“One God in the Trinity of the Holy Name”: Patrick’s Trinitarian Theology and Regula Fidei

“One God in the Trinity of the Holy Name”: Patrick’s Trinitarian Theology and Regula Fidei

My first introduction to Patrick of Ireland was through one of my close mentors. Like any good mentor, students soon have their “loves” altered through their influence.[1]

Patrick of Ireland is most well known to us as the patron saint of Ireland—patronized in the 7th century by the Irish Catholic Church. He’s rumored to have risen and healed many dead men (cf. Life and Acts of St. Patrick, Jocelin). Especially within Irish folklore, Patrick is rumored to have banished all the snakes from Ireland into the sea.

The following focuses upon Patrick’s Trinitarianism and, more specifically, his opening theological confession in Confessio. According to D.R. Bradley, the Latin in the first half of the creed contains a particular balance and cadence that reflects a polished style in antiquity.[2] As such, it clearly is not part of Patrick’s original composition[3] and is probably something external to him—catechism, other sources, or effects of Nicene theology.

Patrick’s Trinitarian confession reads as follows:

“There is no other God, nor ever was in times past, nor will be hereafter, than God the Father unbegotten, without beginning, from whom is all beginning, who holds sway over all things (omnia tenentem), as we declare; and his Son Jesus Christ, whom we affirm most assuredly to have always been with the Father before the origin of the world, spiritually and ineffably begotten by the Father before all beginning, and by him all things visible and invisible were made; he was made man, and when death had overcome, he was received into heaven beside the Father; ‘and he was given him all power over every name in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess to him that Jesus Christ is Lord and God’, in whom we believe to whose imminent coming we look forward, ‘the judge of the living and of the dead’, ‘who will render to every man according to his deeds’ ; and ‘he has poured forth upon us abundantly the Holy Spirit’, ‘the gift’ and ‘pledge’ of immortality, who makes those who believe and obey ‘sons of God and co-heirs with Christ’: it is him that we confess (confitemur) and adore, one God in the Trinity of the holy name.”[4]

The theology of this confession is quite rich and explicitly Trinitarian.[5] This Trinitarian expression confesses the timeless and unbegotten nature of the Father. He rules and reigns over all things.

Of the Son, Patrick's comments reflect Pro-Nicene theology. The Son has eternally been with the Father. This eternal notion of the Son is anti-Arian. The Son’s incarnation is of a begotten nature with the Father. He functions as the ruler and judge of the world. And, in relation to the later developed Filioque controversy, Patrick affirms that the Spirit proceeds from the Son.

Commenting on the Spirit, Patrick lists a catena of Scripture texts. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son and is the basis by which persons enter into a filial relationship with the Godhead; they become “sons of God” and “co-heirs with Christ.”

In this creedal confession, Patrick’s catena contains partial clauses and allusions exclusive to the New Testament. None are listed for the Father. Yet, Phil 2 appeals to the incarnation, ascension, and rule of Christ—Acts 10 as Judge. The procession of the Spirit from the Son is based upon Tit 3:5. Finally, the Believers filial status is the result of the Spirit, who is both a “gift” (Acts 2:38) and “pledge” (Eph 1:14).

It is also worth noting how this Trinitarian confession functions for Patrick.[6] By looking at how Patrick frames this confession, we see that Patrick is a “confessor.” Prior to the Trinitarian expression, Patrick states,

“we should exalt and confess (confiteri) his [God’s] wondrous deeds before every nation under heaven.” (Conf. 3)

Following the Trinitarian Confession, then, is a quotation of both Ps 50:15 and Tobit 12.7. Tobit reads as follows:

“It is honorable to make known and confess (confiteri) the works of God.” (Conf. 5)

As Michael Haykin observes, “The creedal statement is thus bookended by the ‘heart’s desire’ of Patrick to be a confessor of God’s great works (Conf. 6)—and these works involve not simply his own conversion, but supremely God’s work of salvation in Christ.”[7]

  1. As Augustine recalls of the “loves” and education, “We must, however, observe right order even in our love for the very love by which we love that which is worthy to be loved, so that there may be in us that virtue which enables us to live well. Hence, it seems to me that a brief and true definition of virtue is ‘rightly ordered love’.” Augustine, City of God 15, 22. ↩

  2. D. R. Bradley, “The Doctrinal Formula of Patrick,” Journal of Theological Studies 33 (1982): 125. ↩

  3. Michael A.G. Haykin, Aaron Matherly, and Shawn J. Wilhite, Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact, Early Church Fathers (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2014), 43n3. ↩

