old being represented by the champions of ὁμοούσιος at Nicaea, and by the West and Alexandria, the ‘new’ by the Antiochenes, the Cappadocians, and the Asiatics.

Of old, he argues, it had been the unity of the Godhead that had stood out plain and clear: the plurality had been a mystery. But after 362 it was permitted to make the unity the mystery—to start from the plurality and to reduce the unity to a matter of likeness, that is, to interpret Homoousios as Homoiousios, thus changing the ‘substantial’ unity of being into a mere likeness of being.

That is, in effect, to say that it was permitted to believe in three beings with natures like each other, οὐσία receiving a sense nearer to ‘nature’ than to ‘being’. Instead of one Godhead, existing permanently in three distinct forms or spheres of existence, there are three forms of existence of like nature with one another, which together make up the Godhead.

It would indeed be strange if expert theologians, after so long a controversy, at last agreeing to reject homoiousios in favour of the Nicene homoousios, strained out the term and swallowed the sense. It would indeed be a scathing satire on the work of councils and theologians. It would be proof of strange incompetence and blindness on the part of the historians of doctrine that such a conclusion of the Arian controversy should only have been discovered in the nineteenth century.

But this new reading of the history is a paradox. It is not really supported by the evidence cited in its favour. The facts when patiently reviewed confirm the old historical tradition and do not justify the new hypothesis, according to which the Church has all these centuries been committed to an essentially tritheistic interpretation of the Person of her Lord. [See further “The Meaning of Homoousios in the ‘Constantinopolitan’ Creed” Texts and Studies, vol. vii no. 1.]

“By the Will of the Father”

The teaching that God called the Logos into personal existence by a decree, by the free action of His will, involves ideas that are inconsistent with the Catholic interpretation of the Gospel. It conceives God as already existent as a Person by Himself alone, so destroying the Trinitarian idea of the personality of the Godhead; and declares that God, who had been thus alone, after a time brought forth the Logos, which he had hitherto borne within himself as one of his attributes (his intelligence), and endowed it with a hypostatic existence, and the Logos thus became a Being distinct from God Himself. The generation of the Logos is thus represented not as necessary, founded in the very being of God; nor as eternal, although it is prior to all time: but as accidental, inasmuch as the Logos might have been left, as originally, impersonal. So the Son might never have come to a real hypostatic existence, and there might not have been the relation of Father and Son in the Godhead. That is to say, the Christian conception of God would be only de facto true, and would not be grounded in the very essence or being of the Godhead.

If it were the case, as the Arians taught, that the Son was created ‘by the will of the Father ‘, then the counsel and will preceded the creation and thus the Son is not from all eternity, but has come into being. There was a time (though not ‘time’ as we know it) when he was not. Therefore he is not God as the Father is. “It was an Arian dialectical artifice (see Epiphanius Ancor. 51) to place before the Catholics this alternative:—God produced his Son either of free will or not of free will. If you say ‘not of free will’, then you subject the Godhead to compulsion. If you say ‘of free will’, than you must all that the will was there before the Logos. Ambrose (de Fide iv.9) answered that neither expression was admissible, for the matter concerned neither a decision of the divine will nor a compulsion of God, but an act of the divine nature, which as such falls under the idea neither of compulsion nor of freedom. To the same effect Athanasius (Or. c. Ar. iii and de decr. Nic. Syn.) argued that the generation, as an act of the divine nature, goes far beyond an act of the will (cf. Greg. Naz. Theol. Or. iii.3 ff.). And Cyril of Alexandria makes a distinction between the concomitant and the antecedent will of the Father; maintaining that the former, but not the latter, is concerned with the generation of the Son (σύνδρομος θέλησις, not προηγουμένη—see de Trin. ii p. 56).”

So Döllinger writes, but he goes on (Hippolytus and Callistus Eng. tr. p. 198) to shew that, though the Catholics contended vigorously against the Arian teaching on this point, the Trinitarian self-determination of God must not, of course, be represented as a merely natural and necessary process; that is to say, as a process in any sense unconditioned by His will, “In God, in whom is found nothing passive—no mere material substratum, who is all movement and pure energy, we can conceive of no activity, not even directed towards Himself, in which the will also does not share. The eternal generation of the Son is at once necessary (grounded in the divine nature itself, and therefore without beginning), and also at the same time an act of volition (voluntaria). That is, the divine will is one of the factors in the act of begetting. Not without volition does the divine essence become the Father and beget the Son. But this volition is not a single decree of God; not something which must be first thought or determined, and then carried into effect: but it is the first, essential, eternal movement of the divine will operating on itself, and the condition of all external, that is, creative, acts.”

Μονογενής—Unigenitus, Unicus

The word μονογενής, according to the original and dominant use of it in Greek literature, and by the prevailing consent of the Greek Fathers, was applied properly to an only child or offspring. So Basil adv. Eunom. ii.20 explains it as meaning ὁ μόνος γεννεθείς, and repudiates the meaning ὁ μόνος παρὰ μόνου γενόμενος (or γεννηθείς) which was arbitrarily put upon it by Eunomius. The special kind of unicity which belongs to an only child is latent in the word in the few usages in which it is not apparent, as when it is used of the Pheonix, or by Plato Tim. 31n with οὐρανός (as made by the Father of all, ib. 28c) and by the later writers of κόσμος. In a few cases only the word is loosely applied to inanimate objects that are merely alone in their kind, as it were connected to γένος.

Tho paraphrase μόνος γεννηθείς, which Basil gives, is essentially true to the sense, but the passive form goes beyond μονγενής. So probably ungenitus; and ‘only-begotten’ is still narrower in meaning. If it connected with υἱός, ‘only Son’, as in the Apostle’s Creed, would be the nearest equivalent in English. If it is connected to θέος ‘only’ would not, of course, be a possible translation: ‘sole-born’ might express the meaning exactly.

Unicus was the rendering of μονογενής throughout the Bible in the earliest Old Latin versions, but it was supplanted by unigenitus in some forms of the Latin before the time of Jerome in the five passages in the New Testament in which it has reference to our Lord (namely John 1.14, 18; 3.16, 18; 1John 4.9) Nearly all the native Latin Creeds have Filium uninim eius, though unigenitus is used in translations of comparatively late Greek creeds. Even Augustine uses unicus more readily, and when he has unigenitus he explains it as equivalent to unicus. But in the course of time the more explicit word prevailed, except in the Apostles’ Creed. So we have filium unicum in the Apostles’ Creed (English ‘only’), but Filium unigenitum in the Latin translations of the ‘Constantinopolitan’ Creed (English ‘only-begotten’). See Hort Two Dissertations.


Footnotes to Chapter 12

1. On the history of Arianism the works of Professor Gwatkin are invaluable—Studies of Arianism, 1st ed. 1882, 2nd ed. 1900, and The Arian Controversy in the series ‘Epochs of Church History’.

2. An excellent sketch of the development of the doctrine of the Person of Christ up to the time of Arius is given by Professor Gwatkin (Studies of Arianism p4ff). Inherited from Judaism and the Old Testament was the fundamental principle, with which Christians started, of the existence of God, His unity and distinction from the world. As a second fundamental doctrine of their own they had the revelation of this God in Jesus Christ—the Incarnation and the Resurrection. They had an instinctive conviction that the fulness of the Lord was more than human, the life that flowed from him more than human life, the atonement through him an atonement with the Supreme Himself, the Person of the Lord the infinite and final revelation of the Father. So his divinity became as fixed an axiom as God’s unity—and of his humanity there was of course no doubt. The problem was how to reconcile this view of Christ’s person with the fundamental principle of the unity of God. At first bare assertions were enough: but, when the question of interpretation was raised, new theories had to be tested by Scripture; and the two great tendencies, which are innate in human thought, emerge: the rationalist, which questions the divinity and so the incarnation; and the mystic, which, recognising full divinity in Christ, regards it as a mere appearance or modification of the One, and so endangers the distinction between him and the Father. By the fourth century it was becoming clear that the only solution of the problem was to be found in a distinction inside the divine unity. Neither Arianism with its external Trinity, nor Sabellianism with its economic Trinity, satisfied the conditions of the problem. So it was necessary to revise the idea of divine personality and to acknowledge not three individuals but three eternal aspects of the Divine, in its inward relations as well as in its outward relations to the world (that is, three eternal modes of the divine being, God existing always in three spheres). But this was just what the heathen could least do. Here was experienced the greatest difficulty in the pre-Christian conception of God which prevailed in the world, and which converts brought with them—namely, the essential simplicity—singleness—of His being (cf. the Sabellian Trinity of temporal aspects  (πρόσωπα) of the One; and the Arian Trinity of One increate and two created beings). Insistence on the Lord’s divinity was leading back to polytheism. The fundamental idea of God at the back of all must be rectified before the position was secure.

3. The extant writings of Arius are few—a letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia (Theodoret H.E. i 4 or 5), a letter to his bishop, Alexander (Epiph. adv. Haer. Ixix, and Ath. dc Syn. 16), extracts from the Thalia (Ath. Or. c. Ar. i, ii, and de Syn. 15), and a Creed (Socr. H.E. i 26, and Soz. H.E. ii 27). Asterius seems to be regarded by Athanasius (see Or. c. Ar. i 30-33, ii 37, iii 2, 60, and dr Deer. Syn. JVic. 8, 28-31) as the chief literary representative of Arianism (for his history see Gwatkin, p. 72, note 2), but we have only quotations from his writings in the works of Athanasius and in Eusebius Caes. contra Marcellum (who had written against Asterius). Philostorgius, a Eunomian, of Cappadocia (c. 368-430), wrote a history in twelve books of the time from the appearance of Arius to the year 423, in which he defended Arianism as being the original form of Christianity. Of this there are extant many short pieces and one long passage (see Migne P.G. Ixv 459-638). The letter of Eusebius of Nicomedia to Paulinus (Theodoret H.E. i.5) is of importance.

For the refutation of Arianism proper the writings of Athanasius are of peculiar importance (a useful summary of the teaching of Arius in the letter of Alexander on the Synod of 321 in the tract—probably composed by Athanasius—called the Depositio Arii; see also the letter of Alexander in Theodoret H.E. i.3). Basil’s Epp. 8, 9 are full of interest, and besides there are the writings of Hilary, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Phoebadius. For the tenets of the Anomoeans see Basil’s five (?three) books against Eunomius, and Gregory of Nyssa’s twelve, written after Basil’s death in reply to the answer of Eunomius. Other champions of orthodoxy are represented to us only by fragments.

For a short statement of what Arius himself said of his own conceptions, see his letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, his ‘fellow-Lucianist’, the ‘truly pious’ (εὐσεβής) given by Theodoret H.E. i.4(5). “We say and believe, and have taught and do teach, that the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that he does not derive his subsistence from any matter; but that by his own wish and counsel he has subsisted before time and before ages as perfect God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before he was begotten or created or purposed or established he was not. For he was not unbegotten. We are persecuted because we say that the Son has a beginning, but that God is without beginning, . . . and likewise, because we say that he is of the non-existent. And this we say because he is neither part of God, nor of any essential being.” In this phrase there is no doubt reference to the notion supposed to be contained in the term ὁμοούσιος of some οὐσία prior to Father and Son—a tertium quid—in which they both alike had part.

4. For other objections to this expression, see infra p. 171 n. 1.

5. To say that the Son was begotten or born ‘of the will ‘or by the will’ of the Father seems to have been a common way of speaking before this time, and the expression is in itself quite free from objection. So, for example, Justin wrote κατὰ τὴν πάτρος πάτων καὶ δεσπότου θεοῦ βουλὴν διὰ παρθένου ἄνθρωπος ἀπεκυήθη (Apol. i.46), and used similar expressions (Dial. c. Tryph. 63, 85); Origen, see supra p. 148; and Novatian (less accurately) ‘ex quo’ (sc. the Father), quado ipse voluit, sermo tilius natus est’. Cf. the Creed in the Apostolic Constitutions vii.41—τὸν πρὸ αἰώνων εὐδοκίᾳ τοῦ πατρὸς γεννηθέντα. It was only when the ‘will’ was unnaturally placed outside of the ‘being’ of the Father, and the expression ‘of the will’ employed in opposition to ‘of the being’ of the Father, to denote a later and external origin, that it ceased to be used by careful writers as a true and proper description. See further additional note p. 194.

6. A typical instance of Arian logic seems to be furnished by Asterius in this connexion. He wrote a tract (see Ath. Or. c. Ar. i.30-33) of which the main thesis apparently was that there could not be two ἀγένητα. He then defined ἀγένητον as τὸ μὴ ποιηθέν ἀλλ’ ἀεί ὄν and proceeded to argue that as the Father alone was ἀγένητον it was to Him alone that the description οὑ ποιηθὲν ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ ὄν applied. That description was thus not true of the Son; and therefore as it was not true to say of him ‘not made but always (eternally) existent’, he must have been made and have come into existence at some remote period.

The formula ἀγένητον, as sounding more philosophical and having traditional sanction, became a plausible substitute for the original phrases of the Arians when they were driven from ‘out of nothing’ and ‘once he was not ‘. See Ath. de Decr. 28, and Or. c. Ar. i.32. And so objection was taken on the part of their opponents to any such use of the words ἀγένητον and γένητον—e.g. by Athanasius de Decr. 31: “Nowhere is [the Son] found calling the Father Unoriginated; but when teaching us to pray, he said not, ‘When ye pray, say, God Unoriginated’, but rather when ye pray, say, ‘Our Father, which art in heaven’.” And “He bade us be baptized, not into the name of Unoriginate and Originate, not into the name of Uncreate and Creature, but into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”—though at the same time it is of course allowed that the term Unoriginate does admit of a religious use (ibid. 32).

7. For this reason they were careful to say only ‘there was once when he was not’ (ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν) and not ‘there was a time when he was not.’ Cg. their phrase ἀχρόνοως πρὸ πάντων γεννηθείς (Ath. de Synod. 16).

8. The Logos took the place of the human rational soul, the mind, or spirit. See infra on the Human Soul of Christ p. 247.

9. Arius seems, in part at least, to have been misled by a wrong use of analogy, and by mistaking description for definition. All attempts to explain the nature and relations of the Deity must largely depend on metaphor, and no one metaphor can exhaust those relations. Each metaphor can only describe one aspect of the nature or being of the Deity, and the inferences which can be drawn from it have their limits when they conflict with the inferences which can be truly drawn from other metaphors describing other aspects. From one point of view Sonship is a true description of the inner relations of the Godhead: from another point of view the title Logos describes them best. Each metaphor must be limited by the other.

