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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: Chapter I. The author distinguishes the faith from the errors of Pagans, Jews, and Heretics, and after explaining the significance of the names “God” and “Lord,” shows clearly the difference of Persons in Unity of Essence. In dividing the Essence, the Arians not only bring in the doctrine of three Gods, but even overthrow the dominion of the Trinity.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter I.

The author distinguishes the faith from the errors of Pagans, 1670 Jews, and Heretics, and after explaining the significance of the names “God” and “Lord,” shows clearly the difference of Persons in Unity of Essence. 1671  In dividing the Essence, the Arians not only bring in the doctrine of three Gods, but even overthrow the dominion of the Trinity.

6. Now this is the declaration of our Faith, that we say that God is One, neither dividing His Son from Him, as do the heathen, 1672 nor denying, with the Jews, that He was begotten of the Father before all worlds, 1673 and afterwards born of the Virgin; nor yet, like Sabellius, 1674 confounding the Father with the Word, and so maintaining that Father and Son are one and the same Person; nor again, as doth Photinus, 1675 holding that the Son first came into existence in the Virgin’s womb: nor believing, with Arius, 1676 in a number of diverse Powers, 1677 and so, like the benighted heathen, making out more than one God. For it is written: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God is one God.” 1678

7. For God and Lord is a name of majesty, a name of power, even as God Himself saith: “The Lord is My name,” 1679 and as in another place the prophet declareth: “The Lord Almighty is His name.” 1680 God is He, therefore, and Lord, either because His rule is over all, or because He beholdeth all things, and is feared by all, without difference. 1681

8. If, then, God is One, one is the name, p. 203 one is the power, of the Trinity. Christ Himself, indeed, saith: “Go ye, baptize the nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 1682 In the name, mark you, not in the names.” 1683

9. Moreover, Christ Himself saith: “I and the Father are One.” 1684 “One,” said He, that there be no separation of power and nature; but again, “We are,” that you may recognize Father and Son, forasmuch as the perfect Father is believed to have begotten the perfect Son, 1685 and the Father and the Son are One, not by confusion of Person, but by unity of nature. 1686

10. We say, then, that there is one God, not two or three Gods, this being the error into which the impious heresy of the Arians doth run with its blasphemies. For it says that there are three Gods, in that it divides the Godhead of the Trinity; whereas the Lord, in saying, “Go, baptize the nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” hath shown that the Trinity is of one power. We confess Father, Son, and Spirit, understanding in a perfect Trinity both fulness of Divinity and unity of power. 1687

11. “Every kingdom divided against itself shall quickly be overthrown,” saith the Lord. Now the kingdom of the Trinity is not divided. If, therefore, it is not divided, it is one; for that which is not one is divided. The Arians, however, would have the kingdom of the Trinity to be such as may easily be overthrown, by division against itself. But truly, seeing that it cannot be overthrown, it is plainly undivided. For no unity is divided or rent asunder, and therefore neither age nor corruption has any power over it. 1688



Or “Gentiles.” The Christians regarded themselves as placed in the world much as the Hebrews had been planted in the midst of the “nations round about.”


The Latin word is natura, which, at first sight, seems less abstruse and metaphysical than the Greek οὐσία, or πόστασις, or the Latin essentia and substantia, though it is not really so. A man’s natura, nature, is what he is at and from the beginning; “change of nature” means not an absolute change, but a reformation, a new guidance and treatment of tendencies, passions, powers—some receiving a precedence denied them before, others being suppressed and put in subjection. So God’s “nature” is what He is from and to all eternity, in Himself, unchangingly and unchangeably.


Lit. “the nations”—gentes, τὰ ἔθνη. The Romans of the Republic used to speak of foreign peoples—especially if subject to kings—as gentes exteræ, in contradistinction to the Populus Romanus. St. Ambrose of course means those who still clung to the ancient religions, who were foreigners to the commonwealth (res publica) of the Church.


The original is ante tempora—“before the ages”—“before time was.” Cf. 1 Cor. 8:6, Phil. 2:6, Col. 1:15 (πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως—“first-born of all creation,” which Justin Martyr interprets as meaning πρὸ πὰντων τῶν κτισμάτων—“before all created things.”) Heb. 1:1, Rev. 1:8, 18, John 1:1. Justin Martyr, Apology, II. 6; Dialogue with Tryphon, 61. Tempora answers to the Greek αἰῶνες, rendered “worlds” in Heb. i. 2.