  4. Confessio 4, trans. Michael A.G. Haykin. ↩

  5. See Hanson, “Rule of Faith of Victorinus and of Patrick,” in Latin Script and Letters, edited by O’Meara and Naumann, 25–36 for a comparison with Victorinus’s creed. It is possible that Patrick’s creedal confessionalism finds its source in Victorinus.  ↩

  6. See Oulton, Creedal Statements of St Patrick for more. ↩

  7. Haykin, Matherly, and Wilhite, Patrick of Ireland, 45–46. ↩

About the Author:
Shawn J. Wilhite

Shawn J. Wilhite is currently Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. His research interests include New Testament and Early Christianity, Epistle to Hebrews, History of New Testament Interpretation, Early Christian and Patristic Hermeneutics, and the Apostolic Fathers.

Doctrinae Coram Deo

New Research Fellow: Dr. David Robinson

Rev. Dr. David Robinson (Ph.D., M.A.) is senior pastor at Westminster Chapel (Toronto, Canada), an adjunct professor in the Biblical Studies and Theology department at Tyndale University College & Seminary, a fellow of the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and presently serves as chairman of the ETS Ontario-Quebec region. His research interests include early North African Christianity and the history of biblical interpretation, particularly the book of Revelation. 

David has published articles in Studia Patristica, Worship, Theoforum, Humanitas, and Revista Vida y Espiritualidad. He and Francis X. Gumerlock have recently completed an annotated translation of Tyconius of Carthage’s Exposition of the Apocalypse, which is forthcoming (Tyconius: Exposition of the Apocalypse. Translated by Francis X. Gumerlock. Introduction and notes by David C. Robinson. Fathers of the Church, no. 134. Washington, DC: Catholic University of American Press). He’s currently working on Tertullian: An Introduction to his Life and Thought(Christian Focus). 

David is married to Megan and they have three children, Samuel, Leah, and Lucas.

Book Review: The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus

Book Review: The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus

—Published in Fides et Humilitas, no. 2 (2015): 65–68


In The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus, Adam English argues that Nicholas of Myra embodies the tension between historical figure and mythical symbol. English insists that substantial evidence for Nicholas exists despite a century of doubt among scholars and the influence of the mythical Santa Claus that overshadows any discussion about the historic figure for the broader public. Additionally, English argues that the legendary stories that circulated throughout the medieval period that influenced the modern American Santa Claus, generally hold some kernel of truth, grounded in the historic person.

English does not set out to define the development of the Santa Claus myth. Rather, his work is a quest for the historic Nicholas. English argues that most people “know that the beloved patron of Christmastime wish-granting has his origins in a vaguely historical personage,” and he aims to bring the historical Nicholas to light (p.2).

However, the myth and the man are so closely intertwined that his task is daunting. More importantly, English admits that there is “no early documentation of the man—no writings, disciples, or major acts” (p.3). Thus, in order to discover the historical Nicholas, English combs through the earliest extant documents and key later sources. Additionally, he makes inductive arguments based on extensive background analysis to give greater form to the authentic Nicholas. The historic Nicholas was a man of generosity, conviction, boldness, and was a social, civil, and religious servant.

English notes his dissatisfaction with recent works on his topic. Authors have contributed little “substance” in terms of historical research, and instead have been content with repeating folklore (p.9). English surpasses mere legendary storytelling, but this work is not an example of critical scholarship either. What he offers is a picture of the man Nicholas of Myra, based in the historical record. He emphasizes telling the story over critically analyzing sources. He includes legendary accounts of Nicholas sometimes without asking the questions that historians must ask, regarding whether sources are credible, biased, contradictory, and so forth. However, since he primarily aims to present Nicholas holistically, and to overcome the mythical symbol known today, this work might suit his purposes. To his credit, the scarce historical record might require a work like English’s. The earliest primary document that refers to Nicholas dates approximately two centuries after his death, and the oldest biography dates to the early eighth century. Additionally, Nicholas became such a mythical figure in the Middle Ages that the historic person became almost unimportant in light of the hagiographic use of early saints.