The title Son may obviously imply later origin and a distinction amounting to ditheism. It is balanced by the other title Logos, which implies co-eternity and inseparable union. Neither title exhausts the relations. Neither may be pressed to far as to exclude the other.

10. Among the chief passages to which they appealed were these:—For the unity of God, Deut. 6.4; Luke 18.19; John 17.3; for the nature of the Sonship, Ps. 45.8; Matt. 12.28; 1Cor. 1.24; for the creation of the Logos, Prov. 8.22 (LXX), Acts 2.36, Col. 1.15, Heb. 3.2; for his moral growth and development (προκοπή), Luke 2.52; Matt. 26.39ff, Heb. 5.8-9; Phil. 2.6ff, Heb. 1.4; for the possibility of change (τὸ τρεπτόν) and imperfection of knowledge, Mark 13.32; John 11.34, 13.31; for his inferiority to the Father John 14.28, Matt. 27.46. (Cf. Matt. 11.27, 26.39, 28.18; , John 12.27, 1Cor. 15.28.)

11. See Lightfoot’s note ad loc. He argues that the word is doubtless used with reference to the title πρωτόγονος given to the λόγος by Philo, meaning the archetypal idea of creation, afterwards realized in the material world; and with reference to its use as a title of the Messiah in the Old Testament (Ps. 89.28), implying that he was the natural ruler of God’s household with all the (Hebrew) rights of primo-geniture. Priority to all creation and sovereignty over all creation are thus the two ideas involved in the phrase, and patristic exegesis was on these lines until the Arian innovations. In opposition to them the Catholic Fathers sometimes put a strained sense on the phrase, and would apply it to the Incarnate Christ rather than to the Eternal Word, so being obliged to understand the ‘creation’ of the new spiritual creation,—against which view see Lightfoot. Cf. also Athanasius de Decr. 20, and Basil on the text adv. Eunom. iv; and against the secondary meaning of sovereignty over creation, see Abbott, International Critical Commentary ad loc. All that the phrase can be said with certainty to mean is before all creation (or every creature)’.

12. Professional jealousy has been assigned as the cause. Theodoret (H.E. i 2) says Arius was disappointed in his expectation of succeeding to the bishopric. He was certainly not free from intellectual vanity. He probably thought the teaching of Alexander unsound and Sabellian, and perhaps attacked it as such. But it may have been his own teaching that aroused opposition. (Controversy in the fourth century was not trammelled by rules of courtesy to opponents, and Athanasius himself describes the Arians as madmen, or fanatics, and enemies of God and of Christ, and—frequently in allusion to scriptural similes—as dogs, lions, wolves, chameleons, cuttlefish, leeches, gnats, hydras. See also the Historia Arianorum of Athanasius.) Many of the same ideas, and the same terms and texts, are found current and matter of controversy in the middle of the third century. See the Correspondence between the Dionysii supra p. 113, and the extracts in Ath. de Decr. 25-27.

13. “It is not clear that Lucian of Antioch was heretical”—Gwatkin Studies of Arianism p. 17. It will be borne in mind that the style of exegesis at Antioch was literal, and that the Lucianists thought that logic could settle everything.

14. Cf. the letter of Arius to him (Theodoret H.E. i.4), and his letter to Paulinus of Tyre (ibid. i.5—or 5 and 6).

15. This is the treatise known as the Depositio Arii among the writings of Athanasius. It is described by Robertson (‘Athanasius’ Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol. iv) as the germ of all the anti-Arian writings of Athanasius.

16. The bishops assembled numbered three hundred and eighteen, about one-sixth of the whole body of bishops. The Council lasted about three months.

17. To this middle party the name ‘Conservatives’ has been given. The label is a useful one, and true in the sense explained above; but it is capable of misleading, and if we use it we must guard ourselves against the inference that the opponents of Arius were in any sense innovators. The real innovation was Arianism, and its uncompromising adversaries were the true Conservatives. This became quite clear in the course of the controversy, while many of the ‘middle’ party at Nicaea leant more and more towards the Arian side. It is therefore only in this limited sense, and with this temporary application, that the description holds.

18. Eusebius, c. 260-340, a native of Palestine, probably of Caesarea, spent his early life at Caesarea, where he was fortunate in the friendship of the presbyter Pamphilus, who left to him his great collection of books. At the time of the Council he was beyond question the most learned man and most famous living writer in the Church (Lightfoot, Art. D.C.B., q.v.). His teaching may fairly be taken as representing the prevailing doctrine of the Trinity and the Person of Christ, which made it possible for many to vacillate between Subordinationism and Sabellianism, and shewed the need for more precise definitions. Dorner describes his doctrinal system as a chameleon-hued thing—a mirror of the unsolved problems of the Church of that age. It was the Arian controversy which compelled men to enter for the first time on a deeper investigation of the questions (see Dorner Person of Christ Eng. tr. div. i vol. ii pp. 218-227). But on the main points he is explicit against Arianism, namely—(1) that the Logos was notκτίσμα like other creatures, and (2) that there was not a time when he was not; though he speaks of the Father as pre-existent before the Son, and of the Son as a second existence and second cause. His alliance with the Arian party—so far as it went—was probably largely due to personal friendships, and to his deep-rooted aversion to the ‘Sabellianism’ of Marcellus and others on the opposite side. And he followed what seemed at the time to be the policy of ‘comprehension’. (Cf. Socrates H.E. ii.21, where passages are cited to prove his orthodoxy against those who charged him with Arianizing.)

19. The Western bishops present were few, but thoroughly representative. Africa was represented by Caecilian of Carthage, Spain by Hosius of Cordova (the capital of the southern province, Baetica), Gaul by Nicasius of Dijon, Italy by the two Roman presbyters and the Bishop Mark, metropolitan of Calabria, Pannonia by Domnus of Stridon.

Hosius had been for years the best known and most respected bishop in the West (born in 256, he had already presided at the Synod of Elvira in c. 306), and as such had been singled out by Constantine as his adviser in ecclesiastical affairs. It is probable that after the emperor had opened the Council with the speech recorded by Eusebius (Vit. Const, iii 12), Hosius presided, and the term ὁμοούσιος is only the Greek equivalent of the Latin unius substantiae, with which all Latin Christians were familiar from the days of Tertullian and Novatian. On Hosius, see P.B. Gams Kirchengeschichte von Spanien vol. ii div. i, esp. p. 148 ff. It was more by word and by deed than by writings that he fought for the faith of the Church, but Athanasius has preserved a letter which late in life he wrote to the Emperor Constantius, urging him to abandon his policy of protection of the Arians and persecution of their opponents (Hist. Arian. § 44).

20. See Theodoret H.E. 1.7.

21. The Creed is given by Socrates H.E. i.8 (Hahn p. 257), in the letter which Eusebius wrote to his Church explaining the proceedings at Nicaea. He describes the Creed as in accordance with the tradition which he had received from his predecessors in the see, both when under instruction and at the time of his baptism, with his own knowledge learnt from the sacred Scriptures, and with his belief and teaching as presbyter and as bishop. The natural inference from his letter is that it was the very Baptismal Creed of the Church of Caesarea (and probably of all Palestine) that he recited, but it is possible that he gave a free adaptation of it, expanding some and omitting or curtailing other clauses (see Hahn pp. 131, 132). The words as to the Son are, “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Logos of God, God from God, light from light, life from life, only [begotten] Son (υἱὸν μονογενῆ), first born before all creation (πρωτότοκον πάσης κτίσεως), begotten, from the Father before all the ages, by means of whom too all things came into being, who on account of our salvation was incarnate (σαρκωθέντα) and lived as a man among men (πολιτευσάμενον—the metaphor of citizenship in a state had faded, and the word means simply ᾽lived’ or at most ‘lived as one of them’), and suffered and rose again on the third day, and went up to the Father, and will come again in glory to judge living and dead.” To the Creed Eusebius added an assertion of the individual existence of each person in the Trinity (the Father truly Father, the Son truly Son, and the Holy Spirit truly Holy Spirit), with an appeal to the baptismal commission (Matt. 28.19) which was no doubt intended to be taken to heart by any who, in opposing Arianism, might tend to slide unawares into ‘Sabellian’ error. For this anti-Sabellian declaration, however, in the Creed of the Council there was substituted an anti-Arian anathema.

22. In drawing up the Creed of Nicaea from the Creed of Eusebius the following phrases were struck out: (1)λόγον—which represented the vague Eusebian Christology, instead of which the Sonship was to be brought prominently forward; (2) πρωτότοκον πάσε κτίσεως πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς γεγεννημένον because susceptible of Arian interpretation; (3) ἐν ἀνθρώπος πολιτευσάμενον because too vague, not expressing explicitly the real manhood, Modifications of phrases, in effect new,  were the following: τὸν υἰὸν τοῦ θεοῦ and γεννηθέντα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς μονογενῆ, λόγον υἱόν τοῦ θεοῦ and γεννηθέντα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς μονογενῆ (instead of λόγον and later on in the Creed υἱόν μονογενῆ)  and ἐνανθρωπήσαντα. Three phrases only were quite new additions τουτέστιν ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός, γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα and ὁμοόυσιον τῷ πατρί.

23. The Creed agreed to by the Council must not be regarded as a full and complete statement in symbolic form of the faith of the Church at the time. The express purpose for which the Council was summoned was to examine the Arian doctrines, and to declare the authoritative teaching of the Church on the matters in dispute—not to frame a new Baptismal Creed for all. The Creed may be said to have been ‘limited by the terms of reference’, and therefore it deals at length with the doctrine of the Person of Christ and with nothing else: and there is even no statement on the birth from the Virgin, nor on the suffering under Pontius Pilate, which were certainly part of the common tradition, and contained in the Baptismal Creed of Eusebius, though omitted by him too, as immaterial to his purpose, in his letter to his people. Cf. also the First Creed of Antioch, 341, at the end of which are the words “and if it is necessary to add it, we believe also concerning the resurrection of the flesh and life eternal”.

24. παντκράτωρ, termination signifies the active exercise of rule—’all-ruler,  ‘all-ruling’. In the New Testament it is used in the Apocalypse (ὁ θέος ὁ π, nine times) and in 2Cor. 6.18 (quotation of LXX, Amos 4.13 = Lord of Hosts). All-mighty—simply possessing all power, apart from any notion of its employment—is παντοδύναμις. Both words are represented by the Latin omnipotens.

25. That this is the construction intended is strongly maintained by Hort Two Dissertations p. 61ff as also the clause ‘that is, of the essence of the Father’ explains ‘only-begotten’, being designed to exclude the Arian interpretation of it as expressing only a unique degree of a common relationship. See Additional Note p. 195. Athanasius, however, never dwells on μονογενῆ and always treats the clause ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός as a mere exegetical expansion of ἐκ τοῦ πατρός or ἐκ θέοῦ (see next note), and the order of the clauses is extremely awkward if Dr. Hort’s interpretation be right. However familiar the collocation μονογενῆ θεόν was at the time, I am not confident that it was intended here, and the more generally accepted rendering, which is given in the text as an alternative, may be accepted with less misgiving.

26. ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός. οὐσία here certainly means the inmost being of the Father, his very self. The translation substance which comes to us through the Latin = (substantia essentia) is not satisfactory. ‘Essence’ hardly conveys to English ears the real meaning, and nature too is strictly quite inadequate. The phrase is intended to mark the essential unity of the Son with the Father, declaring that he has his existence from no source external to the Father, but is of the very being of the Father—so that the Father Himself is not, does not exist, is not conceived of as having being, apart from the Son. So it is that Athanasius (de Decr. 19) says the Council wrote ‘from the essence of God rather than simply from God’, expressly to mark the unique unoriginate relation in which the Son stands to the Father, in view of the sense in which it is true that all things are ‘from God‘. Of nothing originate could it be said that it was ‘from the essence of God’. The essence of the Father is the sphere of being of the Son. He is inseparable from the essence of the Father (ibid. 20). To say ‘of the essence of God’ is the same thing as to say ‘of God’ in more explicit language (ibid. 22).

27. In this phrase there is taken into the service of the formal Creed of the Church a familiar analogy—the sun and the rays that stream from it—to shew that, though in one way they are distinct, there is no kind of separation between the Father and the Son. The being, the life, that is in the Son is one and the same as the being that is in the Father; just as there is no break between the ray of light which we see and the source of all our light in the sky. The ray is not the sun—but the light is the same, continuous, from the sun to the ray. The simile illustrates equally both ‘of the essence’ and ‘one in essence’ (Ath. de Decr. 23 and 24).

28. In these words the analogy is dropped. It is no mere reflection of the divine being that is in the Son. Father and Son alike are really God—each and individually.

29. It is generation, and not creation, by which the Son exists: as it is asserted later that he was himself the agent through whom Creation was effected.

30. ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρί The οὐσία of the Son is the οὐσία of the Father as far as οὐσία goes, no distinction can be made between them. Yet it is a distinct existence which the Son has in relation to the Father. So, as ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός expresses the one idea, ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρί safeguards the other; and Basil was able to insist that the latter phrase, so far from agreeing with the Sabellian heresy, is plainly repugnant to it, “This expression,” he says, “corrects the evil of Sabellius: for it does away with the sameness of the hypostasis (i.e. the oneness of person τὴν ταυτότητα τῆς ὑπόστάσεως—according to Basil’s limited use of ὑπόστασις), and introduces the conception of the persons in perfection. For a thing is not itself of one essence with itself, but one thing with another.”—Basil Ep. 52 (and see Bull op. c, p. 70).

31. ἐνανθρωπήσαντα The preceding phrase σαρκωθέντα, The ‘was incarnate’ ‘became flesh, was not enough in view of the Arian Christology (see supra p. 160). So this term was added. The Son, whose οὐσία is the same as the Father’s, became man. Whatever is necessary to human nature—all that makes man man, all the constituents of a normal human existence—he took upon himself.

