We continue our comments on the manuscript sent to us by a Mormon.(*) In the last times, we had reached the first chapter of that document, and we have commented on the clear ignorance of Stephen (the author of that manuscript) concerning what happened in the history of the Church. We have seen how he doesn’t know that the Apostles clearly told us who God is(*), and how he is totally ignorant about what “catholic” means and so he thinks it means “Roman Catholic”(*).
Now, after he showed us his ignorance about history, Stephen said:
The Catholic Church first defined the nature of God by the Athanasian Creed of the Third Century AD. This Creed preceded the formal organization of the Catholic Church in 325 AD.
Well, concerning the definition of the Nature of God, we have seen how God has defined in His Word, the Bible, who He is, and that no human has the right to define who God is. To read how that happened, you can go to our article: Was the Church ignorant about the Nature of God?
Concerning what the catholic Church is, you can consult our article: The confusion about the catholic Church. We have seen there how Stephen has no idea about what the catholic Church is, and he confuses it with the Roman Catholic organization. You can find all the details in that article.
Now, in the article Was the Church ignorant about the Nature of God? we have seen how for three centuries the Church was not having “a lot of controversy over Deity” within her own ranks as Stephen suggested with the expression “throughout Christendom”, but she was having those controversies with the unbelievers who opposed the Faith. It is not true that there has been “a struggle over the nature of God” or that “there has also been much misunderstanding about the name or names of God” as Stephen wrongly suggested, but there was a struggle to find the best way of expression of our Faith that we received once for all from the Apostles of our Lord. For three centuries, the main problem for the Church was to find the best technical vocabulary to express her Faith. She had to find a unified way to communicate her Faith. The Church was not trying to find out what her Faith is, but she was trying to find out what is the best intelligible way to express it. We saw how the whole Bible, whether its Old Testament part or its New Testament part, clearly defined who God is: He is ONE God called YHWH, and there is no other God besides Him; This same one God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; these three have the same Name YHWH, and yet they are distinct from each other, although not separate. That’s what the Bible clearly says; you can consult that article to see how. Then we saw how the Church tried to communicate this biblical truth in the context of the Greek mind. We saw how the Church Fathers tried to find the best human way to explain this truth to the Greek mind, and we reached the third century’s theologian Tertullian who found some key terms to express our Faith that we received once for all from the Apostles (cf. Jude 3). Let me quote again that part about Tertullian:
It is in this process that the Church reached the best way of expression in the third century A.D., especially beginning with Tertullian who was of big help as he was the first to use the Latin expression Trinitas about God, and that helped very much to express those three points that we have seen together at the beginning of this article. In his way to this discovery of this better expression of this doctrine (and not a new doctrine), Tertullian used some key ideas from the previous Church Fathers and apologists as well as some other key expressions that helped him reach that word, like the Latin term substantia (substance) and persona (person). In this way Tertullian was able to express in a better way those three points that we saw at the beginning of this article and that the Church was struggling to express in the best way. With those Latin words that he used, Tertullian could explain how the three Persons (the key term Persona is used) share the same essence or substance (the key term substantia is used) and thus are One (as the first point of the three points says), but each has His personality (as the points 2 and 3 say). Thus Tertullian succeeded to explain how there is a unity in God as well as trinity, and how God is not multiple gods although He is revealed as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This stress on the unity of substance and the distinction of persons helped the Church very much in the expression of what she already believed, i.e. of the Faith which was once for all received in the days of the Apostles. Of course, just like all human terms, the word “Trinity” was not the perfect word to express who God is, and yet it was the best human way. If it were the perfect word, the Holy Spirit would use it in the Bible. And indeed, the later Nicene Creed didn’t use this term “Trinity” but explained what we believe, i.e. it explained the Trinity concentrating on the Son who revealed God to us. Even Tertullian who first used it had to elaborate more on what this term did mean and what it did not mean. The same is true about his terms “substance” and “person”. In the usual Latin that anyone would understand in those times, the term persona meant an entity totally distinct from other entities. And yet, when explaining the Nature of God, Tertullian uses this term Person in a relational way: for him the Father cannot be the Father without the Son, and the Son cannot be the Son without the Father; although the two are distinct (cf. point 3 above), and yet they are inseparable (cf. points 1 and 2 above). The Holy Spirit likewise shares this divine essence or substance, although He is a distinct Person. Thus the three members of the Godhead share both an interrelatedness and a distinctiveness. It is in this way that especially the Eastern Church reached the Syriac term qnoma instead of the Latin persona; qnoma more closely expresses this relational meaning of the term persona that Tertullian tried to explain. Of course, the term qnoma also has its own difficulties as it is not a perfect word either. Today this term qnoma (Arabic version: ouqnoum) is widely used among the Arabic speaking Christians instead of the term Person .
