Matt Paulson

That life which we have in God is one in God without intermediary, for it lives in the Father with the unbegotten Son and is begotten with the Son from the Father, flowing forth from them both with the Holy Spirit. We thus live eternally in God and he in us, for our created being lives in our eternal image, which we have in the Son of God. … For this reason the eternal birth is always being renewed, and the flowing forth of the Holy Spirit into the emptiness of our soul is always occurring without interruption, for God has known, loved, called, and chosen us from all eternity. John Ruusbroec, A Mirror of Eternal Blessedness, 3:C
And because you are children God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" Gal. 4:6

It has become extremely common for various persons of an anti-Trinitarian persuasion (henceforth called Arians, though there are others) to treat the Christological witness of the Early Fathers as though it consisted of a veritable arsenal with which to assault Nicene Christians, or, at the very least, as though the first three centuries of Christology was a historical period that should cause us some kind of discomfort. This essay is an attempt to show why this is not at all true. The manner in which this will be demonstrated will be somewhat awkward, hence a brief preface is in order.

To me it is extremely obvious that those who write against the Trinity haven't any decent understanding of what the Trinity really is, and this is especially clear in the area of Christology. J. P. Holding has already gone some distance in demonstration of this fact, but I think more needs to be said. For this reason, I will begin with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (henceforth NCC) and the theologians who fathered it. After that a few brief comments on the Athanasian Creed and Trinitarian Christology of St. Augustine are in order. After summarizing what the orthodox understanding of Christ's sonship entails and excludes, I'll then proceed to examine the Christologies of the two earliest Church Fathers (Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch) in some detail. Finally, I'll give a brief overview of some of the other Ante-Nicene Fathers, showing why the standard criticisms of their Christologies from the Arian camp fail.

Yet before all of that, I first wish to ground my argument in Scripture, offering a broad and basic outline for the general direction in which the more detailed portions of this essay will follow. Without further ado-


As my focus is primarily on the Fathers of the Church, this will not be an exhaustive presentation of a Scriptural systematic on the Trinity. Fortunately, much of the ground has already been cleared. J. P. Holding has been something of a pioneer in Christian apologetics in that he has drawn attention to the role played by Wisdom theology (see link above) in the formation of Christology, and this template will be assumed throughout this essay as well. As we'll soon see, Wisdom was not only the beginning of Christology, but also its middle and end.

Yet Wisdom Christology implies something else about God which, I think, deserves far more attention than it has been given. In the Old Testament, God is called Father about twenty times; in the gospel of John alone God is called Father 114 times. This is passing strange and needs explanation.

I think the basis of the answer is to be found, yet again, in the fact that Jesus presented himself, and was understood by the Early Church as God's Wisdom. One passage in particular demonstrates the way in which Wisdom was understood to be related to God. Since this passage covers so much ground, both regarding the ontology and personal dignity of hypostasized Wisdom, it will be quoted in full.

Wisdom of Solomon 7:24 - 8:4

For Wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty, therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of goodness. Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with Wisdom. She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against Wisdom evil does not prevail. She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well. I loved her and sought her from my youth; I desired to take her for my bride, and became enamored of her beauty. She glorifies her noble birth by living with God, and the Lord of all loves her. For she is an initiate in the knowledge of God, and an associate in his works.

A few things need to be noted here. First of all, the divine ontological status of Wisdom is clear from both her properties and works. But of more interest to me is the fact that Wisdom is described in several verses in a way such that it suggests Wisdom's being intrinsic to God for her own sake. This is already implied in Proverbs 8:30, in which Wisdom was 'beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.'

But we can find precedent for this much earlier in Scripture, even as far back as Exodus 34:6 ff.: 'YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin . . .' The portion that warrants special attention is abounding in steadfast love. Of course, I don't imagine that Moses was here trying to tell us about the operations ad intra of the immanent YHWH - he was describing the character of YHWH in relation to God's chosen nation as that character was described to him by YHWH. Yet it does seem that this character description assumes something about YHWH as he is in himself, and that this something, this radical communication of love, is the basis upon which his character is revealed in his interaction with Israel. And even though Isaiah's eyes had 'seen the King, YHWH of hosts', YHWH in this sense atleast was not yet fully revealed and still remained somewhat as a 'house filled with smoke' (Isa. 6:5, 4).

And now we arrive at what is the heart of my Christology: 'grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.' (Jn. 1:17-18) It was in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that the definition of God which revealed God came forth. And it was as Father that God was so revealed. From this point onward, it is not enough merely to call God 'God' or 'YHWH' or 'Lord'. God is defined in relation to his Son as revealed by his Son: 'and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son,' (1 Jn. 1:3) 'No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also.' (1 Jn. 2:23)

I don't think it anachronistic at all to say that the cornerstone of New Testament theology proper is the belief, whether implicit or explicit, that God is relational. God is intrinsically communion. And this leads to my second point: 'God is love.' (1 Jn. 4:8, 16) The person who truly loves (and therefore, insofar as possible, knows) the Trinity is the person who can read When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying, 'You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased. (Lk. 3:22) . . . and see God communicated to man via a translation of his own eternal communion into human being through and in the human existence of Jesus Christ. And that communion that is God, and God's communication to us, is Love. And this shift from God in himself to God for us brings me to my third and final point, the translation of God into human being. The Old Testament offers many texts which can be taken in this way, I will cite only two.

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him so that he might save us. This is YHWH for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.' (Isa. 25:9)
Then YHWH will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives … Then YHWH my God will come , and all the holy ones with him … And YHWH will become king over all the earth; and on that day YHWH will be one and his name one. (Zech. 14:3 ff.)

This form of Christology finds particularly vivid expression in Lk. 19:41 ff., wherein Jesus, near the end of his ministry, rides into Jerusalem on a colt, crying over the city that did not recognize your visitation from God. (vs. 44)

If my argument in its basic form is anywhere near the truth, then a few drastic consequences (in the context of the modern Nicene-Arian debate) follow. First of all, we have a new point of reference for interpreting the extremely common phrase 'Jesus Christ our Lord'. (Rom. 5:21, etc.) Modern Arians often point to this as though it were an absolute ontological disjunct from 'God our Father'. (Rom. 1:7, etc.) But quite the contrary, such phraseology includes Jesus within the God of Israel rather than distinguishing him from him. In the words of Ray Brown:

The use of 'God' for Jesus that is attested in the early 2d century was a continuation of a usage that had begun in NT times. There is no reason to be surprised at this. 'Jesus Christ is Lord' was evidently a popular confessional formula in NT times, and in this formula Christians gave Jesus the title kyrios which was the Septuagint translation for YHWH. If Jesus could be given this title, why could he not be called 'God' (theos), which the Septuagint often used to translate Elohim? The two Hebrew terms had become relatively interchangeable, and indeed YHWH was the more sacred term. An Introduction to New Testament Christology, pg. 189.

In the second place, all 'Father-Son' talk in the New Testament must be thought through carefully. It is to miss the point entirely to imagine simply that 'the Father' is 'God'. We must go further and recognize that the Father as Father is God. The revelation of God reveals God as Father of Jesus Christ, his Son; this is a relational predication, not a monadic one. And if fatherhood is essential to God, the Son is as essential as the Father. God is Love, therefore God is Father, therefore God is essentially communion. The New Testament reveals a multi-personal God. And it must be pointed out that such a revelation of God was not precluded by the monotheism which existed in the Jewish faith prior to the birth of the Church. Second Temple Judaism did not define their 'one God' as 'the Father' in the way that Christianity did, nor did they define their God as 'a single unitarian being' as modern day Arians do. In the words of N. T. Wright:

Within the most fiercely monotheistic of Jewish circles throughout our period-from the Maccabean revolt to Bar-Kochba-there is no suggestion that 'monotheism' or praying the Shema, had anything to do with the numerical analysis of the inner being of Israel's god himself. It had everything to do with the two-pronged fight against paganism and dualism. Indeed, we find strong evidence during this period of Jewish groups and individuals who, speculating on the meaning of some difficult passages in scripture (Daniel 7, for example, or Genesis 1), suggested that the divine being might encompass a plurality. Philo could speculate about the Logos as, effectively, a second divine being; the Similitudes of Enoch might portray the Son of Man/Messiah as an eternal divine being; but none of these show any awareness that they are transgressing normal Jewish monotheism. Nor are they. The oneness of Israel's god, the creator, was never an analysis of god's inner existence, but always a polemical doctrine over against paganism and dualism. It was only with the rise of Christianity and arguably under the influence both of polemical constraint and Hellenizing philosophy, that Jews in the second and subsequent centuries reinterpreted 'monotheism' as 'the numerical oneness of the divine being'. Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 1, pg. 259.

Other points that would need to be noted in light of the above considerations include the sitting of Jesus at the right hand of God, the working of God through Jesus, the approach of the believer to God through Jesus, etc. The hypothesis that the particular phraseology of such scenarios entails the ontological (as opposed to functional) subordination of Christ to God must be abandoned, giving way to the fact that this is, rather, the structure of God's love for the inclusion of human beings. Such considerations, however, are beyond our scope here, and interested readers can look in the recommended reading section for in depth treatment of the above. To recap, Wisdom is the cornerstone of New Testament Christology. Much ground is covered under the Wisdom template. First, Wisdom is intrinsic to God as God's beloved. Second, God is Wisdom's source, yet to have one entails the having of the other. God is to Wisdom as the sun is to shine, and because of this fact, Wisdom is therefore the agent in and through which God will create and save the world. It is by being grafted into the true Son of God that we are adopted as children of God. (Jn. 1:12-13; Eph. 1:5; 1 Jn. 5:1) Third, Wisdom is divine.

J. P. Holding has shown that Jesus referred to himself as Wisdom. I suggest, however, that a further catalyst in the development of New Testament Christology was the revelation of Jesus' sonship, in both his action and prayer, his life and death, his baptism and resurrection. And I believe that with such thoughts in mind, the early Church understood God in a new way: God is Love, the Father of Jesus Christ their Lord. This was the Apostolic hermeneutic for the interpretation of their God. Jesus Christ is God translated into h uman being, and the life of Jesus Christ was the communication of God for us. With such an understanding in mind, I turn to the Fathers.


In my experience with Arians who attempt to use the writings of the Fathers against Trinitarians, it seems to me that there are two over-riding reasons why they are under the misconception that the first three hundred years of Christianity will actually hurt us, and therefore help them. The first mistake is to approach the ante-Nicene corpus without a clear conception of Wisdom Christology as understood by Trinitarians. The next error, and this one is related to the first, is to imagine that any type of 'subordinationism' whatsoever automatically precludes orthodoxy. For example, Edgar Foster in his essay Christology: An Exploration remarks-

First we think that the very definition of subordinationism makes it logically impossible to concomitantly affirm Trinitarianism and subordinationism. … If God is one substance (or subject), however, this fact ultimately means that immanently (within the Godhead) subordinationism does not and cannot obtain among the individuated divine personae that presumably constitute the threefold God of Christianity. Note well: one main point put forward in this study is that the orthodox formulation of God's triunity rules out any form of subordination in the Godhead. Trinitarianism does not allow room for subordination amongst the eternal, necessary, and immutable relations of the Trinity.

Foster then goes on to formulate an undefined definition of orthodoxy, based largely on the Athanasian Creed, which manages to exclude both what orthodoxy rejects and affirms! And with this definition of orthodoxy in hand (a definition which I, as a practicing Roman Catholic have never once encountered in either the Fathers, modern theologians, the liturgy, my own priest, or the Creed I recite weekly) he goes on to examine Justin Martyr, Origen, Novatian, Theophilus, and Lactantius, concluding that since they don't countenance his (as of yet undefined) definition of orthodoxy for Trinitarians, they therefore are not Trinitarians qua Trinitarians.

I have had several e-mail exchanges with Edgar, and I believe him to be a very kind and engaging individual. I applaud his work on Christology and consider it to be the finest Christological effort put forward by JW's. He is willing to engage both the Fathers and theologians, and I believe his work to be a definite step in the right direction for JW's. That said, I think it a positive fact that his entire analysis - Biblical Christology, Trinitarian theology, and Patristic Christology - operates with the assumption of the two flaws mentioned above to such a thorough extent that the essay is completely impotent as a critique of actual Trinitarian orthodoxy. In this portion of the essay and the one that follows, the reason why this is so will become clear.

The single most important Creed in all of Christendom, and the touchstone of all orthodox definitions of the Trinity, for both the East and West, is the NCC. It reads as follows-

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible;
We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things came into existence who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures and ascended to heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, and will come again with glory to judge living and dead, of whose kingdom there will be no end;
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and together glorified, who spoke through the prophets; in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins; we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Keeping the bold portions in mind, let us analyze the NCC in light of the theology of the Fathers who formed it.

Alexander of Alexandria

Thus concerning this, we believe-as it seems best to the apostolic church-in one unbegotten Father, who of his being has no cause, who is immutable and unchangeable, always according to the same things in the same state, neither receiving progress nor dimunition, who is giver of the Law, Prophets, and Gospels, who is Lord of patriarchs, apostles, and all the saints; and in one Lord Jesus Christ the only-begotten Son of God, begotten not from nothing but from the Father who is, not according to the likenesses of bodies by dissections or emanations from divisions, as it appears to Sabellius and Valentinus, but inexplicably and indescribably, according to him who said, as we set forth above, 'Who will describe his generation?' (Isa. 53:8) . . . Letter to Alexander of Thessalonica, 46.

