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THE DOCTRINE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH FOR THE FIRST THREE AGES
CHRISTIANITY, CONCERNING THE BLESSED TRINITY, CONSIDERED, IN OPPOSITION TO SABELLIANISM AND TRITHEISM.
HE unanimous sense of the catholic doctors of
the church, for the first three ages of Christianity, concerning the article of the Trinity, is in short this:
I. That there are in the Godhead three (not mere names or modes, but) really distinct hypostases or persons, the Father, the Son or Word of God, and the Holy Ghost.
II. That these three persons are one God; which they thus explain :
1. There is but one fountain or principle of divinity, God the Father, who only is Aúródeos, God of and from himself; the Son and Holy Ghost deriving their divinity from him; the Son immediately from the Father, the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, or from the Father by the Son.
2. The Son and Holy Ghost are so derived from the fountain of the divinity, as that they are not separate or separable from it, but do still exist in it, and are most intimately united to it.
a (This discourse was written 1697, for the satisfaction of lord Arundel, as is stated at length in the Life, §. LXXXII. p. 422.]
BULL, VOL. II.
All the Fathers insist upon this, that if there were more than one fountain of the divinity, or if the three persons were each of them a self-dependent principle of divinity, or if the three persons were separate from each other, then there would be three Gods. But being there is but one fountain of the divinity, the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost deriving their divinity from that fountain, and that so, as still to exist in it, and be inseparably united to it, there is but one God. That this is the unanimous consent and constant doctrine of the primitive Fathers, I have fully shewed in my Defensio Fidei Nicene. I shall here resume, and more fully explain, only one testimony which I have there alleged, because it shews us what was then accounted Sabellianism, what Tritheism, and what the catholic doctrine concerning the blessed Trinity; matters so hotly disputed among us at this day.
Dionysius, bishop of Rome, who flourished about the year 259, whom his great namesake of Alexandria styles λόγιόν τε και θαυμάσιον, α learned and wonderful man, in an Epistle against the Sabellians, (which doubtless he wrote, as the manner then was, with the advice and consent of the clergy of his diocese synodically convened,) after he had refuted the doctrine of Sabellius, thus proceeds to discourse against the contrary heresy of those “who divide “ and cut asunder, and overthrow the most sacred “ doctrine of the church of God, parting the mon“ archy into three certain powers and hypostases, catechists and teachers of the word of God among
separated from each other, and consequently into " three Deities. For I hear that there are some
b Apud Athan. de Decret. Syn. Nic. tom. I. p. 275. [c. 26. vol. I. p. 231.]
you, who maintain this opinion; therein diametri“cally, if I may so speak, opposing the hypothesis “ of Sabellius. For he blasphemeth by affirming that “ the Father is the Son, and, on the other side, that " the Son is the Father, but these men in a manner “ teach three Gods, whilst they divide the holy
Unity into hypostases, alien and wholly divided “ from each other. For it is absolutely necessary “ that we hold, that the divine Word is united to the “ God of all things, and that the Holy Ghost re“ mains and dwells in God; and also, that the divine
Trinity is gathered together and united into one,
as into a certain head; I mean the omnipotent “ God, the Father of all things.”
Here we see what is Sabellianism, viz. To affirm that the Son is the Father, and the Father the Son; and consequently that the Holy Ghost is the same with both. And all they come very near this heresy, who acknowledge only a modal distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. What is Tritheism he also shews us plainly, viz. That it is to hold, that the three persons in the Trinity are of a different nature, or separated and divided from each other; or that there is more than one fountain or principle of the divinity. According to which account, Dr. Sherlock is certainly clear from the charge of Tritheism : the catholic doctrine he declares to be this, " That there are three really distinct hypostases “ in the Godhead, and yet that there is but one God;
c And afterwards in the conclusion he saith, that in this way only, και η θεία Τριάς και το άγιον κήρυγμα της μοναρχίας διασώζοιτο, i. e. “Both the divine Trinity,” (that is, a real Trinity,) “ and also “the holy doctrine of the monarchy, can be preserved.” (p. 232.)
“ because the Father only is the head of the divinity, “ and the Son and Holy Ghost, as they are derived “ from him, so they exist in him, and are inseparably 66 united to him.”
Of such a distinction and union of persons we have indeed no example, or exact similitude among created beings: but what then? It does not follow that therefore there cannot be such a distinction and union in the transcendent and most spiritual nature of God. The Antitrinitarians can never produce a demonstrative reason to prove that this cannot be; and divine revelation assures us that so it is. The most weighty arguments that are brought by the Antitrinitarians against a distinction of hypostases in the Godhead are reducible to one, which if well answered, the rest will fall to the ground. The argument is this :
The most simple being admits of no distinction.
Answ. If the Antitrinitarians that make this objection are the Socinians among us, as I presume they are, it is news to hear that they should argue from the simplicity of the Godhead, seeing the great masters of that sect, Socinus, Crellius, &c., held that God is a material being, and consequently compounded of matter and form. Express citations to this purpose may be seen in Dr. Edwards's Antidote against Socinianism, part I. p. 65, 66.
This opinion they held, because they could not conceive how there can be any substance that is purely spiritual, and abstracted from all matter: and if they could have conceived this, perhaps they would not have stuck at the doctrine of the Trinity. For