These are some of the statements made by St. Irenaeus that I believe put him at odds with the Creed of Athanasius: The Trinity Delusion (St. Irenaenus)

Here are the threats of the Creed: Athanasian Creed

If he was not damned, or even excommunicated for his failure to adhere to the Catholic God/Gospel, why not?

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    Linking to two documents is not the same as presenting a cogent, reasoned argument. It seems we have to do all the deduction ourselves.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 2, 2019 at 22:45
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    I didn't see any statements at odds with the Trinity or the Athanasian creed. Could you perhaps be more specific in which quotes you are referring to and how it is at odds with the creed or how it suggests he is not Trinitarian? None I saw seem to be particularly problematic. Feb 2, 2019 at 23:03
  • There is no difference between Saint Irenaeus' statements, and the Trinitarian beliefs of Eastern Orthodoxy.
    – user46876
    Nov 18, 2021 at 5:19
  • @Lucian They sure sound different to me. Citations are provided along with rationale in the link.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 27, 2021 at 18:40

5 Answers 5


By its very nature, a dogma1 makes its deniers officially heretics (ipso facto at the least) only because of its dogmatic, unequivocal nature as taught unambiguously as the faith of the Church, by unanimity of the Fathers, or a General Council, or the Pope ex cathedra.2 Before something is made a dogma, it is simply be, for lack of a better word, unofficial official doctrine—the status quo of the Christian Church, to a more or less unanimous degree.

For example, before the Trintiy was dogmatized (against the hersey of Arianism), it was licit to have differing views on the precise nature of the relationship between the Father and the Son, as no teaching in any official, universal capacity was as yet made so as to be denied obstinately (and thus make heretics of its deniers). But you couldn't deny that the Son was God in general without being clearly having excised yourself by apostasy from the faith, the heart of which is the incarnation of God—Immanuel.

Paul didn't go around teaching that Jesus was homoousios with the Father in the city of Jerusalem, because no one had to be taught this in order for them to accept the doctrine of the divine Son of God—not because it wasn't true: an Arius would have to come along in order for such to be later insisted upon as a necessity.

Dogmas don't work retroactively. You can't bind someone pre-Nicaea to a precise Nicene understanding of the Trinity as though they had this precise understanding available to them. Cf. John 15:22.

So no, Irenaeus, and any Pre-Nicene Father was not a heretic as incurring guilt or excommunication, but of course they could have held that opinion which is objectively heretical, which are different things.

But even according to the Pre-Nicene leniency described above, Irenaeus didn't reject the divinity of Christ (e.g.) anyway.


Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I

The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: . . . one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father ‘to gather all things in one,' and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of *the invisible Father, ‘every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess; to him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all..."

Critics of the Trinity will conflate the identification of the Father as the only true God with that the Son or Holy Spirit are therefore obviously excluded from being God (since there is only one), but this ignores that a Trinitarian a) must accept that the Father is the only true God, since Scripture states it, and more importantly to the fallaciousness of this objection 2) believe the Son and the Holy Ghost ontologically owe their origin and nature to the Father, the only true God—this is what makes them God. The Trinity is in fact a lot closer to Modalism than anything else, since the distinction of the Persons is one that is not of nature, meaning all three Persons are equally eternal and equally have proper to them the ineffable, unique, and only divine nature: the onotological order of 'Father,' 'Son,' and 'Holy Ghost' are only ones of opposition of relation, not of order of coming into being—as soon as there is a Divine Nature, it is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The Father is the Divine Nature. The Son is the Divine Nature. The Holy Ghost is the Divine Nature. They are ineffably distinct in this way, but not as to their Nature—to be יהוה. They are the same God, but not the same person.

This is why the Trinitarin Creed doesn't say 'We believe in one God, the Father, and one God, the Son, and one God, etc.' But "We believe in one God, the Father, Maker of all things visible and invisible. .... and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God... etc.' only later to declare the divinity that flows from this Sonship of necessity and by its very nature.

This is perhaps synonymous with the objection that 'the Son is not God, He is the Son of God.' But this is a strawman of the Trinity if used as an objection thereto. This is because the Son is only called God because He shares one and the exact same nature with the Father, not because He is the Father (is 'God' in that Unitarian sense). That is 'Son of God' and 'God' are synonymous precisely because the Son is God by virtue of His nature being that of the Father, not because 'the Father' and 'the Son' refer to the same person. They do not: the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Ghost refer to the same God. Any time when the Father is called 'the only true God' it speaks of the fact that the Son and the Holy Ghost are ontologically distinct from this their [ontological] Origin, which can as being such be spoken of as 'the only' of its kind.

1 As used as a technical term, the word dogma means a doctrine declared by the Church in such a capacity as to bind all believers to its acceptance (usually/almost without exception in contradistinction to heretical versions of the doctrine, or its denial). It doesn't mean that before it enoyed this necessity of belief it was not true, or not believed.