Alexander was the bishop of Alexandria when the Arian controversy broke out, and since it was he who was both Athanasius' theological mentor, and the one who initially anathematized Arius, his testimony is of great interest. What needs to be pointed out is the manner in which he holds the Son to be related to the Father. Whereas the Father only is uncaused, the Son is derived from the Father. The Christological understanding of Alexander is based on the sonship of the Son as interpreted in light of Wisdom/Logos theology. Earlier he states-

They say, 'For God made all things from nothing,' including even the Son of God with the creation of all rational and irrational creatures. In accord with this, they even say that he is of a mutable nature, capable of both virtue and evil, and with their supposition 'from nothing' they destroy the divine Scriptures' witness that he always is, which Scriptures indicate the immutability of the Word and the divinity of the Wisdom of the Word which is Christ. The wretches state, 'Then we too are able to become sons of God, just as he.' For it is written 'I have begotten and raised up sons' (Isa. 1:2). And when they add the statement from the text 'but they rejected me,' which does not belong to the nature of the Savior, who is of an immutable nature, they abandon every reverence. They say that God, knowing about him by foreknowledge and prevision would not reject him and chose him from all. For he does not have by nature something special from other sons (for they say that no one is by nature Son of God). … Therefore, concerning the claim that the Son of God came into existence from nothing, and to demonstrate that there was never once when he didn't already exist, John the evangelist instructed sufficiently, writing about him, 'the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father' (Jn. 1:18). For the divine teacher in foresight shows that the two things, the Father and the Son, are inseperable from one another. Ibid., 11-15.

We see here Alexander's critique of the Arian doctrine: they affirm that the Son was created ex nihilo, they deny that Christ is truly the Word/Wisdom of God, and therefore, they deny the sonship of the Son, the fatherhood of the Father, and the essential communion between the Father and Son. And it goes without mentioning that the (as of yet undefined) subordination that Trinitarians are supposed to fear is both assumed (the Son is derived from the Father and as God's Word is directed by him) and is intrinsic and essential to the Nicene definition of the God who is Love and the Wisdom Christology in which the Son is defined. There is not even a hint that these assumptions are heterodox. Elsewhere he states-

Therefore to the unbegotten Father, indeed, we ought to preserve his proper dignity, in confessing that no one is the cause of his being; but to the Son must be allotted his fitting honor, in assigning to him, as we have said, a generation from the Father without beginning, and allotting adoration to him, so as only piously and properly to use the words, 'he was', and 'always', and 'before all worlds', with respect to him; by no means rejecting his Godhead, but ascribing to him a similitude which exactly answers in every respect to the Image and Exemplar of the Father. But we must say that to the Father alone belongs the property of being unbegotten, for the Savior himself said, 'My Father is greater than I' (Jn. 14:28).

And elsewhere-

Hence one may say that the Sonship of our Saviour has nothing at all in common with the sonship of the rest. … his sonship, which is according to the nature of the Godhead of the Father, transcends by an ineffable excellence the sonship of those who have been adopted by him (the Father). Moreover, in the Psalms the Savious says: 'the Lord hath said unto me, thou art my Son' (Ps. 12:7). Where,showing that he is the true and genuine Son, he signifies that there are no other genuine sons besides himself. And what, too, is the meaning of this: 'From the womb before the morning I begat thee' (Ps. 110:3)? Does he not plainly indicate the natural sonship of paternal bringing forth, which he obtained not by the careful framing of his manners nor by the exercise and increase in virtue, but by property of nature? Wherefore, the only-begotten Son of the Father, indeed, possesses an indefectible Sonship… taken from Johannes Quasten, Patrology, Vol. 3, pgs. 18-19.

Thus from an examination of the writings of Alexander of Alexandria, we find that the essential transgression of orthodox Christology is the denial of the true sonship of the Son, and not a certain subordination which that essential sonship implies. Next we move on to the most notorious of the Nicene Fathers, Athanasius of Alexandria.

Athanasius of Alexandria

He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of his Father, for the salvation of us men. We will begin, then, with the creation of the world with God its maker for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the self-same Word who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the one Father employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning. The Incarnation of the Word of God, 1:1

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is this- that above work was written before the Arian controversy broke out. In it we find no mention of the Son being homoousious (of the same substance) with the Father, nor does Athanasius feel the need to talk of God as 'one God, tres personae', which is, according to Edgar Foster, the only definition of God that is actually Trinitarian. For Athanasius before he had to define 'God' or the divinity of the his Son within the context of Arian polemic, it is enough to talk of 'God' as being the Father, and the Son as being God's Word/Wisdom. When the Son is called 'God', just as in the Nicene Creed, it is as a description of his nature. And we note again a certain subordination, for God is the creator, yet he works through his Word. Finally, it needs to be noted that Love is in the center of Athanasius understanding of God's activity for us.

Then again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. … How can they get a creation independent of the Father out of that? And again, St. John, speaking all inclusively, says, 'All things became by him and without him came nothing into being.' How then could the artificer be someone different, other than the Father of Christ? Ibid., 1:2

Again, God is known as the Father of Jesus Christ.

But the Lord is not like that. He is not weak, he is the Power of God and Word of God and very Life itself. Ibid., 4:21

Jesus is understood fundamentally in Wisdom terminology. (cf. 1 Cor. 1:24) The next passage from Athanasius is of particular importance because in it he demonstrates that Nicene Christology emphatically does not add up to anything like what its confused critics suppose it to.

The Father and Son were not begotten from some preexisted first cause so that they might be called brothers. The Father is the origin of the Son and begat him, and the Father is Father and did not become anyone's son. The Son is Son and not a brother. If he is called the everlasting offspring of the Father, he is called so correctly. The Father's substance was not once imperfect so that what is peculiar to it should subsequently come into existence. Nor as man from man was the Son begotten so that he is later than the Father's existence, but he is God's offspring. Since he is the peculiar Son of God who always is, he exists everlastingly. It is distinctive of men to reproduce in time because of the imperfection of their nature. God's offspring is everlasting because of the continual perfection of his nature. Therefore if he is not a Son but a work that came into existence from nothing, let them prove it. … But if he is Son-for the Father declares this and the Scriptures shout it, and 'Son' is nothing other than that begotten from the Father, and that which is begotten from the Father is his Word and Wisdom and reflection-then what is necessary to say about those who state that 'there was once when the Son was not,' except that they are robbers who deprive God of his Word and they openly cry out against him that he was once without his peculiar Word and Wisdom, and light 'was once' without any gleam, and the fountain was barren and dry? Against the Arians, 1:14

Here we see the absolute heart of Nicene orthodoxy. I don't think it would be an exaggeration at all to say that, for the Nicenes, the fight for the divinity of the Son was perceived as a fight for the glory and person of God the Father. And it should be plain as daylight that according to Nicene orthodoxy the confused sort of modalistic tritheism which it is, according to its critics, supposed to adhere to (as though the Father and Son need to be 'twin brothers' for the equality of the persons to be preserved) is actually the last thing that the Trinity proclaims. The ontological aspect of the Son's sonship is explained via Wisdom terminology, and the slap in the face of the Nicene theology of the Father is caused by Arianism, which in denying the true sonship of the Son, implicitly violates the fact that God the Father is Love. The Light is without radiance and the Fountain is left barren and dry. The fight of Athanasius and the Nicenes was a fight just as much for the Father as it was for the Son.

By this point I hope that the Nicene understanding of the Father and the Son is understood more clearly. A few more citations from Athanasius are in order before I move on to the some other Nicenes and the Cappadocian Fathers. My comments, and added emphasis, will henceforth be scarce.

Seeing the Son, we behold the Father. For the thought and comprehension of the Son are knowledge about the Father, because he is his peculiar offspring from his substance. … It is not absurd that God have a Son, the offspring of his peculiar substance. … Since it has been said and shown that the Son is the offspring from the Father's substance, it would be doubtful to no one, but rather would be clear, that he is the Wisdom and Word of the Father, in whom and through whom he creates and makes all things. And this is his reflection, in whom he enlightens all things and is disclosed to whom he wishes. Ibid., 1:16

Here it should be noted that the person of the Father is the source of the divine ousia/substance.

Since he is God's Word and own Wisdom, and, being his Radiance, is ever with the Father, therefore it is impossible, if the Father bestows grace, that he should not give it in the Son, for the Son is in the Father as the radiance in the light. For, not as if in need, but as a Father in his own Wisdom has God founded the earth, and made all things in the Word which is from him, and in the Son confirms the holy laver. For where the Father is, there is the Son, and where the light there is the radiance; and as what the Father works, he works through the Son and the Lord himself says, 'What I see the Father sees, what I do the Father does'; so also when baptism is given, whom the Father baptizes, him the Son baptizes, and whom the Son baptizes, he is consecrated in the Holy Spirit. And again as when the sun shines, one might say that the radiance illuminates, for the light is one and indivisible, nor can it be detached, so where the Father is or is named, there plainly is the Son … For the Son is in the Father as it is allowed us to know because the whole being of the Son is proper to the Father's essence, as radiance from light, and stream from fountain; so that whoso sees the Son, sees what is proper to the Father, and knows that the Son's being because from the Father, is therefore in the Father. Ibid., 3:3

Here we see that because the Son is to the Father as radiance is to light, it must be that it is through the Son that the Father works. A certain subordination is necessary due to the logical structure of both the glory and love which constitute the essence of the persons, therefore it is not an ontological subordination. We also note again, and this point is very important, that it is from the substance of the Father, the person of the Father, that the Son's divinity comes. And this is not a dangerous subordination either, for it is the Father as Father in which the Father is God.

Gregory of Nazianzus

It is a monarchy composed of an equality of honor of nature, a concord of mind, identity of movement, and a convergence of things from it to the one, which is impossible for originated nature, so that it differs in number but there is no severance of substance. … The Father is the begetter and producer, but I mean without passion, timelessly and incorporeally. The Son is the offspring, and the Spirit the product. Third Theological Oration, 2

The fact that the Son and Spirit are 'caused' by the Father does not detract from equality of nature.

From their great and exalted discourses we have discovered and preached the deity of the Son. What discourses are these? Namely, God, the Word, who was in the beginning, with the beginning, the beginning. 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God' and 'with you is the beginning' and 'he who calls her a beginning from generations'. Then there is the only begotten Son, 'the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, that one has declared him'. A way, truth, life, light: 'I am the way, the truth, and the life' and 'I am the light of the world'. Wisdom, power: 'Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God'. Reflection, impress, image, seal: 'He who is a reflection of the glory and the impress of his hypostasis' and 'image of goodness' and 'God the Father sealed him'. … These statements are clearly about the Son, as there are many of identical power as these, none of which is an addition or added later to the Son or the Sprit or to the Father himself. For perfection is not from addition. There was not when he was Word-less, or when he was not Father. Ibid., 17

Wisdom and Son Christology are the cornerstones of Nicene orthodoxy, as is the fatherhood of the Father.

Gregory of Nyssa

It is one and the same Person of the Father by whom the Son is begotten and from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. Therefore and fittingly there being one Cause of those whom he has caused, we boldly say there is one God since he also co-exists with them. For the persons of the Godhead are separated one from another neither in time nor place nor will, nor practice nor operation, nor passivity nor any of the things such as are perceived with men, but only in that the Father is Father and not Son and the Son is Son and not Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son. To the Greeks

Here it needs to be noted that according to Nicene orthodoxy, the one God is the Father, and the confession of this fact, far from detracting from the glory and deity of the Son and Spirit, actually entails it. For in confessing that the Father as Father is God and Source, the persons and divinity of the Son and Spirit are implied.

Therefore, among men because the activity of each is distinguished, although in the same pursuit, they are properly mentioned in the plural. Each of them is separated into his peculiar context from the other in accord with his peculiar manner of the activity. But in reference to divine nature, we have learned that this is not the case, because the Father does something individually, in which the Son does not join, or the Son individually works something without the Spirit; but every activity which pervades from God to creation and is named according to our manifold designs starts off from the Father, proceeds through the Son, and is completed by the Holy Spirit. On account of this the name of activity is not divided into the multitude of those who are active. To Ablabius

The work To Ablabius is of particular importance. In it, Gregory answers the question 'If we call three humans, who share the same nature, "three men", why not confess that three divine persons, sharing the same nature, are "three gods"? His answer is brilliant, and I highly recommend the reading of the entire work, which can be found online here. Here I merely wish to point out the structure of the working of God which is intrinsic to Nicene orthodoxy: from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. Unless Gregory of Nyssa was an Arian, subordination (here functional, not ontological) of the Son to the Father is not intrinsically heterodox.

Therefore it says, 'The Lord God is one Lord', but it also proclaims by the word for deity the only-begotten of God, and it does not break up the one into a dual significance so to name the Father and Son as two gods, even if each is proclaimed God by the holy authors. The Father is God, the Son is God, but by the same proclamation God is one because neither in regard to nature nor activity is any difference viewed. Ibid.

The unity of God is consists of the unity of nature of the persons, and this is from the Father. The unity is perceived by the unity of the persons in their operations ad extra. More on this below.

Basil of Caesarea

In worshipping God of God we profess the distinction of persons and abide still by the monarchy not scattering the divine attributes in a divided multiplicity; for we contemplate one form so to speak in God the Father and in God the Only-begotten displayed in the invariableness of the Godhead. Such as the latter is, so too the former and such the former, so the latter; and herein lies the unity. According to the distinction of persons there are two; but according to common nature, both are one. On the Holy Spirit, 18:45

The deity of both consists in an identity of nature.

The Son is second in order from the Father, because he is from him; and in dignity, because the Father is his origin and cause, whereby the Father is his Father, and because it is through the Son that access and approach is had to God the Father. This is not, however second to the Father in nature, because the Godhead is one in each of them, and plainly, too in the Holy Spirit even if in order and dignity he is second to the Son (yes, this we do concede), though not in such a way, it is clear that he were of another nature. Against Eunomius, 3:1

Didymus the Blind

Just as it is impossible for the Father not to be without beginning and yet be truly Father-for he has this name not from time nor as an addition to something else-so too it is impossible for the Son the Word, and his Holy Spirit, not to be without beginning, and still be, by nature, of his substance; for at the same time that the Father was-if I may be allowed to phrase it thus-the Son was uninterruptedly begotten and the Spirit was made to proceed. And there has been no cessation of his being Father of the only-begotten, nor of his having his Spirit proceed from him; and by being Father he differs neither in time nor in essence from the Son and his Spirit. The Trinity, 1:15

Again, we see that the Nicene struggle was the struggle for the Fatherhood of God, and the fight for the divinity of the Son was therefore the fight for God the Father.

