The Need for Formal Formulation of Trinitarian Dogma

In the early church many were attempting to understand the divinity of Christ, and in extension the Holy Trinity.  Today, we have the benefit of the Church correcting false ideas.  However, when these ideas were formulated there was not a dogmatic decree regarding the Trinity though the dogma had been taught in the earliest days of the church.  The heresies of Monarchianism, Sabellianism, Subordinationism, and Arianism required that the church formally formulate the Trinitarian doctrine.

Dynamic Monarchianism taught that the Father was true God, and that Christ was a man who was indwelled with a divine spirit (Preuss 126).  Patripassian Monarchianism takes it a step further by acknowledging Christ as divine but does not go far enough as the two are not of the same substance.  Sabellianism, or Modalism as it is also called, taught that God manifested himself in different modes and that there was only one person of the Godhead.  In short, God was made up of one person (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch.5).  Arianism denied the divinity of Christ and taught that He was a creation of the Father (Lecture Notes), and this was also the Arian view of the Holy Spirit.  In that regard, he was subordinate to the Father.  The heresies mentioned all have elements of subordinationism, because in various respects the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is lowered.

With these heresies being taught the souls of the faithful were at risk.  The church rightly saw that an attack on the persons of the Trinity was a salvific issue.  Afterall, if Christ was not fully divine then his sacrifice on the cross meant little or nothing.  The church responded to the heresies, and formally defined the Trinity at the Council of Nicea in 325.

 

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#05, accessed November 13, 2018.

Preuss, Arthur. The Divine Trinity.  https://archive.org/details/divinetrinityad00pohlgoog, accessed November 12, 2018.

Advertisements

Apostolic Succession and the Arian Controversy

To those who study Church history the Arians are a familiar foe of orthodoxy.  The heresy came to the forefront in the 4th century, and was declared heretical at the Council of Nicea in 325 and again at the Council of Constantinople in 381.  How was the proper view of Christ upheld?  Was it strictly by St. Athanasius’s brilliant exposition of scripture?  No doubt that was part of the equation, but Arius was also pleading his case from sacred scripture.

By all accounts Arius was also a brilliant orator, and was able to get crowds riled up into a frenzy (Olson, 141).  He was a charismatic individual who was also able to coat his words with enough of a shadow of orthodoxy to get some bishops to agree with his opinion.  So who was Arius, and what was he propagating?  Though that question will be answered, the most interesting question is how the heresy was thwarted?

St. Athanasius gets a lot of credit, and deservedly so, for championing orthodoxy against the false view of Christ that Arius was teaching.  As previously stated he did so using scripture, but the canon would not have been declared until the Council of Rome is 382 (Marshall).  The unsung hero during the whole Arian controversy of the 4th century is apostolic succession, and the teaching authority that springs from it.  In this paper, I will look at Arianism and how it is still a factor today.  I will also look at the sources from Church history that show how apostolic succession was used to combat the heresy.

WHAT IS ARIANISM?

            As previously stated, Arianism is a heresy that became popular in the early Church in the fourth century.  It is tempting to say that Arianism was a denial of the full divinity of Christ (Cross, 100).  To get the full story of the Arian controversy it is necessary to dig a little deeper.  This deeper exploration will assist in understanding, not only the nature of the heresy, but the role that apostolic succession played in getting it condemned.

The beginning of the controversy can be traced to the earliest patristic fathers such as St. Justin, St. Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.  This is not suggesting that they were denying the divinity of Christ, but has to do with the idea of the Logos (Gonzalez, 182).  The Greek philosophers saw God as immutable, and the philosophers were told that Christians believed in such a God.  In regard to the Logos Richard Norris writes, “Logos was the divine reason uttered as the divine Word for the sake of forming and governing the world (Norris, 6).  At least that is the understanding that the Stoics and Platonists had as this is not orthodox teaching.  This was dangerous as some Christians began to say that the Father was impersonal while the Son, or Logos, was capable of human relationships.

It was hard for a pagan people to understand the Trinitarian concept.  Specifically, that the Father, Son, and Hold Spirit have always existed in unity.  It was easier to accept that the Son was somehow subordinate, and this is where a priest named Arius enters the doors of Church history.  To these pagan converts Arius made Christ out to be a type of divine hero, and that was easier for them to grasp (Shelley, 100).