But if the term “Trinity” (with the terms related to it) is not the perfect word, this doesn’t mean we can’t use it to explain our Faith which we received once for all in the first century A.D. It is the best human way to explain this truth. Any other term or idea would compromise in at least one of the three essential points that we saw at the beginning. And as the word “Trinity” as well as the words “Substance” and “Person” are the best human way to express our Faith without compromise, so the Church continues to use these terms in order to communicate the truth about God. If anyone would like to suggest any other way of expression of our Faith, he needs to do a hard work similar to the work the Church had to do all over the first three centuries A.D. to discover this best way of expression, and he has to prove to be able to keep the harmony between all those three points that we have seen at the beginning of this article and that are the clear revelation of the Word of God about God. Besides this, he needs to be able to make his “better” word accepted by the whole Church, as we need a unified way of expression as well as the best way. Till now, the word “Trinity” proved to be the only best term.
So you see the ignorance of Stephen when he says that the Church defined the Nature of God with the Athanasian Creed. In fact, the Bible defined who God is, and then all the Church Fathers tried to explain that Faith to the Greek mind, as the Bible is not written in the philosophical or metaphysical way of the Greek philosophy. You also see how Tertullian, following all the Church Fathers of the early times, already used the term “Trinity”, and how he also explained it in a way that respects the revelation of God about Himself in the Bible. So the Church was not waiting for Athanasius to define for her the God whom she worships… But as usual, Stephen is telling us what he ignorantly concluded without studying history. Now, let me show you what Athanasius really did, and you will see why Stephen is confused about the facts.
We have seen how the Church was trying to explain her once for all received Faith to the Greek mind. She was in this process when a big crisis began in the fourth century with Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria. Arius didn’t understand the biblical doctrine that says that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit share both an interrelatedness and a distinctiveness, and how they are distinct but not separate. The Bible says that God is one, and we have seen how this means that this unity of God can never be divided in any way; there is no way to divide God into many separate persons or gods. Arius concentrated on this truth, but he couldn’t accept the revelation of God concerning the one Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Arius especially couldn’t understand what the biblical expressions “Son of God” and “only-begotten” mean, so he was arguing that God cannot be begotten in any way. In this, he showed a misunderstanding concerning what the biblical language means by those terms. Indeed, “Son of God” does not mean that God married a woman and got a child from her! May it never be! And “begotten” doesn’t mean that the Son was born from a relation between God and a woman!! May it never be! It means that Jesus Christ is “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4). This is explained in the Acts of the Apostles by Paul:
“that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.’
“As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I WILL GIVE YOU THE HOLY and SURE blessings OF DAVID.'” (Acts 13:33-34)
So the Son was declared as being the Heavenly King by the resurrection, and that’s the “today” when God has begotten Him by declaration. “The Son of God” means “the Heavenly King” or “God incarnate” or “the Messiah”; we have seen this in some details in the article What does the word “Messiah” mean? Who is the Messiah? You need to read that article to understand this more clearly. Of course, we all know that Jesus is by Nature the Son of God; He didn’t need to wait until His resurrection to find out that He is the Heavenly King. Indeed, He would not be declared Son of God by the resurrection if He was not in reality the Son of God. You can’t declare someone to be the Son of God if he is not really the Son of God; that would be a lie, and God does not lie. It is because Jesus is the Heavenly King (God) incarnate that He could defeat death and rise from the dead. We have seen all these details in the above mentioned article about who the Messiah is, and also in the article Was the Church ignorant about the Nature of God? Knowing this fact that the Son was always and from eternity past the Heavenly King who would be incarnated, we understand that the “today” is not in our human dimensions.