Sabellius was a presbyter in the Libyan Pentapolis (Barca), who came to Rome and there ventilated his heretical teaching, early in the third century, a.d. (about 210). He appears to have maintained that there was no real distinction of Persons in the Godhead. God, he said, was one individual Person: when different divine Persons were spoken of, no more was meant than different aspects of, or the assumption of different parts by, the same subject. Sabellius thus started from the ordinary usages of the term πρόσωπον as denoting (1) a mask, (2) a character or part in a drama. The Latin persona was used in the same way. Sabellianism never counted many adherents; its professors were called Patripassians, because their doctrine was tantamount to asserting that God the Father was crucified.


Photinus was a Galatian, who became Bishop of Sirmium (Mitrovitz in Slavonia) in the fourth century. He taught that Jesus Christ did not exist before His mother Mary, but was begotten of her by Joseph. The man Jesus, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting, was enlightened and guided by the influence of the Logos, or Divine Reason, whereby He became the Son of God, preeminent over all other prophets and teachers.


Arius was a presbyter of Alexandria; the origin of his heresy, however, is, as Cardinal Newman has shown, to be sought in Syria rather than in Egypt, in the sophistic method of the Antiochene schools more than in the mysticism of the Alexandrian. It was in the year 319 that Arius began to attract attention by his heterodox teaching, which led eventually to his excommunication. He found favour, however, with men of considerable importance in the Church, such as Eusebius of Cæsarea in Palestine, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Athanasius of Anazarbus, and others. The question was finally discussed in a synod of bishops convened, on the summons of the Emperor Constantine, at Nicæa in Bithynia. The acts of that Council condemned Arianism—notwithstanding which, the heresy prevailed in the East till the reign of Theodosius the Great (379–395 a.d.); and having won the acceptance of the Goths, it was predominant in Gaul and Italy during the fifth century, and in Spain till the Council of Toledo (589 a.d.), and its influence affected Christian thought for centuries afterwards—possibly it is not even yet dead.

Arius urged the following dilemma: “Either the Son is an original Divine Essence; if so we must acknowledge two Gods. Or He was created, formed, begotten; if so, He is not God in the same sense as the Father is God.” Arius himself chose the latter alternative, which St. Ambrose regarded as a lapse into paganism, with its “gods many and lords many,” dii majores and dii minores, and divinities begotten of gods and goddesses.

Arius’s errors are summarized in the anathema appended to the original Nicene Creed. “But those who say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that He had no existence before He was begotten, or that He was formed of things non-existent, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different substance or essence, or is created, mutable, or variable, these men the Catholic and Apostolic Church of God holds accursed.”


Compare Eph. 1:21, Col. 1:16. Hierarchies of “Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers,” were characteristic features of the Gnostic systems of the second century. The Gnostics generally thought that the world had been created by an inferior, secondary, limitary power, identified with the God of the Old Testament, whom they distinguished from the true Supreme God.


The A.V. of 1611 runs thus: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord” (Jahveh our God is one Jahveh).


Ex. iii. 15.


Ego Dominus; hoe est nomen meum.”—Vulg., Is. xlii. 8. “I am the Lord, that is My name.”—A.V. 1611, ibid.


The word Θεός, “God,” is derived by most authorities from θεᾶσθαι, which means “to look upon.” Here we have another derivation suggested, viz., from δέος, “fear,” on this ground that God inspires fear.—H. Neither derivation is correct. The best perhaps is given by Herodotus (II. 52), viz., from the verb τίθημι, to place, set, array, the idea being that God is the principal of all order and law.


S. Matt. xxviii. 19.


A similar argument in Gal. iii. 16.


S. John x. 30.


Cf. S. Matt. v. 48.


Athanasian Creed, clause 4.


Or “perfect fulness of Divinity, and perfect unity of power.”


S. Matt. 12:25, Ps. 2:25, Dan. 4:3.

Next: Chapter II. The Emperor is exhorted to display zeal in the Faith. Christ's perfect Godhead is shown from the unity of will and working which He has with the Father. The attributes of Divinity are shown to be proper to Christ, Whose various titles prove His essential unity, with distinction of Person. In no other way can the unity of God be maintained.

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