2 The objective infalliblity of the doctrine in such instances simply means that since Christ promised His Church will not be overcome by the gates of Hell, not overthrowing of the faith will happen—which would have happened if a doctrine was taught in these respective capacities by necessity (e.g. the Pope binding the Church to a specific understanding of Scripture/doctrine would require all to believe it, hence it must, if Christ's Church really never will fail absolutely, be true and dogmatically so).

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    @curiousdannii I'm thankful for the hypothetical upvote, but I cannot apologize for what is your misunderstanding of the comparative adjective "closer." Comparative means it is not Modalism... The Trinity is a lot closer to Modalism than the accused 'poly'theism because the unity of the Divine Essence is, we might say, more important than recognition of the distinction of the Persons, ontologically speaking (only ontologically speaking, because you neither the unity of the Divine Essence, that there is only one, and the distinction of the Persons are expendible facts about God). Feb 3, 2019 at 14:12
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    "So if the scriptures were to say that Jesus' substance was not one and the same as the Father's, then the Trinity bubble would pop?" No, no doctrine of Christianity is subject to later revision or testing. That reading of Scripture would simply be invalid. Otherewise we'd have the sola scriptura mess and countless 'denominations' all 'just going by what the Bible says.' And going with every wind of doctrine and thought in their mind—or should I say 'guidance of the Holy Spirit.' I fundamentally reject the claim that the faith was not a once-for-all deposit, in any of its forms. Feb 3, 2019 at 14:16
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    Scripture doesn't speak to later specific theological distinctions is the whole point (my point about St. Paul). You don't need to use homoousios in order to speak of the Son as God, for example. You can believe on without having a clue about the other or the logical distinctions involved. Feb 3, 2019 at 14:17
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    I don't understand what value you see in making modalism look better than other heresies. It doesn't contribute to the answer and might mislead people into thinking it's less a catastrophic error than it is.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 3, 2019 at 14:26
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    I find it more important to stress the unity of God than the distinction of Persons who are that God. This is because today, the greatest and most prevalent attack on and misunderstanding of the Trinity is that it is 'poly' (many) theism (many gods). Insisting on the real distinction of the Persons just fuels this misunderstanding (in their minds). In truth, the Trinity is closer (a relative term) to Modalism than other Trinitarian heresies because the distinction of the Persons is closer to a virtual one than the anthropomorphic language we (rightly) insist on using of the Persons. Feb 3, 2019 at 14:31

Irenaeus became the bishop of Lyons about 178 AD. There are two major works by him known to us:

  1. Against Heresies and
  2. Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

The purpose of this article is to discuss Irenaeus’ view of the nature of Christ (his Christology). In the quotes below, “P” stands for Proof of the Apostolic Preaching while “I” to “V” stand for the first five books of Against Heresies. Where I used more than one quote from a page, I added a, b or c.

Irenaeus’ writings are available from Earlychristianwritings.


The analysis of Irenaeus’ writings below concludes that, according to Irenaeus, the Father created all things but He created all things “through Christ Jesus.” Irenaeus describes the Father as the “One God, the Almighty,” as the only God and as the true God who “contains all things.”

By describing the Father as the Supreme God Almighty, the Most High, God of all, as ruling over all, who alone knows the very day and hour of judgment, Irenaeus indicated that the Son is subordinate to the Father. This is emphasized by statements such as that:

  1. Jesus Christ became flesh according to the good pleasure of the Father” (I,9,2), that
  2. He has received dominion over all creation from His Father (III,6a), and that
  3. The Father is greater than Christ (II,28) and the Head of Christ" (V,18; cf. 1 Cor 2:3).

Although Irenaeus described the Father as the “one God” and as the “only God,” and the Son is subordinate to the Father, Irenaeus also described Jesus Christ as “eternally co-existing with the Father” (e.g., II,30) and as “God” (e.g., I,10,1). However, even in the phrases which referred to Jesus as God, Irenaeus described the Son as subordinate to the Father God. For example:

"He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, the same is Lord of all, and King, and God, and Judge, receiving power from Him who is the God of all" (III,12a).

Irenaeus gave two reasons why the Son is called God, namely:

He is the visible image of the invisible Father and "That which is begotten of God is God" (P47).

To understand why Irenaeus was able to refer to the Son as "God" but still as subordinate to the Father, we need to understand the meaning of the Greek word which Irenaeus used, which is the word theos:

One of the possible meanings of theos is "God," which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe.” But theos also has a range of other possible meanings, such as:

  1. Beings empowered by God to represent Him, such as Moses (Exo 7:1), and
  2. People "to whom the word of God came" (John 10:35; cf. Psalm 82).

To describe a being as theos, therefore, does not mean that that being is God. A being is God if He is the almighty originator of the universe, as Merriam-Webster defined the title. Irenaeus described only the Father as such.


The Father

Irenaeus repeated the same concepts many times over. The following is one of his typical statements about the Father:

"The beginning of all things is God. For He Himself was not made by any, and by Him all things were made. And therefore, it is right first of all to believe that there is One God, the Father, who made and fashioned all things" (P4).

This statement is explicitly about the Father and says that:

The Father created all things.