Indeed, this is what “Son of God” and “only-begotten” mean in the Bible. They don’t mean what the Greek mind would conclude from them. This is what I was saying in the article Was the Church ignorant about the Nature of God?: the Scripture has concrete forms of expression and does not speak in the humanly philosophical way, so the Church had the challenge to find a way to communicate those truths that she already knew in a way that could be understood in the language of the Greek philosophy which, contrary to the Scriptural accounts, centered its attention on the question of metaphysical being or what is “real”. So there was a shift in thought pattern from the Scriptural way of expression to the way a Greek philosopher could understand. Arius made the mistake of hearing these terms according to the Greek metaphysical way only, and thus he could not understand the biblical truth. Instead of trying to understand the biblical truth by faith, Arius chose the way of human reason, and around 318 A.D. he began to preach that the eternal God decided to create the world by first creating a being superior to the rest of creation, and he considered that this first created being is the Logos, the Son. In this way, Arius denied the biblical truth about the Son: That He is the one eternal God, YHWH, who created everything ALONE (cf. Isaiah 44:24). In this way, Arius also imagined God as a dumb being who could not speak and had not wisdom until he created his logos (word or wisdom). Indeed, humans can go to strange extremes when they refuse the wisdom of God and want to understand God by their human wisdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). That’s what happened with Arius. The slogan of Arius about the Son became “There was [a time] when he was not”… And he imagined that the three Persons of the Trinity do not share the same essence, but each is “of another substance” (Greek heteroousios). According to him, the Holy Spirit is probably a creature of the Son… In this way, Arius opposed all what the Bible teaches about the Holy Trinity as we have seen them in the article Was the Church ignorant about the Nature of God? He especially denied the true meaning of who the Messiah is(*). Today those who call themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses follow this human philosophy of Arius.
Now, although Arius was opposing the biblical Faith which was once for all handed down to the saints in the first century (cf. Jude 3), and yet he was of great help to the Church, as he served the Church to find a final way to express her Faith. Arius clarified the biblical truth that God, who is one, cannot be divided to separate persons. And indeed, this is what the Bible teaches. Those who deny the biblical truth about the Son think that we believe God is divided to three separate persons. But this is not true. As we have seen in the article about the Church and the Nature of God(*), the biblical truth is that God cannot be divided to three separate persons or gods. It is an error to think that God is the addition of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And the three Persons of the Trinity are not three separate Persons, as we have seen. In fact, we have seen that even the term “Person” is not a very precise word to express the biblical truth, but it is the best human expression of the biblical truth.
Of course, the Church did not agree with Arius, because she already knew who God is, as we have seen previously(*). The Church knew very well that God has said in His Word that God is one, and that His one Name is equally shared by the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who are distinct from each other and yet not separate Persons. So it is not as Stephen and his cultist friends imagine; the Church did know her God. And as she knew her God, so she realized that Arius was clearly teaching something contrary to what God had revealed. Now, add to all this that the position of Arius was gaining support from those who were misled and didn’t want to believe the biblical truth, and even causing riots in the street, and you will understand why the Nicene Council took place. Indeed, the Church cannot leave the poisonous lies lead people to Hell without standing to give her answer officially. Besides this, Constantine, who was then the sole emperor of the Roman Empire, wanted this problem solved, because such a religious controversy would cause a serious problem for the unity of his empire. Don’t forget that the Church had received an official acceptance in 313 A.D., and such a problem that came a few years later would really cause a serious problem for the empire. Although Constantine could not understand what the whole theological issue was about, and yet he wanted a solution for this problem; so he asked for a catholic (universal or general) Council of the Church to put the controversy to rest. In June 325 Constantine opened the Council held at Nicaea (Asia Minor) with almost three hundred bishops present (the majority were from the East). Arius also was present. The bishop of Alexandria, called Alexander of Alexandria, who was the bishop of the city in which Arius was a presbyter, was also present in this Council, and with him came Athanasius, the future bishop of Alexandria, who would become the strongest defender against Arius of the Faith which was received once for all from the Apostles (cf. Jude 3) and which was explained and declared against the teachings of Arius in the Nicene Creed. You already begin to see how Stephen is clearly misled concerning who Athanasius is and concerning what he really did. How could Athanasius explain the Creed of Nicaea before the Creed was formulated in 325 A.D.? And yet Stephen ignorantly says that the Creed of Athanasius “preceded the formal organization of the Catholic Church in 325 AD.” I told you: we are dealing with a deep historical ignorance here…
So what we would expect from the Council of Nicaea was to declare the Faith which was once for all received from the Apostles, and which the Church Fathers and apologists had been explaining and trying to find the best expression for it all that time, as we have seen in the article Was the Church ignorant about the Nature of God? We have seen how the Church Fathers and the apologists were always trying to explain in an intelligible way the three points clearly revealed in the Bible: 1. God is One, and not two or three or many gods as in pagan religions; 2. God is revealed as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; 3. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct from each other, and yet not separate. We have seen how all the Christian scholars wanted to find the balance between these three facts, and how in this process Tertullian’s terms Trinitas and Persona and substantia were of great help. So the Church would use all this precious work of the Church during almost three centuries to formulate her Faith in the Nicene Creed. And indeed this is what the Creed did. Let’s read the original Creed of Nicaea:
We believe in one God, Father, all-sovereign, maker of all things seen and unseen; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father as only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, homoousios [of the same substance] with the Father, through whom all things came into existence, the things in heaven and the things on the earth, who because of us [human] and our salvation came down and was incarnated, made [human], suffered, and arose on the third day, ascended into heaven, comes to judge the living and the dead; and in one Holy Spirit.