If the only-begotten is, as Paul writes to the Hebrews, 'the Splendor of the glory and the exact stamp of the substance' and the Image of the shapeless and invisible and beginningless God, and if he speaks truly when he says, 'Whoever sees me sees the Father', and 'I and the Father are one,' he is consubstantial with God the Father, and with him co-beginningless and equal and invariable. For light, begotten of light is not of another nature nor is it later; and an exact stamp of an essence shows sameness and invariability of nature and glory and omnipotence. Ibid., 3:2:8

The deity of the Son is caused by his actual sonship, and this is understood in light of the Wisdom template.

Hilary of Poitiers

He commanded them to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: that is, in confession of the Author and of the Only-begotten and of the Gift. There is one Author of all; for God the Father from whom are all things, is one. And the Only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, is one. And the Spirit, the Gift in all things, is one. Everything, therefore, is arranged according to its properties and merits: there is one Power, from whom are all things; one Offspring, through whom are all things; one Gift of perfect hope. Nor will anything be found lacking in that grand perfection in which there is, in Father and in Son and in Holy Spirit, infinity in the Eternal, form in the Likeness, and enjoyment in the gift. The Trinity, 2:1
The Father is he to whom all that exists owes its origin. He is in Christ; and through Christ he is the source of all things. Moreover, his existence is existence in itself, and he does not derive his existence from anywhere else. Rather, from himself and in himself he possesses the actuality of his being. Ibid., 2:6
He is, therefore, the perfect Son of the perfect Father, and the only-begotten Offspring of the unbegotten God. The Son receives all from him who has all, God from God, Spirit from Spirit, Light from Light. The Son says with confidence: 'the Father is in me, and I in the Father.' For, as the Father is Spirit, so also the Son is Spirit; and as the Father is God, so also the Son is God; as the Father is Light, so also the Son is Light. Those properties, therefore, which are in the Son, are from those properties in the Father. Ibid., 3:4

In bringing our analysis of the Nicene Fathers to a conclusion, I cite Alan Segal on the Nicene period in general, and Jaroslav Pelikan on the Cappadocians in particular-

The alternative, that of Athanasius and the Nicene Fathers, is to identify the second person as the 'power of God' making the Son or Word or Wisdom of God the same as the power of God's existence. Since power is regularly regarded as part of the essence of the object according to the Hippocratic and Platonic physics assumed in this analysis, the issue of the relationship between the two persons of the Trinity is neatly resolved as an identity of essence. Power is a normal and regular aspect of the essence of substance in the same way that heat is a normal and regular part of fire. As Athanasius says it: 'God has a Son, the Word, the Wisdom, the Power, that is, his image and radiance from which it at once follows that the Son is always; that he is from the Father; that he is like; that he is the eternal offspring of the Father's essence. Two Powers in Heaven, taken from 'The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium', pg. 94.
Another connection between the apologetic discussion of the many and the One and the dogmatic discussion of the One and the Three was concentrated in the clarification of the Greek term 'arche'. The case developed by Cappadocian apologetics against Greek polytheism had as one of its central arguments the charge that the Greeks were also able to recognize, even without revelation, the untenability of the belief that there could be many supreme 'archai'; for if there were many 'archai', as by definition the term 'polyarchy' maintained the necessary outcome of such a belief would be 'disorder' and 'dissolution' within the divine nature itself. Expositors of the One and the Three in Christian dogmatics, therefore, were in turn precluded from building their case on the explanation that the reason why the Three were equal in deity was that each of the Three was an 'arche' on its own. 'We do not teach three archai', Gregory of Nazianzus declared in defending the Trinity, 'because we want to avoid being Greek or polytheistic.' In another oration he warned Christian theologians against depriving the Father of the Son, but at the same time against denying that in the mysterious relationship within the Trinity it was God the Father who alone remained the 'cause' and the 'arche'; for, he continued, only this version of the doctrine of the Trinity preserved the monotheism for which in so many other places, he and his colleagues were doing battle so fiercely against the Greeks. Christianity and Classical Culture, pg. 238

Therefore, the issue is absolutely clear. Nicene orthodoxy entails a certain manner of subordination, this based not on the fact that the son is ontologically less than the Father, but based on the fact that the Son's relationship to the Father is as Radiance to Light, Shine to Sun, Wisdom to Mind - in other words, functional subordination. Yet there is another Creed which has proven to be especially resourceful for Arians who wish to prove that the ante-Nicene Church's Christology would have been deemed heretical by the later Church. This is the Athanasian Creed, and it reads as follows-

We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another, but the Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty equally eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, such also the Holy Spirit; uncreated is the Father, uncreated the Son, uncreated the Holy Spirit; infinite is the Father, infinite the Son infinite the Holy Spirit; eternal is the Father, eternal the Son, eternal the Holy Spirit; yet they are not three eternals but one eternal, just as they are not three uncreated beings or three infinite beings but one uncreated and one infinite. In the same way almighty is the Father, almighty the Son almighty the Holy Spirit; yet they are not three almighty beings but one almighty. Thus, the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; yet they are not three gods but one God. Thus the Father is Lord the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord; yet they are not three lords but one Lord. For, as the Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each person distinctly as God and Lord, so too the Catholic religion forbids us to speak of three gods or lords.
The Father has neither been made by anyone, nor is he created or begotten; the Son is from the Father alone not made nor created but begotten; the Holy Spirit is from 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, one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity there is no before or after, no greater or lesser but all three persons are equally eternal with each other and fully equal. Thus in all things, as has been stated above, both unity in the Trinity and Trinity in the unity must be worshiped. Let him therefore who wishes to be saved think this of the Trinity.

From selecting a few choice lines in the above interpreted in a manner which by and large ignore the portions I have highlighted, we are constantly led to believe that if a person doesn't affirm monarchial modalistic tritheism (i.e., a contradiction in terms), then that person must be outside the limits of orthodoxy. Yet this is certainly false. First of all it is the NCC which has pride of place, therefore the Athanasian Creed must be understood in light of that, and not vice-versa. And more importantly, such a confused understanding of the Nicene Creed (and this understanding is widespread, as evident in Foster's reliance on Hodgson's peculiar understanding of the Athanasian Creed, and, for another prime example, see Richard Cartwright's On the Logical Problem of the Trinity) is anachronistic in the extreme and utterly forsakes the theological source of the Creed: Augustine of Hippo. As Pelikan states-

The theology of the Athanasian Creed has been called 'codified and condensed Augustinianism … traditional, and almost scholasticized Augustianianism.' Here the Trinitarian argumentation of Augustine was given creedal form. The affirmation of the Athanasian Creed that 'the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, and the Holy Spirit is omnipotent; yet there are not three omnipotents, but one omnipotent' was taken almost verbatim from Augustine's 'On the Trinity', where such statements had occurred more than once. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1, pg. 351

Yet when we turn to Augustine himself, we find none of the muddled incoherence that Trinitarians supposedly, according to their critics, must believe. Rather, we find continuity and compatibility with the Nicene Fathers. (For an excellent article on Augustine's Trinitarian theology, and a refutation of the common criticisms that it tends toward modalism and was derived from Platonism, see Michal Rene Barnes' article in The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium, pgs. 145-176). Hence it is to Augustine that we now turn.

Augustine of Hippo

The Father, when he is known by anyone in time, is not termed 'sent'; for there is no one by whom he is, or from whom he proceeds. Wisdom surely declares: 'I have come forth from the mouth of the Most High.' And of the Holy Spirit it is said, 'He proceeds from the Father.' The Trinity, 4:20:28
So the Father and the Son are together one being and one greatness and one truth and one wisdom. But the Father and the Son are not both together one Word, because they are not both together one Son. Just as Son is referred to Father and is not said with reference to self, so too Word is referred to him whose word it is when it is called Word. Ibid., 7:1:3
Thus the reason it says 'No one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son and whoever the Son chooses to reveal him to' is that it is through the Son that the Father makes his revelation, that is, through his Word. If the temporal and passing word that we utter declares both itself and the thing we are speaking of, how much more is this the case with the Word through whom all things were made? This declares the Father as he is, because it is itself just like that, being exactly what the Father is insofar as it is wisdom and being. Insofar as it is word it is not what the Father is, because the Father is not Word, and it is called Word by way of relationship, like Son, which of course the Father is not either. Ibid., 7:2:4
The Word, therefore, the only-begotten Son of God the Father, is in all things like the Father and equal to the Father, God of God, Light of Light, Wisdom of Wisdom, Essence from Essence. He is wholly what the Father is, but not the Father; for the one is Son the other is Father. And therefore he knows all that the Father knows; but for him, to know is from the Father, just as to be is from the Father. … And therefore, for the Father, just as to be is not from the Son, neither is to know from the Son. Hence, just as if uttering himself, the Father begot the Word, equal to himself in all respects. For he would not have uttered himself wholly and perfectly, if in his Word there was something less or something more than himself. Ibid., 15:14:23
For the Father alone is not from another, for which reason he alone is called unbegotten not indeed in the Scriptures, but in the practice of theologians, and of those who employ such terms as they are able in a matter so great. The Son, however, is born of the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father, and since the Father gives to the Son all that he has without interval of time, the Holy Spirit proceeds jointly from the Father and Son. Ibid., 15:26:47

We find nothing essentially new in Augustine's formulation of the Trinity. While it is true that he states the equality and unity of the persons more clearly and with more rigor than was done before, this still does not warrant the confused understanding which Arians extract from his theology and attempt to impose upon Trinitarians. Why? Because he maintains the essential sonship of the Son grounded in the Wisdom/Logos template. Before moving on, one final citation from Augustine needs to be given attention, and I ask that the reader keep this especially in mind when analyzing the Christology of the Apologists-

If, however, the reason why the Son is said to have been sent by the Father is simply that the one is Father and the other the Son, then there is nothing at all to stop us believing that the Son is equal to the Father and consubstantial and co-eternal, and yet that the Son is sent by the Father. Not because one is greater and another less, but because one is Father and the other the Son; one is the begetter, the other begotten; the first is the one from whom the sent one is; the other is the one who is from the sender. For the Son is from the Father, not the Father from the Son. In the light of this we can now perceive that the Son is not just said to have been sent because the Word became flesh, but that he was sent in order for the Word to become flesh, and by his bodily presence to do what is written. That is, we should understand that it was not just the man who the Word became that was sent, but that the Word was sent to become man. For he was not sent in virtue of some disparity of power or substance or anything in him that was not equal to the Father, but in virtue of the Son being from the Father, not the Father being from the Son. Ibid., 4:5:27

Herein we see that a definite subordination, of a functional variety, is part of Augustinian Christology, and this is because it is intrinsic to the logical structure of the particular relations of the persons of the Trinity. One fact follows, which has been one of the main points of this section, and which will serve as one of the main points in the section on the Apologists: that subordination (provided it is conjoined to Wisdom Christology) does not entail heterodoxy.


It has been asserted by me that critiques of ante-Nicene Christology are grounded in two errors: overlooking the Wisdom factor, and connected to that, assuming that any type of 'subordination' automatically precludes Nicene orthodoxy. Hopefully, by now it is obvious that the criticisms that emerge while operating under these misunderstandings are completely misguided.

A series of analytic statements can be deduced, or inferred, from the writings of the Nicenes and Augustine, and I suggest that all critiques of the ante-Nicenes learn these statements well before they continue to confuse the issue.

  1. The Father and the Son are both God,
  2. The Father and Son are both God due to the fact that they share the same nature,
  3. The Son's possession of this nature comes from the person of the Father
  4. The essential property of God the Father as Father determines a functionally subordinate structure amongst the persons of the Trinity, and this structure does not in any sense entail the ontological inferiority of either the Son or the Spirit.
  5. For the person of the Son, this subordinate structure, and ontological equality with God, are both entailed by the Wisdom/Logos template wherein the ontological and economic activity of the Son are defined.
  6. Due to the fact that it is the Father as Father in whom the entire Godhead is implicitly contained and within whom the other two divine persons are subsumed, it is absolutely proper and within the bounds of Nicene orthodoxy to refer to the Father as 'God' within a context wherein the Son and Spirit are present yet as distinct from 'God' as such, or in a context wherein 'God' is predicated of the Father only while the Son and Spirit are not mentioned explicitly.

And at this point, we're also able to answer Edgar Foster's challenge regarding the issue of aseity, wherein he asserts that if the Son's being is derived from the Father, the Son cannot be God.

The answer to this is quite simple. It is the bringing forth of the Son which constitutes the existence and nature of God the Father. Thus the Son is not contingent, but every bit as necessary as the Father. To imagine the Father without the Son is like imagining the sun without shine. Therefore, since the bringing forth of the Son is intrinsic to the aseity of the Father, the aseity of the Father includes the person of the Son. There exists a strict logical dependence within the Trinity whereby the having of one of the persons entails of absolute necessity the having of all of the persons. Due to this fact, the logical priority of the Father within the Godhead does not entail the ontological priority of the Father.

According to the orthodox faith, God is known as Father. But it must be pointed out that Father here is not simply a name; it is an adjective. The fatherhood of God is revealed through and in the person of Jesus Christ, his Son. And to us, the word Son is not a mere simile when predicated of Christ, which, it must be noted, is always the case with those who deny the divinity of the Son (as though sonship had everything to do with 'existing later than the father', had anything to do with being created, and had nothing to do with reciprocal love and identity of nature). It is only the Trinitarian who can affirm the Scriptural confession of God as Father. All others confess a Father who is not Father; a Son who is not Son; a Word that is not Word; and a Wisdom who is not Wisdom. Only the Trinitarian can say with the Apostle, 'This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father.' (1 Jn. 2:22-23) The confession of the Trinity, and the Nicene Christology which it assumes, is not based on the passages in Scripture which call Jesus 'God'. The modern apologetic based, almost exclusively, on passages such as Jn. 1:1, 20:28; Rom. 9:5 and Heb. 1:8 is therefore as anachronistic and misguided as are the modern critiques against the Trinity.