He is the uncaused Cause of all things. Elsewhere, Irenaeus refers to the Father as “Maker of heaven, and earth,” and that He “created all things,” or “grants existence to all” (I,10,1; II,1; III,1; III,6b; III,8; III,12c; IV,5,1-2; IV,20,2b,c; P6).

The Father is “One God.”

Irenaeus was quite fond of the phrase “one God,” also expressed as “One God, the Almighty” (I,9,2; cf. I,10,1; III,1; III,12c; IV,1; IV,6b; IV,20,2a,b,c; V,18; V,22; P5). This is related to the New Testament's “one God”-statements in which the "one God" always refers to the Father (John 5:44; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:5-6; 1 Tim 2:5). Irenaeus also quoted these verses, for example:

"The Apostle Paul in like manner (stated), 'There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father, who is above all, and through all, and in us all'" (IV,32; cf. Eph 4:5-6).

The following is another one of Irenaeus’s typical statements:

"There is shown forth One God, the Father, not made, invisible, creator of all things; above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And, since God is rational, therefore by [the] Word He created the things that were made." (P5)

This statement again refers to the Father as “One God” and as the Creator. But it adds the following:

The Father is the only God.

As Irenaeus stated, above and after the Father, there is no other God. Irenaeus frequently stated that the Father is the only God. For example, he would describe Jesus Christ as “the only-begotten Son of the Only God” (I,9,2) or state, “the Father is the Only God and Lord, who Alone is God and ruler of all” (III,9a; cf. II,1; II,28; III,6b; III,6c; III,9b; III,25; IV,Preface; IV,1).

That the Father is the only God seems to be the meaning of the “one God” statements above. These two thoughts are integrated in categorical statements such as:

  • “There is One Almighty God” (III,11a)
  • “There is One God, the Maker of this universe” (III,11b; III,12b)

The Father is the true God.

Irenaeus identified the Father as the “true God” and as the “only true God” (III,15). For example:

"The apostles taught the Gentiles that they should leave vain wood and stones … and worship the True God, who had created and made all the humanity … and that they might look for His Son Jesus Christ" (III,5; cf. V,22).

The Father created all things by the Word.

As quoted above from P5, "by [the] Word He [the one God] created the things that were made." Elsewhere, Irenaeus stated this principle as that:

“Through Him all things were made by the Father” (P5) or, The Father created all things “through Christ Jesus” (III,4; cf. III,11a; IV,20,1; IV,20,2b)

The Father “contains all things.”

This interesting quote from (IV,20,2c) makes me think of the principle that God is not somewhere in the universe, rather, the universe is somewhere in God. Elsewhere, Irenaeus described “God the Creator” as “the Only God … alone containing all things” (II,1). Perhaps a related statement made by Irenaeus is that “the Father Himself is Alone called "God", who has a real existence" (II,28). In other words, the existence of everything else is dependent on the Father's existence.

Christ Jesus

Irenaeus contrasted Jesus Christ to the Father with phrases such as:

"The Church … has received … this faith: One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation, and in the Holy Spirit …" (I,10,1; cf. I,9,2; III,1; IV,6b)

This sounds very similar to the opening phrase on the Nicene Creed, formulated more than a hundred years later:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Earlychurchtexts)

The One Christ Jesus

In Irenaeus’ statements, Jesus is the “one Christ Jesus” or the “one Jesus Christ” in contrast to the Father, who is the “One God.” The New Testament does not refer to Jesus as “one Christ Jesus” or as “one Jesus Christ,” but, in contrast to the “one God,” the New Testament does refer to Jesus as “one Lord” (Eph 4:5-6; 1 Cor 8:6). Apparently, the New Testament’s “one God” and “one Lord” statements were foundational for Irenaeus’ Christology. This is how it should be, for these statements are specifically formulated to explain the relationship between the Father and the Son. Theologians often mistakenly rely on less clear statements to formulate faulty Christologies. 

The Father is Supreme.

As indicated by the following quotes, Irenaeus described the Father as above all, God Almighty, the Most High, God of all, the Supreme King, God over all, and as ruling over all:

"The Father is above all things for 'the Father,' says He, 'is greater than I'" (II,28).

The Father is “God Almighty, The Most High, The Creator, The Maker” (II,35; cf. P8) - “the God of all, the Supreme King” (III,5).

"He it is who is God over all" (IV,5,1-2; cf. P5). “God the Father (is) ruling over all” (III,6a)

“Therefore One God, the Father is declared, who is above all" (Book V,18; cf. IV,20,2a).

The Father is Almighty.

Irenaeus used the term “Almighty” frequently, but always only for the Father; never for Christ. For example, the following is a quote by Irenaeus from 1 Corinthians 8:6, to which he added “Almighty” to the description of the Father, as well as “a firm belief in the Spirit of God:”

"A full faith in One God Almighty, of whom are all things, and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things … and a firm belief in the Spirit of God" (IV,33).

Since Irenaeus identified the Father alone as the “Almighty,” the Son is not Almighty.

The Son is subordinate to the Father.

Irenaeus described the subordinate position of the Son in phrases such as:

Jesus Christ “became flesh” “according to the good pleasure of the Father” (I,9,2). Every knee will bow to Jesus “according to the will of the invisible Father” (I,10,1).

