Tuesday, May 21, 2002


Those who look carefully at orthodox Christian liturgy and writing after circa AD 400 will notice that the expression "one God" carries two distinct meanings, both of them with roots in the Bible.

1. The FIRST meaning is found in the Nicene Creed and also in prayers as the One to whom prayers are addressed. It is explained in these words: "I believe in one God, the Father almighty." This One God who is the Father has an unique and eternal relation to "the Son" who is the only-begotten Son of the Father. Prayer is offered to the Father (who is often just called "God") through the Son and with the Holy Spirit.

This usage takes up the meaning of the One God in the New Testament where He is named by the Lord Jesus Christ as "the Father' and "his Father."

Thus the Christian Confession is to believe in God the Father, together with His only-begotten Son and together with His Holy Spirit. This God, who is the Father, is worshipped in through and with the Son and by and with the Holy Spirit.

This FIRST meaning has never left the Church and is most clearly present in the Eucharistic Prayers of East and West (addressed to the Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit) and in most Collects.

2. The SECOND meaning became more prominent in the Church after the debates and controversies surrounding Arianism and is found in the famous statement "Three Persons, one God" or "one divine nature/substance and Three Persons." Here "God" ceases to be the personal Name and the equivalent of "the Father" and becomes the word for the ONE "Divinity" and "Deity" and "Divine Nature/Substance", the very Godhead possessed entirely by each of the Three Persons. Thus One in Three and Three in One, A Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity.

Here the Persons of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are seen as different from each other because of their differing relations to each other; but they are wholly equal to each other in that each one possesses the same, the identical Godhead/Deity/Substance/Divine Nature. The Divine Nature is not divided into Three but is possessed wholly and totally by each of the Three Persons, and thus there is One God only.

A wonderful statement of this SECOND meaning, and based on the teaching of St Augustine of Hippo, is found in the Creed called The Quicunque Vult (=the Athanasian Creed).

And in this tradition of understanding the expression, THE TRINITY, or THE HOLY TRINITY becomes a proper Name for Deity. Thus Churches and Colleges and Hospitals are consecrated in the Name of THE TRINITY and prayers are addressed to this TRIUNE GOD.

"O holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three Persons and One God: have mercy upon us miserable sinners" (Litany).

If you turn to the Proper Prefaces for Trinity Sunday in the Order for Holy Communion in the 1928 BCP of the Protestant Episcopal Church USA, you find that both these meanings are present.

In the traditional Anglican Preface (p.79) we have both meanings run together:

"Who [the Father], with thine only-begotten Son, and the Holy Ghost, art one GOD, one Lord in Trinity of Persons and in Unity of Substance. For that which we believe of thy glory, O Father, the same we believe of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, without any difference of inequality."

In the added preface which avoids "God" in the second meaning by using "eternal Godhead" we have:

"For the precious death and merits of thy [the Father's] Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and for the sending to us of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, who are one with thee in thy Eternal Godhead."

Then if you look at the Collect for Trinity Sunday you see that the Second meaning is prominent:

"Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity, we beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us steadfast in this faith..who livest and reignest, one God, world without end."

Only on Trinity Sunday does the Church in her Collect address the Holy Trinity as the One God. And in the BCP 1662, She also does so in the Preface for Trinity Sunday within the Prayer of Consecration.

However, when we move into the new type of Anglican prayer books - the books of alternative services (e.g. ECUSA 1979 prayer book) - we find that to these two meanings there is added at least one further meaning. This is the doctrine that GOD IS ONE PERSON who has three dominant Names/Modes/Aspects (God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit OR God:Creator, Redeemer & Sanctifier). Anyone who knows the history of doctrine will known that this Modalism is heretical and it has been anathematized as such by the Church in days past!

Let us worship the Father, through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and with His Holy Spirit, our Advocate & Comforter. Amen. AND, therefore, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, Three Persons and One God."

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon

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