English fails to substantiate a number of his claims with either a primary or secondary source. For instance, when he discusses Nicholas’s baptism, he fails to offer a source to substantiate claims about early Christian baptism (p.32). At another point, he notes that a scholarly dialog exists about Nicholas’s legacy in Western Europe, but fails to give a citation (p.49). When relating modern ethical issues to an ancient Christian understanding of marriage, he offers no substantial historical foundation (p.68). Later, when he claims that the Apostle Paul founded the church in Myra, he neglects to provide any further evidence (p.90). At other times, he relies on secondary sources, when a primary source seems warranted. For example, when arguing that Puritans in Massachusetts outlawed certain Christmas celebrations and when referencing the Second Council of Nicaea of 787, he relies on secondary sources (p.37–38). At times when one expects critical analysis of a primary source, he does not offer any, for instance when he describes supernatural details in the account of Nicholas’s giving of the three money bags (p.67). One expects him to ask whether these events actually occurred or does such a record influence how one views this historic document? When primary sources are especially scarce, English relies on extensive background material, based in both primary and secondary sources. This is helpful for understanding Nicholas’s context, and contributes to English’s work of recreating the authentic Nicholas in his historical context.

English’s work seems poised to have broad appeal. Scholars of ancient Christianity will find it helpful because he engages in a dialog with both primary and secondary sources, even if his approach is somewhat basic. English’s work should prompt further scholarly investigation into an intriguing historical figure and appeal to a popular audience, as English would want. He does hope to interest scholars, presumably, but he seems to have the broader American public in mind, for whom he hopes to correct the long tradition of a fat, jolly, secular figure almost entirely unrelated to the ancient bishop of Myra. I recommend this book to both scholars and laymen. English is a superb storyteller. The work is well organized and expressed, and the fascinating relationship between the historical person and the mythical symbol of Christmas is enough to compel one to engage the book.

Bibliographical Information

Adam C. English. The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra. Waco, TX: Baylor, 2012. Pp. xi + 230. ISBN: 978-1-60258-634-5. $29.95 [Hardback].

About the Author:
Paul A. Sanchez
Paul Sanchez is currently Ph.D. candidate at Southern Seminary in Church History. He is also preaching pastor at Emaus Church in San Jose, CA.


“In order that we too might be imitators of him”: The Death of Polycarp and the Imitation of Jesus

“In order that we too might be imitators of him”: The Death of Polycarp and the Imitation of Jesus

The Martyrdom of Polycarp offers an eyewitness account to the death and martyrdom of Polycarp from the church at Smyrna to the church at Philomelium (Mart.Pol. Pref.). As the narrative unfolds, some of the motifs that emerge relate to imitation. That is, the narrative of Polycarp’s death evoke the reader to imitate the death of Polycarp (Mart.Pol. 1:2).

This AD 2nd century event details three different martyrdom accounts. It praises the nobility of Germanicus, who fought with wild beasts and encouraged the “God-fearing race of Christians” through his death (Mart.Pol. 3:1–2). It discourages the concept of voluntary martyrdom as Quintus “turned coward” when he saw the wild beasts. Such voluntary pursuit of martyrdom does evoke praise from fellow sisters and brothers because the “gospel does not teach this” (Mart.Pol. 4).

However, the narrative details the “blessed Polycarp” and his noble death (Mart.Pol. 1:1). These events are aimed to demonstrate how the “Lord might show us once again a martyrdom that is in accord with the Gospel” (Mart.Pol. 1:1). So, the narrative models for the reader a martyrdom that is worthy of imitation as it is patterned after “the Gospel.”

The Martyrdom account portrays Polycarp as a model of Christ’s life. For example, Polycarp waited to be passively betrayed (Mart.Pol. 1:2). The night before Polycarp’s betrayal, he is praying with a few close companions (Mart.Pol. 5:1). He prays “may your will be done” prior to his arrest (Mart.Pol. 7:1; cf. Matt 26:42). Furthermore, Polycarp is betrayed on a Friday (Mart.Pol. 7:1) and seated on a donkey to ride into town (Mart.Pol. 8:1)—similar to the “triumphal entry” and garden of Gethsemane events. On the verge of death, Polycarp offers up a final call to the Father (Mart.Pol. 14:3). While Polycarp is tied to the stake, an executioner is commanded to come stab Polycarp with a dagger (Mart.Pol. 16:1). Even the execution offers a similar to the confession of the centurion’s statement “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Mart.Pol. 16:2; Luke 23:47). 