The Father alone knows the very day and hour of judgment” (II,28; cf. Matt 24:36)

"'The Father,' says He, 'is greater than I'" (II,28; cf. John 14:28).

“His Son … has received dominion from His Father over all creation” (III,6a)

“'He shall he great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest'” (III,16);

“The Father is indeed above all, and He is the Head of Christ" (V,18; cf. 1 Cor 2:3).

The Son always existed.

Although the Son is subordinate to the Father, He always existed:

“Pre-existing with the Father, begotten before all the creation of the world” (P30);

“Eternally co-existing with the Father” (II,30; cf. IV,6; IV,20,1; IV,20,2a);

I have found that people struggle to understand how Christ could be eternal but still be subordinate to the Father. We need to remember that, to say that Jesus always existed means that He existed for as long as time existed, but time had a beginning - 13 billion years ago with the big bang (NASA). There is no time in the infinity beyond this universe. But that Infinity contains the real substance of our existence because it is the Source of the power and intelligence that brought forth this universe. In that infinity, the Son was begotten of the Father. But beyond that, we should say nothing of that infinity because that has not been revealed to us.

The Son is God.

Although he described the Father as the “one God” and as the “only God,” and although he described the Son as subordinate to the Father, Irenaeus described the Son also as “God” (I,10,1; III,15; III,19,2; IV,5,1-2; IV,6c; P40; P47). However, even in the phrases which refer to Jesus as God, Irenaeus described the Son as subordinate to the Father God:

"To Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, every knee should bow" (I,10,1).

"The apostles of freedom called no one else 'God,' or named him 'Lord,' except the Only true God, the Father, and His Word" (III,15).

"He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, the same is Lord of all, and King, and God, and Judge, receiving power from Him who is the God of all" (III,12a).

Irenaeus gave two reasons why the Son is called God:

"The Father is the invisible of the Son, but the Son the visible of the Father. And for this reason all spoke with Christ … and they named Him God" (IV,6c).

"That which is begotten of God is God" (P47).

The translation of theos

To understand why Irenaeus was able to refer to the Son as "God" but still as subordinate to the Father, we need to understand the meaning of the Greek word which Irenaeus used, which is the word theos.

The title "God" defined

Merriam-Webster defines the term “God” as “a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe.”

Only one “omnipotent” (almighty) Being is possible. If there were more than one, one would limit the power of the other. There can also only be one “originator … of the universe.”

Sola Gratia proposes a different definition for “God.” He says that any being that has “the exact same nature with the Father” is God. However, we cannot each have his or her own definition of “God.” That is what dictionaries are for. If we have different definitions for the same word, we will talk past one another.

Consider the historical development of the title “God:"

The meaning of theos

The Greek word, that is translated as "God," is theos. In the ancient Greek culture, theos was used for the pantheon of the Greek gods such as Zeus, the god of heaven, Hera, Queen of the gods, Poseidon, God of the seas, and many others. The gods were thought of as immortal beings with supernatural powers over nature and mankind.

When Greek became the common language of the Empire, the Jews translated the Hebrew elohim as the Greek theos. Since elohim, in the Hebrew culture, was used for the true God but also for a range of other beings, theos took on the same meanings in Jewish and Christian writings, which included:

  • Any immortal being with supernatural powers;
  • Beings empowered by God to represent Him, such as Moses (Exo 7:1), and
  • People "to whom the word of God came" (John 10:35; cf. Psalm 82).

The meaning of “God”

The original New Testament, written in Greek, was written only in capital letters. The same applies to Iranaeus' writings. (He wrote in Greek.)

But, over the centuries, the distinction between upper- and lower-case letters developed. With that, over time, came the practice to capitalize the G and to use the word “God” to refer to one specific being, namely the One who exists without cause. In other words, we use the word “God,” with an upper case G, as the name for one specific Being, namely the One who exists without cause.

How the ancient writers distinguished

However, when the original New Testament was written, and when Irenaeus wrote, these writers did not have a word that is equivalent to "God." Given the broad range of meanings of the word theos, Irenaeus and the other pre-Nicene fathers could refer to both the Father and Jesus Christ as theos. But they distinguished the Father from the other theos-beings in various other ways. Irenaeus (and the Bible writers), for example, as quoted above, described the Father as:

  • The “one God,”
  • “The only God,”
  • “The Almighty,”
  • "One God … who is above all" and
  • “The True God,” and
  • “The Father … who Alone is God."

To make sure that the reader understands, Irenaeus stated this also negatively, namely, “there is no other God” (P5).

How to translate theos

By means of such techniques, and by describing the Father as the Head of Christ, and as greater than Christ, Irenaeus represented Christ as subordinate to the Father. The point is that, as Irenaeus described Him, the Son is not “God” as defined above by Merriam-Webster, namely the omnipotent (almighty), omniscient originator of the universe. Given this definition, and given Irenaeus’ Christology, only the Father is “God” in modern English. Consequently, theos, when used by Irenaeus for Jesus, should not be translated as "God."

