Once upon a time … there was a unitarian God

Once upon a time, there was one God, a unitarian, solitary Deity who lived in his eternity all by himself. And then one day, before there were days, the one God decided to create a universe and people it with human beings made in his image. After these human beings fell into disobedience and sin, he entered into a history of self-revelation and salvation with them. He spoke to Abraham and bound him to himself by covenantal promises. He revealed himself to Moses and the Hebrews and shared with them his Torah and holy Name. He sent his prophets to guide, correct and form his people. And in the fullness of time he sent his Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who addressed him as “Father” and taught his followers to do the same, thus becoming known as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 1:3, Eph 1:3, 1 Pet 1:3). After raising Jesus from the dead, God sent his disciples into the world to proclaim the gospel and make disciples, baptizing them in the triadic name of the one God, now addressed as Father, and of his son Jesus, who has perfectly disclosed to the world the divine character and the way of eternal life, and of the Holy Spirit, the salvific power and energy of deity poured out upon the Church on Pentecost (Matt 28:19:-20). And for three centuries the Church was faithful to its mission and the revelation of the one God. But then it abandoned the truth, embraced the heretical doctrine of tri-personal divinity, and began to violently persecute the followers of the one God. The knowledge of the one God was lost to the Church for 1400 years, but in his grace God eventually raised up the erudite scholar and Anglican priest Samuel Clarke. Clarke read the Scriptures with fresh and unbiased eyes and rediscovered the biblical truth of the divine unicity. In 1712 he published the fruits of his scholarship, one of the great works of Christian theology: The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity. Sadly, this important work has been ignored by trinitarian Christians, such is the Satanic power of tradition and dogma. But a new day is dawning. God is restoring the Church to its original unitarian foundation.

This unitarian narrative enjoys a measure of plausibility and persuasive power—at least up until the great trinitarian “apostasy” of the fourth century, for which the narrative is unable to provide compelling reasons. Why did St Athanasius and the Cappadocians concoct the unprece­dented and theologically revolutionary homoousion, and how could they have believed they were faithfully continuing the apostolic tradition, when even their great teacher Origen, according to Dale Tuggy’s reading, appears to have taught otherwise? Tuggy has no answer. All he can do is invoke the decision of the Emperor, Theodosius I, to impose the Nicene faith on the Roman Empire in A.D. 380 and suppress all expressions of Arianism. In Tuggy’s words:

Secular power forced a “win” for the Nicene side, but what was won was not so much the doctrinal argument as the ecclesial power-struggle. This became a pattern when something similar happened at the 451 council. What went undone was any careful, clear exposition of how to interpret the revised Nicene creed of 381. As it was the language which was enforced, the precise meaning of it wasn’t the primary concern. From time to time, in the centuries that followered, some thoughtful trinitarian would venture to clarify what the statements must mean. [Tuggy cites John Philoponus and Peter Abelard as examples], but was typically denounced and condemned as a heretic by his fellow trinitarians. Sometimes another would step forward with a rival exposition, only to be denounced in turn. Some were actually executed because of their theological convictions, notably unitarian Christians in what historians now call the “Radical” wing of the Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. Their killers were both Protestants of the “Magisterial” wing of the Reformation and Roman Catholics. Both persecutors followed traditions established in the late fourth century of using governmental power to strong-arm “heretics.” (What is the Trinity?, pp. 58-59)

After the triumph of Nicaea, unitarian divinity would continue to be taught in the persecuted communities of Judaism and later by the victorious armies of Islam, but within the imperial Church the true faith was successfully exterminated. Trinity replaced the One. At this point the unitarian narrative loses its persuasiveness. How does one prove the assertion that the Trinitarian faith triumphed across the Empire, century after century, because—and principally because—of state coercion? Tuggy offers no substantiation. Is it not at least possible, nay probable, that the Nicene faith ultimately triumphed because it provided a superior theological explanation for the eucharistic life of the Church and the soteriological claims of the gospel? (see, e.g., Basil Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, and John McGuckin, “The Holy Trinity as the Dynamic of the World’s Salvation in the Eastern Fathers,” in The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church, pp. 65-78). Emperors do not always win. St Ambrose publicly rebuked Theodosius for the massacre at Thessalonica in 390. The Oriental Churches successfully defied (and continue to this day to defy) the imperial imposition of the Chalcedonian definition. St Maximus the Confessor refused to accept the monothelite heresy and was tortured and exiled by Constans II in 662. I also find it odd that Tuggy would cite Philoponus and Abelard, neither of whom were condemned for teaching unitarianism but rather tritheism. At this point one might be excused for thinking that for Tuggy just about any stick is good enough to beat catholic Christianity with. I kept waiting to hear about Galileo’s house arrest.

Tuggy stands on stronger ground when discussing the triadic views of the second-century/early third-century theologians, men like Tatian, Athenagoras, St Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, and Tertullian. They evidently taught what is often called a two-stage theory of the divine logos: in the divine eternity reason (logos) was a divine attribute, right alongside, one might say, God’s goodness, justice, and wisdom—an eternal property within God, not a person or self alongside God. But at the moment of creation, or perhaps a finite time before it, God utters his reason into personal existence, a divine being and second self, to assist him in the making of the world. This Word protects the divine transcendence from involvement in creation. Tertullian is representative of catholic theology for this period. Tuggy explains Tertullian’s view in his article for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Under the influence of Stoic philosophy, Tertullian believes that all real things are material. God is a spirit, but a spirit is a material thing made out of a finer sort of matter. At the beginning, God is alone, though he has his own reason within him. Then, when it is time to create, he brings the Son into existence, using but not losing a portion of his spiritual matter. Then the Son, using a portion of the divine matter shared with him, brings into existence the Spirit. And the two of them are God’s instruments, his agents, in the creation and governance of the cosmos.