32. It seems certain that the thesis here anathematized ‘he was not before he was begotten’ is the Arian thesis equivalent to the denial of the eternity of the Sonship (i.e. which negatives the Catholic doctrine of the eternal generation—the existence from eternity of the Son as Son—and upholds the Arian conception expressed in the previous clause ‘there was once when he was not’). The anathema is thus intended to maintain simply the eternity of the existence of the Son—though he is Son yet he never had a beginning (contrasted with the Arian because he is Son, therefore he must have had a beginning’). [Some early writers, however, including Hippolytus (c. Noet. 10) and Theophilus (ad Autol. ii.10-22, and supra p. 127) seem to conceive of the existence of the Lord (as Word) before he became Son—as though he was only generated Son at a later stage, at the beginning of all things: and Bull (Def. N. C. iii.5-8) argues that the generation thus spoken of was only metaphorical, and that in harmony with such a mode of representation the Nicene anathema has not reference to the Arian thesis stated above, but expressly maintains (in this sense) that “the Son was though not yet, strictly speaking, generated) before his generationthis generation being only one of a succession of events in time generation being only by which the real and eternal truth was shadowed out. See Robertson Athanasius pp. 343-347.]

The anathemas are of considerable value for the elucidation of the Creed, shewing precisely at what misinterpretation particular phrases of the Creed were directed. Statements and denials thus go together; and any uncertainty as to the meaning of the positive definitions is removed by the negative pronouncements that I follow.

33. ἐξ ἐτέρας ὑπόστάσεως ἢ οὐσίας The words are certainly used as synonyms, as they were by Athanasius till the Council at Alexandria in 362. In repeating the anathema (de Decr. 20) he has only ἐξ ἐτέρας οὐσίας, shewing that to him at least no new conception was added by the alternative ὑποστάσεως. It was perhaps intended for the West (=substantia). See Additional Note on ὑπόστασις infra p. 235.

34. τρεπτόν ἢ ἀλλοιωτόν. In these words we pass from metaphysics to ethics,—and the chief ethical inference of the Arians from their metaphysical theory is rejected. See supra p. 160. In virtue of the divine being which was his, Jesus Christ (although man as well as God) was sinless and incapable of moral change or alteration of character. How he could be at one and the same time both man and God, the Creed does not attempt to explain. It is content to repudiate the Arian teaching, which was inconsistent with his being God. See infra p. 250.

35. So Theodoret. Socrates, however, says all except five.

36. The objections to the new terms ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας and ὁμοούσιος were numerous.
(1) There was the scriptural (positive) objection which every one could appreciate. The words were not to be found in the inspired writings of the evangelists and Apostles. Every Creed hitherto had been composed of scriptural words, and men had not been pinned down to a particular and technical interpretation. (This objection Athanasius meets in de Decretis 18, where he turns the tables on the objectors, asking from what Scriptures the Arians got their phrases ἐκ οὐκ ὄντων, ἧν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν and the like, and shewing that scriptural expressions offered no means of defence against such novel terms. The bishops had ‘to collect the sense of the Scriptures’—ibid. 20.)
(2) There was the traditional or ecclesiastical (negative) objection. The use of the word ὁμοούσιος had been condemned at the Council of Antioch in 269 (see supra p. 111). (Athanasius, however, claims ‘tradition’ for it—see de Decr. 25; and insists that it is used in a different sense from that in which Paul used it, and that it is a true interpretation of Scripture.)
(3) There was the doctrinal objection. To all who held to the conception of the singleness—the simplexity—of the divine existence, to all who took οὐσία in the primary sense of particular or individual existence, it was difficult to see any but a ‘Sabellian’ meaning in the word which implied common possession of the divine οὐσία. Ditheism (and Tritheism) all were agreed in repudiating, but this word seemed to imply that the persons were only temporary manifestations of the one οὐσία.
(4) There was the philosophical objection. The words implied either that there was some οὐσία prior both to Father and to Son, which they shared in common (and then this οὐσία would be the first principle and they would be alike derived from it); or else they connoted a materialistic conception, Father and Son being as it were parts or pieces of one οὐσία. (This objection being based on the identification of οὐσία with εἶδος or ὕλη).) See Ath. Or. c. Ar. i 14, De Syn. Arimel Sel, 61; Hilary de Fide Orient. 68.

37. See additional note on Marcellus, p. 190.

38. They are in Ath. de Synod. 22ff and Socr. H.E. ii.10 (Hahn p. 183ff.).

39. The appeal which is made throughout to Scripture and Tradition (though the authors are forced to admit some non-scriptural words) carries with it the tacit condemnation of the new Nicene terms.

40.‘Only-begotten’ must in this case certainly be joined with ‘God’, which otherwise would stand in an impossible position. See supra p. 168 n. 4.

41. These words are directed against any notion of partition of the Godhead, as though a portion only of the divine were in the Son and the entirety of the Godhead were thereby impaired. God is entire and the Son is entire.

42. L.c. the son alone was begotten by the Father alone, all else being created by the Father not alone, but through the Son whom He had first begotten alone. See Ath. de Decr. 7. This phrase is in accord with the Arian explanation of μονογενής, and became a favourite formula of the Anomoeans.

43. This is the nearest equivalent to the discarded ὁμοούσιον. The passage should perhaps be punctuated with a colon after ‘unalterable’, but the four words which are bracketed are clearly explanatory of the ‘deity’ of the Father, of which the Son is said to be the unvarying image. εἰκών means the complete representation, and εἰκών τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός, if fairly interpreted, might suffice to exclude Arianism; but Arians could accept it as being practically true.

44. There is nothing in the Creed to exclude the Arian interpretation of this phrase. See supra p. 162.

45. This emphatic reference to the Father’s will would be agreeable to the Arians.

46. Anti-Sabellian. The names correspond to permanent numerical distinctions within the Godhead.

47. ὑπόστασιν. The word here probably comes close to the meaning ‘personal existence.’ See the history of its use p. 235.

48. This expression, which really makes the unity of the three persons moral rather than essential, has been described (Robertson Athanasius p. xliv) as an artfully chosen point of contact between Origen, on the one side, and Asterius, Lucian, and Paul of Samosata, on the other side. It was protested against at Sardica 343 (see Hahn p. 189) as implying a blasphemous and corrupt interpretation of the saying ‘I and the Father are one.’

49. None of the assertions here anathematized was made by the leaders of the Arians. The expressions used represent just those subtle distinctions which seemed to Athanasius to be merely slippery evasions of direct issues.

50. On the authority of Sozomen (H.E. iii.5, vi 12) this Creed is supposed to have been composed by Lucian, and to have won acceptance under cover of his distinguished name. If it was so, the anathemas at the end and (probably) a few phrases in the body of the Creed must have been added by those who produced it at Antioch. The Lucianic origin of the Creed has, however, been called in question in recent times, and the latest suggestion is that Sozomen was mistaken, and confused this (the Second) with the Fourth Creed assigned to this Council, which might be Lucianic. [The argument is that the Creed in the Apostolic Constitutions vii.41 (Hahn p. 139) is Lucian’s, and that the Fourth Creed of Antioch more closely resembles this Creed than the Second does. But the resemblance is not in any case at all close, and the attribution of the Creed in the Apostolic Constitutions io Lucian is quite hypothetical (though its basis may well have been the old Baptismal Creed of Antioch).] The assumption of a mistake seems unnecessary. The bishops’ statement that they had found it in the writings of Lucian (see Sozomen) would not be inconsistent with its having been touched up here and there before the Council approved it. (See Hahn pp. 139 and 184).

51. In Dacia, in the dominions of Constans, between Constantinople and Servia—the modem Sophia in Bulgaria. According to Theodoret H.E. ii.6, two hundred and fifty bishops met; according to Socrates and Sozomen, following Athanasius, about three hundred: but see Gwatkin’s note as to the real number present (Studies of Arianism p. 125). Hosius, Athanasius, and Marcellus were among them.

52. Hahn p. 190 (a Latin version).

53. See Theodoret H.E. ii.6-8, and Hahn p. 188.

54. μακρόστιχος ἔκθεσις—so Sozomen (H.E. iii.11) says it was called. The Creed is given by Socrates H.E. ii.19 and Hahn pp. 192-196.

55. The use of the phrase τῷ πατρί κατὰ πάντα ὄμοιον is notable, but it does not occur conspicuously till 359 (see infra p. 182).

56. Σκοτεινός ‘Son of Darkness’ rather than ‘of Light’—his opponent’s perversion of his name, it seems—is the form which Athanasius gives.

57. For the Creed of this synod (the Fourth of Antioch with new anathemas) see Hahn p. 196.

58. Aetius actively attacked the teaching of the semi-Arian bishop Basil of Aneyra and Eustathius of Sebaste. Gallus, who was at the time in charge of the Government at Antioch, ordered him to be put to death by ‘crurifragium’, but he was rescued by the intercession of friends. A short treatise in forty-seven theses, and a preface written by him defending his use of the watchword ἀνόμοιος against misrepresentation of his opponents, are preserved in Epiph. adv. Ηaεr. Ixxvi, and letters to Constantius in Socr. H.E. ii.35. He was condemned at Ancyra in 358 find at Constantinople in 360; recalled by Julian and made a bishop; but he had chequered fortunes till his death in 367 (see Socr. H.E. ii.35, and Dict. Christian Biog. ‘Aetius’).

59. Eunomius, the pupil and secretary of Aetius, was the chief exponent of Anomoeanism. His writings were numerous, but were regarded as so blasphemous that successive imperial edicts (from the time of Arcadius in 398, four years after his death) ordered them to be burnt, and made the possession of them a capital crime. Against him in particular Basil and Gregory wrote. (See Art. D.C.B.).

60. Eudoxius, described by Gwatkin (op. cit. p. 175 n.) as ‘perhaps the worst of the whole gang’, a disciple of Aetius and friend of Eunomius, and after him the leader of the Anomoean party, was ordained and made Bishop of Germanica (on the confines of Syria, Cilicia, and Cappadocia) after the deposition of Eustathius (331), who had refused him orders as unsound in doctrine. Having improperly procured his election to the see of Antioch (347-348), he managed to hold his position till 359, when the Council of Seleuceia deposed him; but by court influence be was appointed patriarch of Constantinople in 360 in succession to Macedonius, and by the favour of Constantius and Valens was able to resist opposition till his death in 370. He seems to have been entirely lacking in reverence, and incredibly self-confident (see Art. D.C.B.).

61. See Soz. H.E. iv.9. Only some half-dozen bishops opposed and protested, and were exiled by imperial decree. Socrates, however (H.E. ii.36), represents the protest as effectual. It was on this occasion, when the orthodox bishops refused to sign the condemnation of Athanasius as being against the canon of the Church, that Constantius made his famous utterance “Let my will be deemed the Canon”. Gwatkin (p. 149) says “the Council . . . only yielded at last to open violence”. Three bishops, including Lucifer of Calaris, were exiled.

62. Valens and Ursacius had been personal disciples of Arius, probably during his exile into Illyricum after Nicaea. Later on they found it politic to profess conservative principles’ (see Socr. H.E. ii.37), and seem to have held a very confused doctrine. In 347, at a Council at Milan, they confessed the falsehood of the charges against Athanasius, but that there was no genuine recantation of Arian views is proved by their part in the Sirmium ‘blasphemy’. After that, they formed the Homoean party in the West (Acaeius in the East), on what seemed to be the line of least resistance, and accepted the ‘Dated Creed’ at the Sirmium conference in 359, where Valens distinguished himself by trying to omit the words κατὰ πάνταThey were at Arminum and Nice, and Valens by artful dissembling and jugglery with words succeeded in getting Arianizing phrases adopted. Valens was Bishop of Mursa in Pannonia and Ursacius of Singidunum (Belgrade).

63. Germinius was Bishop of Sirmium

64.The Creed is in Hahn p. 199 (Latin), and (Greek) Ath. de Syn. 28; Socr. H.E. ii.30. ὁμοούσιον occurs here for the first time.

65. Though the West never felt the stress of the Arian controversy to the same extent as the East, and was fortunate in having—for some time—emperors who favoured the Nicene rather than the Arian cause, yet the work of Hilary, a religious layman elected Bishop of Poitiers in 353 (‘the Athanasius of the West’), and Ambrose in establishing the Homoousian doctrine must not be passed by in any account of its history.
Arianism was strongly (and at times violently) championed in Gaul by such men as Ursacius, Valens, and Saturninus; and after the Council of Milan in 355, at which the condemnation of Athanasius was pronounced, Hilary and a number of other bishops withdrew from communion with the three, who thereupon, by representations (probably false) to the emperor, secured an edict banishing Hilary to Phrygia (356). The exile lasted three years, and during it Hilary carried on the war against Arianism by his writings, de Synodis (conciliatory as Athanasius was towards semi-Arians, who seemed really to accept the Nicene teaching but to stumble at the Nicene terms) and de Trinitate. And on his return, till his death in 360, by zeal tempered by tact and mutual explanations of uncertain terms, he effectively won over the waverers and reduced the Arian party to the smallest dimensions. (See J. G. Cazenove ‘Hilarius Pictav‘, D.C.B.; and for his doctrinal teaching especially Dorner Doctrine of the Person of Christ Eng. tr. div. i vol. ii p. 391 (401??).
Hardly less important was the work of Ambrose later—like Hilary, a layman suddenly elevated to the episcopate to be a pillar of the Faith (Bishop of Milan 374-397). The successor of the Arian bishop Auxentius, and unflinching in his resistance by word and by deed to Arianism, however supported in imperial circles, he steadily maintained the Catholic teaching against all heresy. As a diligent student and warm admirer of the Greek theologians, especially Basil, he exerted all his great influence to secure the complete victory of the Nicene doctrine in the West. (See especially De fide ad Gratianum (ed. Hurler, vol. 30) and De Spiritu S.).