Not only do Polycarp and the surrounding events reflect a similar Gospel tradition, the villains in Polycarp’s story are re-cast in light of the passion villains. Polycarp is betrayed by someone close to him (Mart.Pol. 6:1). The captain of the police is called “Herod” (Mart.Pol. 6:2; 8:2; 17:2). The author(s) of the Martyrdom make sure to slow the narrative so that the reader makes the necessary connection to the Gospel accounts by saying, “who just happened to have the same name—Herod, as he was called” (Mart.Pol. 6:2). Moreover, those who betrayed Polycarp ought to “receive the same punishment as Judas” (Mart.Pol. 6:2). There is an army to capture Polycarp, similar to the Gethsemane scene (Mart.Pol. 7:1). The band of captors recognizes the piety of Polycarp in a similar way the group of soldiers bowed before arresting Him (Mart.Pol. 7:2; cf. John 18:6).

The Martyrdom narrative mimics the Gospel passion narratives. Whether it focuses on the personal character traits of Polycarp, the narrative of Polycarp’s journey to death, the secondary, seemingly accidental themes, or even the story’s villains, the Martyrdom of Polycarp is reshaped around gospel tradition.

As the narrative of the death of Polycarp unfolds, Polycarp’s character mimics the Lord so “that we too might be imitators of him” (Mart.Pol. 1:2). The blessed and noble characters of martyrdom are modeled after the narrative of Jesus tradition so as to invite readers to imitate Polycarp as he is imitating the Lord Jesus (Mart.Pol. 19:1). 

About the Author:
Shawn J. Wilhite

Shawn J. Wilhite is currently Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. His research interests include New Testament and Early Christianity, Epistle to Hebrews, History of New Testament Interpretation, Early Christian and Patristic Hermeneutics, and the Apostolic Fathers.

Doctrinae Coram Deo

Book Review: Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today

Book Review: Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today

—Published in Fides et Humilitas, no. 2 (2015): 54–56


Christopher A. Beeley, Walter H. Gray Associate Professor of Anglican Studies and Patristics at Yale Divinity School and an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church, is best known for his work in the Trinitarian thought of Gregory Nazianzus. Having published broadly in the area of Cappadocian theology and fourth-century doctrinal development, Beeley’s Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today is a surprising and refreshing book. Beeley carefully weaves biblical insight with Patristic sources to produce a book of timeless pastoral wisdom. Based on the fruit of years spent with the Fathers, Leading God’s People fills a hole in the area of practical theology and should be a serviceable text for scores of divinity students for years to come.

Beeley’s premise is simple: the early church provides “key principles of church leadership” which should serve to “renew our understanding of ministry” and “offer a vision of the kind of leaders [readers] should hope to become” (p.ix). Leaning on the great pastoral traditions from important figures such as Gregory Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory the Great, Beeley reveals the weightiness of pastoral ministry from an early Christian perspective.

Each chapter is laden with practical, pastoral wisdom and studded with insights from the Fathers. Chapters include broad topics such as the necessity of pastoral piety, the knowledge of God’s Word for effective ministry, and the deeply personal nature of pastoral counseling. Perhaps the most helpful section is chapter three, “The Cure of Souls,” wherein Beeley relates the Patristic understanding of pastoral ministry as akin to medical practice. The pastor, as a healer of souls, helps to diagnose spiritual conditions and offer spiritual remedies appropriate to the ailment. The pastor’s main task is to point the sick to the ultimate healer—Jesus Christ. As Beeley relates, “In this sense the deep logic of pastoral therapy is really the doctrine of Christ himself, or orthodox Christology” (p.75). Beeley helpfully demonstrates the significance of knowing scripture for pastoral ministry from a Patristic perspective. While the Fathers rightly emphasized principles of rhetoric in preaching, “all the Fathers insist that whatever training and education one has, what really enables one to teach, delight, and sway others in Christ is a prayerful faith, founded on the spiritual study of scripture” (p.122). As examples of scriptural knowledge and application, the Fathers are preeminent.

While Leading God’s People offers a wealth of insight in such a concise book, some subjects are less developed than others. For example, hermeneutical approaches in early church exegesis receive only slight attention. Furthermore, early church ecclesiology figures little into Beeley's discussion, and the Patristic doctrine of scripture is not extensively considered. Consequently, readers should not consider Leading God’s People as a critical engagement with the Fathers on the subject of pastoral ministry. While Beeley’s egalitarian language might put off some readers, the pastoral principles that he promotes are applicable for all readers.

Leading God’s People provides a valuable starting point for those wishing to enter the ministry. Although similar to Andrew Purves’s Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (Westminster John Knox, 2001), Beeley’s approach offers greater practical insight, and focuses primarily upon Patristic sources. Beeley drives readers to the primary sources and provides a reading list for those interested in engaging them at a deeper level. Beeley imparts a natural and well-versed interaction with the Fathers, and his wisdom, which is rarely anecdotal, is refreshing and compelling. By allowing the Fathers to speak for themselves, Beeley’s readers will feel the significance of pastoral ministry and the gravitas of leading God’s people, both in classical Christian perspective and for today.