The Son, on this theory, is not God himself, nor is he divine in the same sense that the Father is. Rather, the Son is “divine” in that he is made of a portion of the matter that the Father is composed of. This makes them “one substance” or not different as to essence. But the Son isn’t the same god as the Father, though he can, because of what he’s made of, be called “God”. Nor is there any tripersonal God here, but only a tripersonal portion of matter – that smallest portion shared by all three. The one God is sharing a portion of his stuff with another, by causing another to exist out of it, and then this other turns around and does likewise, sharing some of this matter with a third.

For Tertullian, Tuggy summarizes, “the Son is neither eternal nor as divine as the Father. Nor is Tertullian an anomaly. Again, the two-stage logos theory is standard for this era, aside from ‘monarchian’ dissenters” (p. 49). Classical trinitarianism affirms four propositions, states Tuggy: 1) the Son is as divine as the Father; (2) the Son is eternal; (3) the Spirit is as divine as the Father and Son; (4) the Spirit is eternal. Logos theology fails all four conditions, yet it was recognized as orthodox in its time. How curious.

But let me throw a spanner into the works—St Irenaeus of Lyons. Irenaeus is recognized by many scholars as the first truly important theologian of the post-apostolic Church. Hans Urs von Balthasar refers to him as “theology’s founding father and a paradigmatic figure in its history” (The Scandal of the Incarnation, p. 8). As a youth Irenaeus heard St Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John, preach and teach. Irenaeus thus embodies a living link to the apostolic tradition. Now if Tuggy is correct that two-stage logos theory dominated orthodox reflection during the second- and early third-century period, then Irenaeus should also fall into this category, and Tuggy certainly intimates that he does. After all, Irenaeus explicitly confesses belief in “one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them” (Against Heresies I.10.1). Yet Tuggy fails to mention that many scholars contest the claim that Irenaeus is accurately described as a two-stage logos theorist. Tuggy notes the dispute on his blog but not in his book. I judge this to be a misleading and tendentious omission.

Irenaeus exhibits little interest in philosophical speculation on the inner life of the Godhead. He refuses to step outside the economia as revealed in the Scriptures. Exegesis is determi­native. Hence we do not find in Irenaeus a clear distinction between the immanent and economic Trinities. His reflection begins and ends with Jesus Christ, the incarnate and risen Son. Protology is eschatology; creation, recreation. The Crucified is the Word through whom the world has been made. “Since he who saves already existed,” Irenaeus astonishingly declares, “it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who saves should not exist in vain” (AH 3.22.3; see “God Creates the World From the Cross“). Put that into your analytic pipe.

Irenaeus fits neither into classical trinitarian categories nor into the Hellenistic logos schemes of Justin Martyr and Tertullian (see Jackson Lashier, “Irenaeus as Logos Theologian” and Irenaeus on the Trinity). Unlike the Apologists, he does not need the Logos to protect the divine transcendence, for God “contains all things, and is Himself contained by no one” (AH 4.20.2). The Father is as metaphysically intimate to his creation as are his Word and Spirit. Yet following Scripture, Irenaeus affirms the creation of the cosmos by the Father through and by his two eternal hands:

Those who obey him always learn that he is so great a God and that he is the very one who by himself created and made and adorned and contains all things. Now [included] among all things are both us and our world. We too, then, together with these things which are contained [by him], were made by him. And this is the one about whom Scripture said, “And God formed man, taking dust of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life” (Gen 2:7). Therefore, angels did not make us, nor did they form us, nor, indeed, could angels make an image of God, nor [could] any other besides the true God, nor [could] a Power far removed from the Father of all things. For God did not need these [beings] to make what he had himself beforehand determined to make, as if he himself did not have his Hands. For always present with him are the Word and Wisdom, the Son and Spirit, by whom and in whom he made all things freely and of his own will, to whom he also speaks, when he says, “Let us make man after our image and likeness” (Gen 1:26)—he himself taking from himself the substance of those things which have been created and the pattern of those things which have been made and the figure of those things in the world which have been adorned. (AH 4.20.1 [Briggman translation])

Irenaeus rejects the claim that God created intermediaries through which he created the world. He has his Word and Spirit, which have always existed with him. As Anthony Briggman plausibly notes, Irenaeus most likely believed that the Word and Spirit were ontologically equal to the Father, “else a gradation of divine being would exist within the Godhead. Irenaeus’ conception of divinity has no room for such a subordinationist understanding of the Godhead, for it would bring his position uncomfortably close to the celestial chain of being advocated by some of his opponents” (Irenaeus of Lyons and the Theology of the Holy Spirit, p. 122). Briggman’s interpretation is supported by the following passage:

In this way, then, it is demonstrated [that there is] One God, [the] Father, uncreated, invisible, Creator of all, above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And as God is verbal, therefore, He made created things by the Word; and God is Spirit, so that He adorned all things by the Spirit, as the prophet also says, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the power by his Spirit” (Ps. 33:6/32:6 LXX). Thus, since the Word ‘establishes,’ that is, works bodily and confers existence, while the Spirit arranges and forms the various ‘powers’, so rightly is the Son called the Word and the Spirit the Wisdom of God. Hence, His apostle Paul also well says, “One God, the Father, who is above all, and through all and in us all”—because ‘above all’ is the Father, and ‘through all’ is the Word—since through Him everything was made by the Father—while ‘in us all’ is the Spirit, who cries “Abba, Father,” and forms man to the likeness of God. Thus, the Spirit demonstrates the Word, and, because of this, the prophets announced the Son of God, while the Word articulates the Spirit, and therefore it is He Himself who interprets the prophets and brings man to the Father. (On the Apostolic Preaching 5)