66. The blasphemy of Sirmium runs as follows: “Since there was thought to be some dispute concerning the faith, all the questions were carefully dealt with and examined at Sirmium, in the presence of our brothers and fellow-bishops Valens, Ursacius, and Germinius. It is certain that there is one God, all-ruling and Father, as is believed through the whole world, and His only Son Jesus Christ, the Lord, our Saviour, begotten from (the Father) Himself before the ages: but that two gods cannot and ought not to be preached, for the Lord himself said ‘I shall go to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God (John 20.17).’ Therefore there is one God of all, as the Apostle taught ‘Is God God of the Jews only? is He not also of the Gentiles? Yea, of the Gentiles also. Since there is one God, who justifies the circumcision from faith and the uncircumcision through faith (Rom. 3.29-30). And everything else too was concordant and could not be at all discrepant. But as regards the disturbance caused to some or many with regard to substance, which is called in Greek οὐσία, that is—to make it more clearly understood—homousion, or the term homoeusion, no mention at all of it ought to be made and no one ought to preach it—for this cause and reason, that it is not contained in the divine Scriptures and that it is beyond human knowledge, and no one can declare the nativity of the Son, concerning whom it is written ‘Who shall declare his generation? (Isa. 53.8). For it is plain that only the Father knows how he begat His Son, and the Son how he was begotten by the Father. There is no uncertainty that the Father is greater: it cannot be doubtful to any one that the Father is greater than the Son in honour and dignity and renown and majesty, and in the very name of Father, since he, himself testifies—’He who sent me is greater than I am’ (John 14.28). And no one is ignorant that this is Catholic—that there are two persons of Father and Son, that the Father is greater, the Son subject along with all the things which the Father subjected to Himself; that the Father has not a beginning, is invisible, is immortal, is impassible; that the Son, however, has been born from the Father, God from God, light from light—the Son whose generation, as has been said before, no one knows except his Father; that the Son of God, our Lord and God, himself, as is read, took upon him flesh or body, that is, man (humanity), from the womb of the Virgin Mary, even as the angel proclaimed. And as all the Scriptures teach, and particularly the Apostle himself the master (teacher) of the Gentiles, (we know) that from the Virgin Mary he took man (humanity), by means of which he shared in suffering. Furthermore, the chief thing and the confirmation of the whole faith is that a Trinity should always be maintained, as we read in the Gospel, ‘Go ye and baptise all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28.19). Entire and complete is the number of the Trinity. And the Paraclete the Spirit is through the Son, and he was sent and came according to the promise to build up, to teach, to sanctify the Apostles and all believers.” [It will be noted that the Father is here stated to be invisible and incapable of suffering, and the Son in contrast to Him is regarded as passible, joining in the suffering of his human nature. The Son as a divine being is contrasted with the human nature which he assumed. A reference in the explanation of the Creed which was offered at Sardica in 343 in order to repudiate Arian conceptions (Hahn p. 189), “This (sc. the Spirit) did not suffer, but the human nature (ἄνθρωπος) which he put on suffered—which he assumed from Mary the Virgin, the human nature which is capable of suffering”, shews that Arians taught that the divine nature itself in the Incarnate Christ shared the suffering. That is, no doubt, the view intended here. Such teaching obviously makes the divine nature of the Son (passible) different from the divine nature of the Father (impassible), and as such it was repudiated by the opponents of Arianism. The later exact teaching of Cyril of Alexandria and Leo on the subject (see infra pp. 268, 290) was already in some connexions expressed by Athanasius (Or. c. Ar. iii.31-33), as it had been previously by Tertullian (see supra p. 144).]

67. See Hilary de Synodis 11 and adv. Constantium 23. Hosius, Bishop of Cordova—to whose suggestion the term Homoousios at Nicaea was probably due—was present at this synod, and was compelled by violence to sign the Creed (see Soz. H.E. iv.6). So Hilary could call it also ‘the ravings of Hosius’, a singularly uncharitable obiter dictum in view of all the facts and the great services of Hosius.

68. See Hahn p. 201.

69. This was the third assembly at Sirmium within the decade, and the Creed is commonly counted the ‘third’ of Sirmium (there was, however, one drawn up at Sirmium against Photinus in 347, which, strictly speaking, is the first of Sirmium—see Hefele Councils ii.192). It was probably composed by Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, perhaps in Latin, but this cannot be proved (see Hahn p. 204, and Burn Introd. Hist. Creeds p. 92). The framers of the Creed prefixed a clause giving the date of its publication (‘the eleventh day before the Calends of June’—May 22). To their opponents (See Ath. de Syn. 3) it seems ridiculous to date the Catholic faith, and as ‘the Dated Creed’ it is commonly known. The Greek of it is given in Ath. de Syn. 8; Socr. H.E. ii 37 ; Hahn p. 204.

70. The Creed is of further interest as being the first which contained the clause on the Descent into Hades—”and went down into the nether world and set in order things there (τὰ έκεῖσε οἰκονμήσαντα), and when the door-keepers of Hades saw him they were affrighted” (Job 38.17 LXX)—a clause which probably shews the influence of Cyril of Jerusalem, who refers to the Descent several times, and in his list of ten dogmata includes it as explanatory of the burial (e.g. Cat. iv.11, 12).

71. Basil of Ancyra, one of the ‘cabinet’, felt it necessary to draw up a statement that the formula ὃμοιον κατὰ πάντα really embraces εverything, and is enough to exclude any difference between Father and Son. He shews at length that though the bare term οὐσία is not contained in either the old or the new Scriptures, yet its sense is everywhere. The Son is not called the Word of God as a mere force of expression (ἐνέργεια λεκτική) of God, but he is Son (a definite hypostasis) and therefore οὐσία, and so the Fathers called him. He then goes on to describe and to argue against Arian and semi-Arian tenets, and, referring to the attempt tο proscribe οὐσία, says they wished to do away with the name οὐσία in order that it it were no longer uttered by the mouth their heresy might grow in the hearts of men. He suspects they will be caught writing ᾽like in will and purpose’, but necessary ‘unlike in οὐσία’ But if they bone fide accept ‘like in all things’, then they gain nothing by getting rid of the term. For it makes the Son like the Father not only in regard to purpose and ‘energy’, as they define it, but also in regard to his original being and his personal existence, and in regard to his very being as Son. In a word, he declares the formula ‘in all things’ embraces absolutely everything and admits of no difference. See Epiphanius Haer. Ixx.iii 12-22 (esp. 15). [It is the theology of Basil of Ancyra expressed in this treatise that Harnack regards as ultimately adopted, with developments, by the Cappadocians Basil and the Gregories. See infra p. 193.] See Additional Note on ὁμοούσιος and the Homoeans infra p. 192.

72. See Socr. H.E. ii.37; Ath. de Syn. 8ff., ad Afros 3.

73. Cf. Socr. l.c. with Ath. de Syn. 30.

74. Hahn p. 205. the phrases now run, ‘like the Father according to the Scriptures’ and ‘even as the holy Scriptures say and teach,’ and the expression μία ὑπόστασις also is forbidden.

75. Hahn p. 206. this declaration was not really accepted by the synod, which the Quaestor Leonas dissolved, as agreement seemed impossible; but the principle of it was assented to by the deputies sent to Constantius from the synod. (A majority of the council even deposed Acacius, Eudoxius and others; but their sentence was disregarded.).

76. Jerome Dial. adv. Lucif. 19 (Migne P.L. xxiii p. 172). On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleuceia (and the whole question), see the great work of Athanasius de Synodis, written while he was in exile (359), before he heard of the subsequent proceedings, references to which were afterwards inserted. Its real aim was to convince the genuine semi-Arians that nothing but ὀμοούσιον would suffice that it really was what they meant (§§ 41-54).

77. Hahn p. 208. It was at this Council that Macedonius Bishop of Alexandria, ordained by Arian bishops in opposition to Paul and Athanasius, was deposed. See infra ‘Doctrine of the Holy Spirit’ p. 212.

78. Lucifer of Calaris, who had been exiled to Egypt, was present at the Council. He could not agree to the Arians obtaining ceniam ex poenitentia. Hence his schism. He too had consecrated Paulinus in opposition to Meletius at Antioch.

79. The Arian thesis with regard to the Son was being extended to the Holy Spirit, and apparently some, who were now willing to accept the Nicene teaching as to the Son, still wished to be free from any similar definition as to the Holy Spirit, and to distinguish between them in regard to deity. See infra pp. 206, 209.

80. This was in opposition to the christological conceptions already noted (supra p. 160), which were destined to excite greater attention when championed in another interest by Apollinarius. “They confessed”, writes Athanasius, “that the Saviour had not a body without a soul, nor without sense or intelligence; for it was not possible, when the Lord had become man for us, that his body should be without intelligence; nor was the salvation effected in the Word himself a salvation of body only, but of soul also” (Tom. ad Ant. 7).

81. See the account of the Council in the Letter which he wrote to the Church of Antioch (the Tomus ad Antiochenos)— ‘calm and conciliatory, the crown of his career’—urging them to peace. Both sides are represented as agreeing to give up the use of the terms in dispute and to be content with the expression of the faith contained in the Creed of Nicaea.

82. This was the work of the Acacians, to gain the support of Meletius, who was in high estimation with the Emperor Jovian. Their acceptance of the Nicene Creed may therefore have been to some extent opportunist. See Socr. H.E. iii.25.

83. Only Eastern bishops were present, and Meletius of Antioch, who was held in universal estimation (though he had been so much distrusted in the West), was appointed to preside. Gregory of Nazianzus had already been some time in Constantinople, hard at work building up the Nicene faith in his Church of the Anastasia, since Gratian’s edict of toleration in 379 had made it possible again to give the Catholics of Constantinople a diocesan administrator. But as bishop only of the insignificant Sasima, he had hardly ecclesiastical rank enough to preside. The first act of the Council was to appoint him, much against his will, Bishop of Constantinople; and on the death of Meletius, shortly after the beginning of the synod, he naturally took the place of president. When, however, the synod insisted on electing a successor to Meletius, and so continuing the schism at Antioch (in violation of the agreement that when either of the two bishops Meletius and Paul died, the survivor should be acknowledged by both parties); and when the Egyptian bishops (who probably desired the recognition of Maximus, an Alexandrine, who had been previously secretly consecrated Bishop of Constantinople) protested against Gregory’s appointment as a violation of the Nicene canon which forbade the removal of a bishop from one see to another; Gregory insisted on resigning and was succeeded by Nectarius. See Hefele Councils vol. ii p. 310ff.
The West had no part in the Council, and it was not till 451 that it took rank as ecumenical—the Second General Council—and then only in respect of its decrees on faith (the canons as to the status of the Bishop of Constantinople not being accepted at Rome).
In preparing the way for the acceptance of the Nicene definitions the work of Gregory and Basil and Gregory of Nyssa—the Cappadocian Fathers—had been of highest value. See further in regard to them Chapter XIII.

84. No new Creed was framed (See Socr. H.E. v.8 and Soz. H.E. vii.9). An enlarged Creed, afterwards known as the Creed of the Council of Constantinople, was apparently entered in the Acts of the Council (which are not extant), as it was read out from them at the Council of Chalcedon. Possibly it was the Creed professed by Nectarius on his baptism and consecration as Bishop of Constantinople during the progress of the Council. See Kunze Das nicanisch-konstantinpolitanische Symbol, and A. E. Burn Guardian, March 13, 1901. Possibly Cyril of Jerusalem, whose orthodoxy had been more than doubtful (he certainly disliked the test-word homoousios), and who on this occasion publicly proclaimed his adherence to the homoousian formula (see Socr. l.c.), recited in evidence of his opinions the form of Creed which was in use in his Church—a form based upon tho old Baptismal Creed of Jerusalem (which can gathered from his catechetical lectures on it 348-350)—revised and augmented from the Creed of Nicaea about 362, after he was reinstated in his bishopric. And this Creed, being approved by the Council, was entered in the Acts—though not intended for publication and general use; and then, inasmuch as it was manifestly useful in view of later developments of teaching as to the Holy Spirit, it passed into wider currency, and came at length to be regarded as a Creed drawn up on this occasion by the authority of the Council itself. (As early as the very year following the Council a synod of bishops who met at Constantinople, in a letter to Damasus, Bishop of Rome, referred to ‘a more expanded confession of the faith’ recently set forth in Constantinople.) It is certain that a Creed almost identical with that which tradition came to attribute to the Council was in existence seven years before the Council met, when it was appended to an exposition of the Faith (styled ὁ Αγκυρωτός—Ancoratus—the Anchored One), composed by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (Constantia), in Cyprus. The connexion of Salamis with Jerusalem (its metropolis) would lead to the use of the same form of Creed in both places). Epiphanius seems to regard it as the faith of the 318 bishops who met at Nicaea; but it is scarcely possible that such an error could have been made at the Council itself, and there is no evidence that the enlarged Creed was adopted by this Council except the unsupported statement of the deacon Aetius at the Council of Chalcedon seventy years later. At this Council of Chalcedon the genuine Nicene Creed was received with enthusiasm as the baptismal confession of all (it had apparently been adopted as such in the first half of the fifth century), but the so-called Constantinopolitan only as the true faith. It is obviously not based on the Nicene Creed, though in close agreement with its teaching as to the Person of Christ. Thus it does not contain the clause ἐκ τῆς οὐσίος τοῦ πατρός, one of the most contested of Nicene phrases, nor ‘God from God’ (though this was afterwards inserted in the Western versions of the Creed); nor things in heaven and things in earth’, in the clause attributing creation to Christ. The first of these clauses could be dispensed with more easily when there was no longer danger of Sabellian ideas threatening the personality of the Son; and though it is true that no words so effectually preclude the possibility of the Homoean interpretation of the Creed, yet Athanasius always insisted that they were only an explanation of ἐκ τοῦ πατρός (see Additional Note). To sum up—(1) All the historians of the Council say that it was (only) the Nicene Creed that was affirmed. (2) There is no evidence during the seventy years after the Council that anybody thought there had been an enlarged Creed drawn up then. At Ephesus in 431 no mention was made of any but the Creed of Nicaea. (3) The enlarged Creed in question was in existence seven years before the Council, and was probably drawn up still earlier (perhaps c. 362). (4) It has as its basis not the Nicene Creed, but the Baptismal Creed of Jerusalem (being an enlarged edition of the latter with Nicene corrections and amendments). See Hort Two Dissertations. It is possible that before the time of the Council of Chalcedon it had been taken into use as the baptismal Creed of the Church of Constantinople (so Kunze argues op. cit.). The traditional view of the origin of the ‘Constantinopolitan’ Creed has recently been again championed by a Russian scholar. Professor Lebedeff, of Moscow (see Journal of Theological Studies vol. iv p. 285), who considers that the Creed given in the Ancoratus was really the Nicene Creed, as Epiphanius describes it, and that the form in which it now stands in the texts is due to the work of a copyist who interpolated into the original Nicene form additions from the (genuine) Constantinopolitan Creed. His argument will need careful examination but meanwhile at all events the view stated above holds the field. Sec also infra pp. 214-217.