Arius was a student of Lucian of Alexandria, and while studying under Lucian he became friends with a man by the name of Eusebius of Nicomedia.  This Eusebius must not be confused with the great church historian of the same name.  Eusebius plays an important role in the promulgation of the Arian heresy.

Arius was a priest who was ordained in Alexandria is 311 (Olson, 144).  He was a charismatic individual who came to openly challenge the doctrine of the Trinity that his Bishop, Alexander of Alexandria, was teaching.  Many of the locals relayed behind Arius because of his persuasiveness as a public speaker, and used verses such as Proverbs 8:22 to support his doctrine.  Proverbs 8:22 states, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old” (RSV).  This basis for Arius’s argumentation continues through Proverbs 8:31, and it describes the role of wisdom in creation.  Since Christ is the Logos he is God’s personified wisdom, or reason, on earth.  Since this passage of scripture says that he was created then he must not be the same substance of God.  If he is not the same substance of God then he must not be fully divine.  In this regard Arius writes, “Before he was begotten or created or ordained or established, he did not exist (Pelikan, 192).

In Arius’s view Christ was a created being and he had the tendencies that created being have.  This meant that he was even liable to change or even to sin.  Saint Athanasius sums up the views of Arius quite nicely.  In his first discourse against the Arians he writes:

For what can they say from it, but that ‘God was not always a Father, but became so afterwards; the Son was not always, for He was not before His generation; He is not from the Father, but He, as others, has come into subsistence out of nothing; He is not proper to the Father’s essence, for He is a creature and work?’ And ‘Christ is not very God, but He, as others, was made God by participation; the Son has not exact knowledge of the Father, nor does the Word see the Father perfectly; and neither exactly understands nor knows the Father. He is not the very and only Word of the Father, but is in name only called Word and Wisdom, and is called by grace Son and Power. He is not unalterable, as the Father is, but alterable in nature, as the creatures, and He comes short of apprehending the perfect knowledge of the Father (Schaff, 310).

PASTRISTIC RESPONSE

 

The temptation when looking at the Arian controversy is to immediately look to the Council of Nicea, but there is much more to the church’s response.  As any good Pastor would be, Bishop Alexander became concerned by the teaching of one of his priests.  This error has eternal consequences for those who became wooed by this new doctrine.  Alexander admits that he initially ignored the false doctrines and hoped they would die out on their own.  Plans changed when Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia came to the aid of Arius.  To This Alexander of Alexandria writes:

But seeing that Eusebius, now of Nicomedia, who thinks that the government of the Church rests with him, because retribution has not come upon him for his desertion of Berytus, when he had cast an eye of desire on the Church of the Nicomedians, begins to support these apostates, and has taken upon him to write letters everywhere in their behalf, if by any means he may draw in certain ignorant persons to this most base and antichristian heresy (Schaff, 69).

Image result for arian controversy

 Seeing that a fellow bishop is no longer teaching doctrine that is part of scripture, or sacred tradition Alexander used his authority, received via Apostolic Succession, to try to correct the situation.  Alexander of Alexandria called a local synod that formally condemned the teachings of Arius, and letters were sent to surrounding bishops to inform them of the synods conclusion (Ferguson, 192).  The way that Alexander pleaded his case against Arius was nothing short of brilliant.  As previously stated, Arius said that Jesus could not be God because God is immutable.  Alexander’s argument was polemical in nature, but very effective.  He said that Arius denied the immutability of the Father by saying that he was not immutable until the son was created (Olson, 148).  According to Alexander, “Now when Arius and his fellows made these assertions, and shamelessly avowed them, we being assembled with the Bishops of Egypt and Libya, nearly a hundred in number, anathematized both them and their followers” (Schaff, 70).

Over one hundred bishops exercised their authority that they received by apostolic succession to anathematize Arius and his followers.  The teaching that was contrary to the apostles was to risk the salvation of souls.  The early fathers had no choice but the exercise their authority.  According to the synod there was one view of Christ which was handed down directly from the apostles.  Sadly, this would not be the end of the heresy.  Though the synod had a near unanimous ruling, the eastern bishops were split.