True Trinitarian theology is based on God the Father. That is, on the father-ness of the Father and the Son-ness of the Son. Thus the Christian's interpretive template of God is the fact that, as revealed in the historical life of Jesus Christ, God is intrinsically a pouring forth of Love, God is essentially Communion. The bringing forth of the Son by God and the simultaneous showering of his Spirit upon him is not a contingent act of God; quite the contrary, it is what constitutes the very essence of the Father. And likewise, the perfect surrender of the Son to the Father (Lk. 23:46, etc.) is what the Son essentially is. When Scripture says that 'God is Love', it means just that.

When we realize this, we realize that the life of Jesus has a 'Trinitarian face', so to speak. It was the life of Christ that the Shekinah glory of the Old Testament pointed towards (Ex. 40:34 ff.), it was the life of Christ wherein Isaiah's vision is fulfilled (Isa. 6:1-6)-it is the glory of YHWH (Jn. 1:14): the becoming flesh of God, the translation of the immanent and eternal Trinity into the economy of salvation and time, for when we see the Son 'love' us 'to the end' (Jn. 13:2), we know that that reveals God to us. 'Whoever sees me sees him who sent me' (Jn. 12:45) and 'for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son' (Jn 5:19-20) and the Son loves us, with the Father loving us in and through the person of the Son in the Spirit.

Thus it is not simply Christ interpreted in light of Jewish Wisdom literature that serves as the theological template of the Trinity; but rather it is the conjunction of Wisdom with the radical revelation of Love as evinced by the Father and Son for one another and for us. In the life of Christ we witness not the community of God, as though Jesus were the Father and Spirit incarnate as well as the Son, but in his life the perfect communion of Father, Son, and Spirit is manifest. 'Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, 'Here is your God!' … He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep' (Isa. 40:9, 11) and 'so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.' (Jn. 17:26)

And since, according to this, it is the immanent Trinity which is made known in the economic Trinity, a brief word must be said regarding the indivisibility of the actions of the persons ad extra if we are to therefrom understand the unity of the persons ad intra. Though the actions of the Trinity are indivisible, we insist that this does not confuse the distinctness of the persons. For example, we do not believe, and are forbidden to confess, that the Father himself was crucified. The unity will not be maintained by imagining that all three were crucified, but rather we can imagine the Son on the cross in agony, arms outstretched and unable to breath, his heart about to explode; and the Father we can imagine as in heaven, his heart troubled beyond consolation as he witnesses his Beloved Son humiliated and dying; and the Spirit we can imagine as crying out in agony as he reaches with one hand high into heaven to grab hold of the Father, and with the other far down into the world to grab hold of the Son, being nearly torn in half as he unites the Father to the Son in that darkest of hours when God was forsaken of God. (Mt. 27:46, 50-51) We see here, though admittedly imperfectly, the revelation of the immanent Trinity in the economy of salvation, with the operations ad extra allowing us insight into the operations ad intra. When we see Christ we are led to the entire Trinity, and thus it is the experience of Christ which allows us to say 'here is your God!' (Isa. 40:9) The persons are not confused, and the working of the persons is not divided, but the united activity is completed threefold, with each person manifest in the term of the action which is appropriate to the perfection of his particular person within the Trinity, and there being an identical qualitative correspondence between each of the three.

So, with a Christology based on the sonship of the Son, and informed by the theological ontology of the Logos/Wisdom template, we are now in a position to make a judgement as to what kind of subordinationism Nicene orthodoxy excludes. Broadly speaking, Nicene Christology is transgressed if and only if it is confessed that the Son is a)of a different nature or substance than the Father, which is biconditionally related to the Arian claim that began the whole controversy, namely, that b)the Son is a contingent creature that was created ex nihilo. These are the only two claims such that, if found in the ante-nicene corpus, would automatically preclude compatibility with nicene orthodoxy.

Before moving on, I wish to offer a few comments from Eastern Orthodox and Catholic theologians in regards to the person of the Father.

Among the Greek Fathers the unity of God, the one God, and the ontological 'principle' or 'cause' of the being and life of God does not consist in the one substance of God but in the hypostasis, that is, the person of the Father. The one God is not the one substance but the Father, who is the 'cause' both of the generation of the Son and of the procession of the Spirit. Consequently, the ontological 'principle' of God is traced back, once again, to the person. Thus when we say that God 'is,' we do not bind the personal freedom of God-the being of God is not an ontological 'necessity' or a simple 'reality' for God-but we ascribe the being of God to His personal freedom. In a more analytic way this means that God, as Father and not as substance, perpetually confirms through 'being' His free will to exist. And it is precisely His Trinitarian existence that constitutes this confirmation: the Father out of love-that is, freely-begets the Son and brings forth the Spirit. If God exists, He exists because the Father exists, that is, He who out of love freely begets the Son and brings forth the Spirit. Thus God as person-as the hypostasis of the Father-makes the one divine substance that which it is: the one God. John Zizioulas, Being as Communion, pgs. 40-41
Scripture and the Church avoid the appearance of tritheism, by tracing back, (if we may so say,) the infinite perfections of the Son and Spirit to Him whose Son and Spirit They are. They are, so to express it, but the new manifestation and repetition of the Father; there being no room for numeration or comparison between Them, nor any resting place for the contemplating mind, till They are referred to Him in whom They center. On the other hand, in naming the Father, we imply the Son and Spirit, whether they be named or not. Without this key, the language of Scripture is perplexed in the extreme. Hence it is, that the Father is called 'the only God,' at a time when our Lord's name is also mentioned, John 17:3, 1 Tim. 1:16, 17 as if the Son was but the reiteration of His Person who is the Self-Existent, and therefore not to be contrasted with Him in the way of number. … Accordingly it is impossible to worship One of the Divine Persons, without worshipping the Others also. In praying to the Father, we only arrive at His mysterious presence through His Son and Spirit; and in praying to the Son and Spirit, we are necessarily carried on beyond them to the source of Godhead from which They are derived. John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Arians of the Fourth Century , 3:3
The Greek Fathers always maintained that the principle of unity in the Trinity is the person of the Father. As Principle of the other two persons, the Father is at the same times the Source of the relations whence the hypostases receive their distinctive characteristics. In causing the persons to proceed, he lays down their relations of origin-generations and procession-in regard to the unique principle of Godhead. Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pg. 58.
Finally, there is God the Father-but when we invoke him by this tender and close name, we add 'who art in heaven'-who has sent us his Son, his Word, his Image, and his Holy Spirit, who is the Gift above all. 'No one has ever seen God' (Jn 1:18; 6:46)-a source is not seen; all that is seen is the river that flows from it. 'God' the unbegotten fountain of divinity is invisible. He made himself visible in his Son who became man, the Unigenitus who became Primogenitus in multis fratribus. He comes to dwell in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. These are the 'divine missions' which are, in the creature, the outcome of the intra-divine 'processions', a communication of the very mystery of God. The one who exists before everything-everything that has a beginning-entered time. The Absolute entered what is relative and exposed to risk.
Why did this happen? Because the Absolute is Love. … His Son is therefore called his beloved Son-agapetos. This love is obviously the essential love that is hypostatized in the Father, the first Person, the Principle without a principle and the source of all divinity. Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol. 3, pgs. 139-140
The Church confesses one almighty God who appears to her as the active Lord of salvation history and as creator of all finite reality, and confesses him as the 'Father'. 'I believe in one God, the Father almighty.' We may, of course also start with the confession of the Trinity. However this should not mean that somehow there lies 'behind' the three persons a 'godhead' which is properly intended by the confession and subsequently gives rise to the threefold personality. The confession and the religious act intend the concreteness of the salvific reality. But the Trinity as such a 'three-ness' and thus conceived as unity, is a later notion, since it puts the 'three' together into a unity with respect precisely to that (namely, 'person') through which they are properly distinct. All this explains why it is quite legitimate, even in a systematization of the doctrine of the Church, to begin as in the ancient creeds with the confession of the Father. … Through the encounter in faith with Jesus Christ, the 'Son' as such and with the Holy Spirit as the innermost principle of our sonship and of our absolute proximity to God, this unoriginate God is experienced as the Father of the Son, as 'generating principle,' as source, origin, and principle of the whole godhead. Karl Rahner, The Trinity, pgs. 58-61

And now, with the role of God the Father which is required by Nicene orthodoxy being clear, we can thus relegate all modern Arian criticism of ante-Nicene Christology to irrelevance and advance to Clement of Rome (96 a.d.) and Ignatius of Antioch (110 a.d.).


It is the universal claim of all groups that deny the deity of Christ that shortly after the death of the apostles, the Early Church soon fell victim to a full-scale apostasy, and thus the writings of the Fathers are irrelevant. Accompanying this conviction (which, I believe, is held not because the evidence especially warrants it, but rather, because it is the only possible justification for the fact that their form of Christianity didn't exist until a few hundred years ago) is usually a very naοve and stubborn form of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. This is not the place for a discussion of either of these convictions, as my aim is to demonstrate the compatibility of ante-Nicene Christology with Nicene and post-Nicene Christology, but a brief word needs to be said about both.

First off, regarding Sola Scriptura. If this doctrine is true, I want the modern Arians who hold it to explain to me how the ante-Nicene post-Apostolic Church was supposed to know it? (I wish to stress that I here take no issue whatever with orthodox Protestants who affirm Nicene Christology, my argument is solely against the form which this doctrine assumes in the various Arian communities of today.) We see Christ sending the Apostles out to preach (Mt. 28:19), but no mention is made of confining the teaching to written form. We see Paul writing letters, but if this proves anything, it proves that the original deposit of faith delivered to the various Churches needed to be encouraged and clarified according to the times and circumstances which those particular communities encountered-which, far from being proof of Sola Scriptura, is proof that Scripture needs to be grounded in the Church and needs the commentary of her doctors. And what of those strange passages such as 2 Jn. 12? 'Although I have much to write you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face . . .' I suppose it could be claimed that John's message to his Church did manage to find its way (of course?) into his later letter, except for the fact that he says the same thing there as well. (3 Jn. 13-14) At the very least we know that when apologists like J. P. Holding and Glenn Miller take us "back to the first century" to understand what the Scriptures say by means of explanation of their background, there is an implication that "Sola Scriptura" cannot simply mean that we read the Scriptures in isolation from contextual realities. It is doubtful that mainstream Protestant advocates of Sola Scriptura , outside deviants like King James Onlyists, would disagree.

And for the Arians, an appeal to history will be of little avail here, as the canon of Scripture was not settled until over a decade after the NCC (which, according to the standard logic applied to the doctrines of the Trinity and Nicene Christology, would deem the canon of Scripture itself to be a late corruption of the pure gospel message of the Apostles), not to mention the fact that an official Canon identical to the 66 books of the Protestant Bible which managed to entirely exclude the 'Apocrypha' from even referential use never existed until after the Reformation. Adding to this the fact that until relatively recently the public at large was illiterate, and therefore the only source they had for receiving Christian truth was from their Church, the perplexity of the entire scenario becomes rather vivid. Granting for the moment that the Early Church got it wrong, one wonders what chance they had of getting it right? If the modern Arians are right, the Church didn't go wrong so much as She was driven off the rails by God himself.

Which leads to the second issue, the supposed apostasy. Edgar Foster, in typical fashion, seems to associate this with the Church's being overcome by Greek philosophy. I have my own thoughts in regard to the Church's encounter with Greek thought, and this is not the place to expound them. In passing, however, I'll simply say that I believe the Christian encounter with Philosophy was and continues to be one of the most providential and fruitful encounters in the history of the living Church, and that furthermore, the end result of this is not the Hellenization of Christianity, but the Christianization of Hellenism.

Yet even if I'm wrong about the providential aspect of this encounter, the actual evidence of its corrupting influence is rather unremarkable. As R. P. C. Hanson puts it-

Certainly no Middle Platonist scheme of hypostases could have acted as a genuinely effective model for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, not even that of Albinus nor that of Numenius. Meijering points out that Athanasius in his De Incarnatione quotes from Plato's Timaeus 'For God is good … and a good person would not be jealous of anything', but that does not make him a Platonist. A Neo-Platonist would apply this sentiment to the second, not to the first, of the ultimate hypostases. Even if Athanasius uses the term of God 'beyond being' this does not make him a Platonist. Other Christian theologians had used it before him. Irenaeus, for instance, had used it to show that Plato knew more about God than did the Gnostics (Adv. Haereses III.41). All this quotation of philosophical tags means is that Christians were capable of using Platonist terms without necessarily being Platonists. The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, pgs. 861-862

And when we turn to Scripture itself, what do we see in support of this supposed apostasy? Acts 20:28, 1 Tim. 4:1-3, 2 Tim. 4:3-4, 2 Pet. 2:1-3, etc., are usually cited, but these verses say nothing of a full apostasy of the Church. Yet on the other hand, Isa. 59:21, Mt. 16:18-19, Mt. 28:20 and Acts 28:28 say explicitly that the Church will never die, a sentiment implied by Jn. 16:13 and confirmed by 1 Tim. 3:15. So either the question needs to be answered, namely, where were the JW's, Mormons, Christadelphians et al inbetween 100 a.d. and the nineteenth century?, or a very thorough demonstration backed by Scripture and historical evidences, rather than presumption, needs to be brought forth. As it stands, neither has the question been answered, nor has the fact of the apostasy been demonstrated, and I think both tasks to be impossible since there is no evidence for either; thus the constant reliance of modern Arians on this presumption remains a remarkable testimony to the fact that their various theologies are innovations, and that 'they went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belonged to us'. (1 Jn. 2:19)

The upshot of this is that modern Arians have no justification for waving off the Early Church and confining themselves to their own private interpretations of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:20), and then acting as though since they understand it in this or that sense, it therefore is exactly so. Rather, we ought to seek to identify our own doctrine with that of the Early Church, not merely because it is improbable in the extreme that the Church could go so wrong so quickly, but because the human heart bids us, and Scripture itself says, 'do not remove the ancient landmark that your ancestors set up'. (Prov. 22:28) We should therefore look into the past with open minds and supple hearts-Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. (Rev. 3:6) With that in mind, I turn to the Fathers.