Now I know that some scholars disagree with the above interpretation of St Irenaeus. I lack the competence to adjudicate. All I can say is that after spending an intensive week last month with Fr John Behr studying Irenaeus, I judge that Tuggy’s unitarian model does not work well with the Bishop of Lyons. With Scripture and the liturgical tradition, Irenaeus affirms the Father as the one God, creator of heaven and earth, yet at the same time his theological analysis pushes beyond the bounds of the inherited category of divinity. As I said, a spanner in the works.

(Go to “Ante-Nicene Subordinationism”)

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38 Responses to Once upon a time … there was a unitarian God

  1. john zande says:

    Why did St Athanasius and the Cappadocians concoct the unprecedented and theologically revolutionary homoousion

    Plagiarism, and a desire to align itself with other, more established religions, perhaps?

    The concept of a Trinity is fully expressed in Zoroastrian:

    Ahura Mazda (the Father), Spenta Mainyu or Vohu Mana (the Holy Spirit), and Asha Vahista (the Logos, or Son):

    “Praise to thee, Ahura Mazda, threefold before other creations.”

    In the Egyptian ” Hymn to Amun” it’s written:

    ‘No god came into being before him (Amun)’ and that ‘All gods are three: Amun, Re and Ptah, and there is no second to them. Hidden is his name as Amon, he is Re in face, and his body is Ptah.’

    In Buddhism the Trikāya doctrine says that Buddha has three kāyas or bodies (from wiki):

    1. The Dharmakāya or Truth body which embodies the very principle of enlightenment and knows no limits or boundaries;
    2. The Sambhogakāya or body of mutual enjoyment which is a body of bliss or clear light manifestation;
    3. The Nirmāṇakāya or created body which manifests in time and space.

    Toaists treach of The Three Pure Ones who are regarded as the pure and singular manifestation of the Tao and the origin of all sentient beings. They are also called the Three Pure Pellucid Ones, the Three Pristine Ones, the Three Divine Teachers, the Three Clarities, or the Three Purities.

    In Hinduism, the trinity (Trimūrti, or The Three Forms) is of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. These three-in-one are called “the Hindu triad” or the “Great Trinity”

    In the Hindu Puranas there is this passage:

    ‘O ye three Lords! know that I recognise only one God. Inform me, therefore, which of you is the true divinity, that I may address to him alone my adorations.’

    In response, the three-gods-in-one (Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva [or Shiva]), replied,

    ‘Learn, O devotee, that there is no real distinction between us. What to you appears such is only the semblance. The single being appears under three forms by the acts of creation, preservation, and destruction, but he is one.’

    And the concept is found with the Greeks. Aristotle wrote:

    ‘All things are three, and thrice is all: and let us use this number in the worship of the gods; for, as the Pythagoreans say, everything and all things are bounded by threes, for the end, the middle and the beginning have this number in everything, and these compose the number of the Trinity'”.


  2. One obvious problem with the Government-Imposition story is that in the fourth century, Christianity was expanding well outside the Roman Empire and the jurisdiction of the Roman Emperors; they were being persecuted in Persia, for instance, where they had strong incentive to repudiate any commonality with any policy of the Roman Empire (the reason for their persecution), and yet there is no evidence that the Church of the East was ever not Trinitarian, whether in Persia, or in India, or in China (where we have explicitly Trinitarian texts from the eighth century), despite the fact that in none of these places were the mechanisms in place to which the Government-Imposition account appeals. When Rabban Bar Sauma went on his epic pilgrimage in the thirteenth century, he found explicit Trinitarianism from Beijing (where he was from) to France.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Having just recently read Origen’s Peri Archon, this statement in the blog post seems false:

    “Why did St Athanasius and the Cappadocians concoct the unprece­dented and theologically revolutionary homoousion, and how could they have believed they were faithfully continuing the apostolic tradition, ***when even their great teacher Origen appears to have taught otherwise.***”

    Origen seems to teach that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same ousia. It’s present repeatedly. The Cappadocians are following Origen tightly on this point.

    (It’s amazing that the Homoousia party is deeply Origenistic. I sometimes just want to call the Homoousians by the name “the Origenists”.)

    The problem in Origen is that it seems that there is hierarchy of Spirit below Son and Son below Father. But it isn’t ontological. It’s very clear that the Son eternally generates from the Father from ages of ages and that the Spirit proceeds ontologically from the Father.

    I would even go so far to state that Saint Basil as late as AD 360s is still tightly following this Origenistic formulation of the Trinity. Homoousia but stacked.

    (The Semi-Arians seem to be Antiochian, eg. Lucian of Antioch; and Arius received his theological training in Antioch. Eusebius of Nicomedia is debt to Antiochian theology as well.)

    The Arians and Semi-Arians don’t appeal to Origen, because they see Origen as supporting the Homoousians.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Taylor, I just discovered this comment, which I presume was the initial comment you posted, in the spam queue. I have no idea why WordPress decided it was spam. Given that it includes material not included in your second comment, I went ahead and approved it. By the way, I don’t know why your subsequent comments are requiring blog-owner approval. Once the initial approval is given, subsequent approval is automatic or at least should be. Just wanted you to know that it’s nothing personal. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Having just recently read Origen’s Peri Archon, this statement in the blog post seems false:

    “Why did St Athanasius and the Cappadocians concoct the unprece­dented and theologically revolutionary homoousion, and how could they have believed they were faithfully continuing the apostolic tradition, ***when even their great teacher Origen appears to have taught otherwise.***”

    Origen seems to teach that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same ousia. It’s present repeatedly. The Cappadocians are following Origen tightly on this point.

