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One God in Three Persons

Celtic Christians embraced orthodox teaching.

A Celtic Christian Worldview (4)

But in essence what the Father is, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the same, and what the Son is, the Father and the Holy Spirit are the same, and what the Holy Spirit is, the Father and the Son are the same. But the number of ‘gods’ in the Trinity is not three; for while the distinctiveness of persons is preserved, the fullness of divinity is shared.

  - The Book of the Order of Creatures I.4[1]

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

  - Genesis 1.1, 2

The fourth century AD was a time of settling, unsettling, and resettling for the Christian Church. Persecution ceased, for the most part, following Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313, which granted Christians the right to worship, and allowed the Church to settle into a freedom and flourishing it had not known before.

But the freedom to preach and teach the Gospel encouraged heretical teachers, who made a name for themselves by challenging the deity first, of Jesus Christ, then later in the century, of the Holy Spirit. Factions developed around outspoken leaders, who were able at times to enlist the arm of the Roman State to suppress orthodox teaching and punish orthodox pastors, such as Athanasius, who was exiled from his pulpit seven times by heretical opponents.

But the faithful persevered in addressing these unsettling threats, and by the beginning of the fifth century, the tenets of Trinitarian orthodoxy had been well established. The heretics had been identified as such, and their following gradually diminished (except in those places north of the Alps, where Roman authority no longer extended; there the heresy of Arianism continued to hold sway). Having settled these crucial controversies, the Church enjoyed a season of growth and strengthening.

In 451, the Council of Chalcedon, an assembly of bishops, pastors, and theologians, drafted a formula that has remained definitive in identifying the one Triune God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three Persons, equal in substance and power, though differing in economic function (as to the work of salvation).

That the Celtic Christian movement was in touch with orthodox teaching from the earliest days is clear in the writings of Patrick, Columbanus, and here, in the Liber de Ordine Creaturarum. Section I.2 of the Liber sets forth the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in perfect alignment with, and using language reflective of, the orthodox teaching of the rest of Christendom. The Liber restates the point that each Person of the Trinity is God, but insists there is only one God, not three (as is claimed by some about Christianity even to this day), and the three Persons of the one God are equal in divinity and substance.

The word Trinity does not appear in the Scriptures. The true knowledge of God and of His nature had to be ferreted out of Scripture through diligent study of passages such as Genesis 1.1, 2, careful comparison of texts, extensive discussion and writing, and finally, common agreement at the Council of Chalcedon. Celtic Christians made sure that their own teaching was in line with the historic views of the Church, a practice, alas, from which many church teachers and preachers today have drifted.

The Christian worldview must be grounded in a right view of God, or it will fail to represent the true teaching of Scripture at some point. Our worldview begins in God because our lives in this world transpire coram deo – in the sight and under the authority of God – and our destination beyond this world is the eternal presence of God and His glory. We must get our view of God right, or else our faith will be “too small” and we will not be able to realize, as fully as we might, the great salvation God has provided for us in Jesus Christ.

As it was incumbent on those early Celtic Christians to line their teaching up with the orthodox heritage of the faith, so it is the duty of every generation of believers to make sure we are not departing from, or omitting to teach, anything that is relevant to our faith in God and our experience of His salvation. Celtic Christians were not exactly in the high-traffic lanes of the Christian movement in the 7th century. But they made it their business to study the history of the Christian movement, to understand the traditional teachings of the faith, and to bring their own instruction into line with the faith once for all handed down to the saints.

And this is the duty of all who are called to teach in the Kingdom of God, beginning with a true, accurate, expansive, mysterious, and glorious understanding of our God, our Creator, Lord, and Savior, one God in three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For Reflection
1.  Why do you think most Christians today have almost no knowledge of Church history? Is this a good thing?

2.  How would you be able to know if a teacher in your church was beginning to veer from orthodox Christian teaching?

Psalm 78.1-5 (Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
Give ear, O my people, attend to my word,
dark sayings and parables sent from the Lord,
things we have before by our fathers been told,
which we would not dare from our children withhold.

The glorious deeds of our God in His might,
and all of the works He has done in our sight,
together with all of the words of His Law,
would we on ourselves and our children bestow.

Thank You, Lord, for those faithful saints who have borne true witness to You down through the ages, so that I might…

Your vision of God

Seeing Jesus, exalted in glory (Col. 3.1-3), is the best way to improve our vision of God. Our 28-day devotional, Be Thou My Vision, follows Scripture and Celtic Christians as they lead us to focus more consistently and clearly on Jesus. Order your free copy by clicking here.

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T. M. Moore, Principal
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All Psalms for singing from
The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] Davies, pp. 1, 2

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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