On the other hand, to translate theos as "god" when it describes Jesus is also not acceptable because, in Christian circles, the title "god" is often understood as referring to false gods. That is a dilemma for translators to sort out.

God from God

Consider again the statement which Irenaeus made in P47: "That which is begotten of God is God." This reminds me of the Nicene Creed, which reads:

God from God, light from light, true God from true God

Since the word theos, which is translated four times in this verse as "God," merely means "god," and in the ancient Greek language, simply means an immortal being with supernatural powers, all that Irenaeus meant was that, since the Father is an immortal being with supernatural powers, and since Jesus Christ is the only begotten of God, He is also an immortal being with supernatural powers. If that is correct, then Irenaeus' statement must be translated as "That which is begotten of god is god."

However, the Nicene Creed adds the word "true" before "theos." As we have seen, both the New Testament and Irenaeus use the phrase "true theos" only for the Father (III,15; III,5; V,22; John 17:3; 1 Thess 1:9; 1 John 5:20). (For a discussion of 1 John 5:20, see the article on theos.)

Therefore, the question is, what does the Nicene Creed mean by "true theos? Does it mean that Jesus Christ is "God" in the modern sense of the word, or that He truly is an immortal being with supernatural powers? For a discussion, see the article on the interpretation of the Nicene Creed. 


In the quotes above, Irenaeus used the title “Lord” many times and for both the Father and for Jesus Christ. This is also not proof that Jesus is “God” as defined above. The same principles that apply to the title “God,” also apply to the title “Lord,” namely that Irenaeus applied the title “Lord” to the Father in a special sense, for he refers to the Father as the “only Lord” and as “the true Lord:”

“The Father is the Only God and Lord” (III,9a).

“God the Creator … since He is the Only God, the Only Lord, the Only Creator, the Only Father” (II,1).

“It was the true Lord and the One God … the same did Christ point out as the Father” (V,22).

Similar to theos, the Greek word that is translated as “lord” ([kurios][5]) has a wide range of meanings:

On the low end of the spectrum, it can simply be a respectful form of address to somebody in a more senior position, similar to “sir” or “master.”

But exalted beings, such as kings and gods were also addressed as “lord.”

Given the exalted view which the New Testament and Irenaeus have of “the only-begotten Son of the Only God” (I,9,2), such as that He "eternally co-existed with the Father” (II,30) and “has received dominion from His Father over all creation” (III,6a) so that every knee in heaven and on earth must bow to Him (I,10,1), Jesus Christ is most appropriately called “Lord.”

However, given the clear distinction between the “one God” (the Father) and the "one Lord, Jesus Christ" that is made by the “one God” statements (e.g., 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:4-6; 1 Titus 2:5), Jesus is not "Lord" in the same sense as the Father. Rather, “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).

Triadic passages

One of the major ‘proofs” of the ‘divinity’ of Christ and of the Trinity is the triadic passages, which are passages in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned together, for example, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). Irenaeus also mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit many times together in a single passage (e.g., I,10,1; IV,6b; IV,20,1). These passages do include the Son and the Holy Spirit in “the divine identity,” if I may borrow a term from Richard Bauckham. However, we need to respect the clear statements in both the New Testament and Irenaeus’ writings that the Father is the “only true God” (III,15; John 17:3).


Irenaeus believed that the Father is “the only and the true God,” who also created all things. He alone is “Almighty.” He wrote that “every knee should bow” to Jesus because that is “the will of the invisible Father.” Irenaeus saw Christ as distinct from God and subordinate to the Father, explicitly quoting from the Bible that the Father is “the Head of Christ.” None of the quotes say that the Holy Spirit is self-aware. There is also no mention of one substance or of Christ’s proposed dual nature.

According to what I quoted above from Irenaeus, he was no philosopher. He simply takes the Scriptures as they are. However, he emphasized verses that Trinitarians avoid.

The purpose of the mini-series of articles is to determine whether the church fathers in the first three centuries believed in the Trinity. If we use Irenaeus, writing in the late second century, as a norm, then the answer must be a loud and clear "no." 

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    The above answer was copied from Was the pre-Nicene church father Irenaeus a Trinitarian?. The entire answer should be put into ">" quotation. Otherwise, it's still plagiarism even if one copies one's own work. Oct 17, 2021 at 23:06
  • @RayButterworth No, I wrote this article myself. But I do not understand your question. Where do you see a copy of this article?
    – Andries
    Oct 18, 2021 at 3:55
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    Nice compendium of Irenaeus' Christology! But you didn't really answer the question. Oct 18, 2021 at 9:47
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    @AndriesJacobusvanNiekerk, I know you wrote it yourself, and I provided a link to your original version. ¶ There is nothing wrong with quoting yourself, but if you don't make it obvious that it is a quotation from somewhere else, that makes it a form of plagiarism as it looks like you wrote the material specifically for this question on this site. Oct 18, 2021 at 12:44
  • @MartinHemsley - I agree that I did not answer the question. One of the other answers was that the question is invalid because it claimed that "Irenaeus was a trinitarian." I was more interested in that aspect of the question.
    – Andries
    Oct 18, 2021 at 15:48

Irenaeus was a trinitarian. The citation provided in the OP simply misunderstands Irenaeus' thoughts and words.