    The problem in Origen is that it seems that the there is hierarchy of Spirit below Son and Son below Father. But it isn’t ontological.

    I would even go so far to state that Saint Basil as late as AD 360s is still tightly following this Origenistic formulation of the Trinity. Homoousia but stacked.

    The Arians and Semi-Arians don’t appeal to Origen, because they see Origen as supporting the Homoousians.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, Taylor. I think this is the first time you’ve commented on one of my blog articles. Welcome. I hope you are well. We’ve come a long way since our Anglican days, haven’t we?

      I would be happy to be corrected on Origen. It’s been decades since I read his First Principles. I think at one time I also read some of his commentary on John. In any case, anything I once may have known about him has been forgotten. Hence I am totally dependent on whatever scholar I last read. For purposes of this article, I decided to simply go along with Dr Tuggy’s reading of Origen. I had hoped to ask Fr John Behr about Origen’s trinitarian theology when I saw him two weeks ago; but alas the opportunity never arose. Behr, by the way, has a new translation of the First Principles coming out early next year. He thinks it’s going to create quite a stir in patristic circles. We shall see. In any case, I went ahead and pre-ordered it on Amazon. It’s exorbitantly priced, but I have six or seven months to start saving my pennies. 🙂

      Tuggy has done his homework on Origen. He makes two important claims: (1) Origen was the first to teach the eternal pre-existence of the Son and Spirit. (2) Origen believed that the Son and Spirit were not as divine as the Father: only the Father is fully, perfectly, and necessarily divine; the Son and Spirit participate in a lesser degree of divinity. He puts it this way:

      The person who changed the emerging catholic mainstream from two- to one-stage logos Theory was the massively influential Origen. He holds the divine logos and Spirit to exist eternally, but because of God. In eternity God (the God, in Greek ho theos), aka the Father, causes (“begets”) his logos (Word, a second god (deuterons theos). In so doing he imparts a degree of divinity to the logos. The logos in turn eternally gives a degree of divinity to the Holy Spirit. But for Origen, the. Son and Spirit are not divine in the same way as the Father, so as to make them equal in power, knowledge, goodness, and so on. Only the Father is divine independently of any other being and to the highest degree. In second place is the logos, who gets his second greatest degree of divinity from God. In third place is the Spirit, who gets his yet lesser degree from the Son. (pp. 49-50)

      Can you provide textual evidence that contradicts Tuggy’s reading of Origen?

      Liked by 2 people

      • My copy is at home but the margins are full of my notations: “homoousia here!” throughout. Actually reading Peri Archon (via Rufinus, I know) dispelled so many of my preconceptions of “what Origen taught.”

        There are many things in that Tuggy quote that are objectionable. So much of it is post-Nicene rationalization into what Origen says. So yes, Tuggy sees “deuterons theos” and then he concludes: ” In so doing he imparts a degree of divinity to the logos.”

        What? Tuggy just concluded from “deuterons theos” that Origen “imparts ***a degree*** of divinity to the Logos.”

        Excuse me, but that’s one heck of a jump!

        When I read Peri Archon, I was genuinely surprised by how Cappadocian the whole thing sounded. I honestly think we could refer to the homoousian party as the “Origenist party” of the 4th century.

        It’s true the Father is the “autotheos.” This is good theology. This the same thing as saying the Father is the font of being. Saint Augustine says the same thing (De Trin. iv, 20), “The Father is the Principle of the whole Deity.”

        Saint Hilary says (De Trin. ix): “By authority of the Giver, the Father is the greater; nevertheless the Son is not less to Whom oneness of nature is give.”

        Saint Thomas Aquinas easily cleans up the oil spill regarding the Father as principle:

        “The Greeks use the words “cause” and “principle” indifferently, when speaking of God; whereas the Latin Doctors do not use the word “cause,” but only “principle.”

        So in Latin and English, God the Father is the principle without being prince of the three.

        The Son generates from this principle. The Spirit proceeds from this principle.

        When I get my marked up copy, I’ll share some passages from Origen.

        But before then, consider this. Who were the Trinitarian All-Stars of the fourth century?

        St Athanasius (Origenist)
        St Hilary (Origenist – basically plagiarizes Origen)
        St Basil (Origenist)
        St Gregory Nazianzus (Origenist)
        St Gregory Nyssa (Origenist)
        Evagrius of Pontus (hard core Origenist)
        St Jerome (Origenist till about the age of 40 when he became anti-Origenist)

        Wow! What a coincidence! All the Nicene good guys were Origenists in their theological training.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Father Al,

        I looked through Origen Peri Archon and found about 6 great quotes, but this quote from the end of the book is most solid. It’s almost as if Origen is debating Arius himself because he covers both the ousia of Christ AND the “was there a time when the Logos was not.”

        From Origen’s Peri Archon Book IV, 4, 1. [My notations are indicated by TRM.]

        “For we do not say, as the heretics suppose, that some part of the substance of God was converted into the Son, or that the Son was procreated by the Father out of things non-existent, ****that is, external to Father’s own substance, so that there once was a time when He did not exist;**** but, putting away all corporeal conceptions, we say that the Word and Wisdom was begotten out of the invisible and incorporeal without any corporeal feeling, as if it were an act of the will proceeding from the understanding.