85. Though Arianism was thus banished from the Church of the Roman Empire it became the faith cf the barbarian invaders of the empire and of the Gothic soldiers in the armies of the empire. The whole Gothic nation (with their successive rulers, Alaric, Genseric, Theodoric) were Arians from the days of the great work among them of the Arian bishop Ulphilas. The Lombards were Arian till the time of Queen Theodelinda, at the end of the sixth century. So were the Visigoths in Spain till the time of King Reccared (the Council of Toledo in 589 was intended to emphasize the national renunciation of Arianism; and the unconscious addition, on this occasion, of the words et a Filio to the clause on the procession of the Spirit well illustrates the intention). The Franks alone of Teutons were free from Arianism.
The familiar form of the Gloria in all Western liturgies in which the three Persons are co-ordinated—instead of other variable forms—also witnesses to the struggle. And the Creed which contains the Homoousion was first ordered to be used before the Eucharist to guard against Arian intruders.

Of the causes of the failure of Arianism, Prof. Gwatkin writes (op. cit. p. 264ff): “It was an illogical compromise. It went too far for heathenism, not far enough for Christianity. It conceded Christian worship to the Lord, though it made him no better than a heathen demi-god. As a scheme of Christianity it was overmatched at every point by the Nicene doctrine, as a concession to heathenism it was out-bid by the growing worship of saints and relics. Debasing as was the error of turning saints into demi-gods, it seems to have shocked Christian feeling less than the Arian audacity which degraded the Lord of Saints to the level of his creatures.” In breadth of view and grasp of doctrine Athanasius was beyond comparison superior to the Arians. Arianism was indeed “a mass of presumptuous theorising, supported by scraps of obsolete traditionalism and uncritical text-mongering—and, besides, a lifeless system of unspiritual pride and hard unlovingness.”
The victory of ὁμοούσιος was clearly a victory of reason. It was, further, the triumph of the conviction that in Jesus of Nazareth had actually been revealed a Saviour in whom the union of humanity and deity was realized.
And there is no doubt that “Arian successes began and ended with Arian command of the palace”. “Arianism worked throughout by Court intrigue and military outrage.”


Chapter 13

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity

The Course through which the Doctrine went

In tracing out the history of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit we are confronted by a course of development similar to that which is seen in the history of the other great Christian doctrines. The experiences of Christ himself, and such teaching in regard to them as he gave his disciples, were sufficiently understood to secure recognition of the most important principles. It is clear that the earliest teaching and some at least of the earliest writings of the Apostles were conditioned by belief in the personality and divinity and manifold operations of the Holy Spirit.1 And this faith has beyond all question always remained implicit in the life of the Church; and whenever the Church as a body has been called on to give expression to the Christian theory of life—to interpret the Christian revelation—she has never been for a moment in doubt as to her mind upon this point. She has had no hesitation in declaring that in the Christian conception of the existence of the One God there are included three persons—that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are alike and equally essential to the idea of the one Godhead. As to the exact relations existing between them, the exact mode of existence, she has not wished to lay down definitions, and she may perhaps have been in doubt. In regard to the Holy Spirit, as in regard to the Son, she was ultimately forced to some measure of definition. Meanwhile individual thinkers without exact guidance sometimes strayed a little aimlessly and missed the path, in spite of the indications afforded by earlier teaching and existing traditions and institutions. In seeking unguardedly for closer definition they sometimes reached results inconsistent with main principles, or in devoting attention to particular lines of reasoning they ignored others.

Tracing out the history of the doctrine, therefore, means tracing out the teaching of some of the few individual thinkers or teachers whose writings happen to bear upon the subject; until, quite late in the day, there arose a school of teachers that consciously questioned the main principles of the faith of the Church, and educed the unmistakable expression of what had often hitherto been only half-consciously held.

The Doctrine of the Spirit in the Bible

As to the teaching of the Bible with regard to the essential nature of the Holy Spirit there can be no doubt. It is explicit and unanimous in its witness that he is divine.2 But to the further enquiry, whether this Divine Spirit is a person, the reply, if on the whole decisive, does not come with equal clearness from the earlier and the later books. The Old Testament attributes personality to the Spirit only in so far as it identifies the Spirit of God with God Himself, present and operative in the world or in men. But the teaching of Christ and of the Apostles, whilst accentuating the personal attributes of the Spirit, distinguishes the Spirit from the Father and the Son.”2

“The Spirit of God as revealed in the Old Testament is God exerting power. On this account it is invested with personal qualities, and personal acts are ascribed to it. . . . The Spirit … is personal, inasmuch as the Spirit is God. There is, besides, a quasi-independence ascribed to the Spirit, which approaches to a recognition of distinct personality, especially in passages where the Spirit and the Word are contrasted. But the distinction applies only to the external activities of these two divine forces; the concept of a distinction of Persons within the Being of God belongs to a later revelation.”3

Functions of the Holy Spirit are recognized in the Old Testament in nature, in creation and conservation; in man, in the bestowal of intellectual life and prophetic inspiration and moral and religious elevation—while all his gifts are to be bestowed upon the Messiah.

In the New Testament his work is recognized in the Conception, Baptism, and Ministry of the Lord; and in all the χαρίσματα which he bestows on individuals and the Church.

Some ambiguity in the expression of the doctrine may be observed when St Paul calls him also ‘the Spirit of Christ’ (Rom. 8.7) (a phrase which he also uses of Christ’s human spirit, Rom. 14; of his pre-existent nature, 2 Cor. 3.17; and of his risen life, 1Cor. 15.45); while in some cases the Holy Spirit is apparently identified with Christ (Rom. 8.9-10), since through the Spirit the ascended Lord dwells in the Church and operates in believers.

The Doctrine in the Early Church

Incidental references in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers4 shew the same teaching; but in The Shepherd of Hermas, which contains many allusions to the Holy Spirit, language is used which identifies the Spirit with the Son.5

Some of the Apologists were so much concerned to expound the doctrine of the Logos6 that they not only fail to dwell on the Holy Spirit, but even refer to Christ himself much that would have been more accurately attributed to the Holy Spirit; and in some cases they shew a disposition to rank the Spirit lower than the Son.7

Conspicuous among those of these early writers who are known to us stand Theophilus, who is the first to use the term Triad (Trinity) in reference to the Godhead (though it must be noted that he does not actually name the Holy Spirit),8 and Athenagoras, who sees in the Spirit the bond of union by which the Father and Son coinhere, and implies the doctrine of his essential procession by the image in which he describes him as an effluence from God, emanating from Him and returning to Him as a ray of the sun or as light from fire.’9

Gnostic thought upon the subject shews points of contact both with Catholic doctrine and with the heretical theories which were rife in the fourth century. The excesses of the Montanists, champions as they were of the present reign of the Spirit in the world, led no doubt to some unwillingness to fully recognize the place of the Spirit in the divine economy, but the movement was probably still more influential in stimulating interest on the matter and arousing thought.

The Montanist conception of a special age in which the Holy Spirit ruled implied at least a full sense of his personality and divinity, and it was not inconsistent with a belief in his eternal existence. But neither eternity nor personal existence, in any true sense, was assigned to the Spirit by any of the Monarchians. As Spirit, he was merely a temporary mode of existence of the one eternal God, in his relation to the world.10

Meanwhile Irenaeus had vigorously repudiated Gnostic misconceptions, and by the aid of various images had partly portrayed the relation of the Spirit to the Father11 and to the Son,12 and had described his work as Inspirer and Enlightener, in the Church and in the Sacraments. And Tertullian at the end of the second century had expressed in all its essential elements the full Catholic doctrine of the relations between the Three Persons in the one Trinity, linked together in the one divine life.13 This is the first attempt at a scientific treatment of the doctrine.

The deity, personality, and distinct mission of the Holy Spirit were certainly recognized (if with some individualities of conception or expression) by Cyprian, Hippolytus,14 Novatian, and Dionysius of Rome.

Whether Clement of Alexandria formally investigated the doctrine or not we do not know; but he certainly conjoins the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son in worship and praise, and so implicitly recognises Him as a divine person, and regards Him (though sometimes not clearly distinguishing him in this respect from the Word) as the source of inspiration and illumination and as imparted in the Sacrament of Baptism.15

Origen’s Expression of the Doctrine

A more systematic exposition of the doctrine was undertaken by Origen; and in treating of some of the problems it suggests he was led into language (as in regard to the Son) which the Arians afterwards pressed to conclusions destructive of the conception of the Trinity. His standpoint in the matter is shewn in his great work On first Principles, which he prefaces by a statement of the points clearly delivered in the teaching of the Apostles.16 Third among these points he says: “The Apostles related that the Holy Spirit was associated in honour and dignity with the Father and the Son. But in his case it is not clearly distinguished whether he is to be regarded as generate or ingenerate,17 or also as a Son of God or not; for these are points enquired into out of sacred Scripture according to the best of our ability, and which demand careful investigation. And that this Spirit inspired each one of the saints, whether prophets or apostles; and that there was not one Spirit in the men of the old dispensation and another in those who were inspired at the advent of Christ, is most clearly taught throughout the Churches.” This passage is highly instructive; but it is uncertain whether Origen intended to say ‘generate or ingenerate (begotten or unbegotten)’, or ‘originate or unoriginate’. The former expression might only imply some uncertainty as to the exact phraseology which should be used to describe the relation of the Spirit, as one of the persons of the Trinity, to the others. But the latter expression would at least cover the conception that the Holy Spirit, as belonging to the class of things that had come into being (been made or created), was not truly God. For further elucidation of Origen’s meaning we must look elsewhere. In his commentary on the Gospel according to St John he discusses at length the passage in the prologue, “All things came into being (were made) through him”, and asks, Did then the Holy Spirit too come into being through him?18 To this question he says there are three possible answers—The first: Yes, if the Holy Spirit belongs to the class of things that have come into being, since the Logos is older than the Spirit. The second: for anyone who accepts this Gospel as true but is unwilling say the Spirit came into being through the Son that the Holy Spirit is ingenerate.19 The third: that the Holy Spirit has no being of his own (personality) other than that of the Father and the Son.20 The third and the second answer Origen rules out, on the ground that there are three distinct ‘hypostases’, and that the Father alone is ingenerate.20 It remains therefore that the Spirit has come into being through the Logos, though he is higher in honour and rank than all the things that have come into being (by the agency of the Father) through the Logos. And Origen goes on to suggest that this perhaps is why he is not also called Son of God; since the Only-begotten alone is from the beginning Son by nature, and his ministry is necessary for the personal existence of the Holy Spirit, not only for his very being but also for his special characteristics which he had by participation in Christ (his wisdom, for example, and rationality, and justice). It is also the Holy Spirit who provides what may be called the material for the charismata (the various gifts and endowments) which are given by God to those who, on account of the Spirit and of their participation in him, are called holy (saints) this—’material’ being actualised by God and ministered by the agency of Christ and having its subsistence in accordance with the Holy Spirit.21

It is thus clear that Origen regarded the Fourth Gospel as teaching that the Spirit owes his origin to the medium of the Son, and that therefore he is in the order of the divine life inferior to the Son; and indeed this is the inference which he explicitly draws from the consideration of passages of Scripture which seem at first to sight to the give Spirit precedence in honour above the Son22—”He is to be thought of as being one of the ‘all things’ which are inferior to him by means of whom they came into being, even though some phrases seem to draw us to the contrary conclusion.” It is, however, no less clear that at the same time he regarded the Spirit as a divine hypostasis, removed high above the category of creatures; and he carefully guards (for instance) against the idea that the Holy Spirit in any way owes his knowledge and power of revelation to the Son, implying that he has it in virtue of his very being. “As the Son, who alone knows the Father, reveals Him to whom he will, so the Holy Spirit, who alone searches the deep things of God, reveals God to whom he will.23 The Son alone has his being direct from the Father, but he is not therefore—in Origen’s thought—a creature. Nor is it necessary that all things that have come into being through the Son should be creatures.24 The special idea of creation does not seem to be present to Origen’s mind in this connexion. It is rather origination simply that he is dealing with. This is the primary meaning of the word the he uses—the word on which he is commenting; and it is really the origination of the Spirit through the Logos, and consequently his inferiority in order to the Logos, that he is concerned to maintain.

He does indeed definitely extend to the Spirit25 the conception of eternity of derivation which he realized of the Son; and it seems clear that, wherever he speaks of the Spirit as in any way inferior in rank or order, he has under consideration only human experience of the Trinity (God as manifested in revelation), and is not attempting to deal with the inner being and relations of the Godhead.26 But though, as is probable, he was not in this respect far removed from the ‘orthodox’ Catholic faith, it is certain that his language lent itself to misconception and may be said to anticipate Arius; and some of his pupils are said to have represented the Spirit as inferior in glory to the Father and the Son.27

Gregory Thaumaturgus

One of the most famous of them, however, Gregory of Neo-Caesarea,28 strongly asserted the unity and eternity of the Three—”a complete Trinity, in glory and eternity and reign not divided nor estranged. There is therefore in the Trinity nothing created or serving, and nothing imported—in the sense that it did not exist to start with, but at a later time made its way in; for never was there wanting Son to Father nor Spirit to Son, but there was always the same Trinity unchangeable and unalterable.” Here too the Spirit seems to be associated especially closely with the Son, as he is in the preceding clauses of the Creed which describe him as “having his existence from God and appearing through the Son, the Image of the Son, perfect (image) perfect (Son); Life—the first cause of all that live; Holiness—the provider of hallowing in whom is made manifest God the Father who is over all and in all, and God the Son who is through all”. The derivation of the Spirit is thus referred to God through the Son as medium, but the thought that such derivation implies any inferiority of divine attributes is absolutely excluded.

Dionysius of Alexandria

And Dionysius of Alexandria was equally emphatic in regard to the co-eternity of the three hypostases. Each of the names is inseparable and indivisible from the next. As he had insisted that the names Father and Son connoted each other, so that he could not say ‘Father’ without implying the existence of the Son, so he says:29 “I added the Holy Spirit, but at the same time I further added both whence and through whom he proceeded. Neither is the Father, qua Father, estranged (ἀπηλλοτρίται) from the Son, nor is the Son banished (ἀπῴκρισται) from the Father; for the title Father denotes the common bond. And in their hands is the Spirit, who cannot be parted either from him that sends or from him that conveys him. . . . Thus then we extend the Monad indivisibly into the Triad, and conversely gather together the Triad without diminution into the Monad.”