And through the Word Himself who had been made visible and palpable, was the Father shown forth, although all did not equally believe in Him; but all saw the Father in the Son: for the Father is the invisible of the Son, but the Son the visible of the Father. And for this reason all spake with Christ when He was present [upon earth], and they named Him God. Yea, even the demons exclaimed, on beholding the Son: “We know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God.” And the devil looking at Him, and tempting Him, said: “If Thou art the Son of God;”—all thus indeed seeing and speaking of the Son and the Father, but all not believing [in them]. AH IV VI 6

As well, there are other proofs of what Irenaeus truly thought.

  1. Therefore neither would the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the apostles, have ever named as God, definitely and absolutely, him who was not God, unless he were truly God; nor would they have named any one in his own person Lord, except God the Father ruling over all, and His Son who has received dominion from His Father over all creation, as this passage has it: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” Here the [Scripture] represents to us the Father addressing the Son; He who gave Him the inheritance of the heathen, and subjected to Him all His enemies. Since, therefore, the Father is truly Lord, and the Son truly Lord, the Holy Spirit has fitly designated them by the title of Lord. And again, referring to the destruction of the Sodomites, the Scripture says, “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah fire and brimstone from the Lord out of heaven.” For it here points out that the Son, who had also been talking with Abraham, had received power to judge the Sodomites for their wickedness. And this [text following] does declare the same truth: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee.”3331 For the Spirit designates both [of them] by the name, of God—both Him who is anointed as Son, and Him who does anoint, that is, the Father. AH III VI 1
  • 1
    I don't see Trinity, three in one, the number three, eternally co-equal, glory the same, etc. in that quote. He discusses the ways that he can be legitimately called "God" and the limits. You will hear of the "two powers" from Jews and non-Trinitarians alike. That is a feature of scripture. What is a matter of creed are those 44 assertions, none of which except the most banal appear in the scriptures.
    – Ruminator
    Feb 2, 2019 at 23:06
  • 1
    @Ruminator Oh! But it does.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 3, 2019 at 3:34

Irenaeus was born circa. 130 and died about 200 A.D. Athanasius lived 293 - 373 A.D. That, in itself, would explain why Irenaeus could not come under the Athanasian curses in the Creed, because Irenaeus was bone dead by the time those curses were proclaimed.

However, Irenaeus WAS a believer in the doctrine that came to be known as "the Trinity", which is the reason why he could never come under those curses. The Athanasian Creed

"...was written in Latin, probably in Gaul in the late fifth century, and was directed against the 'modalism' (similar to Sabellianism) which Priscillianism had revived in Gaul and Spain in the fourth and following centuries, and against the Arianism of the Goths and Vandals, which made the Son and the Spirit into second- and third-rank divinities." The History of Christianity p169 (Lion, 1985)

I mention this as even in the 21st century we see supporters of Modalism and Sabellianism and Arianism trying to attack those in centuries past who exposed such views. And poor old Irenaeus is a favourite target of theirs. He is much maligned and misquoted, in scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel efforts to denigrate the Trinity doctrine. That had been going on in John Calvin's day and he even wrote about it, to expose the twisters at work back then. Here's what Calvin said:

"27. Our adversaries falsely appeal to Irenaeus. They pile up many passages from Irenaeus [Against Heresies III vi.4] where he declares the Father of Christ to be the sole and eternal God of Israel. This is either shameful ignorance or consummate depravity. For they ought to have considered that that saintly man was dealing and contending with fanatics who denied that the Father of Christ was that same God who had of old spoken through Moses and the prophets, but fancied a sort of specter produced from the corruption of the world. Therefore he [Irenaeus] is wholly concerned with this point: to make it plain that no other God is proclaimed in Scripture than the Father of Christ, and that it is wrong to imagine another. ...In Chapter 6 of Book 3... the godly man insists on this one thing, "that he who in Scripture is called God in an absolute and undifferentiated sense is in truth the only God, and that Christ indeed is called God in an absolute sense." (Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol I, Chap XIII - In Scripture, from the creation onwards, we are taught one essence of God, which contains three Persons; ed. John T McNeill, Westminster)

Five centuries on from Calvin, the same kind of abuse against Irenaeus is seen in published partial, and cobbled quotes from Irenaeus, in an attempt to say that Trinitarians cannot claim him as a believer in the deity of Christ. I've got a booklet here that claims that "Irenaeus said that the prehuman Jesus had a separate existence from God and was inferior to him. He showed that Jesus is not equal to" God. The publishers of that booklet made no attempt to explain such quotes as Calvin brought to our attention, Irenaeus stating "that he who in Scripture is called God in an absolute and undifferentiated sense is in truth the only God, and that Christ indeed is called God in an absolute sense."