        [TRM: Note here that he says that the Son is not external to Father’s substance. And he also says that there was never a time when the Son did not exist. It’s a double whammy against Arianism or whatever proto-Arianism that Origen is addressing in the 200s.]

        [TRM: then I skip one paragraph to this:]

        “How, then, can it be asserted that there once was a time when He was not the Son? For that is nothing else than to say that there was once a time when He was not the Truth, nor the Wisdom, nor the Life, although in all these ****He is judged to be the perfect essence of God the Father; for these things cannot be severed from Him, or even be separated from His essence.****

        [TRM: Here the Son is the same essence of the Father – not severed.]

        “And although these qualities are said to be many in understanding, ****yet in their nature and essence they are one, and in them is the fullness of divinity.****

        [TRM: Here the Father and the Son are one in nature and essence. Homoousia. It’s no wonder all of the Origen’s students and readers were the homoousian party.]

        “Now this expression which we employ— that there never was a time when He did not exist— is to be understood with an allowance. For these very words when or never have a meaning that relates to time, ****whereas the statements made regarding Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to be understood as transcending all time, all ages, and all eternity.**** For it is the Trinity alone which exceeds the comprehension not only of temporal but even of eternal intelligence; while other things which are not included in it are to be measured by times and ages.

        [TRM: It’s clear in this summary paragraph the all three persons transcend “all time, ages, and all eternity.” So there is no time in which there were a monadic isolated Father. The Son was always present. From this passage, Origen slam dunks the consubstantiality (homoousian) AND the co-eternality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.]

        One simply cannot be a disciple of Origen and have sympathies for the claims of Arius. Arius taught against the Son being of the same substance of the Father and also taught that there was a time when the Son was not. So it’s not surprising to the see the children of Origen fighting vehemently against Arianism.

        What does remain ambiguous in Origen is the subordination of the Persons. I prefer to call Origen’s approach “stacking.” I don’t think Origen sees the Spirit as less than the Son and the Son less than the Father, but since they have processions from one to the other, this stacks them from top to bottom. But this happens in Trinitarian theology in orthodox expressions. We speak of Father as the “first person,” and the Son as the “second person,” and the Spirit as the “third person.” We use a numeric subordination or stacking but it doesn’t entail a lower ontology.

        My opinion is that the teaching Origen is essentially that of the Athanasius and the Cappadocians, and that the ambiguities in Origen on certain points were ironed out by Athanasius and the Cappadocians over 6 decades to get what we have today as Orthodoxy.

        Dr Taylor Marshall

        PS: There is a claim in Saint Jerome that Origen taught that the Spirit was the first ranking creature of all creatures. If Jerome can be trusted, then this is a problem. However, Rufinus’s version does not produce a passage in Origen that states this.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Taylor, your comment encouraged me to post an essay by Ilaria Ramelli on the anti-subordinationism of Origen. Take a look and let me know what you think.


        • John Church says:

          St. Basil the Great, in his own work de Spiritu Sancto (“On the Holy Spirit”), himself admits “Origen’s opinions comcerning the Spirit were not always and everywhere sound” (29:73)”, yet nonetheless points to passages in Origen where his work is perfectly orthodox.

          Liked by 2 people

          • That’s a good point, but if you read the rest of the passage, Saint Basil seems to think that Origen is orthodox on the matter.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Taylor, just want you to know that WordPress got back to me about the repeated approvals of your comments. Apparently this is a bug in the latest software update, and it’s affecting multiple blogs and commenters. It doesn’t sound like it’s going to get fixed any time soon, but at least it’s not specific to you. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I have tweaked my article to make it clear that it is Dr Tuggy who reads Origen as advocating a subordinationism antithetical to the Nicene homoousion.


  5. Irenaeus heard Polycarp of Smyrna. Perhaps Irenaeus was originally from Smyrna.

    The Christology of Smyrna is that the canonical Apocalypse which repeatedly depicts Jesus Christ as “Yahweh” who repeats the words and actions of “Yahweh” depicted in the books of Daniel and Ezekiel. This is why there is no subordinationism in Irenaeus.

    The ***historical Jesus is Yahweh*** for the seven churches and seven angels/bishops of the Apocalypse.


    • John burnett says:

      @Taylor Marshall, “the ***historical Jesus is Yhwh***” for the evangelists as well— this is not some kind of Smynaean specialty!

      See RB Hays, Echoes of the Scriptures in the Gospels (Baylor, 2016). It’s very clear once you catch all the allusions embedded in them.

      NT Wright shows the same thing afoot in just about any of his books on Paul.

      And all of the fathers understood Jesus to be Yhwh, the God of Israel, incarnate; nor did they ever think Yhwh was the Father, as supposed since at least the Middle Ages in the West, but was always the Son. The Father is, was, and always will be ineffable.


      • 100% agree about this in the Gospels. However, in the Apocalypse you have the metaphysical theophanies of Yahweh performing explicit actions of Yahweh from the OT Hebrew prophets…and it’s obviously the person of Jesus Christ.

        The Gospels are more subtle and can be missed. (They often are missed.)

        But in Revelation, it is undeniable. Irenaeus is theologically proximate to that powerful Christology – and so he’s very clear about who Christ is.