Eusebius of Caesarea

Eusebius of Caesarea shews in his references to the Holy Spirit the same unconscious Arian tendency that marked his action in the controversy as to the person of the Son. The Spirit is third in dignity as well as in order—the moon in the divine firmament, receiving all that he has from the Word; his very being is through the Son. “He is neither God nor Son, since he did not receive his genesis from the Father in like manner as the Son received his; but he is one of the things which came into being through the Son.” Yet he transcends the whole class of things that have come into being. Eusebius seems not to discriminate between the procession and the mission of the Holy Spirit, and uses the same term both of him and of the Son.30

The Arian Theories expressed but not emphasized, and for a time ignored

At the Council of Nicaea the battle raged round the doctrine of the Godhead of the Word—the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was not under direct consideration. “The opinion on this subject in the hearts of the faithful was exposed to no attack;”31  so the simplest expression of belief was enough,32 and little more found place in any of the many Creeds (Arian and Semi-Arian) which were drawn up in the following thirty years. But by degrees, as individuals began to question the deity of the Spirit, the Arians extended to him the phrases they applied to the Son—a ‘creature’, ‘divided from the being (essence) of Christ;’ as indeed in The Thalia Arius had already declared that the essences of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were of their very nature distinct, alien, and separate. “Assuredly there is a Trinity with glories not alike. . . . One is more glorious than the other with glories to infinitude.”33

But though Arius expressed himself in this way, all attention was for many years concentrated on the doctrine of the Son; and teaching went quietly on in the Church on the lines on which it had proceeded before the time of Arius.

The Church Teaching in the Middle of the Fourth Century—Cyril of Jerusalem

An excellent specimen of such instruction is furnished by the Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem shortly before the year 350.34

At the very outset he makes his appeal to Scripture. In view of the danger of the sin against the Holy Spirit, and of the fact that the Holy Spirit spoke the Scriptures and said about himself all that he wished or all that we could receive, we may well limit ourselves to the teaching of Scripture (§§ 1, 2).

He disclaims the attempt to accurately describe his being (hypostasis), and will only mention misleading ideas of others so that his pupils may not be seduced from the right path and all together may journey along the king’s highway (§ 5).

It is really sufficient for salvation for us to know that there is “one God the Father, one Lord his only Son, one Holy Spirit the Comforter”. We need not busy ourselves about his nature or being (φύσιν ἧ ὑπόστασιν),—as it has not been written we had better not essay it (§ 24).

Accordingly Cyril devotes himself for the most part to enumerating various beneficent operations of the Spirit before the Incarnation, in and during the life of Christ on earth, and in the Apostles and the faithful ever since.35 All through he appeals to present experience of the wonderful power with which he works, and is at pains to point the lesson that, varied as are the modes in which his energy is manifested, it is one and the same Spirit who spoke through the prophets of old of the coming of Christ; who, when he had come, descended upon him and made him known; who was with and in the Apostles; who illuminates the souls of the just, and supplies the force which purifies or strengthens according to the need; who bestows all the varied graces and virtues of Christian life,36 directly and through the appointed channels of the ordinances and sacraments of the Church,37 the good Sanctifier and Ally and Teacher of the Church’, the true Enlightener.

At the outset he warned his hearers that it was of ‘a mighty power divine and mysterious’ that he was about to speak, and his whole treatment of his subject is conditioned by his recognition of the full divinity of the Spirit. Only in one connexion, however, does he at all elaborate this point, and that by way of negation, when he declares that none of the things that have come into being is equal in honour with him. None of the order of the angels has equality with him. He has no peer among them; they are contrasted with him as recipients of a mission of service:  whereas he is ‘the divinely appointed ruler and teacher and sanctifier of all angelic orders.’38 But he also insists that the gracious gifts which he gives are all the gifts of the one God—”there are not some gifts of the Father and some of the Son and some of the Holy Spirit . . . the Father freely bestows them all through the Son together with the Holy Spirit;”39 the Holy Spirit is honoured along with Father and Son; and comprehended in the Holy Trinity, and all three together are one God. “Undivided is our faith, inseparable our reverence. We neither separate the Holy Trinity, nor do we make confusion as Sabellius does.”40

Over against Sabellian ‘confusion’ he expresses repeatedly the distinct personality of the Spirit. He states with emphasis that it was by his own initiative that he descended upon Christ. He draws attention to the directly personal action attributed to him in many instances.41—“He who speaks and sends is living and subsisting (personal) and operating.” And once he drives home the teaching of such incidental comments in the words: “It is established that there are various appellations, but one and the same Spirit—the Holy Spirit, living and personally subsisting and always present together with the Father and the Son; not as being spoken or breathed forth from the mouth and lips of the Father and the Son, or diffused into the air; but as a personally existing being, himself speaking and operating and exercising his dispensation and hallowing, since it is certain that the dispensation of salvation in regard to us which proceeds from Father and Son and Holy Spirit is indivisible and concordant and one.”42

With regard to the procession, he quotes the report of the discourse of the Lord contained in the Fourth Gospel, bidding his pupils attend to it rather than to the words of men;43 and in another passage he brings together two sayings of Christ to shew that the Son himself derives from the Father that which he gives in turn to the Spirit.44 More than this he did not think fit to say to catechumens, even if he was prepared at all to define more closely the mystery of the relation between the Holy Spirit and the Father and the Son.

A need for Authoritative Guidance on the Doctrine

The first clear indication that the question was becoming ripe for synodical consideration is seen in the anathemas appended to the Creed of the Synod of Sirmium in 35145  against any one who styled the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost ‘one person’ (πρόσωπον), or spoke of the Holy Spirit as the ‘unbegotten God,’ or as not other than the Son, or as a ‘part’ (μέρος) of the Father or of the Son, or described the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as ‘three Gods’.

The Teaching of Athanasius

Some years later the growth of the doctrine that the Spirit was merely a creature, and one of the ‘ministering spirits,’ superior to the angels only in degree, was reported by Sarapion, Bishop of Thmuis, in the Delta, to Athanasius, who was then in exile in the desert. Athanasius in reply drew up a statement of the doctrine of the deity of the Spirit.46

The particular assailants of the doctrine of whom Sarapion told him professed to regard the Son as divine, and this furnishes Athanasius with his chief argument all through. The relation of the Son to the Father is admitted in the sense of the Creed of Nicaea, and the relation of the Spirit to the Son in the sense of the Scriptures. These are the two premisses. Athanasius sets himself in various ways to shew that the Homoousia of the Spirit is a necessary inference from them. On this theme he rings the changes. It recurs with each fresh argument, in answer to each objection. The Spirit is the Spirit of the Son and has the same unity with him as the Son has with the Father. If therefore the Son is not a creature, it is impossible that his Spirit can be. And further, as it is impossible to separate the Spirit from the Son, their doctrine would introduce into the Trinity a foreign and alien nature, so that they really destroy the Trinity and really come to a Duality instead. Their error as to the Spirit involves necessarily error also as to the Son, and error as to the Son involves error as to the Father (i.2; cf. i.9 and 21). The Trinity as a whole is ‘one God’ (i.17) indivisible and homogeneous. The term ‘Spirit’ is used in various senses in the Scriptures; but, when the Holy Spirit is meant, the article or some further designation (such as ‘Holy,’ ‘of the Father,’ ‘of the Son’) is always added to the mere term Spirit; and it is only passages in which the word occurs by itself that even seem to lend themselves to their interpretation (i.3, 4). To prove this he cites a great number of instances from Old and New Testaments alike.47 And later on he argues that the giver of life, and of all the endowments which the Spirit confers, can be no creature, but must be divine (§§ 22, 23).

Nor is there any more support in Scripture for the view that he is an angel48 (i.10-14).

But driven from Scripture, as they could find nothing to their purpose there, they go on, out of the overflowing of their own heart, to produce a new argument:—if not a creature and not an angel, if he proceeds from the Father, he must be called a Son; and so the Word would not be ‘only-begotten’, and there will be two brothers in the Trinity. Or yet again, if he is said to be the Spirit of the Son, then the Father is grandfather of the Holy Spirit (§ 15). It is against these inferences that Athanasius works out the doctrine of the procession of the Spirit, though he protests against being compelled to enter upon such questions at all. He begins by shewing that human analogies will not apply—a human ‘father’ is always the son of another (he has been son before he in turn became father); but in the Trinity this is not so, there have been always both Father and Son, each always remaining the same (§ 16).49

It is on Scripture that we must depend, and Scripture describes the Father as the Fountain, and the Son as the River, and we drink of the Spirit; or the Father as the Light, and the Son as the radiance, and with the Spirit we are illumined.

The Father alone is wise, the Son is his Wisdom, and we receive the Spirit of wisdom. In no case can one be separated from another. When we receive life in the Spirit, Christ himself dwells in us, and the works which he does in us are also the works of the Father (§ 19). All things which are the Father’s are also the Son’s; therefore the things which are given us by the Son in the Spirit are the Father’s gifts. They are given from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit (§30). All come from one God (cf. iii.5).

The Spirit is the Son’s own image, and he is said to proceed from the Father,50 because he shines forth and is sent and given by the Logos (παρὰ τοῦ λόγου) who is from the Father (§ 20). He is the Son’s very own (ἴδιον τοῦ υἱόν) and not foreign to God (ξένον τοῦ θεοῦ) (§ 25).

He is said to be in God Himself and from God Himself. Now since, in the case of the Son, “because he is from the Father, he is (admittedly) proper to the essence of the Father (ἴδιος τῆς οὐσίας αὐτοῦ); it follows in the case of the Spirit, that, since he is admitted to be from God, he is proper to the Son in essence (ἴδιον κατ’ οὐσίαν τοῦ υἱοῦ) . . . . He is proper to the deity of the Father51. . . . In him the Trinity is complete52 (§ 25). Of the Trinity, which is like itself and indivisible in nature, and of which the actions and operations are one (§ 28), the holiness also is one, the eternity one, the immutable nature one (§ 30).

This is the ancient tradition and teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, received from the Lord, preached by the Apostles and preserved by the Fathers,—it is the very foundation of the Church and no one who falls away from it can be, or can be said to be, any longer a Christian. This was the foundation which the Lord himself bade the Apostles lay for the Church when he said to them ‘Go ye and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (§ 28).

Those who dare to separate the Trinity and reckon the Holy Spirit among created things are as audacious as the Pharisees of old who attributed to Beelzebub the works of the Holy Spirit—let them take heed lest along with them they incur punishment without hope of forgiveness here or hereafter (§ 33).

Hilary of Poitiers

At the same time as Athanasius was expounding the doctrine in the East, Hilary of Poitiers, a representative of the Nicene faith in the West, was maintaining similar teaching in more systematic form53 in his treatise On the Trinity, written during his exile in Phrygia. Particularly noteworthy is what he says of the procession. The Father and the Son are his authors. He is through (per) him through whom are all things (i.e. the Son), and from (ex) him from whom are all things (i.e. the Father). . . . The Spirit receives from the Son and so from the Father also, so that he may be said to receive from each; but Hilary does not decide whether receiving connotes proceeding, nor does he venture to speak of a procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son. His own phrase is ex Patre per filium.’54

The Theories of  Macedonius

The chief representative known to us of the Arian teaching with regard to the Holy Spirit is Macedonius, who had been appointed Bishop of Constantinople after the deposition and subsequent murder of Paul (a Nicene), but was himself in turn deposed by the Synod of Constantinople in 360.55 In his retirement he is said to have elaborated the theories connected with his name; teaching that whereas the Son was God, in all things and in essence like the Father, yet the Holy Spirit was without part in the same dignities, and rightly designated a servant and a minister similar to the angels.56 If not true God he must be a creature. The favourite argument seems to have been a reductio ad absurdum: the Holy Spirit is either begotten or not begotten; if not begotten, then there are two unoriginated beings—Father and Spirit; if begotten he must be either of the Father or of the Son—if of the Father then there are two Sons in the Trinity (and therefore Brothers); if of the Son, then there is a Grandson of God, a θεὸς υἱωνός.57

The Doctrine declared at the Council of Alexandria 362,
and subsequent Synods in the East and in the West

The question came before a synod for the first time at Alexandria in 362, on the return of Athanasius from his third exile.58 The view that the Holy Spirit is a creature and separate from the essence of Christ was there declared anathema, “for those who, while pretending to cite the faith confessed at Nicaea, venture to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, do nothing more than in words deny the Arian heresy while they retain it in thought”. And all present agreed in the faith in a “Holy Trinity, not a Trinity in name only, but really existing and subsisting, both a Father really existing and subsisting, and a Son really and essentially existing and subsisting, and a Holy Spirit subsisting and himself existing: a Holy Trinity, but one Godhead, and one Beginning (or principle); and that the Son is co-essential with the Father, as the fathers said; while the Holy Spirit is not a creature, nor foreign, but proper to, and inseparable from, the essence of the Father and the Son. . . . For we believe that there is one Godhead, and that its nature is one, and not that there is one nature of the Father, to which that of the Son and of the Holy Spirit are foreign.”

From this statement it seems clear that a more ample profession of faith in the Holy Spirit than the Creed of Nicaea supplied was at this time required as a condition of the restoration of Arians to communion. Special circumstances were in view and were provided for in this particular way. But there is no proof that any fresh definition was pressed upon others. There is, on the contrary, evidence to shew that Athanasius approved of the policy of non-intervention which Basil followed in the matter.59

About this time the same faith was embodied in a letter to the Emperor Jovian,60 declaring that the Holy Spirit must not be separated from the Father and the Son, but rather glorified together with the Father and the Son in the one faith of the Holy Trinity, because there is only one Godhead in the Holy Trinity.

A few years later (366ff.), synods at Rome under Damasus condemned the Arian or Macedonian conceptions, and maintained the Trinity of one Godhead, power, majesty, and essence; and the profession of faith addressed to the Eastern bishops, which was published by one of these synods in 369,61 was in 378 (or 379) subscribed by a hundred and forty-six Eastern bishops at Antioch.

The Epiphanian Creed

The heresy, however, gained ground, and the need for an expansion of the Creed to cover this fresh subject grew urgent. A short expression of the general traditional belief was already in existence in the Creed contained in the Ancoratus62 of Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, which was published in 374. It declares in simple untechnical phrase the divine personality of the Spirit, as one to be worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son; his procession from the Father; his pre-existence as the source or power of life and the Inspirer of the prophets; and his operation in the Incarnation of the Son.