If people cherry-pick ancient literature to claim a Christian taught against what has come to be known as the Trinity doctrine, when full examination of those writings shows the opposite, then one has to wonder if they are modern-day supporters of ancient heresies those saints of yore exposed. Well, John Calvin was no slouch when it came to acquaintance with ancient literature and doctrines of the Church. It should be a lesson to us today to dig deep into Church history, to discover the hall-mark of heretical teachings that just won't lie down and die. And one trend seems to be partially quoting from, and cobbling together, bits of the old saints' writings that can be presented by them as supporting their own ideas. There's nothing new in that. Nobody should be surprised that it's gone on from shortly after the Church was established and got going, down to this very day.

You asked if Irenaeus failed to adhere to the Catholic God/Gospel, but on the matter of the deity of Christ, he adhered staunchly to the Bible God and the biblical gospel of Christ. Indeed, he is acclaimed as "The earliest theological leader of distinction in the rising church" (Williston Walker). He was a great contender against the Gnostics. In Pilgrim Theology he is listed first under the caption "Key Defenders of the Trinity in the Ancient Church". It states:

"Bishop of Lyons and student of Polycarp (who was a disciple of John the apostle). Known especially for his defense of Christianity against gnosticism (Against Heresies)." (p101, Michael Horton, Zondervan 2011)

As Irenaeus was a trinitarian (before the doctrine was finalised and put into credal form), that is why he was never 'damned'.


Reposting this answer to another question, because it seems relevant here as well; hopefully, this will provide the OP with a better understanding of the organic connection between the two:

The late, great Father Thomas Hopko, former Dean of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, had the following to say, in a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio:

Now here we have to see a very important point for Trinitarian theology, and that is that in the Bible, in the Scriptures, and then, therefore, in the creeds—and particularly the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which became the creedal statement for ancient Christianity and remains the baptismal, liturgical creed for Eastern Orthodox churches and most Christian churches to this very day, [...] it’s very important, really critically important, to note and to affirm and to remember that the one God in whom we believe, strictly speaking, is not the Holy Trinity. The one God is God the Father. In the Bible, the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. He is God who sends his only-begotten Son into the world, and Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Then, of course, in a parallel manner, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of God, that the Holy Spirit, being the Spirit of God, is therefore also the Spirit of Christ, the Messiah, because the Christ is the Son of God, upon whom God the Father sends and affirms his Holy Spirit.

I think that this is very important, because there are wrong understandings of the Holy Trinity:

  • First of all, there are those who deny that there even is a Trinity of divine Persons or divine Hypostases. They just do not understand the proper relationship between Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God, his Father, and the Holy Spirit. So some, who might be called Unitarians or Adoptionists, or—there’s different names for them—they would say that the one God is just a uni-Personal Monad or God, and he has no Son; he does not beget; the divinity is his and his alone; and everything that exists in addition to the one God is a creature, has been created by God, has been brought into being out of nothing by God, but is certainly not an element of the very divinity and being of God himself; it doesn’t belong to God as such.

  • On the other hand, there is another terrible error, and the other terrible error, usually called Modalism in technical theological terminology, is where people say there is one God who is the Holy Trinity: there is he who is the Trinity. And we Orthodox Christians, following Scripture and the creedal statements and the liturgical prayers, can never say there is one God who is the Trinity.

There is one God who is the Father, and this one God who is the Father has with him eternally, whom he begets timelessly before all ages, his only-begotten Son, who is also his Logos, his Word, and also his Ḥokmot, his Sophia, his Wisdom, also his Eikona, his Icon, his Image. But this Wisdom and Word and Image and Icon of God is divine with the very same divinity as God, the one, true, and living God, because he is who he is, and he’s another who from the Father. There are three whos. There is he who is the Father, he who is the Son, and he who is the Holy Spirit. Those three whos are called the three Persons or three Hypostases.

But it is important to remember that the one God is the Father of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God. As the Nicene Creed said, “He is God from God, true God from true God.” Here the Christians would say and insist that the one God and Father, from all eternity, has with him his Son. He has with him his Son, who is of the very same divinity as he is and who was born from him, who comes forth from him, who proceeds from him; and that this one, true, and living God also has with himself his Spirit, who proceeds from him, who comes forth from him.

So what we believe is that Jesus is God’s Son. Also, in St. John’s gospel, it said, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God and the Logos was divine.” He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and nothing came to be that is, except through him, including the very existence and life of all that exists. In him was life; in him was light. But we Orthodox Christians interpret these sentences of Scripture to show that the Logos really is divine with the same divinity as the Father. Then, in the prologue of St. John’s gospel, it says, “And the Logos became flesh, and he pitched his tent among us. He dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” In other words, as the Nicene Creed would say:

The only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not created, who for us men and for our salvation, came from heaven…

Came from the realm of God. That’s what heaven means. It’s not a geographical, physical, located space. “Came down from heaven” means comes from the realm of God. “...came down from heaven and was incarnate”—sarkōthenta, became fleshed, was enfleshed, and became human. You have those two words that he became flesh and he became human. He became human. Born of the Virgin Mary, he became human. So he who was divine became human.