And those who say “there was once when he was not” or “he was not before he was begotten” or “he came into existence from nothing” or who affirm that the Son of God is of another hypostasis or substance, or a creature, or mutable or subject to change, such ones the catholic and apostolic Church pronounces accursed and separated from the Church.
As you can see, the stress of this Creed is on the Son and on His relation to the Father, and not on the Trinity as Stephen dreams. The Church was not trying to explain the Trinity as such yet, because as you can see nothing is said about the Holy Spirit other than that we believe in Him! So let’s wonder how Stephen imagined the detailed Creed of Athanasius as coming before all the later developments on this Nicene Creed… Indeed, just as the Church was trying to explain the relation of the Son to the Father, she was also trying to clarify the relation of the Holy Spirit also with the other two Persons of the Trinity. But the crisis of Arius was not the appropriate condition to treat the latter matter. After the Nicene Creed, there were developments to reach the final declaration of the whole Faith concerning God. Indeed, when you read the above original Creed, you notice some differences with the Nicene Creed that we have today (you can read the translation of the Armenian detailed version of the Nicene Creed on our site here). That’s because the Nicene Creed that we have today is not just that original incomplete declaration of Nicaea, but it also includes the later developments, especially concerning the Holy Spirit and the other key doctrines. I will explain these developments later in this article.
Now, when you read the above original Creed of Nicaea, you notice that the Church preferred to go back to the biblical expression “Son of God”, instead of the term Logos which had become somehow ambiguous, as the Greek philosophy was already using it but with a little different meaning from the biblical Logos in John 1:1. That false Greek understanding of the Logos was one of the main reasons behind the false understandings of Arius. So the fruit of the hard work of those three centuries was that the Church realized that this term Logos was causing more problems with the Greek mind than solving the problem of communication, so she went back to the biblical expression and preferred to explain it, as you can see in the Creed. You see how the Creed clearly states that God is one, and not two or three or many gods as in pagan religions. It also clarifies that we have ONE Lord, and this Lord is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, only-begotten. I have already explained above the meanings of these terms, so I will not go back there. You also see in this Creed the great help that Tertullian brought with the term “substance”. The Church clarified that the Son is of the same substance with the Father (Greek homoousios). She also clarified that the Son is the Creator of all things and the Heavenly Judge.
But don’t think that Arianism died with this Council. Arianism continued to make troubles, as those who opposed the biblical Faith were many. Add to this that the followers of Arius for some time held a certain political authority, and thus they succeeded to get pro-Nicene leaders deposed and exiled!! Among these exiled leaders was the well-known Athanasius who was the bishop of Alexandria since 328. The Arians said that the homoousios is not biblical. Indeed, all cults oppose at least one point in the Nicene Creed. You surely see how Stephen, a Mormon, opposes also this Creed. After 337 some other developments on the Nicene Creed happened, some of them omitting the term homoousios but being critical of Aranism in general. The Arians even succeeded to pass some of their creeds in some local councils. Some also proposed to use the term homoiousios (of like substance)… Look how the difference between the biblical truth and a lie is sometimes hung on one letter… All this chaos took place between 325 A.D. (the date of the Nicene Creed) and 361 A.D. But the years 361 to 381 marked the overthrow of Arianism. The major theologians who opposed Arianism and defended the biblical Faith during this time were Athanasius of Alexandria and the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa). These Fathers worked to explain and clarify the Faith which was shortly explained at the Nicene Council. In this context, the chief work of Athanasius is Orations Against the Arians which presents the teachings of Arius and defends the biblical teachings against those false teachings. Athanasius strongly affirms faith in one God and that the Word is God and not a creature, “true God, homoousios with the true Father”, just as the Bible says. Athanasius also developed the explanation of who the Holy Spirit is. He clearly said that the Holy Spirit is not a creature, but that He is one with the Holy Triad (the Trinity), homoousios with the Father and the Son, just as the Bible says. Athanasius wrote: “The holy and blessed Triad is indivisible and one in Itself. When mention is made of the Father, the Word is also included, as also the Spirit who is in the Son. If the Son is named, the Father is in the Son, and the Spirit is not outside the Word. For there is a single grace which is fulfilled from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.” Notice how these declarations of Athanasius are very similar to the explanations of Tertullian, and how he clearly explains that the One God is indivisible; so we are wrongly accused of believing that the Trinity means that God is divided to three separate persons. The Cappadocian Fathers clarified more what Athanasius left without clarification. For instance, the Cappadocians clarified the difference between ousia and hypostasis. Both of these terms mean “substance”, but there is a little difference between them. You already see how the shift from Tertullian’s Latin to the Eastern Greek also have put some troubles before the Church in the explanation of her Faith. Basil insisted that there is a difference between these two terms and that the most appropriate and acceptable formula would be “one substance in three Persons”. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote: “The Godhead is one in Three and the Three are one, in whom the Godhead is, or to speak more accurately, who are the Godhead”.