Clement of Rome

Clement wrote his epistle to the Corinthians around the year 96 a.d. For the most part, it reads very similarly to the New Testament epistles. Clement shows himself to be extremely familiar with the LXX version of the Old Testament, and his numerous allusions to the New Testament are remarkable considering the historical proximity between himself and the apostolic age. Importantly, 1 Clement shows that the Early Church had a definite sense of unity. And from this fact, two things follow.

First, in assuming a general unity we have the right to harmonize the writings of the Fathers. It would be a fatal flaw to interpret them in an atomic sense (hence Edgar Foster's implied perplexity at the varieties of Christological confession in the ante-Nicene corpus would be remedied very simply by following my methodology), just as it is a flaw to take certain passages or books of Scripture outside of the context of Scripture as a whole (i.e., the alleged Mark/John dichotomy). It is the duty of the historian to harmonize insofar as possible, and this is no difficult task given the testimony of the ante-Nicene corpus-provided one knows where to seek out the nucleus of that harmony-and we'll soon see how the Christological key we have located thus far (Wisdom) goes in bringing this endeavor to fruition. Second, we must recognize the positions of the individual authors within the Church, and the audience to whom they address themselves, interpreting their writings accordingly. To overlook the fact, for instance, that the aim of Justin Martyr was to show, insofar as possible, the appeal of the Christian system to Greek thought, and read him under the presumption that he was either attempting to draw out a theological systematic, or that he wrote with an awareness of and within the context of an Arian controversy that didn't even exist, would be to do him a grave injustice.

Now for the epistle itself. The above mentioned Church unity is set out in the following passages-

Because of our recent series of unexpected misfortunes and set-backs, my dear friends, we feel there has been some delay in turning our attention to the causes of dispute in your community. We refer particularly to the odious and unholy breach of unity among you … (1 Cor. 1)

Here we see that ecclesial unity is given a high place, and that Clement and his associates have a certain responsibility for maintaining that unity in the Church as a whole.

It was your habit at all times to act without fear or favour, living by the laws of God and deferring with correctness to those who were set over you. Your elders were treated with the honour due them … (1 Cor. 2)
The high priest, for example, has his own proper services assigned to him, the priesthood has its own station, there are particular ministries laid down for the Levites, and the layman is bound by regulations affecting the laity. (1 Cor. 40)

We see there is a certain hierarchy within the Church which is the guarantor of that unity.

Now, the Gospel was given to the Apostles for us by the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent from God. That is to say, Christ received his commission from God, and the Apostles theirs from Christ. The order of these two events was in accordance with the will of God. So thereafter, when the Apostles had been given their instructions and all their doubts had been set at rest by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, they set out in the full assurance of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the coming of God's kingdom. And as they went through the territories and townships preaching, they appointed their first converts-after testing them by the Spirit-to be bishops and deacons for the believers of the future. (1 Cor. 42)
Similarly, our Apostles knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be dissensions over the title of bishop. In their full foreknowledge of this, therefore, they proceeded to appoint the ministers I spoke of, and they went on to add an instruction that if these should fall asleep, other accredited persons should succeed them in their office. In view of this, we cannot think it right for these men now to be ejected from their ministry, when, after being commissioned by the Apostles (or by other reputable persons of a later date) with the full consent of the Church, they have since been serving Christ's flock in a humble, peaceable and disinterested way … It will undoubtedly be no light offence on our part, if we take their bishopric away from men who have been performing its duties with this impeccable devotion. (1 Cor. 44)

Apostolic succession in the emerging office of the bishop is the mechanism that preserves ecclesial unity.

It is shameful, my dear friends, shameful in the extreme, and quite unworthy of the Christian training you have had, that the loyal and ancient church of Corinth, because of one or two individuals, should now be at odds with your clergy. (1 Cor. 47)

Finally, we arrive at Christology and the Trinity. As with Paul, all of Clement's worship of God the Father is done through, and entails, Jesus Christ his Son-

Upon all of these the great architect and Lord of the universe has enjoined peace and harmony for the good of all alike, but pre-eminently for the good of ourselves who have sought refuge in His mercies through our Lord Jesus Christ. To him be glory and majesty for ever and ever, amen. (1 Cor. 20)
Similarly we also, who by his will have been called in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves or our own wisdom or understanding or godliness, nor by such deeds as we have done in holiness of heart, but by that faith through which alone almighty God has justified all men since the beginning of time. Glory to him for ever and ever, amen. (1 Cor. 32)
And this blessing was theirs who were chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord. To him be glory for ever and ever, amen. (1 Cor. 50, c.f. 1 Cor. 61, 64)

As with the New Testament (Jn. 22:22, Acts 16:7, Rom. 8:9, Gal. 4:6, and most importantly, c.f. Rev. 22:1; Jn. 4:10, 7:38-39) for Clement the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of YHWH, is also the Spirit of Christ.

All these promises find their confirmation when we believe in Christ, for it is he himself who summons us, through his Holy Spirit, with the words, 'Come, my children; listen to me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord … (1 Cor. 22)

Two passages in particular have a strong Trinitarian character-

Why must there be all this quarrelling and bad blood, these feuds and dissensions among you? Have we not all the same God, and the same Christ? Is not the same Spirit of grace shed upon us all? (1 Cor. 46)
…so that we may escape the doom that was pronounced of old by Wisdom upon the ungodly, and may dwell in trustful reliance on the most sacred name of his majesty. Be counseled by us, and you will have nothing to regret. As surely as God lives, as Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Ghost also (on whom are set the faith and hope of God's elect) … (1 Cor. 58, cf. 1 Cor. 2)

The greatest testimony, however, to the Nicene nature of Clement's Christology comes from the following passage-

And it is by that very way, dear friends, that we find our own salvation: even Jesus Christ, the High Priest by whom our gifts are offered, and the Protector by whom our feebleness is aided. Through him we can look up to the highest heaven and see, as in a glass, the peerless perfection of the face of God. Through him the eyes of our hearts are opened … for through him the Lord permits us to taste the Wisdom of eternity. He is 'the splendour of God's majesty; and as much greater than the angels as the title he has inherited is a loftier one than theirs.' For it is written, 'He makes his angels into winds, and his servitors into a flame of fire, but of the Son the Lord declares, You are my Son, this very day I have fathered you…' (1 Cor. 36)

Several things need to be mentioned. First of all, the Wisdom overtones are undeniable, and second, they are followed by a citation of Heb. 1:3, one of the most celebrated Wisdom Christology passages in the entire New Testament. What's more, the sapiental roots of this passage are to be found in the portion of the Wisdom of Solomon from which I quoted earlier. According to Ben Witherington-

That high Christology is evident immediately in the sermon's exordium in 1:1-4, which, as we have already said is probably taken from an early Christian hymn. Here Christ is affirmed to be the eternal Son of God. Throughout this document there is a sustained Christological focus, as our author wants to stress the superiority of Christ over angels and all other lesser beings that might garner human attention and worship. … The author uses the language of Wisdom to describe Christ's work, but he is not dealing merely with a preexisting idea or a personification of Wisdom; he is talking about a preincarnate person, indeed, an eternal one. In v. 3 we are told that the Son manifests God's glory, bearing the very stamp or exact representation of his nature, something said of Wisdom in Wis. Sol 7:21-27. The Many Faces of the Christ, pgs. 214-215.
It cannot be denied that Clement was familiar with the Wisdom of Solomon, as his Old Testament was the LXX, and elsewhere in this epistle he alludes to it-
All have fallen back into the horrid sin of envy-the sin that brought death into the world. (1 Cor. 3)
…but through the devil's envy death entered the world … (Wis. Sol. 2:24)
With the word of his greatness he has assembled all that exists, and with a word he is able to overturn it again; for who can say to him, What have you done? Or who shall withstand the power of his might? (1 Cor. 27)
For it is always in your power to show great strength, and who can withstand the might of your arm? … For who will say, What have you done? Or who will resist your judgement? (Wis. Sol. 11:21, 12:12)

In a previous debate I had, an Arian (Christadelphian) tried to avoid the implications of this by claiming that these were too vague to be allusions, but this is really an unnecessary evasion. It is the custom of Clement, as one whose mind is saturated in Scripture, to incorporate Scripture into the context of his dialectic in just this fashion. For example-

Never did you grudge a kindly action; always you were ready for any deed of goodness. (1 Cor. 2)
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work … (Tit. 3:1)
…for bishops and deacons had already been spoken of in Scripture long before that; there is a text that says, I will confirm their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith. (1 Cor. 42)
Instead of bronze I will bring gold, instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron. I will appoint peace as your overseer and righteousness as your taskmaster. (Isa. 60:17)
Surely not, for the blessed Moses, a servant faithful in all his house, has set down fully in the sacred books the instructions … (1 Cor. 43)
Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. (Heb. 3:5)
Anyone who does this will earn a great name for himself in Christ, and be sure of a welcome anywhere (for the earth and everything in it is the Lord's). (1 Cor. 54)
The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it. (Ps. 24:1)

Clement uses the Wisdom of Solomon exactly as he uses the rest of Scripture, thus the case for understanding Clement's Christology as Wisdom Christology is beyond doubt. In conclusion, our analysis of Clement's epistle to the Corinthians yields several promising conclusions:

Each of these themes will gain a more intense expression in our next author, Ignatius of Antioch.

Ignatius of Antioch

It would be no exaggeration to call Ignatius of Antioch the most passionate author of the ante-Nicene period. He has left us with seven epistles which were written as he was being taken to Rome to face martyrdom for his faith in Christ. The doctrine he leaves behind seems to be a combination of Johannine and Pauline participation in Christ, indeed, he seems to interpret the entire existence of Christians, from his own forthcoming martyrdom to everyday Church life, in this light. Yet due to the rise of heresy in his day, we gain from him an extremely clear and vivid testimony for the role of the bishop in the Church, as one who operated as a leader within an ancient kinship group. Due to this, the authenticity of these letters was long disputed, and still is by some. And being quite unaware of the nature of this dispute, it is common for modern Arians to ignore why this dispute arose, and to act as though the absolutely high Christology of Ignatius was equally in doubt.

A prime example of this confusion can be found at this article on Heinz's website (, wherein the anonymous author, after quoting from the inauthentic Ignatian recension, cites a scholar who testifies that certain of the Ignatian epistles are no doubt corruptions of the originals. The portion that he quotes from has pseudo-Ignatius citing Prov. 8:22 (which I actually wish did exist within the authentic writings of Ignatius), with the implication being that the Ignatian recension he cites, i.e., the real letters of Ignatius, show that Jesus is not God. Interestingly, the author, "M. G.", never once cites the authentic letters of Ignatius, and I seriously doubt that he knows the difference between the authentic and inauthentic. But in all fairness, I equally doubt that this distortion of the truth was intentional on the part of the author. Rather, I think it more likely that he simply trusts the information that the Watchtower gives him, and he was simply relying on and presenting what he received from them (namely, The Watchtower, 2/1/92, which unfortunately distorts the truth in the same way and makes the exact same error).

And a brief parenthetical note needs to be made here. I don't believe it to necessarily be the case that the Watchtower intentionally deceives people when it does such things. It is a common complaint against the Watchtower that their publications are extremely deceptive, with the implication being that such deception is intentional. From my experience with the Witnesses, whether from casual conversation with friends who happen to be JW's, or with pointed conversation with elders at the Kingdom Hall, or from sitting in at a Bible study or a Thursday night Theocratic Minsitry, it seems to me absolutely improbable that these people are capable of the spiritual malice that such intentional deceit would require. I do agree that their publications distort the truth in the extreme and do little justice to the sources that they cite, but that this is intentional I cannot believe, and I personally request that this common accusation against them be dropped barring more tangible evidence. It seems to me much more likely that they operate with an absolute faith in their presuppositions (i.e., 'the Bible does not teach a Trinity', 'the early Church was overcome by the Apostasy', 'the Trinity is of pagan origin', etc.), thus they bring this set of beliefs to the texts which they research, and research their sources in an attempt to extrapolate therefrom data that will show that their beliefs are correct. Due in large part to the anti-historical nature of their faith, which is grounded in the above mentioned form of Sola Scriptura comparable to King James Onlyism, it is unlikely that if there was something in their source that contradicted their theory, they would even recognize it. On the other hand, things that seem to conform with their theory are accepted by their minds so rapidly, and fit in so easily with what they expected to find, that the sensation of certitude overwhelms and overcomes any competing conclusions that may have had a chance of being found. It is not deception we are dealing with; it is lack of historical scope conjoined to an unanalyzed set of presuppositions.