Simple and unsystematic as the language of this Creed is, it clearly recognises the personality, the eternity, and the divinity of the Holy Spirit; and his chief functions.
(a) Personality. He is co-ordinated with the Father and the Son,—the same form of words being used εἰς ἕνα θεὸν πατέρακαὶ εἰς ἕνα κύριον . . . τὸν υἱόν—καὶ εἰς τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον as the Son, and he proceeds ἐκ τοὺ πατρός (i.e. ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός he was therefore in the Father). He is worshipped and glorified together with (συν) … as a person.
(b) The Eternity. This is implied in the phrases which shew the personality, particularly by the present ἐκπορευόμενον, which connotes neither beginning nor end; also, to some extent, by the operations attributed to him, especially the title ζωοποιόν.
(c) The Divinity. He is placed on a level with the Father and the Son, styled Lord, said to be in the Father, and to be worshipped as only one who is God can be—along with the Father and the Son.
(d) His Operations. He is the source of all real life. (making alive—Giver of Life), the source of inspiration of the prophets, the agent in the Incarnation of the Son; and by collocation he is the source of the graces which the ‘holy’ Church administers.
(e) His relation to the Godhead is simply described in the words ‘proceeding from the Father’63

Compared with the Creed of Nicaea (which, however, was only intended to deal with the doctrine of the Person of Christ, see supra p. 168 n. 2) all those clauses are new, except the one bare statement of faith ‘in the Holy Spirit’64 But they only amount to a scanty summary of the teaching which, as is shewn above, an ordinary presbyter gave his catechumens before any controversy as to the Holy Spirit arose. (The words τὸν παράκλητον which are in Cyril’s own Creed have dropped out.)

And, indeed, Epiphanius himself declares that this was the faith which was handed down by all the holy bishops, together above three hundred and ten in number—that is, by those who composed the Council of Nicaea: a statement which is literally inaccurate, but no doubt conveys the truth as regards the convictions of the bishops in question.

This Creed, no doubt, was the Baptismal Creed in use in Salamis (and probably throughout Palestine), but Epiphanius also a gives longer one65 more (probably composed by himself), a paraphrase than a creed, which was required of candidates for baptism who had been or were suspected of still being connected with any of the heresies then rife. With regard to the Holy Spirit its terms are these: “And we believe in (εἰς τὸ . . . ) the Holy Spirit, who spake in the law and preached in the persons of the prophets and came down upon the Jordan, speaking in the apostles, dwelling in the saints; thus we believe in him (ἐν αὐτῷ), that he is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the perfect Spirit, the Spirit Paraclete, uncreated, proceeding from the Father and received6from the Son—and an object of faith”, and in the anathema appended to the Creed the catechumen is required to repudiate, in regard to the Holy Spirit also, all the Arian phrases which the Nicene Council anathematized in regard to the Son.

There was thus, it is clear, abundant teaching being given in the Church to counteract the effects of the theories of the Macedonians, and the way was prepared for the full assertion of the doctrine of the Trinity by a General Council.

Basil’s Treatise on the Holy Spirit

About the same time, in response to the prompting of his friend Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium, Basil wrote his treatise on the Holy Spirit (374-375).

He begins by explaining that he had been criticised because he had used two forms of the doxology, “to God the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit”, and “with the Son together with the Holy Spirit;67 that the two forms were regarded as mutually inconsistent, and the latter as an innovation. Aetius had framed a rule by which the use of the prepositions in Scripture was governed, and argued that the difference of use corresponded to, and clearly indicated, a difference of nature (§ 2); and according to this rule the first form of doxology only was legitimate—God being widely differentiated from the Son, and both from the Spirit.

In the first place, therefore, Basil argues that the rule is imaginary, and that no such distinction holds in the use of the sacred writers; and, having established this point, he infers that the use of identical terms should shame his opponents into admitting that no difference of essence either exists (§ 11).

He insists that the Church knows both uses and does not, deprecate either as destructive of the other. Sometimes with (μετά), sometimes through (διά), is the more appropriate; according as, for example, praise or thanksgiving for blessings received through the Son is the more immediate purpose (§ 16).

Then, after an enquiry into the real meaning of the expression ‘through the Son,’ he passes on (§ 22) to his chief subject—the doctrine of the Spirit, the Scriptures, the unwritten tradition received from the Fathers. After a glowing description of the nature of the Spirit and the manifold forms of his gracious influence and varied gifts (the crown of all of which is said to be ‘abiding in God, likeness to God and the supreme desire of the heart—becoming God’), he meets in succession objections urged against his being ranked with God in nature and glory.”68 In the course of the review of the evidence of Scripture and tradition he is led to conclusions such as the following:—

“He who does not believe in the Spirit does not believe in the Son, and he who does not believe in the Son does not believe in the Father.” “In every operation the Spirit is conjoined with and inseparable from the Father and the Son.69 In every distribution of the gifts the Holy Spirit is present with the Father and the Son, of his own authority (in his own right), dispensing in proportion to the deserts of each. And in our own experience, in the reception of the gifts, it is with the Holy Spirit—distributor—that we first meet; and then we are put in mind of the Sender (that is, the Son); and then we carry up our thoughts to the fountain and author of the blessings (§ 37). It is through the Spirit that all the dispensations are carried out—Creation, the Old Covenant, the Incarnation in all its circumstances, the ministry of the Church, the future Advent (§ 39; cf. 49).

The Spirit’s relation to the Father is thus essential and eternal. There is no doubt about the distinction of the three persons and the unity of essence. The one Spirit, conjoined through the one Son with the one Father Himself, completes the adorable and blessed Trinity (§ 45).

The Spirit is from God … he comes forth from God: yet not by generation as the Son, but as the spirit of his mouth. But he is also called the Spirit of Christ, as being in respect of nature made his own (ᾠκειωμένον κατὰ τὴν φύσιν αὐτῷ § 46) he is as it were an ‘intimate’ of the Son. He is thus in some sense through the Son; but Basil indicates rather than expresses this conception.

After shewing at length that the prepositions in question have been and may be used indifferently, he points to the advantages of ‘with’ (σύν § 59). It is as effectual as ‘and’ in refuting the mischief of Sabellius and establishing the distinction of persons, and it also bears conspicuous witness to the eternal communion and perpetual conjunction which exists between them. ‘With’ exhibits the mutual conjunction of those who are associated together in some action, while ‘in’ shews their relation to the sphere in which they are operating (§ 60).

Other reasons are then given for glorifying the Spirit, and the treatise concludes with a sombre picture of the state of the times, in which self-appointed place-hunters first get rid of the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, and then allot to one another the chief offices in all the Churches.

Gregory of Nyssa—Quod non sint tres Dei

The same teaching was being given by Gregory of Nyssa too about the same time. The devoted younger brother of Basil, of whom he constantly speaks of as ‘master’ while not intending to depart in any way from his brother’s teaching, he certainly gave it somewhat more formal expression in some connexions, and contributed largely to win currency for the ‘Cappadocian’ theological distinctions.

As in his treatise on Common Notions (Migne P.G. xlv pp. 175—186), so in his letter to Ablabius, That there are not three Gods (ibid. pp. 115-136),70 written about 375, he works out the position that God is a term indicative of essence (being), not declarative of persons (not προσώπον δηλωτικόν but οὐσίας σημαντικόν); and therefore it is, and must be, always used in the singular with each of the names of the persons. So we say ‘God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit,’ and if we insert the conjunction ‘and’ between the clauses it is only to conjoin the terms which declare the persons, not the term which indicates the singularity of the essence. The three terms express the three modes of being, the three relations; but the being remains one and the same, and the term expressing it must therefore always be used in the singular.

The analogy of human nature and the common use in the plural of the term ‘man’ which no doubt presents a difficulty. (This was the question Ablabius had put to Gregory.) But strictly, it is an abuse of language to speak of so many men; it would be more accurate to describe each individual; (Peter, James, John) as a ‘hypostasis’ of ‘man’. Only in this case we tolerate the inaccuracy, because there is danger of our thinking that there are many human natures, while in respect to the Deity we might be thought to have some community of doctrine with the polytheism of the heathen. This is a solution of the difficulty sufficient for most men. Yet the difference of use may be justified by a deeper reason. The term ‘Godhead’ is really significant of operation (ἐνέργεια) rather than of nature. And the operations of men (even of those who are engaged in the same spheres of work) are separate and individual, whereas the operations of the Godhead are always effected by the Three together “without marks of distinction—since there is no delay, existent or conceived, in the motion of the divine will from the Father, through the Son, to the Spirit”. “In the case of the divine nature we do not learn that the Father does anything by Himself in which the Son does not work conjointly, or again, that the Son has any special operation apart from the Holy Spirit; but every operation which extends from God to the creation, and is named according to our variable conceptions of it, has its origin from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit.”

An objection which Gregory foresees might be brought against this argument—that by not admitting the difference of nature—there was danger of a mixture and confusion of the persons—leads him to his most characteristic statement of the distinction between the persons as based on a constant causal relation. “While we confess the invariable character of the nature, we do not deny the difference in regard to that which causes and that which is caused (τὴν κατὰ τὸ αἴτον καὶ αἰτιατὸν διαφοράν), wherein alone we conceive that the one is distinguished from the other—namely, by our belief that the one is that which causes, and the other of or from that which causes. And we apprehend yet another difference in that which is of or from the cause: for one (part) is directly from the first, and another (part) is through that which is directly from the first … so that in the case of the Son the fact that he is Only-begotten remains undoubted and does not throw doubt on the fact that the Spirit is from the Father, inasmuch as the mediation (or intermediate position sc. between Father and Spirit) of the Son guards for him the fact that he is Only-begotten, and does not exclude the Spirit from his relation of nature to the Father.” At the same time, the difference in respect to causation denotes no difference of nature, but only a difference in the mode of existence (e.g. that the Father does not exist by generation, and that the Son does not exist without generation). It does not touch the question of existence—of nature. That he exists we believe first— viz. what God is: then we consider how He is. “The divine nature itself is apprehended through every conception as invariable and undivided and therefore one Godhead; and one God, and all the other names which relate to God, are rightly proclaimed in the singular.”

In this argument it is clear that the absolute co-eternity and co-equality of the Three Persons is recognized. The idea of causation serves only to distinguish the three modes of existence. God is one (ὁ θεός); but within His being there is Cause (τὸ αἴτιον), to which the name Father corresponds, and there is caused (τὸ αἰτιατόν), which includes the immediately caused (τὸ προσεχῶς ἐκ τοῦ πρώτον) to which the name ‘Son’ corresponds, and the mediately caused (τὸ διὰ τοῦ προσεχῶς ἐκ τοῦ πτώτον) to which the name Holy Spirit corresponds. The Holy Spirit is thus in such wise ‘from the Father’, that he is also ‘through the Son.’ And this connexion of the Spirit with the Son and the Father is Gregory’s teaching also in his other writings, though not always in the same terms.71

A year later, in 376, a synod at Iconium, presided over by the bishop to whom Basil had written, decided that the Nicene Creed was enough, but that in doxologies the Spirit should be glorified together with the Father and the Son; and the doctrine of the Spirit was laid down as Basil had taught it. And his treatise itself was at this time formally sanctioned and confirmed by a synod in Cappadocia.72

The prevailing uncertainty reflected in the Sermons of Gregory of Nazianzus

The uncertainty, however, which still prevailed is clearly reflected in one of the sermons which Gregory of Nazianzus preached at Constantinople about the year 380, while engaged in his noble task of building up again a Catholic congregation in the city which had so long been given over to the Arians. “Of the wise among us”, he says, “some have held the Holy Spirit to be an Energy, others a Creature, others God. Others again have not decided which of these he is—out of reverence, as they say, for the Scriptures, because they lay down nothing precise upon the point. On this account they neither concede to him divine veneration, nor do they refuse him honour; thus keeping in their disposition concerning him to some sort of middle way, which, however, is in effect a very wretched way. Of those, however, who have held him to be God, some keep this as a pious opinion to themselves (are pious so far as opinion goes), while others have the courage to be pious in expression of it also. Others I have heard in some kind of way mete out the Deity, more wise in that they conceive and acknowledge the Three as we do, but maintain a great distinction between them, to the effect that the One is infinite both in respect of being and of power, the second in respect of power, but not of being, the third circumscribed in both of these relations.”73 And while for himself he insists as strongly as possible on his essential eternity and equality with other persons of the Godhead—which cannot be complete and therefore cannot be Godhead without him  (§ 4)—he is certainly God, and if God necessarily co-essential with the Father (§ 10); and while he sweeps away all inquisitive and petty reasonings about his generation and origin by appeal to the Lord’s own words as to procession, and refuses to enquire into its nature or to attempt to invade the mysteries of the divine existence—it is enough to know that he is not begotten but proceeds: yet he seems to regard the uncertainty of former times with no little sympathy, as in harmony with the appointed order of development in the revelation of truth—”the Old Testament proclaimed the Father clearly, but the Son more darkly; the New Testament plainly revealed the Son, but only indicated the deity of the Spirit.74 Now the Holy Spirit lives among us and makes the manifestation of himself more certain to us; for it was not safe, so long as the divinity of the Father was still unrecognised, to proclaim openly that of the Son; and, so long as this was still not accepted, to impose the burden of the Spirit, if so bold a phrase may be allowed.”75

From the point of view of Gregory the Macedonians would be lagging behind the necessary—the divinely appointed—course of development of revelation of the nature of the Godhead. And before, and at the time of, the Council of Constantinople in 381 every effort was made to win them over to the recognition of the truth and the unity of the Church—unfortunately in vain.

The Council of Constantinople

Amongst the bishops who were present there appears to have been no uncertainty as to the doctrine of the Church;76 they reaffirmed the Nicene Creed with an explanation77 of various points of doctrine, among which the Godhead of the Spirit was affirmed, and every heresy was declared anathema78 and the emperor gave authoritative expression to their conviction and decision when he issued the command—at the close of the Council—that “all the churches were at once to be surrendered to the bishops who believed in the Oneness of the Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.79

And so the faith in the triune personality of God was proclaimed against the last attempt of Arianism, and the Catholic interpretation established—one God existing permanently and eternally in three spheres of consciousness and activity, three modes, three forms, three persons: in the inner relations of the divine life as well as in the outer relations of the Godhead to the world and to men.