Bibliographical Information

Christopher A. Beeley. Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today. Pp. xi + 161. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6700-1. $20.00 [Paperback].

About the Author:
Coleman M. Ford

Coleman is currently a Ph.D. student in Church History and Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His research interests lie in the concept of virtue in the patristic tradition, patristic ethics, patristic exegesis, reception history of the church fathers, and Christian ethics.


Theological Education as <i>Palaistra</i>

Theological Education as Palaistra

Our world, with its pressures and distractions, has succeeded in derailing many would-be students of the Bible and theology. As a former student of theological education and now as a professor who counsels students in these areas, I understand well how life’s pressures and distractions thwart even the best intentions. However, with today’s world becoming more complex—not less—Christians must regain their heritage of methodical, disciplined, and practiced education in the face of these pressures and distractions. Our wider culture tempts us to view theological education as a product to be purchased or consumed from a theological institution. But our heritage teaches something else entirely. Learning comes as a prize to be won through the training of the mind. When it comes to education today we have lost even the proper vocabulary to describe it. We must look to the past to regain it and appropriate it to our situation once again.

Amphilochius, the Bishop of Iconium in the fourth century, wrote a didactic poem, αμβοι πρς Σέλευκον, who was his young nephew, in order to encourage him in his learning. At line 181ff he wrote:

But, you, instead of these, take joy in your lessons,

Out of which you will exercise (σκήσεις) the most excellent way.

Now since you should train (προγυμνάσς) your mind moderately beforehand

As in school (παλαίστρ) with various treatises,

Contend (νάθλει) with the divinely inspired Scriptures themselves

Collecting the great wealth of the two covenants,

On the one hand, the Old, but, on the other hand, always the New.

For the New has been written second

And after it there will be no third.

Allot (νέμε) all diligence (σπουδήν) to these (i.e. the two covenants),

From which you should learn to practice (ξασκεν) the useful way (χρηστν τρόπον)

And to worship (σέβειν) the true and only God.

Amphilochius loads these twelve lines with images from the world of athletics. He encourages Seleukos to “exercise” (ln. 182), “train beforehand” (ln. 183), “contend with” (ln. 185), “allot all diligence” (ln. 190), “practice” (ln. 191), and all of these images would be carried out in the metaphorical palaistra or wrestling school (ln. 184).

In Greece and the surrounding Hellenistic culture, the palaistra (παλαίστρα) referred usually to a wrestling school (the noun is derived from the verb palaiō “to wrestle”) and it also metaphorically referred to a school—no doubt to emphasize the struggle and discipline involved in the learning process that happened there.

In line 186, these activities pertain to and result in the collecting of the great wealth of the Scriptures. Seleucos is not to wrestle with another human, rather he is to train his mind beforehand with many works of literature. These works are to prepare him for engaging in and contending with an object no less worthy of his greatest efforts: the divinely inspired Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. And although the Scriptures are in themselves great wealth, Amphilochius shows that wrestling with them and allotting all diligence to them will cause one to learn how to practice the useful or worthy way of life and how to worship the true and only God—the supreme end to all Christian theological education.

How now shall we view our lessons? Rather than viewing theological education as something to be purchased, we will benefit more from it by envisioning it as a wrestling school where the activities of training, exercising, practicing, and contending with God and his Scriptures take place. Like a wrestler, the theological student should engage the professors, the reading, the writing, and most of all the Scriptures with the same pushing and pulling of mind and thought. At the foundation the student must wrestle with the languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. These subjects build the necessary muscle to do the heavy lifting of biblical exegesis and theology.

This world needs trained, disciplined men and women who are prepared to live the most excellent way and to worship the true and only God. The Christian tradition has always taught that there is no glory except through the way of the cross. The same appears to be true for its theological education. There will be no mastery of the Scriptures or theology without discipline, practice, and training in them and wrestling with them. But the good news is this: the prize of a well fought for theological education far outweighs the struggle to learn them. The hard training gives way to an even greater wealth of knowing the divinely inspired Scriptures for the purposes of practicing the worthy way of life and worshipping the true and only God.

About the Author:
John D. Meade

John D. Meade (Ph.D., M.Div., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assitant Professor of Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary.

Faculty Page