Whatever the case may be, because of this confusion caused by the modern Arian mismanagement of the Ignatian corpus, it is necessary to give a defense of their authenticity before citing them-

Eusebius evidently had these letters, as he quotes several passages from them. However, the manuscripts in which the letters have come down to us offer three different recensions, commonly referred to as the short, middle and long. The short recension, preserved only in Syriac, has only three of the letters mentioned by Eusebius along with a paragraph of the fourth. The middle recenscion preserved in Greek and in a Latin translation, has the seven letters mentioned by Eusebius. The long recension has an expanded version of those seven, along with six additional letters.
Two eminent scholars, working independently in the 1870's and 80's, concluded that the seven letters of the middle recension were the authentic letters of Ignatius. Most scholars accepted their judgement until 1979, when it was challenged, again by two scholars working independently: Robert Joly and J. Ruis-Camps. However William R. Schoedel who has written the commentary on the letters of Ignatius for the prestigious Hermeneia series has demonstrated, to the satisfaction of most reviewers, that the seven letters of the middle recension are indeed those written by Ignatius on his way to martyrdom during the last years of the reign of the emperor Trajan (115-117). Francis A. Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops, pgs. 104-105.
Ignatius's seven letters were preserved on Polycarp's initiative and became widely known in the early Church: Eusebius clearly knew them all. But in their authentic form they became known again only in the seventeenth century, for in the fourth century the Ignatian Correspondence was added to, both by interpolation in authentic epistles and by the addition of spurious ones, and this so-called 'Long Recension' all but cast into oblivion any witness to the authentic epistles. Ignatius was a powerful (and very early) advocate of the episcopacy, so the spurious Long Recension, the only version known during the disputes of the Reformation era was welcomed as ammunition by Catholic and rejected as spurious by Protestant. In the seventeenth century, however Archbishop usher of Armagh discovered two manuscripts of a Latin translation of the authentic text (they were probably made by Robert Grosseteste, schoolman and Bishop of Lincoln in the thirteenth century and one has since been lost) and published a text based on them. Shortly afterwards the sole surviving witness to the Greek text was discovered and published, and this version-after much spilling of ink-is now almost universally recognized as authentic. Alexander Louth, Early Christian Writings, pg. 55.
It had been agreed since Ussher that many of the other epistles circulating under the name of Ignatius during the Middle Ages were not authentic. But there has been no such agreement on the authenticity of the received text of the seven epistles of Ignatius. Because this text showed such an advanced state of doctrinal development in its emphasis on the hierarchial nature of the Church and made such explicit reference to the authority of the bishop, certain Protestant scholars insisted that this version could not have been written by Ignatius who died during or shortly after the first decade of the second century, perhaps as early as 107. …
But it was not quite that simple. For while polemical historians were exchanging theses, antitheses and hypotheses, other historians were patiently at work sorting out the documentary evidence and drawing reasonable conclusions from it. …
Again it was Protestant historical scholarship that vindicated the authenticity of the seven epistles. Theodor Zahn, an orthodox Lutheran, published his defense in 1873. And from 1885 to 1889, Joseph B. Lightfoot, by then the Anglican bishop of Durham, wrote the definitive analysis of the evidence, together with a detailed history of the research into it. The highly developed hierarchial conceptions of the bishop of Antioch were not at all congenial to Zahn, nor even to Bishop Lightfoot, just as, for that matter, the omission of references to the primacy of the bishop of Rome in the epistles of Ignatius was a puzzle to his Roman Catholic interpreters. But both Zahn and Lightfoot developed their literary, textual, and historical analysis with such careful attention to methodology and such sound scholarship that there is now virtually unanimous acceptance of the seven epistles in their middle recension. Jaroslav Pelikan, Development of Christian Doctrine: Some Historical Prolegomena, pgs. 57-59.
The authenticity of the Epistles was for a long time questioned by Protestants. On their view, it would be unlikely to find at the time of Trajan the monarchial episcopate and so clear cut an organization of the hierarchy into bishop, presbyter and deacon. They suspected the Letters of Ignatius of being a forgery, made with the very purpose of creating the hierarchial organization. But such a falsification is incredible. After the brilliant defense of their authenticity by J. B. Lightfoot, A. v. Harnack, Th. Zahn and F. X. Funk they are generally accepted as genuine today. Both the external and the internal evidence are in their favor. Testimony is extant which reaches back to the time of their composition. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and one of the addresses, writes in his Epistle to the Phillipians, which was penned soon after Ignatius' death: 'The Epistles of Ignatius which were sent to us by him, and others which we had by us, we send you as requested. They are enclosed herewith. You will be able to benefit greatly from them. For they are conducive to faith and patience and to every kind of edification pertaining to our Lord' (13, 2). This description fits the letters exactly. Both Origen and Irenaeus refer to the Epistles, and Eusebius specifically names all seven in their traditional order, recording them as integral parts of a compact collection (Euseb., Hist. Eccles. 3, 36, 4ff). Johannes Quasten, Patrology, Vol. 1, pg. 73.

And with the authenticity of the Ignatian corpus being thus established, we're now ready to proceed to the epistles themselves. Needless to say, I'll be relying on the middle recension. As with Clement, I'll begin with his ecclesiology-

Onesimus spoke personally in the highest terms of your own correct and godly attitude in this respect; he told me that truth is the guiding principle of your lives, and heresy is so far from gaining a foothold among you that any speaker who goes beyond the simple truth about Jesus Christ is refused a hearing. (Ep. Eph. 6)
So you must never let yourselves be anointed with the malodrous chrism of the prince of this world's doctrines, or he may snatch you into his own keeping and away from the life that lies before you. (Ep. Eph. 17)
And so I entreat you (not I, but the love of Jesus Christ) not to nourish yourselves on anything but Christian fare, and have no truck with the alien herbs of heresy. There are men who in the very act of assuring you of their good faith will mingle poison with Jesus Christ; which is like offering a lethal drug in a cup of honeyed wine … (Ep. Tral. 6)
Flee for your very life from these men; they are poisonous growths with a deadly fruit, and one taste of it is speedily fatal. They are none of the Father's planting; if they were, they could at once be know for true branches of the Cross … (Ep. Tral. 11)
…to the church holding chief place in the territories of the district of Rome … to you who are bodily and spiritually at one with all His commandments, whole-heartedly filled with the grace of God, and purified from every alien and discouloring stain. (Ep. Rom. Salutation)
Shun such knavish wiles and snares of the prince of this world, or else his arts will wear you down and weaken your love. (Ep. Phil. 6)

As was anticipated in Clement, we see Ignatius on high alert against heresy (cf. Ep. Poly. 3). But what, from his epistles, can we learn of that orthodoxy that was so precious to him?

Thus I have now been able to play the host, in God's name, to your whole community in the person of your bishop Onesimus. … Blessings on Him who gave you the privilege of having such a bishop, and well indeed do you deserve it. (Ep. Eph. 1)
For we can have no life apart from Jesus Christ; and as he represents the mind of the Father, so our bishops, even those who are stationed in the remotest parts of the world, represent the mind of Jesus Christ. (Ep. Eph. 3)
That is why it is proper for your conduct and your practices to correspond closely with the mind of the bishop. And this, indeed, they are doing; your justly respected clergy, who are a credit to God, are attuned to their bishop like the strings of a harp, and the result is a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ from minds that are in unison, and affections that are in harmony. (Ep. Eph. 4)
I will certainly do this if the Lord reveals to me that you are all man by man and name by name, attending your meetings in a state of grace united in faith and in Jesus Christ … and are ready now to obey your bishop and clergy with undivided minds … (Ep. Eph. 20)
What it comes to is that we ought not just to have the name of Christians, but to be so in reality; not like some persons who will address a man as bishop, but in practice take no notice of him. I do not see how people of that kind can be acting in good conscience, seeing how the meetings they hold can have no sort of valid authority. (Ep. Magn. 4)
In the same way as the Lord was wholly one with the Father, and never acted independently of him, either in person or through the Apostles, so you yourselves must never act independently of your bishop and clergy. On no account persuade yourselves that it is right and proper to follow your own private judgement; have a single service of prayer which everybody attends; one united supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and innocent joyfulness, which is Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is better. (Ep. Magn. 7)
Your obedience to your bishop, as though he were Jesus Christ, shows me plainly enough that yours is no worldly manner of life, but that of Jesus Christ himself, who gave his life for us that faith in his death might save you from death. At the same time, however, essential as it is that you should never act independently of the bishop … you must also be no less submissive to your clergy, and regard them as apostles of Jesus Christ our Hope, in whom we shall one day be found … (Ep. Tral. 2)
Farewell now in Jesus Christ. Defer to your bishop as you would to the divine law, and likewise to your clergy. Love one another, all of you with a heart above divisions. (Ep. Tral. 13)
Your bishop's office, which exists for the good of the whole community, was never obtained by his own efforts, as I know very well, nor by any other mere human agency, still less in any spirit of self-glorification; but it was conferred upon him by the love of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ep. Phil. 1)
Abjure all factions, for they are the beginning of evils. Follow your bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father. … The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is one that is celebrated by the bishop himself, or by some person authorized by him. Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the Catholic Church. Nor is it permissible to conduct baptisms or love-feasts without the bishop. (Ep. Smyr. 8)

Indeed, one could claim that it appears as though the unity of the Church (c.f. Ep. Eph. 5; Magn. 13; Smyr. 11, 12; Poly. 1) under the person of the bishop (c.f. Ep. Eph. 2; Magn. 2, 3, 15; Tral. 7, 9; Phil. 7, 8, 10; Smyr. 9; Poly. 6), is something of an obsession for Ignatius. Yet it would be to miss the point to see Ignatius as someone with an awkward monomania for mere authority and order, and the last passage cited gives us a clue as to what the bishop was meant to preserve, and what the unity of the Church was aimed at. The reason for unity was based upon two factors-the principle of the Incarnation of God, and as a consequence, the fact that salvation is participation in the person of Christ -- central doctrines in the Christian kinship group. Hence we see in Ignatius not some kind of rabid faith-by-works salvation enshrined in an ecclesial institution, but rather an absolutely vivid and acute apprehension of the fact that life itself is Jesus Christ, therefore absolute unity with Christ is salvation. When we realize that he perceives salvation as such, and keep in mind the fact that this is absolutely grounded in the fact of the Incarnation, his ecclesiology immediately makes sense. Schism is sin, because schism is separation from Christ's body, and therefore separation from Christ himself. Salvation is not the mere possession of this or that belief (though ortho-doxy is important and intrinsic to salvation), but salvation is understood as communion with, and participation in, Christ. This should become clear as we explore Ignatius' doctrine of soteriology-

Men who are carnal are no more capable of acting spiritually, nor spiritual men of acting carnally, than deeds of unbelief are possible to the faithful, or deeds of faith to the unbelieving. But with you, even what you do in the flesh is spiritual, for your actions are done in Jesus Christ. (Ep. Eph. 8)
As for me, my spirit is now all humble devotion to the Cross: the Cross which so greatly offends the unbelievers, but is salvation and eternal life to us … he was born, and he submitted to baptism, so that by his Passion he might sanctify water. (Ep. Eph. 18)

Here one is reminded of Jn. 19:34 and 1 Jn. 5:7-8. In the first passage we see Christ pierced with blood and water flowing from his side, and in the latter we read that 'the Spirit, the water, and the blood' are one. Ignatius understands the sacraments as incorporation into Christ, and it almost seems as though he would see in the gospel passage mentioned above salvation in totality-the bride of the Last Adam, his Church, taken from his very person, just as the bride of the first Adam was taken from his side.

At the same time, however, essential as it is that you should never act independently of the bishop-as evidently you do not-you must also be no less submissive to your clergy, and regard them as apostles of Jesus Christ our hope, in whom we shall one day be found, if our lives are lived in him.

Again, in line with principles of ancient kinship communities, unity with the Church is the same as unity with Christ, and unity with Christ is salvation.

Here and now, as I write in the fullness of life, I am yearning for death with all the passion of a lover. Earthly longings have been crucified; in me there is left no spark of desire for mundane things, but only a murmur of living water that whispers within me, 'come to the Father'. … I am fain for the bread of God, even the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is the seed of David; and for my drink I crave that blood of his which is love imperishable. (Ep. Rom. 7)

Here we see participation in Christ lived out in perhaps its most vivid form. On the other hand-

Every man who belongs to God and Jesus Christ stands by his bishop. … But make no mistake, my brothers; the adherents of a schismatic can never inherit the kingdom of God. Those who wander in outlandish by-ways of doctrine must forfeit all part's in the Lord's Passion. (Ep. Phil. 3)

Heresy means exclusion from salvation. Docetism was an absolute horror for Ignatius, and there is no need to wonder why. It denied the very heart and source of salvation-the joining together of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ. In denying this, the entire salvation of humankind was forfeited. For if docetism is true, there can be no salvation found in the Church, because the Church draws its power from being incorporated into the person of Christ (cf. Ep. Eph. 4, 5, 20; Ep. Magn. 6; Ep. Tral. 8, 9, 12; Ep. Rom. 1, 2, 4, 6, 8; Ep. Phil. 8; Ep. Smyr. 12; Ep. Poly. 2, 3, 6) from the fact of the Incarnation, God and man, God saving man by the assimilation of mankind itself into himself. And thus we arrive, as though through the back door, at the Trinity and the Incarnation of he through whom our salvation, as articulated so vividly by Ignatius, comes.

As with Clement, Ignatius offers us some explicit Trinitarian formulae.

Under the divine dispensation, Jesus Christ our God was conceived by Mary of the seed of David and of the Spirit of God … (Ep. Eph. 18)
Deaf as stones you were: yes, stones for the Father's Temple, stones trimmed ready for God to build with, hoisted up by the derrick of Jesus Christ (the Cross) with the Holy Spirit for a cable; your faith being the winch that draws you to God, up the ramp of love. (Ep. Eph. 9)

The single act of salvation, when reduced to analogical form, makes clear the unity of the divine persons in bringing this about, and as with the act of the Incarnation itself (Lk. 1:35), so too is our salvation and participation in the Incarnate one the act of all three.