It is in this process that the Church needed to have another Council at Constantinople to clarify all the points that were still pending from the time of the Nicene Council in 325 A.D. In 381, the emperor Theodosius I wanted a Council to be held in Constantinople to clarify all the issues, especially that new heresies and sects were still threatening the unity of the Empire. At this Council no western bishop was represented, so I wonder what Stephen means when he suggests things about Roman Catholic authority or organization… It is in this Council that we got the final formulation of the Nicene Creed which we still use today. You can read the translation of the Armenian version of that Creed on our site here. This Creed is in fact called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, but it is commonly known today as the Nicene Creed as it is the more detailed explanation of the Nicene Creed. It is this Creed that developed the part about the Holy Spirit.
Now, if as Stephen says the Athanasian Creed preceded the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D., then why did the Church need all that trouble from 325 A.D. to 381 A.D.? Why did she need to hold a new Council at Constantinople to clarify and enlarge the explanation of the Creed of Nicaea? If the Athanasian Creed was already there before 325 A.D., then all was included in that Creed!! Why did we need all that trouble?… Well, you know what the answer is: Stephen is ignorant about what happened in the history of the Church, because his leaders have deceived him. I will quote here the so-called Athanasian Creed so that you may see what I mean:
Whoever wills to be in a state of salvation, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic(*) faith, which except everyone shall have kept whole and undefiled without doubt he will perish eternally.
Now the catholic faith is that we worship One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is One, the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit; the Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated; the father infinite, the Son infinite, and the Holy Spirit infinite; the Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet not three eternals but one eternal, as also not three infinites, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one infinite. So, likewise, the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty; and yet not three almighties but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God; and yet not three Gods but one God. So the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; and yet not three Lords but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be both God and Lord; so are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, there be three Gods or three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son, not made nor created nor begotten but proceeding. So there is one Father not three Fathers, one Son not three Sons, and one Holy Spirit not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less, but the whole three Persons are coeternal together and coequal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity is to be worshipped. He therefore who wills to be in a state of salvation, let him think thus of the Trinity.
But it is necessary to eternal salvation that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The right faith therefore is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man. He is God of the substance of the Father begotten before the worlds, and He is man of the substance of His mother born in the world; perfect God, perfect man subsisting of a reasoning soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood. Who although He be God and Man yet He is not two but one Christ; one however not by conversion of the Godhead in the flesh, but by taking of the Manhood in God; one altogether not by confusion of substance but by unity of Person. For as the reasoning soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life eternal, and they who indeed have done evil into eternal fire.
This is the catholic faith, which except a man shall have believed faithfully and firmly he cannot be in a state of salvation.
Of course, in this Creed the term “catholic” does not mean “Roman Catholic”, as we have seen in the article The confusion about the catholic Church. It means “universal”.
As you can see, this Creed is so developed that it could not have come before 325 A.D., or else the Church would not need the Council of Constantinople. Besides this, this Creed also explains the unity of Christ’s Person which was not a real problem until the Christological crisis or the Chalcedonian crisis from which resulted the Chalcedonian Creed… The Chalcedonian crisis happened in the 5th century… At that time Athanasius was already dead, so go wonder how he knew that such a controversy would take place and thus included it in his Creed. Such considerations made the majority of scholars believe that Athanasius didn’t really author this Athanasian Creed. However, it is clear that Athanasius had a strong influence on the Christian(s) who authored this Creed. Maybe it was also called “Athanasian” because it explains the post-Necene developments of Athanasius with all what the Church clarified from 325 A.D. to 451 A.D. in the Councils that she held. So these considerations would even place this Creed after A.D. 451. And we are really sorry for the ignorance of Stephen and of all cultists. We pray that he will be saved and will come to the knowledge of the truth after he reads about these truths.
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