        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          I’m replying to this post because I can’t seem to be able to reply to your other one.
          I don’t think anyone would suggest that God the Father was the God of Israel but God as the Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit together wasn’t, as they are one and the same God.
          The problem is nomenclature: without a developed theology of the Trinity, or even use of the word “Father” to refer to the Father as a specific person of the Trinity, it seems to me that (in so far as it is relevant or meaningful) in the OT at least you have to work out from context who is being referred to, whether it us the Godhead generally, or a specific person of the Trinity, and, if so, which.
          My enthusiasm for the idea that YHWH refers specifically to the Son rather than the Father has waned somewhat given Fr Kimel’s points below.


      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        The identification of YHWH with Jesus rather than the Father is completely new to me, but now thinking about it makes a lot more sense. Does the Hays book deal with this expressly, as it might be worth a read to understand this? If not, can anyone recommend somewhere this is gone into for someone who is not an academic theologian?


        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          This is new to me, too, Iain! I have long believed that YHWH is to be identified with the Father. To whom did Jesus pray when he prayed the prayers of the synagogue? With his fellow Jews, he prayed to YHWH, Adonai, the Lord, right? The only difference is that he identified and named this YHWH as his Abba, Father and invited to participate, with him, in this paternal address of God. It’s going to take some pretty strong arguments from Taylor and John to convince me that I’m wrong about that. 🙂


          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            If you hadn’t heard of it, it sounded like someone’s pet theory to me. The reference to N T Wright, however, led me to this: http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/jesus-and-the-identity-of-god/
            It sounds to me as though what is being said here is that the references to the personified Word / Wisdom / Love / Action / Law / Power / Glory / Spirit of God in the OT are the foundation for later trinitarian theology, and Jesus as incarnation of God arose naturally from these earlier ideas, and we can legitimately read back into them in the OT as references to Jesus (or the Spirit).
            If that is what is being said it seems sensible and unobjectionable to me, and the problems you highlight do not arise.
            Taylor and John might be going further than this, however, it’s difficult to tell.


          • Saint Paul repeatedly applies “Kyrios” (the stand in for “YHWH” in the Septuagint) to Jesus Christ.

            It’s Yahweh speaking from the burning bush. “My name is I am who I am.” Look at the icon of the Burning Bush. Who is in the midsts of the bush: Jesus Christ aka “Ho ON” in Greek is “He who is” or “He who is being.”

            Yahweh refers to the ousia. “I am who I am.” Being beyond being.

            The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are Yahweh.

            If you want to slice and dice:

            El Elyon and Ancient of Days is the eternal hypostasis of Father.
            The Angel of Great Counsel, Wisdom, Word, and Son of Man (in Daniel) is the eternal hypostasis of the Son.
            The Spirit of the Lord is the eternal hypostasis of the Spirit.


          • Maximus says:

            Hello Fr. Kimel,

            Your blessing!

            I learned from scholars like Fr. Romanides and Presbytera J. Constantinou that YHWH is Jesus in Orthodoxy and that this understanding separates us from many Protestant groups. Prior to becoming Orthodox, I interpreted many verses after this manner in my own biblical studies:

            “The days are coming,” declares Yahweh,
            “when I will grow a righteous Tsemach (Branch; Shoot) for David.
            He will be a king who will rule wisely.
            He will do what is fair and right in the land.
            In his lifetime, Judah will be saved,
            and Israel will live in safety.
            This is the name that he will be given:
            Yahweh Tsidqenu (Our Righteousness) (Jer. 23:5-6)

            Other verses like the following are quite explicit:

            Isa. 45:23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

            Phil. 2:10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.

            The Father is YHWH too, and so is the Spirit:

            Heb. 3:7-9 Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice…When your fathers tempted me [in the wilderness], proved me, and saw my works forty years.

            please see this work by Bishop Athanasius Yevtich:


            Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: Christology in the Book of Revelation (and in Saint Irenaeus) - Taylor Marshall

  7. MJH says:

    It strikes me that the following from Tuggy is patently false:

    From time to time, in the centuries that followered, some thoughtful trinitarian would venture to clarify what the statements must mean. [Tuggy cites John Philoponus and Peter Abelard as examples], but was typically denounced and condemned as a heretic by his fellow trinitarians. Sometimes another would step forward with a rival exposition, only to be denounced in turn.

    St Augustine ‘venture[d] to clarify what the statements must mean’, and differed from the Cappadocians who had done the same. In the High Middle Ages, we get slightly different western approaches from Aquinas and Bonaventure, if I remember correctly. Anselm gives it a shot. Lots of people ‘venture to clarify what the the statements must mean’, and they don’t always agree; nor, in their disagreement, are they ‘typically denounced and condemned’. This is a falsification and gross oversimplification.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thomas says:

      It’s more than just false; it’s bizarre. Not only did individual theologians churn out countless pages on the subject; the sheer volume of official church pronouncements on the subject is enormous.

      It’s not that theologians haven’t clarified and expounded upon the relevant Trinitarian doctrines. It’s that Tuggy hasn’t taken notice.


      • Dale says:

        Good news: Tuggy has taken notice! Countless pages does not imply an attempt to clarify! Most of the time, these theologians do not attempt to clarify the meaning of the orthodox formulas about the Trinity. It’s a part of tradition that they *can’t* be – though not all trinitarians agree. In the chapter in my book I go through nine interpretations of “ousia” (and so, “homoousion”). In another chapter I mentioned three clashing interpretations of “Persons” (hypostases). Most theologians run roughshod over more than one of these – sometimes meaning one comes sometimes the other. I do, though, give my interpretations of what they meant in 325 and in 381.