… so that everything you do, worldly or spiritual, may go prosperously from beginning to end in faith and love, in the Son and the Father and the Spirit, together with your most reverend bishop … (Ep. Magn. 13)

One Trinitarian passage seems to have an explicit reference to the Spirit as 'God'-

… I cried out, speaking with a loud voice-the very voice of God-'Be loyal to your bishop and clergy and deacons'. Some who were there suspected me of saying this because I already knew of certain dissensions among you; but he whose prisoner I am will bear me witness that no such information had ever reached me from human lips. No; that was the preaching of the Spirit itself, telling you … to cherish unity and shun divisions, and to be imitators of Jesus Christ as he was of his Father. (Ep. Phil. 7)

And as with Clement, for Ignatius the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ-

I send you greetings in the Blood of Jesus Christ, wherein is joy eternal and unfailing; all the more so when men are at one with their bishop-and with their clergy and deacons too, whose appointment with him is approved by Jesus Christ, and confirmed and ratified, according to his will, by his Holy Spirit. (Ep. Phil. salutation)

As for Ignatius' Christology, it as clear in regards to his divinity as it is his humanity. Christ is called 'God' on several occasions-

To the deservedly happy church at Ephesus … owing its unity and its election to the true and undoubted Passion, by the will of the Father and Jesus Christ our God. (Ep. Eph. salutation)
Under the divine dispensation, Jesus Christ our God was conceived by Mary … (Ep. Eph. 18)
The age old empire of evil was overthrown, for God was now appearing in human form to bring in a new order, even life without end. (Ep. Eph. 19)
… to the church beloved and enlightened in her love to our God Jesus Christ by the will of him who wills all things … (Ep. Rom. salutation)
Greeting, in the name of Jesus Christ the Father's Son. All perfect happiness in Jesus Christ our God, to you who are bodily and spiritually one with all his commandments. (Ep. Rom. salutation)
Suffer me to attain to light, light pure and undefiled; for only when I am come thither shall I be truly a man. Leave me to imitate the Passion of my God. (Ep. Rom. 6)

Yet however intriguing such passages may be (cf. Ep. Eph. 1, 15; Ep. Tral. 10; Ep. Rom. 4; Ep. Poly. 8), the proof of Ignatius' compatibility with the NCC is found in the following passages-

… and the result is a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ from minds that are in unison, and affections that are in harmony. (Ep. Eph. 4)
For good does not reside in what our eyes can see; the fact that Jesus Christ is now within the Father is why we perceive him so much the more clearly. (Ep. Rom. 3)
So redouble your eyes on him who has no need of opportunities, being outside all time, whom no senses can reveal was for us made manifest; who no ache can feel was for us by pain opprest; willing all things to endure, our salvation to procure. (Ep. Poly. 3)
… and let my special friends the deacons be entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from all eternity and in these last days has been made manifest. (Ep. Magn. 6)

Just as we found in Clement, we find in Ignatius an undeniable Wisdom/Logos Christology-

… so that they might convince future unbelievers of the existence of one sole God, who has revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ, Word of his own from silence proceeding, who in all that he was and did gladdened the heart of the One who sent him. (Ep. Magn. 8)

Not only do we here see the 'Son' Christology upon which this entire essay is founded, but we the further element of the mutual joy of the Father and Son, and these wrapped around an explicit Logos passage. Says Ray Brown regarding the Johannine affinities-

In Ignatius we find elements of a high Christology similar to John's. In Magn. 8:2 Ignatius speaks of 'the one God who manifested himself through Jesus Christ, his Son.' This is not unlike John 17:3: 'That they know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent,' combined with the thesis of 14:8 that whoever sees the Son sees the Father. The Magnesians passage continues by describing the Son as 'God's Word proceeding from silence who in all things was pleasing to him who sent him.' Three elements seem here to be Johannine, namely, the reference to Jesus as the 'Word', the description of him as the one sent by God, and the idea of his having come forth, especially when the preceeding chapter of Magnesians (7:2) makes it clear that he came forth from the Father (see John 16:28). Ray Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, pg. 156.

And to this list one could also add the tendency for Ignatius to refer to God and Christ as 'Father' and 'Son', something which can be found throughout the New Testament, but which is especially prominent in the Johannine corpus. An even more remarkable Wisdom passage can be found in the preceeding chapter mentioned above by Brown-

All of you together, as though you were approaching the only existing temple of God and the only altar speed to the one and only Jesus Christ-who came down from the one and only Father, is eternally with that One, and to that One is now returned. (Ep. Magn. 7)

Here we see what is called the V pattern, wherein the Son descends to earth and returns to heaven. Not only is this the structure of Christian Creeds, it is also evident throughout the New Testament (cf. Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20, 1 Tim. 3:16, 1 Pet. 3:18-22, and Heb. 1:2-4). According to Ben Witherington-

The V narrative pattern of these hymns, discussing in turn the pre-temporal, temporal, and post-temporal nature, life, and activity of the Son, favors the suggestion that the dominant influence on these hymns is the earlier Jewish reflection on the career of Personified Wisdom. Even the return of Wisdom to a place in glory once she was rejected is found in the material from 1 Enoch. All of the hymn fragments include protological material at least by implication, which is hardly surprising if the Wisdom material is the dominant influence here. Jesus the Sage, pg. 254.

And in thus identifying the key element of Nicene Christology, we can thus bring our study of Clement and Ignatius to a close. In this section, I spent considerable time on ecclesiology and soteriology, and this for good reason. I think it a mistake to focus simply on 'proof-texts', ignoring the context as a whole from which such texts are taken, and as I hope is by now plain, all three elements-ecclesiology, soteriology, and Christology-are intertwined and reciprocally related in a manner such that they illumine one another, thus the viewing of the totality offers a more complete picture of the parts than the parts themselves viewed in isolation. I also wanted to give the reader, lest he hadn't yet the chance, an opportunity to glimpse into the earliest writings of Christianity after the times of the Apostles.

The conclusions we can draw are several. Both Clement and Ignatius were bishops living in the generation after that of the Apostles. Clement, as bishop of Rome, writes to Corinth, and Ignatius of Antioch writes 5 epistles to the churches of Asia Minor, one to Rome, and one to his fellow bishop Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of John the Apostle (cf. Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 5:20:5; Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3:3:4). In both we find Wisdom Christology, and in both there are traces of Trinitarian confessional formulae. Both stress the unity of the Church and its function as a fictive kinship group with an authority structure. We can therefore infer, without any hesitation whatsoever, that Wisdom Christology, and therefore Nicene Christology, was the common property of the Church in the age immediately following the Apostles, and that the idea of Christ as a contingent creature or as being of a nature other than the Father was not at all part of the belief of the Church, a Church fighting to maintain unity as it advanced into the world at large, a Church whose doctrine of soteriology essentially assumes both the deity and humanity of Christ. The groundwork has thus been laid for a brief glance into the Christology of some of the other ante-Nicene Fathers.


This will be merely a brief glance at the Christology of the ante-Nicene period, aimed mainly at demonstrating its continuity with what preceded it, and dispelling some common fallacies. Those interested in a fuller treatment can refer to the works cited in the recommended reading section which follows. Hopefully I will be able to give this subject a more thorough treatment in the future.

First of all, it is necessary to dispel one notion, particularly popular amongst JW's, at once. The period immediately following that of the Apostles did not proclaim that Jesus was either an 'angel', if that term is understood to mean a created servant of God, or as Michael the Archangel. The talk of Christ as 'angel' in the early days of the Church finds its source in the 'Angel of YHWH' passages in the Old Testament (Gen. 6:7-14, 21:17, 22:9-14, Ex. 3:1-14, Num. 22:21-35, Jdg. 2:1-5, 6:11-12, 13:3-23), which are fully compatible with Wisdom Christology as they appear to present us with something along the lines of a hypostastization of YHWH. The comments of Basil Studer are worth mentioning-

In the early Christian writings which are still strongly influenced by Jewish tradition, a Christology is encountered which is to be located within the context of a fully developed angelology. It is called angel-christology. In this Christ appears as an angel and, accordingly, receives the traditional angelic names, such as Michael and Gabriel. Yet he is not treated as their equal. He towers above them with his colossal stature and appears as their Lord who sends them and is going to mete out judgement some day with their help. Such ideas are to be found above all in the Shepherd of Hermas, in 2 Enoch and the Recognitiones of Clement. … This angelogical description of Christ's salvation of course presupposes the biblical idea of the angel of the Lord. A tradition which understood Christ mainly as revealer of the invisible Father obviously identified him with that angel who appeared to the patriarchs and proclaimed to them the will of God. Trinity and Incarnation, pg. 37

As such, the compatibility of this language with Wisdom Christology, being fundamentally distinct from the meaning drawn therefrom by JW's, is grasped with little need for explanation. Regarding the relationship between the Son of God and Michael the Archangel in 'The Shepherd of Hermas', Aloys Grillmeier states-

But there can be no question of a substantial reduction of the Son of God to Michael. For the Son is in the end quite clearly distinguished from the archangel even though the latter stands in the place usually occupied by the Son of God. The elements of transcendence in the picture of the 'most reverend' angel, by which is meant the Son of God, go far beyond the Jewish picture of Michael. For the Jewish tradition Michael is indeed the supreme leader of the heavenly host, but it is not certain that he is also the chief of the seven archangels in the sense that the other six are his subordinates. The Shepherd of Hermas, however, quite clearly leaves this place free for Christ and in such a way as to correspond to the new figure:
"'Have you also seen the six men and the glorious and great man in their midst who is walking round the tower and who rejected the stones from the building?' 'Yes, sir.' 'The glorious man is the Son of God, and those six are the glorious angels who support him on the right and on the left. Of these glorious angels none can enter the presence of God without him. Whoever does not receive his name will not enter the kingdom of God' (Sim. IX, 12, 7-8).
Here it is quite clear that the Son of God is meant and that as such he is superior to the six chief angels. These angels are his entourage. He does not stand like Michael as primus inter pares, for he is the way to God even for the angels! Michael is not given such a role among the archangels, even in his capacity as escort of souls. Christ in Christian Tradition, Vol. 1, pgs. 49-50.

Moving along, the first group of Christian authors we meet is the group commonly referred to as the Apologists, of whom we'll be citing Justin Martyr, Theophilus and Athenegoras. The common claim against these authors is that they denied the eternal pre-existence of the Son, but a few passages demonstrate that this is not so-

His Son, who alone is properly called Son who was both with him and was begotten by him before anything was created, when in the beginning the Father created and put everything in order through him, he is called Christ, from his being anointed and from God's putting everything in order through him. Justin Martyr, (Second Apology, 6)

Here we see something in particular that needs to be noted. Arians often refer to Justin's exegesis of Prov. 8:22 as proving that Justin taught that the Son was created ex nihilo, but as we can see in the above, the Son's being 'with' God is distinct from, and prior to, his being begotten. Indeed, the modern critics of the Trinity would do well to note how easily this conforms with the doctrine of the Trinity, for as we mentioned earlier, according to the Trinity it must be both in and through the Son whereby God performs the act of creation, and as the creation itself is distinct from the Father, so too the Son must be begotten outwards at the initiation of that creation. If Trinitarians don't shrink from acknowledging that in his humanity, Christ was a creature, I see nothing at all that should prevent us from acknowledging the same regarding the initial act of creation, since it is as distinct from the Father that this takes place in the Son. And this, I think, which was without doubt the ante-Nicene understanding of Proverbs 8:22 prior to Arius's confusion of the text, may be the true meaning behind the 'firstborn' of the Colossians hymn, as well as the 'source/beginning' of Rev. 3:14. Of course God's Wisdom is eternal, a fact so obvious it doesn't even need explaining, yet on the other hand, of course this Wisdom, if it be the person of the Son, must be the firstborn of all creation since it is in and through him that creation takes place. Not only does this interpretation prove to be quite easy to reconcile with the NCC, but it also coheres with what we've seen in Clement and Ignatius, along with what we'll soon see in Athenegoras and Irenaeus. It also proves illuminating for the following from Justin-

I will give you another testimony from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, who was a certain Rational Power from himself, and whom the Holy Spirit calls the Glory of the Lord, or sometimes the Son, sometimes Wisdom, sometimes an Angel, sometimes God, sometimes Lord and Word. … He can be called by all these names because he ministers to the will of the Father and was begotten by the Father's will. We see things similarly amongst ourselves: for whenever we utter some word, we beget a word-yet not by any cutting off which would diminish the word in us when we utter it. (Dialogue with Trypho, 61)
For I would not say that the dogma of that heresy which is said to be among you is true, or that the teachers of it can prove that [God] spoke to angels, or that the human frame was the workmanship of angels. But this Offspring, which was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed with Him; even as the Scripture by Solomon has made clear, that He whom Solomon calls Wisdom, was begotten as a Beginning before all His creatures and as Offspring by God, who has also declared this same thing in the revelation made by Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). (ibid., 62)

As the Logos, Christ is intrinsic to God, existing both prior to and after his being begotten. That the second passage above excludes an angel Christology, whereby I mean a Christology which views Christ as one of the created angels, seems fairly obvious. When Justin does refer to Christ as 'angel', he corresponds exactly with what I said above. Justin doesn't think Christ an angel, and if he did, it is bewildering why he would use the 'Angel of YHWH' passages in order to prove that Christ truly is God and Lord (Dialogue with Trypho, 54-65), which is precisely what modern day Arians are loathe to grant. And it is worth noting that in the first passage, the Logos remains in God after being begotten by him, a fact which is perplexing in the extreme if his being begotten, and thus 'distinct' from God (in, I suppose, what would have to be a necessarily spatial imaginative construct), were somehow the beginning of his personal existence. Does the Logos that remains inside God after its being begotten remain impersonal still? If so, what of the identity between the begotten and the immanent Logos? From Theophilus we gain explicit confirmation of the above hypothesis-

God, therefore, having his own Word internally in his very organs, begot him, emitting him along with his own Wisdom, before all things. He had this Word for a helper in the things which he made, and through him were all things created. He is called Beginning, because he rules and has dominion over everything which was fashioned by him. … for the prophets did not exist when the world came to be, but there was Wisdom, which was in him and which was of God, and his Holy Word, who is eternally present with him. (To Autoclytus, 2:10)

Theophilus makes the interesting (and, aside from Irenaeus, otherwise completely unique) move of identifying the Spirit as 'Wisdom' in distinction to the Son-the Logos. At any rate, we see here an absolutely clear exegesis of Proverbs 8:22 identical with that suggested above, along with the affirmation of the priority of the Father. Our next author, Athenegoras of Athens, is clearly in line with the NCC, and is absolutely confirms the stance I have taken on the Apologists thus far-

The Son of God is the Word of the Father in thought and in actuality. By him and through him all things were made, the Father and the Son being one. Since the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son by the unity and power of the Spirit, the Mind and Word of the Father is the Son of God. And if, in your exceedingly great wisdom, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by 'the Son', I will tell you briefly: he is the first begotten of the Father, not as having been produced-for from the beginning God had the Word in himself, God being eternal mind and eternally rational-but as coming forth to be the model and energizing force of all material things, which were like a nature without attributes and an inert earth, in which the heavier parts lay mixed with the lighter. (Supplication for the Christians, 10)

I think the only comment which needs to be made in light of the Apologists is that they were orthodox in their Christology, and confusion only comes in when their writings are divorced from the Chruch tradition which preceeded them, with a select few passages taken out of context and interpreted as though they wrote in the climate of the Arian controversy. Yet why be surprised that they didn't write against a heresy that was 200 years in the making? In conclusion, I think we can do no better than to agree with the assessment of J. N. D. Kelly on the Christology of the Apologists-

Two stark criticisms of it, for example, are that they failed to distinguish the Logos from the Father until he was required for the work of creation, and that, as a corollary, they were guilty of subordinating the Son to the Father. These objections have a superficial validity in light of post-Nicene orthodoxy, with its doctrine of the Son's eternal generation and its fully worked out conception of hypostases or Persons; but they make no sense in the thought-atmosphere in which the Apologists moved. It is true that they lacked a technical vocabulary adequate for describing eternal distinctions within the Deity; but that they apprehended such distinctions admits of no doubt. Long before creation, from all eternity, God had his Word or Logos, for God is essentially rational; and if what later theology recognized as the personality of the Word seems ill defined in their eyes, it is plain that they regarded Him as one with Whom the Father could commune and take counsel. Later orthodoxy was to describe his eternal relation to the Father as generation; the fact that the Apologists restricted this term to his emission should not lead one to conclude that they had no awareness of his existence prior to that. … That the Logos was one in essence with the Father, inseparable in his fundamental being from Him as much after his generation as prior to it, the Apologists were never weary of reiterating. Early Christian Doctrines, pgs. 100-101.

