Thursday, August 13, 2015

ECFs on the Father Alone Being Autotheos

I recently posted 74 pages of quotes by 20 early church fathers affirming the doctrine that the Father alone is autotheos or God-of-Himself. You can find the entire document here. I have a few quick comments on the project itself.

Firstly, I only searched for and copied passages which mention the Father as the first cause, the ultimate cause of all things, the cause of the Son or Spirit, passages which, for instance, identify the Father being without cause with His exclusive property of being unbegotten, etc. In other words, there are many more passages I could have quoted, passages which instead speak of, say, the Father's uniqueness in terms of origination, sourcehood, or beginning, or how the Son's or Spirit's being or existence is from, of, or otherwise derived from the Father. I just found it convenient to hone my search in terms of causation.

Further, I only researched books found on I am aware of at least one book not on that website which contained statements which would have otherwise qualified, but I did not intend for this to be comprehensive. That wasn't the point. The point of the document is simply to show how pervasive this doctrine was in the early church.

Any edits I made in the above document were either grammatical - in changing the font and type for better readability, some errors occurred and a few have probably been missed - or because newadvent includes Scriptural quotations not found in authors' original works. People are welcome to compare my edit to the online version, there is no significant difference.

Now, I don't usually research church history, but Sean Gerety rekindled my interest after recently peddling the same embarrassing canards on facebook he did when we discussed Trinitarianism several years ago, including this one:
I find it offensive that you think we're stupid, when even a toad could tell that no Trinitarian could ever write as you have: "The Son and Spirit are not “autotheos.” FWIW I'm not going to revisit this whole sorry affair, but suffice it to say you're not a Christian. You may not like Unitarian or Arian, but you is what you is.
Sean is now free to consider Alexander of Alexandria, Athanasius, Basil, Clement of Alexandria, Cyril, Eusebius, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Hillary of Poitiers, Hippolytus, Irenaeus of Lyons, John Chrysostom, John of Damascus, Justin Martyr, Novatian, Origen, Rufinus, Tertullian, Theodoret, etc. as anti-Trinitarians and less intelligent than toads.


steve said...

You have my permission to consider Sean Gerety stupid.

That said, the church fathers were wrong about eternal generation and eternal procession.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ryan,

Excellent compilation !

I have already downloaded the document (PDF format) to my hard-drive, and will shortly create a thread at Articuli Fidei to inform my readers of your contribution.

As for the issue of 'eternal generation', many esteemed Reformed theologians held to the doctrine—e.g. Francis Turretin, John Owen, Charles Hodge, William Shedd, Gordon Clark—see THIS THREAD for documentation and commentary.

Grace and peace,


Ryan said...

Thanks David. I think Edwards is another Reformer who could be included, right? I'll probably look to review the Reformers some other time.

Steve, I haven't gotten around to reading all of your material on Trinitarianism yet, as I was able to do on Scripturalism. What I have read is interesting, especially points about paralleling the fuzziness of Trinitarian identity to cases like endurantism and counterfactual world scenarios. I'll look into your posts more in a bit.

Presently, though, in addition to statements in the OP, I think this post establishes prima facie evidence for there at least being competing Trinitarian models available to Christians. That's useful when having to deal with charges of the sort I've received, especially when those charges are made by people who have elsewhere acknowledged several listed ECFs as having defended Trinitarianism. I'm not just talking about Sean here, but several people.

MikeD said...


So is saying that only the Father is autotheos the same as affirming the doctrine called the monarchy of the Father?


Ryan said...


Not quite, although very close in the case of these ECFs. The distinction I have in mind is that Unitarians or Arians or subordinationsts could say that the Father alone is "God of Himself" or autotheos. Their problem is a failure to recognize that the Son and Spirit are consubstantial with the Father because respectively begotten or spirated of the Father. The divinity of the Son and Spirit is due to their [eternal] relationship to the Father, who is the monarch or origin or fount of divinity. So, affirming the monarchy of the Father would entail the Father alone is autotheos, but not necessarily the reverse. Of course, in the case of the ECFs mentioned in the post, most explicitly affirmed the consubstantiality of the Son and Spirit with the Father, especially as Trinitarianism became a forefront issue.

MikeD said...

Thanks for the reply. You may have seen this but Waldron affirms the monarchy of the Father.

Drake Shelton said...

Well played Ryan. I would love to see your recent conversations with Sean G. I know no one wants to be my friend anymore because everything I have said about racial issues has all been fulfilled so painfully true it drives people insane but if there is a way I could participate read-only I would love to see it.

Ryan said...

Aren't you friends with Doug Douma on facebook? It's on his page. You have to scroll down to a June 23 post, there's 300 comments or so. It's starts off with a discussion about epistemology before Sean enters with guns blazing.

Drake Shelton said...


I was wondering what your thoughts are about John 12:44 And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me.

as a reply to those who bring up Thomas' statement, my lord and my God.

Ryan said...

There appear to be a few interpretations which are prima facie justified. The question is whether any of these interpretations are ruled out given other considerations.

I think Thomas is talking about Jesus in John 20:28, but I don't think that has much relevance to more complex issues. Jesus is our God. He created us. He has authority over us. Is Jesus subordinate to the Father? In respect to His person - and not just His "personhood," as if we can abstract Sonship from who the Son is - yes. But I don't think that's the question in John 20:28. The question is who Thomas is subordinate to, who is the Head of him and the rest of the church-bride.

If you think a case can be made that the Father is the referent in John 20:28, you can, and you can use passages like the one you cite as evidence. But it doesn't seem to be the natural reading to me - though admittedly, I've not studied the passage much more deeply than prima facie justification - and further, I see no reason why the idea that Jesus is "ho Theos" would be problematic, if understood correctly. He is our God, the God of us, so what would be problematic about addressing Him as such while recognizing He Himself has His own Head, His Father?

MarkO said...

I am interested in your paper on the quotes from ECF on autotheos. I clicked on the link but it's dead. Could I give you my email address so you can send me a PDF of it? Thanks.

Ryan said...

Yes, I'll need to find it on my flash drive So it might take a few days. I'll try reuploading it as well.

Ryan said...


Scribd didn't seem to like the doc/pdf for whatever reason, but I have updated the link to the paper using googledocs, so I think it should be able to be viewed by you and others now.