        I singled out John Philoponus and Peter Abelard because these trinitarians did try to provide an understandable interpretation of the traditional language, which got each of them in hot water. Trinitarian tradition tends to eat its own, so to speak, when someone tries to give intelligible interpretation of the formulas.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Dale, you’re just going to have to be patient. I’ll be getting to your discussions of essence and stuff in a future article. One thing at a time. 🙂

          You state, “Trinitarian tradition tends to eat its own, so to speak, when someone tries to give intelligible interpretation of the formulas.” Quite frankly, I find this statement silly. Philoponus and Abelard were condemned for their trinitarian views because their views were deemed as contrary to the trinitarian dogma. Now if you want to argue that they were misunderstood and their positions did not in fact violate that dogma, well and good. That’s certainly a possibility. Make your argument. But grand generalizations about trinitarians eating their own is gratuitous polemic, akin to the kinds of arguments found on apologetic websites that you rightly criticize. Stick to your philosophical analysis. Your presentation would be a lot stronger.


  8. It’s also worth noting that the 10 anathemas AD 544 and the 15 anathemas of AD 553 against Origen are not concerned about the Trinitarian theology of “Origenism.”

    It’s the soteriology and anthropology of Origen that is (rightly) condemned.


  9. Dale says:

    Thanks for this installment, Al. I do hope to find time to reply at length. Keep going! There is plenty I disagree with here, but I appreciate honest dialogue.

    About Peri Archon – don’t forget that it is heavily and *obviously* corrupted by Rufinus, its very partisan, pro-Nicene Latin translator, who literally brags about his corrupting. He thought anything there that didn’t sound Nicene must have been changed by the “Arians” – so he “changed it back.” Unbelievable. The subordinationist parts have been partly restored through ancient Greek quotations and the Philocalia – these in the modern English translation, in the Greek trans. parallel columns and in footnotes. To my dismay and amazement, the book, or parts of it, are still presented in corrupted form (with no warning), and some have even reprinted the critical edition sans corrections – they simply like the corrupted version better! But his subordinationism, and his view that the Father, not the triad, is the one God, are all over his other extant works, esp. his Commentary on John (Heine transl.) and Contra Celsum. It also comes through the ideas of his more direct theological heirs Eusebius and Pamphilus. For him, the triad are the three greatest beings, with God / the Father in first place. On his Christology, the best thing I’ve seen is by this excellent Catholic scholar: http://www.academia.edu/4240714/_Origens_Christology_for_The_Oxford_Handbook_on_Origen_eds._Ronald_E._Heine_and_Karen_Jo_Torjesen

    About Augustine – despite his Olympic-level long-windedness, I deny that he was really trying to clarify the Trinity. He plays around with various triple parallels, but in the end, he doesn’t think it can be significantly clarified, and just rests everything on the authority of the Church. See the start and the end of his On the Trinity.


    • You write:

      “About Peri Archon – don’t forget that it is heavily and *obviously* corrupted by Rufinus, its very partisan, pro-Nicene Latin translator, who literally brags about his corrupting. He thought anything there that didn’t sound Nicene must have been changed by the “Arians” – so he “changed it back.” Unbelievable.”

      “Rufinus screwed it all up” is older scholarship. It goes back to the 1913 Koetshau’s edition that indiscriminately inserts passages into Peri Archon that enemies of Origen (Justinian and Jerome) said that Origen said into places that seem about right – since **obviously** Rufinus cut them out from these places.

      Rufinus does change, modify, and omit some things. It’s true. But Rufinus is actually pretty faithful. But in the case of Jerome, Jerome is thinking in Origen’s Greek and translating into Latin in opposition to the Latin of Rufinus. There’s a lot of slippage here.

      Secondly, it’s proven that some of the statements of Origenism from Justinian come not from Origen but from Evagrius of Pontus.

      I’m willing to omit that Origen is a material heretic on pre-existence of minds, the pre-existence of Christ’s mind, the pre-existent “fall” of the movement, and the even the apocatastasis (if Origen taught it). But in the realm of Trinitarian thought, he’s pretty tight.


  10. Dale says:

    “pretty faithful” That is setting the bar incredibly low for faithful translation!

    Yes, I am well aware of the pushback by conservative scholars who want a more Nicene Origen. Surely, his scholarly “enemies” must all be liars, and Rufinus the corrupter is to be trusted. :-/

    Obviously, restoring lost passages is an inexact art. But basically all of the subordinationist elements which you think are wrongly inserted by the editor, are just sitting there on the face of his other books.

    And I assume you know this, but for the sake of other people, “Rufinus screwed it all up” is not an inference. Rufinus *tells* us that he did this and argues that it was justified. So it’s a slam dunk case of corruption, and honestly, it would’ve been detectable even without any statement by him.

    Your confidence in Origen as a Trinitarian is quite misplaced. He simply does not believe in a tripersonal God. For him the one God just is the Father. And the Son and Spirit are two lesser although eternal divine beings. I’ve been working on a large book chapter on the subject, and you can show this, again, from his Against Celsus, Dialogue with Heraclides, On Prayer, and his Comm. on John. If you went completely with the corrupted version of On First Principles, you (I) would only lose a few choice quotations from the Greek reports, but nothing really material about his views. For Against Celsus, see e.g. III.34, III.75. Comm Jn VI.200, II.75, II.12-33, etc. The most confusing thing in his presentations is his statements that God and the logos “are one.” He actually doesn’t mean that they are the same god – although many a latter-day reader wants to take him that way. The first four sections of his Dialogue are illuminating on this, I think.