Our next author is Irenaeus of Lyons, perhaps the most important author of the second century, and the first theologian of the Church. His writings are highly recommended, but as for now we'll simply demonstrate his Christological orthodoxy-

The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed through his Word, who is his Son-through him is he revealed and made manifest to all to whom he is revealed. For they know him, those to whom the Son has given revelation. The Son, however, always co-existing with the Father, of old and from the beginning, always reveals the Father to the angels and archangels and powers and virtues and to all to whom God wishes to give revelation. (Against Heresies, 2:30:9)
Again, had it not been God who bestowed salvation we should not have it as a secure possession. And if man had not been united to God, man could not have become a partaker of immortality. For the mediator between God and man had to bring both parties into friendship and concord through his kinship with both; and to present man to God, and make God known to man. In what way could we share in the adoption of sons of God unless through the Son we had received fellowship with the Father, unless the Word of God made flesh had entered into communion with us? (Ibid., 3:18:7)

Moving along to our next author, Clement of Alexandria, we find much the same-

The Word, the Christ, the cause of our being-for he was in God-as also of our well-being, has now himself appeared to man. He alone is both God and man; he is for us the source of all good … He is the New Song, the Epiphany, which has now shone out among us, of that Word who was in the beginning, and who was before the beginning … because the Word, who was with God, has appeared as our teacher, he by whom the universe was created. (Protreptikos, 1:7)

Next, we come to Tertullian, Novatian, and Hippolytus. The common charges brought against these three are the same as those brought against the Apologists, namely, subordinationism and that the pre-existence of the Son was, according to them, not eternal. And these charges can be dealt with just as easily as with the Apologists. For instance, it is commonly claimed that according to Tertullian, there 'was a time when the Father was not Father because the Son did not yet exist', and this is true. But it is irrelevant, since for Tertullian the term 'Son' only applied to Christ after the Incarnation, the term 'Word' from creation to the Incarnation, and the term 'Wisdom' eternally. Much is made of his description of Christ's 'perfect birth' in Against Praxeas 7, but this is parallel to, and fits in precisely, with what we said above with the Aplogists in regards to Proverbs 8:22. Thus from Tertullian-

For God brought forth the Word, as also the Paraclete declares, as a root brings forth the ground shoot, and a spring the river and the sun its beam. For these manifestations also are emanations of the substances from which they proceed. I should not hesitate, indeed, to call the shoot the son of the root and the river the son of the spring and the beam the son of the sun, because every source is a parent and everything which issues from a source is an offspring-and especially the Word of God, who has actually received as his own peculiar designation the name of Son: yet the shoot is not shut off from the root nor the river from the spring nor the beam from the sun, anymore than the Word is separated from God. Following, therefore, the form of these analogies, I confess that I call God and His Word-the Father and His Son-two. (Against Praxeas, 8)

From Novatian-

God the Father founder and creator of all things, who alone knows no beginning, who is invisible, immeasurable immortal, and eternal, is one God. Neither his greatness nor his majesty nor his power can possibly be-I should not say exceeded, for they cannot even be equaled. From him, when he willed it, the Word was born, his Son. … And the latter, since he was born of the Father is always in the Father. And I do indeed say always, not to prove him unborn, but born. He that exists before all time must be said to have been in the father always; for he that exists before all time cannot be spoken of in relation to time. (The Trinity, 31)

From Hippolytus-

But he begot the Word as the author and counselor and fashioner of those things which have been made. And since he had this Word within himself, invisible to the created world, he made him visible. First of all giving vocal utterance, and then begetting Light from Light, he sent him forth, his own Mind, as Lord of creation. Before, he was visible only to himself, and invisible to the created world; but now he makes him visible so that by his being made manifest the world might see him and be able to be saved. (Against Noetus, 10)

Our next author, Origen, is often claimed for support by JW's, who like to cite chapters 2 and 3 of his Commentary on John. Therein, Origen distinguishes between the signifigance of 'theos' with the article (the Father), and 'theos' without the article (the Son and other 'gods'), and the calling of the Son 'the firstborn' in chapter 2 does, at first glance, seem to bring in decent evidence for imagining that we finally have subordination in a sense that is excluded by the NCC. But closer examination shows that this isn't quite the case-

What else are we to suppose the eternal light is but God the Father, who never so was that, while he was the light, his 'splendor' (Heb. 1:3) was not present with him? Light without splendor is unthinkable. But if this is true, there is never a time when the Son was not the Son. He will be, however, not, as we have described the eternal light, 'unborn', lest we seem to introduce two principles of light, but, as it were, the splendor of the unbegotten light, with that very light as his beginning and source, born of it indeed, but there was not a time when he was not. Thus Wisdom, too, since it proceeds from God, is generated out of the divine substance itself. Under the figure of a bodily outflow, nevertheless, it too is thus called 'a sort of clean and pure outflow of omnipotent glory' (Wisd. 7:25) Both these similes manifestly show the community of substance between Son and Father. For an outflow seems of one substance with that body which it is the outflow or exhalation. (Commentary on Hebrews, 24)

It is also often brought to attention that Origen calls the Son 'deutoros theos', a 'second God' alongside the Father. Justin did this as well, but nothing of consequence can be drawn from it for the simple reason that Origen's Christology, as shown above, is Wisdom Christology. The ontological distinction required by Arians is on that account entirely impossible for Origen. Again, Johannes Quasten has some relevant commentary regarding Origen's 'Dialogue with Heraclides'-

In other words, the formula 'two Gods' and 'one Power' is for both sides acceptable. It is the same formula of later theology: Two persons but one nature. Patrology, Vol. 2, pgs. 63-64.

An interesting episode occurred around the year 260 a.d. that further vindicates my claim that ante-Nicene Christology was incompatible with Arianism while being compatible with the NCC. Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, in combating modalism, distinguished between the Son and the Father in such strong terms, that it appeared as though he referred to the Son as a creature, created ex nihilo. He was then rebuked by bishop Dionysius of Rome in no uncertain terms-

It is a blasphemy, then, and not a common one but the worst , to say that the Lord is in any way a handiwork. For if he came to be Son, then once he was not; but if, as he says himself, he be in the Father, and if, which you know the Divine Scripture says, Christ be Word and Wisdom and Power, and these attributes be powers of God, then he always existed. But if the Son came into being, there was a time when God these attributes did not exist; and consequently, there was a time when God was without them-which is absurd. … Neither, then, may we divide into three godheads the wonderful and divine Unity; nor may we disparage the dignity and exceeding majesty of the Lord by calling him a work. Rather, we must believe in God, the Father almighty; and in Christ Jesus, his Son; and in the Holy Spirit; and that the Word is united to the God of the universe. (To Dionysius of Alexandria, 1:2-3)

Fragments of Dionysius of Alexandria's response are extant in Eusebius Preparation for the Gospel (7, 9), and in Athanasius' The Opinions of Dionysius, according to which he vindicates himself of the charges brought against himself thusly-

Since, therefore, the Father is eternal, the Son, being Light of Light, is eternal. If there is a parent, there is also a child. But if there were not a child, how and of whom could there be a parent? But both do exist, and they do exist eternally. (Opinions of Dionysius, 15)

According to Grillmeier-

Dionysius of Alexandria answered with a defence which consisted of four books. What did he say to the five charges?
(1) He denies that he separates Father and Son. His argument proceeds from the terms 'Father' and 'Son', which mutually determine each other. … According to a fragment of the second letter about 'refutation and defence' addressed to Dionysius of Rome, handed down by Basil, the letter ended with a doxology: 'To God the Father, and the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Spirit, be honour and glory to all eternity. Amen.'
(2) He sees the eternity of the Son grounded in the fact that he is Logos, wisdom and power of God, and also in the fact that he is termed the 'reflection of eternal light' (Wisd. 7:26; Heb. 1:3). 'For if the light is always there, it is clear that the reflection is always there.' Again he returns to the correlation of 'Father' and 'Son'. If the Father is eternal, so too is the Son. Christ in Christian Tradition, Vol. 1, pgs. 156-157.

Such was the sentiment of the Church when the Arianism visited it in the first quarter of the fourth century, the consequence of which was the articulation of God, his Son, and his Spirit in the manner presented in the second section of this essay. Yet a final piece of evidence for the orthodoxy of the Christology of the ante-Nicene Church comes from the Council of Nicea itself. It is often mistakenly imagined that this Council, and the subsequent one in Constantinople, were something like the 'birth' of the belief that Jesus was God and the beginning of 'orthodoxy' rather than the preservation of it. But the following, at least implicitly, speaks volumes contrawise-

Unlike other great ecumenical occasions in the fourth and fifth centuries, there is no contemporary record of the debates in Nicea. Characteristic of the confusion into which theological ideas had been falling was that, apart from the conviction that Arius's teaching was unacceptable, much turned on personality. … Some features stand out. First, very few were prepared to listen to Arius's arguments. Some bishops stopped their ears at his blasphemies. W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity, pg. 498.

Likewise, Leo Donald Davis says-

Unfortunately, if there were any official minutes of the sessions, they have not survived. It seems that Eusebius of Nicodemia was first off the mark and offered a creedal statement favorable to Arian views. This the Council indignantly rejected. The First Seven Ecumenical Councils, pg. 59.

Again, I repeat what I said at the beginning of this section-this is only a brief outline of the ante-Nicene period, and by no means an exhaustive treatment. Be that as it may, the continuity of Nicene Christology with ante-Nicene Christology is undeniable, and the supposed grand canyon that separates the two isn't so grand as is alleged. It is often claimed, for instance, that with the rise of Nicene orthodoxy the final elements of Christological subordination, as evident in the confessions of previous theologians, was at last eradicated from the Church. Yet this is not at all true. Nicene orthodoxy requires a certain subordination (of a functional variety) within the God it professes. What the Nicene age does present us with is the articulation of this God within the context of a competing claim that prior to that time didn't exist-the claim that Jesus was created ex nihilo. If the exotic and logically muddled doctrine of the Trinity which the modern Arians constantly wage war against is not to be found in the ante-Nicene corpus, there is no need to wonder why such a doctrine does not exist in the Nicene age-namely, that there never existed such a doctrine in the eyes of orthodoxy. On the other hand, when we realize that it is Wisdom Christology that is the basis of Trinitarian Christology, and when we realize the implications that this Christology carries for the relationship between the Father and Son, we find ourselves realizing that ante-Nicene Christology is compatible with Nicene Christology. Until it is proven that, according to the ante-Nicenes, either the substantial identity of the Father and Son was denied, or that it was taught that the Father created the Son ex nihilo, the Christological continuity demonstrated in this essay, from Scripture to Augustine, must be recognized.


The most important point of this essay was the Fatherhood of God. Not only is this the touchstone of an orthodox Trinitarian theology or Christology, but it is also, when seen in the Life of Christ, the fundamental revelation of the fact that God is Love, therefore it is the Fatherhood of God which is the source for our Christian life.

Yet God so defined also drastically alters the ground upon which the present day battle is fought between Arians and Trinitarians. It will no longer do to point to verses where God the Father is distinct from Christ the Lord as though this were an especially noteworthy piece of evidence which argued against the Trinity, for the Trinity insists that precisely such phraseology be used. It will no longer do to point to the fact that it was the Father who sent the Son, nor that what the Son has was given to him by the Father-the Trinity, properly understood, requires as much. It will no longer do to point to this or that Father, noting that the ante-Nicenes speak of the Son in language that necessarily implies subordination-for the Nicenes had no desire to contradict the fact, from a functional perspective. I offer this essay as a contribution to the present day dialogue between Trinitarians and Arians in the hope that these points will be recognized. For it is only in the recognition of these essential points that true dialogue can take place, and the confusion which so often leads to frustration and name-calling, can be avoided.

More specifically, speaking for the Nicene side, I ask of the Arian side that they give a more specific definition of the sort of subordination that we, as Trinitarians, cannot allow? I ask in what sense is the Son a son and the Father a father?

Hopefully, in the future I will have time to update this essay, adding more to the Biblical section. I would also like to add a section consisting of a philosophical argument for both the coherence of the Trinity, and the a priori unlikelihood that God could possibly subsist as a Unitarian being. Until then, the following books are recommended for those seeking more in-depth treatment. Adios and shalom in Christ.

Recommended Reading

The following are books on Scriptural Christology: