Articles of Religion: Article 1, Part 1

Barron Von Strauss, who runs a theological FaceBook group that I admin, challenged any of the senior admins to write explanations of the Anglican 39 Articles of Religion. Being one of the least qualified to undertake the challenge and with the blessing of the primary Anglican minister in the group, I will write a brief explanation of each Article as time permits.

  1. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
    There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The first several articles apply universally to all Christians who affirm the three Ecumenical Creeds (more on the creeds in a later post). Christians affirm that God is one. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 commands us to listen and believe these words, “Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” We know that there are no other gods before Him because there are no other living and true gods that are “everlasting, without body, parts, or passions.”

We affirm that God is everlasting because He created all things, including this world, time, and space. Isaiah 40 describes the greatness of God. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is unsearchable.” (Isa. 40:28) Isaiah tells us that there is none equal to God, that “he sits above the circle of the earth,” and that He has the power to govern all that is in the earth and in the heavens. The immensity of God’s power and eternity is too much for finite minds to grasp, yet He chose prophets to make Himself known to us. (More on another more significant way He made Himself known to us in a later post.)

God is “without body, parts, or passions.” He does not change. For much of church history, Christians have affirmed the simplicity and impassibility of God to establish the Creator/creature distinction, which is so clearly laid out in Isaiah 40. Creatures are given existence, yet God is His own existence, which is not derived from any causes. God is that which is uncaused. In His five proofs for the existence of God, Thomas Aquinas presented an argument from efficient cause, which states that efficient cause is the primary source of change, like the knowledge a carpenter has when creating a table. Just like a table is unable to be its own cause, the world came into existence through a primary efficient cause. Since efficient causes do not extend ad infinitum into the past, it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, which we call God.

Since God is His own existence and not derived from other causes, He cannot be put together with parts, which can add or subtract from His eternal essence. This is the fundamental understanding of Divine Simplicity. To say that God is simple might seem wrong to our modern ears, which often equates simplicity as something that is basic and easy to understand. But when we say that God is simple, what is meant is that God has no parts or passions. He is not a composite being that is subjected to emotional whims. He is who He is. He is the I Am. Compound beings require parts with some parts greater than others. But God is God in all. He is not made of love, wisdom, holiness, truth, and justice. God is love, wisdom, holiness, truth, and justice. He does not add or take away these attributes. He is the perfection of these attributes, which are His essence.

Even Plato, the pagan philosopher, understood this. In his dialogue Phaedo, Socrates speaks of the divine character as “pure, ever existing, immortal and unchanging.” (79 d) Since, according to Plato’s account of Socrates, the divine is pure and unchanging, it cannot invite its opposites. Since the Forms of justice and piety are the divine nature, the divine appeals to nothing other than its own character for the standard of what is good, just, and pious.

The doctrine of Divine Simplicity is not the same as the doctrine of Impassibility, but the two are closely related since it takes a complexity of parts to undergo change, and God emphatically declares the He does not change. (Cf. Malachi 3:6) The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8)

I’m ending this post on the “one living and true God” with a reference to Jesus Christ, showing His same impassible attribute with the Father. This leads to the second part of Article 1, which I will address in my next post.

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