  11. John H says:

    Dr. Marshall:
    Is there any reference in the Periarchon to what would later become the notions of divine simplicity or immutability? If Origen held such views or notions that in his day would have been basically proto-forms of the later Thomistic doctrine, than it is difficult to see how he could have consistently maintained a subordinationist scheme. The crux of the two tiered Logos theory propounded by Tertullian is that God the Father emanates some of his divine essence to the Son, who, in turn, does the same to form the Spirit. Such a scheme implies both that God is composed of “Stuff” that he may share with lesser, created beings, including the Son and the Spirit, and that God must change throughout time. I believe that Origen believed in God’s utter transcendence, correct? So given that premise, it does not seem likely that he would have supported notions which are based upon presuppositions that God is composed of parts and changes throughout history.

    Also, many patristic scholars question whether Origen was actually condemned by the 5th Council. Since it was basically Justinian’s show, he pretty much ensured that Origen would end up taking a very bad rap, regardless of what the Council itself decided.


    • Origen explicitly makes his argument in Peri Archon concerning the Father and Son having the same substance by explaining that their substance was not material and thus could not be divided. Hence they are of the same substance. One substance.

      Origen is clear that God is transcendent and unchanging. It’s one reason that he posits a coeval created universe. He (wrongly) things that having a God doing nothing before creation and then later creating threatens God’s immutability.

      But it’s not clear to as how this fits with pre-existence minds and whether perhaps these minds have gone through aeonic cycles of testing, falling, and redemption before the current aeon.


  12. Maximus says:


    Also please consider the meaning of O On in the halo around Christ’s head in Orthodox iconography:



    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. I hope one day to read some of the patristic exegesis of the Burning Bush theophany.


      • Maximus says:

        St Justin Martyr:

        And Jesus the Christ, because the Jews knew not what the Father was, and what the Son, in like manner accused them; and Himself said, No one knows the Father, but the Son; nor the Son, but the Father, and they to whom the Son reveals Him. Matthew 11:27 Now the Word of God is His Son, as we have before said. And He is called Angel and Apostle; for He declares whatever we ought to know, and is sent forth to declare whatever is revealed; as our Lord Himself says, He that hears Me, hears Him that sent Me. Luke 10:16 From the writings of Moses also this will be manifest; for thus it is written in them, And the Angel of God spoke to Moses, in a flame of fire out of the bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of your fathers; go down into Egypt, and bring forth My people. Exodus 3:6 And if you wish to learn what follows, you can do so from the same writings; for it is impossible to relate the whole here. But so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels; but now, by the will of God, having become man for the human race, He endured all the sufferings which the devils instigated the senseless Jews to inflict upon Him; who, though they have it expressly affirmed in the writings of Moses, And the angel of God spoke to Moses in a flame of fire in a bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yet maintain that He who said this was the Father and Creator of the universe. Whence also the Spirit of prophecy rebukes them, and says, Israel does not know Me, my people have not understood Me. Isaiah 1:3 And again, Jesus, as we have already shown, while He was with them, said, No one knows the Father, but the Son; nor the Son but the Father, and those to whom the Son will reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 The Jews, accordingly, being throughout of opinion that it was the Father of the universe who spoke to Moses, though He who spoke to him was indeed the Son of God, who is called both Angel and Apostle, are justly charged, both by the Spirit of prophecy and by Christ Himself, with knowing neither the Father nor the Son. For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. (1st Apology, 63)


  13. Pingback: Kimel’s review of What is the Trinity – Part 2 – Trinities

  14. Tuggy fails to mention that many scholars contest the claim that Irenaeus is accurately described as a two-stage logos theorist. Tuggy notes the dispute on his blog [trinitarian or unitarian? 3 – Irenaeus’s 2-stage Logos theory, March 2, 2017] but not in his book. I judge this to be a misleading and tendentious omission.

    Tuggy does something similar, but worse, with Marcellus of Ancyra: he dedicates to him his podcast 175 – Marcellus of Ancyra (March 13, 2017), where he raises some quick objections to Marcellus’ theology, but doesn’t really expand on the subject. In his book on the Trinity, he only dedicates to Marcellus few superficial comments (pp. 84-86), only citing in a note Joseph Lienhard fundamental book Contra Marcellum: Marcellus of Ancyra and Fourth-Century Theology (Washington, D.C., 1999). But Tuggy omits to mention the concluding paragraph of Lienhard’s book:

    Marcellus, and many who though as he did, finally snapped the great chain of being and freed Christian doctrine from one of the most perduring assumptions of the Platonic world-view. As the eastern Church accepted the formula “one ousia, three hypostaseis, it gained clarity in its doctrine. But Marcellus may still ssay to the Church that the phrase remains in need of careful explanation and that there are other ways, too, of speaking about the mystery of God, One and Three. (Contra Marcellum, cit, p. 244 – emphasis added)

    What “other ways”? The options are not unlimited. The “Cappadocian settlement” is unsatisfactory (besides being un-scriptural), because it is an unstable compromise, permanently oscillating between tritheism and modalism. Then, what are the other options we are left with?

    Having read Marcellus’ excerpts, in particular in the quotations from the books that Eusebius of Caesarea wrote to attack him (Contra Marcellum and De Ecclesiastica Theologia) I am sure that the correct interpretation of his central thought is this: God is one ousia, one hypostasis and one prosopon, BUT He is, ab aeterno, endowed with two essential attributes, His Word (logos, dabar) and His Spirit (pneuma, ruach).

    Jesus is, indeed, the Incarnation of God’s eternal Word and, after the Resurrection and the Ascension, forever seated at God’s right end, as Lord.


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