When we say he’s truly divine, then we can call him God. St. Thomas, in the Bible, did call him God: “My Lord and my God.” The Logos is called God. Some of the sentences of St. Paul can be read as if Jesus can be called God. It depends a little bit on punctuation, but, like “Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”: “Our great God-and-Savior, Jesus Christ,” not “Our great God, and the Savior, Jesus Christ.” Even other Old Testament terms, like calling him Lord in a divine manner: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand.’ ” Well, he’s using the same term for the one who sits at his right hand as for God himself, because “Lord” means “Yahweh,” and “Yahweh” is God. “Theos Kyrios”: God is the Lord; the Lord is God, and Kyrios is Yahweh in the Bible.

When I was a seminarian, many years ago, I went to my professor of dogmatic theology, Professor Serge Verhovskoy, and I said to him, “Prof”—everybody called him “Prof”—“I don’t find the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in the Bible. I don’t think it’s in the Bible.” Of course, in those days, I had a very skewed idea of the Trinity. I thought of the Trinity as sort of one God who is somehow three. I thought of it as like three-leaf clovers or like three elements of water, that water could be liquid, water could be steam, and water could be ice. Actually, I came to learn that, in fact, those symbolisms are Modalistic. They’re Modalistic symbolisms; they’re not accurate. You can speak of God as fountain and stream or something like fire and heat and warmth and so on, as emanating from the one God and Father through his Son and his Spirit, but not all analogies are apt, not all are good ones, and three-leaf clovers and three forms of H2O and so on, those are not happy images, because they give the very wrong idea.

Here, very interestingly, the Church Fathers of the fourth century, like Gregory the Theologian and Basil the Great and Ambrose of Milan and Hilary of Poitiers and Gregory of Nyssa, they would have never said that God the Father is of one essence with the Son. They would only say that the Son is of one essence with the Father, because the Son’s divinity is the Father’s divinity. The Son is God from God. He is a divine Person, a divine Hypostasis, from the one God.

Whether we think of the one Person of the Father, who is never devoid of his Son and Spirit, whether we think of the one divinity—and here we should notice, by the way, that in Eastern Orthodoxy, the term “Triune God” is not a traditional formula. In fact, I believe you never find it in any liturgical prayer ever, the expression “Triune God.” You find the expression “Tri-Personal, tri-Hypostatic divinity,” “Theotēs” in Greek, “Bozhestvo” in Slavonic, but not “Theos” or “Bog.” There is no tri-Personal Theos, God. There is the one Theos, kai Patera, the one God and Father: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” That’s the one God. But then that one God is Father eternally with his Son, who is God from God, and with his Holy Spirit.

Interestingly enough, the Nicene Creed does not call the Holy Spirit “Theos, God.” Gregory the Theologian was the first one to do that, and he did it in the fourth century. St. Athanasius, when he wrote the letters to Serapion proving the divinity of the Holy Spirit, never called him “Theos,” because the Bible never calls him “Theos.” St. Basil the Great, when he wrote his treatise, On the Holy Spirit, he never called the Holy Spirit “Theos,” and Gregory the Theologian was angry with him. He said, “You’re a coward. You have to do it. The Spirit is divine with the same divinity as God the Father and the Son.” And Basil said, “Yes, he is, but let’s be careful with our language. We’re having enough trouble with the Son of God; not to get in trouble with the Holy Spirit yet.”

He did call, and Nicaea did call the Son “God from God,” but it didn’t call the Spirit “God from God.” It could have, and later on, of course, it became very clear, and then, later on, the Holy Spirit is also called “Theos, God.” But we should be honest and clear and know that biblically it is never done. The closest thing in the Bible is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit with Ananias and Sapphira, when it says they lied to God. They said, “Why did you lie to the Holy Spirit? You lied to God.” So if you lie to the Holy Spirit, you definitely lie to God the Father, whose Spirit the Holy Spirit is.

Keeping in harmony with the ideas expressed above, I am also reposting the following explanation, from a down-voted answer to a previously asked question:

Let us recall that, while Adam (meaning Man) may not have been the only human in the Bible, he certainly is the only one to have borne the name of our entire species in his own person; with all of this in mind, let us now adduce the following reasoning: Just as Adam's (Man's) humanity does not infringe upon that of the beings descended from his own flesh and blood (Genesis 2:23), despite his being the only person in the entire Scripture to have ever borne the name Man as his own personal name, in virtue of his being the one father of all mankind, so also the divinity of the one God and Father does not necessarily deter other possible divine persons (personifying His various divine attributes, as Eve did with Adam's) from possibly sharing in the same divinity; notice also how the very next verse (Genesis 2:24) perfectly mirrors or resembles Christ's own idea of family unity, expressed in John 10:30.

Posting as community wiki, since none of the ideas presented here are of my own creation.

  • 2
    For those of us with poor eyesight, reading the subscripted text < sub > is difficult to read. Just a thought.
    – agarza
    Nov 28, 2021 at 4:56
  • @agarza: Push come to shove, I prefer antsy writing to a wall of text; press CTRL+ to zoom in, and CTRL- to zoom out.
    – user46876
    Nov 28, 2021 at 5:01

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