From this time forward it was only in connexion with the procession of the Spirit that any fresh development of the doctrine is to be noted. But it was so lucidly summed up, and in some of its aspects so appealingly presented by Augustine, that a short statement of his summary of it may be given in conclusion.80

Augustine’s Statement of the Doctrine

The aim of his treatise is to shew that “the one and only and true God is a Trinity, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are rightly said and believed to be of one and the same substance or essence” (i.4). First of all the proof from Scripture is detailed, and passages which are alleged against the equality of the Son are examined (14ff). By the way, the puzzle how the Trinity is said to operate in everything which God operates, and yet particular actions are attributed exclusively to particular Persons is noted. With regard to the Holy Spirit, special stress is laid on the use in connexion with him of the verb λατρεύειν (which is used of divine service): and interesting distinctions are drawn with regard to the Incarnate Son between the forma Dei and the forma servi, in of passages in Scripture which he is spoken of as less than the Father—some things being said according to the ‘form of God’, and some according to ‘the form of a servant’.

To elucidate the relations to the Trinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit in their operations, he examines the appearances recorded in the Old Testament, whether they were of the Trinity or of individual Persons, and decides that though some corporeal or outward means were adopted we cannot rashly affirm which Person it was that appeared.81

Just as the Son, though said to be sent by the Father, is equal and consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father the difference between the sender and the sent that the Son is from being only the Father, not the Father from the Son—so too the Holy Spirit is one with them, since these three are one, and he proceeds not only from the Father but also from the Son.82 The Lord himself says of the Spirit ‘whom I will send unto you from the Father to shew that the Father is the beginning of the whole divinity or Deity: and though this sending of the Holy Spirit is eternal, yet there was a special sending such as had never been before after the glorification of Christ—a sending which was made plain by visible signs. In the case of such sensible manifestations, it is true that the working of the Trinity cannot be seen as indivisible; just as it is impossible for men to name the Three without separation by the intervals of time which each name, Father—Son—Holy Spirit, occupies; yet the Three work indivisibly (§ 30).83 It is possible to predicate of God ‘according to substance’—that is in respect to Himself (as good, great), or ‘relatively’—that is, in respect to something not Himself (as Father in respect to the Son, and Lord in respect to the Creature). Whatever is spoken of God ‘according to substance’ is spoken of each person severally and together of the Trinity itself—which is rightly described as one essence, three hypostases or ‘persons’; though the term persons is only used for want of a better way of expressing the facts (bk. v, § 10). For, indeed, since Father is not Son, and Son is not Father, and the Holy Spirit, who is also called the gift of God, is neither Father nor Son, they are certainly three. And so it is said in the plural, ‘I and the Father are one’—for he did not say ‘is one’ as the Sabellians say, but ‘are one’. Yet when it is asked what the three are (quid tres), human utterance is weighed down by deep poverty of speech. All the same, we say ‘three persons’, not that we wish to say it, but that we may not be reduced to silence.” It is simply, as he says further on in his essay,84 recurring to the same subject, “for the sake of speaking of things that are ineffable, that we may be able in some way say what we can in no way say fully—especially against the devices of errors of heretics—that the terms ‘one essence and three persons’ are permissible. The persons are not the Trinity, but the Trinity can be called also (the) Holy Spirit, because all three are God, and Spirit, and Holy. He is the gift of both the Father and the Son, the communion of them both, called specially what they are called in common (§ 12).85 This communion or unity or holiness, which links each to the other, is properly called love (vi 7), for it is written ‘God is Love’. And herein may be seen how the Persons in the Deity are three and not more than three: One who loves Him who is from Himself; and One who loves Him from whom He is; and Love itself. And in this Trinity is the supreme source of all things, and the most perfect beauty and the most blessed delight (§ 12).

After a further consideration of some of the aspects of the question already reviewed (bk. vii), and a short recapitulation of the argument (bk. viii), in which the emphasises the perfect equality of all the ‘Persons’ and the completeness of each in respect of Deity (no one in the Trinity, nor two together, nor even all three together, being greater than each one severally); Augustine passes on to the most characteristic argument of his essay. On the ground that man is the image of God, he is led to look for indications of a Trinity in his constitution—since Scripture also points to this method of attaining to knowledge of God, the “invisible things of Him being understood ever since the creation by the things He has made”.86

At the outset he argues that it is by love that we really arrive at knowledge of the Trinity, and love really implies three things and is in itself—as it were—a trace of the Trinity. “Love is of some one that loves, and with love something is loved. So here are three things: he who loves, and that which is loved, and love.87 What else then is love but as it were a life that links together or seeks to link together some two things—him that loves, to wit, and that which is loved.” This, then, he says, is where we must look for what we are seeking—we have not found it, but we have found where it is to be sought (viii 14).

So in the creature, step by step, he seeks through certain trinities—each of their own kind appropriate, until he comes at last to the mind of man—traces of that highest Trinity which we seek when we seek God. And first (bk. ix 3, 4-8) he finds a trinity in the mind of man, the knowledge with which it knows itself, and the love with which it loves itself and its own knowledge.88 These three are one and equal and inseparable; they exist substantially and are predicated relatively; they are several in themselves, and mutually all in all. The knowledge of the mind is as it were its offspring and its word concerning itself, and the offspring is not less than the parent mind, since the mind knows itself just to the extent of its own being; and the love is not less since it loves itself just to the extent of its knowledge and of its being.89

Other trinities may be seen in the mind—in memory, understanding, will;90 in sight—the object, the the act of seeing or vision, the attention of the mind or the will which combines the two (though these are not equal nor of one essence, and belong to of the sphere of the outer man which is not an image of God91); and in connexion with sight, in the mind itself the image of the object seen which is in the memory, the impression formed from it when the mind’s eye is turned to it, the purpose of the will combining both (but this trinity also—though in the mind—is really of the outer man, because introduced from bodily objects which are perceived from without92). Later on in the treatise93 this instance is applied in a somewhat different form, the example of the Faith or Creed when learnt orally being taken, and the trinity found in memory (of the sounds of the words), recollection (when we think thereon), and the will (when we remember and think) combining both.

—Yet another peculiar kind of trinity is found in knowledge94—of which there is the higher (wisdom), dealing with things eternal; and the lower, of things temporal, in which the wholesome knowledge of things human is contained, enabling us to so act in this temporal life as to attain in the end to that which is eternal. In considering first the lower knowledge, he describes how man is made in the image of God, and how he turns away from that image and by gradual steps sinks lower and lower, sinking often in thought and imagination, even when not intending to carry the sin out into act. And so, starting from the incidental premiss that all men desire blessedness, he goes on to shew how it may be attained by faith in Christ, and so is led to expound the reasons for the Incarnation and the Passion.95 Then, reverting’96 to the discussion of the trinity in memory, intelligence, and will, he declares that it is in the noblest part of the mind that the Trinity, which is the image of God, is to be sought—that part of the mind which is the sphere of the higher knowledge.

It is here that he finds the surest indication of the Holy Trinity—in the inmost being of the mind which remembers and understands and loves itself, but above all God, and so is brought into most intimate relation to Him. So it is that the constitution of man himself, made in the image of God, bears witness to the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity.

The main thesis of the treatise is thus apparently coincided; but it is of the Trinity itself, not only of evidence for its existence, that Augustine writes; and in the last book he adds largely to what he has before said in regard to the Holy Spirit, particularly as to his relation to the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit, he says,97 according to the holy Scriptures, is neither of the Father alone nor of the Son alone, but of both: and so he intimates to us a mutual love wherewith the Father and the Son reciprocally love one another. The love is, indeed, proper to each individually and to all collectively; yet the Holy Spirit may be specially called love, as the Son only is called the Word, and the Holy Spirit alone the gift of God, and God the Father alone He from whom the Word is born and from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds. He adds ‘principally’ (i.e. as beginning or principle), because we find that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. This was the Father’s purpose and design—he gave this to the Son (namely, that the Spirit should proceed from him too), not subsequently to his generation, but by begetting him: He so begat him as that the common gift should proceed from him also, and the Holy Spirit be the Spirit of both (that is, the Spirit proceeds from the Son by virtue of the Father’s gift to the Son in his generation—both alike eternal). The Holy Spirit may thus be specially called love; as similarly the Word of God was specially called also the Wisdom of God, although both Father and Holy Spirit also are Wisdom. No gift of God is more excellent than love.

And it must not be supposed that the Holy Spirit is less than the Father and the Son, because they give and he is given. Even though he were given to no one, he is himself God and was God, co-eternal with the Father and the Son, before he was given to any one. And when he is given as a gift of God, it is in such a way that he himself, as being God, also gives himself.

It is certain that the procession of the Holy Spirit is from both Father and Son apart from time. We neither say the Holy Spirit is begotten nor do we say he is unbegotten (for the latter term, though not found in the Scriptures, is conveniently applied to the Father alone); and we abhor the idea that he is begotten of both Father and Son. What we say is, that he proceeds eternally from both, without any kind of interval of time between the generation of the Son from the Father and the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son. This the Son and the Spirit each has from the Father.98

This is certain, but we must be on our guard against too much reasoning. We must not press too far the analogy between the image of the Trinity in us and the Trinity itself. Many questions can only be understood when we are in bliss, and no longer reason but contemplate. It is in love, he implies, rather than in reason, that the solution of difficulties is to be found.

So in the prayer with which he closes the treatise he asks for increase of remembrance, understanding, love.’99 

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Mr. Burn draws my attention to the fresh and vigorous treatment of the doctrine by Niceta of Remesiana in Dacia (near Palanka in Servia), a great admirer of Basil. His treatise was written, Mr. Burn thinks, soon after 381, as part of the third book of his Lebellii nstructionis. (It is printed in Migne vol. lii p. 853, under Mai’s mistaken title de Spiritus sancti potentia.) He begins by reference to the puzzles put forward by some as to whether the Spirit was ‘born or not born’, and directs his argument against those who style him a creature. He appeals to the words of Scripture to decide all such questions, and makes some interesting applications and interpretations of texts (e.g. Col 1.26; Rom 8.15; John 20.22, 16.13; 1John 2.1; 1Cor 14.24). Scripture and all his operations, whether benignant or awe-inspiring, shew his full Godhead. He is to be worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son with one and the same worship. When we worship one, we worship all; and by so doing we do not add to the glory of the divine majesty, but thereby we acquire glory for ourselves. To this faith we must hold fast, and be true to our profession in the Mysteries ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts’.

Substantia

Substantia, the verbal noun from substo, means that which underlies a thing’, ‘that by which anything subsists or exists’, ‘the essence or underlying principle by which each res is what it is’. So things which have substantia with those which have an imaginary an imaginary existence, being fashioned by illusory or unreal thought like Centaurs or giants (Soneca Ep. 58):—a contrast which shows the meaning of substantia to be ‘real existence’. And again, it is said that before you can enquire about a man, Who he is, you must have before you his substantia (sc. his real existence, the fact that he is): so that you cannot make the question of his being a subject of examination (Quintilian vii 2. 5). That is to say, substantia denotes real existence, as to the particular form or character of which enquiry may be made. So, too, substantia and qualitas are distinguished as subjects of investigation (ib. 3.6); and in this way it comes about that the substantia of a thing is an easy periphrasis for the thing itself.

A secondary sense of the term—’property,’ ‘patrimony,’ ‘ fortune’— has been sufficiently referred to in the text in connexion with Tertullian’s usage (see supra p. 138).

It is in its primary sense that it was adopted for doctrinal purposes in connexion with the attempt to describe the Godhead. It had to do duty, as we have seen (supra p. 117), for both οὐσία and ὑπόστασις. Both words alike are rendered substantia by the Latin translator of Irenaeus, the sense expressed being the substratum of a thing or being, having of course particular qualities or form, but conceived of as apart from its qualities or form.

The regular philosophical sense on which the doctrinal use of the term is really based is seen, for example, in Tertullian de Anima 11, where he distinguishes between the soul as substantia and its acts or operations; and in the adjectival forms which he employs, for instance, de Res. Carn. 45 and adv. Prax. 7, 26. [He discusses the relation between the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’ and argues that the difference is moral not substantial; that is to say, the substantia man is the same. And commenting on the Monarchian wish to avoid recognition of the Son as a distinct entity (substantivus), he declares that he is a substantiva res, whereas the power of the Most High and the like are not, but only accidentia substantiae. —Or again ‘faith’ and ‘love’ are not substantiva animae but conceptiva, that is not the substantia but the concepts of the substantia.]

This difference which Tertullian defines between substantia and the nature of substantia (see also supra p. 140, and cf. p. 235) practically held its ground through the later developments of Latin theology. Substantia is the term regularly employed to express the being of God—the Godhead in itself, as a distinct entity. The substantia has its own natura which is inseparable from it, but the substantia is not the natura. The retention of the distinction is plainly perceptible in the expression of the doctrine of the Person of Christ—the union of the Godhead and the manhood. Latin theologians shrink from speaking of the union of the two ‘natures’ merely. If they do not actually employ the term substantia (speaking of the substantia of Godhead and the substantia of manhood as united in the Person of the Son), they use some other phrase to represent it rather than natura. Thus forma Dei and forma servi are preferred by Hilary, as filius Dei and filius hominis by Novatian and Augustine; and Leo, though he freely uses utraque natura, is careful to mark his full meaning by adding et substantia to natura, and by interchanging with it the expression utraque forma (forma conveying amore definite conception of an actual entity—a substantial existence—than natura). Vincent, too (Commonit. xii, xiii), owing to this clearness of Latin usage, was able to put the case in regard to the Christological controversies which Leo had in view without the ambiguities with which it was confused for Greeks. He describes the error of Apollinarius as the refusal to recognize in Christ two substances (duas substantias), the one divine and the other human; whereas Nestorius, pretending to discriminate the two substances in Christ, really introduces two persons: and he sets out as the Catholic faith ‘in God one substance but three persons’ in Christ two substances, but one person.’ Using substantia throughout, defined either as divina or as humana, and retaining Tertullian’s distinction, he can also speak with perfect lucidity of the natura of the substance.

So too in the Chalcedonian definition of the doctrine, in terms entirely consonant with the teaching and discrimination of Latin theologians from Tertullian to Leo, first there is recognized in the person of Jesus Christ the two substantiae of Godhead and manhood (he is unius substantiae with the Father secundum deitatem, and also unius substantiae with us secundum humanitatem), and then it is declared that the one person exists in the two natures. (See further Texts and Studies vol. vii no. 1 pp. 65-70.)