We look back on this event now and say that this was a serious situation, but a schism this early into the Christian era could have been disastrous.  Emperor Constantine heard of the controversy from his Bishop named Hosius (Olson, 148).  Regarding this the ancient church historian Socrates Scholasticus writes, “To this end he sent a letter to Alexander and Arius by a trustworthy person named Hosius, who was bishop of Cordova in Spain, and whom the emperor greatly loved and held in the highest estimation” (Scholasticus, 17).  Constantine needed Christianity to be unified in an already crumbling Roman empire.

To maintain unity the emperor called all the bishops in the empire for a council.  This council would become known as the first ecumenical Council of Nicea.  The council commenced in 325 and set a precedent for all other ecumenical councils.  This council was so important that all other councils would reference it as being so (Sanders, 18).  The council was made of 318 bishops.  The Holy Father was absent from the council, not because he was not invited, but because he was too elderly to make the trip.  In his place he sent two priests to be legates, and to act in his place and authority.  Church Historian William Carroll writes, “The recommendation for a general or ecumenical council . . . had probably already been made to Constantine by Ossius [aka Hosius], and most probably to Pope Silvester as well.  Ossius presided over its deliberations; he probably, and two priests of Rome certainly, came as representatives of the Pope” (Carroll, 11).

Championing the orthodox cause at the council was St. Athanasius.  Athanasius was a brilliant theologian who argued from scripture the case that Christ is eternal.  He argued that terms in scripture such as “was handed over” do not imply that the Son was not divine (Norris, 95).  The Council fathers rallied behind St. Athanasius, as he was preaching the faith that had been handed on to them (Schroeder, 14).  The great saint said many things, but one struck the heart of Arius’s argument.  Regarding the Logos Athanasius said, “It is plain, therefore, to everyone that not knowing is proper to the flesh, whereas the Logos, insofar as he is the Logos, knows all things even before their origination” (Norris, 97).  Only God knows all things before their origination.  This was a statement of deity that had been passed on from the beginning of the church (Bokenkotter, 51).

Both sides of the controversy appealed to scripture, but the orthodox side coined the usage of a term that is not in scripture to describe Christ’s deity.  This Greek work word is known as homoousios.  The term means that the Son is of the same substance, or consubstantial, as the Father (Sanders, 18).  These are the same words we use at mass when we recite the Nicean creed.  The teaching was passed on by valid apostolic succession.  The irony is that while the bishops condemned Arianism, the term was a source of controversy.  The terminology and definitions were defined more narrowly in 381 at the Council of Constantinople thanks in part to the Cappadocian fathers.  Regarding the definition St, Gregory of Nazianzus writes, “Because they are from him, though not after him.  Being unoriginate necessarily implies being eternal, but being eternal does not entail being unoriginate” (Nazianzus, 71).

 

WHY APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION?

            In the previous pages thee has been much said about apostolic succession, but I think some clarification is in order.  Apostolic succession is much more than one taking an office from a predecessor, though that is part of it.  In combating the Gnostics, St. Irenaeus listed apostolic succession as a reason, and boasted in each bishop being able to trace his lineage to the apostles.

In the early days of the church succession and tradition were like terms and were synonymous with the Greek word diadochí (Benedict XVI, 23).  Tradition involves teaching, but again it is much more than that.  It is forever linked to the person from whom that teaching derives.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes that tradition is “linked to a person, is a living word, that has its concrete reality in faith” (Benedict XVI, 23).  Succession is proclaiming something that had been entrusted to someone by Christ himself.  In Apostolic succession the lineage is not mutually exclusive from the teaching.  They both go hand in hand.

Throughout the Arian controversy, and the modern variations there has been one constant.  There was deviation from what was taught in the beginning.  Apostolic succession is “holding fast to the apostolic word, just as tradition means the continuing existence of authorized witnesses” (Benedict XVI, 24).  Apostolic succession and apostolic tradition assist in defining each other.  The succession is the form of the tradition, and the tradition is the content of the succession (Benedict XVI, 28)

Image result for apostolic succession

CONCLUSION

            It is very tempting to look at the Arian controversy and think that it is a thing of the past.  To do so would be irresponsible from a theological and historical perspective.  The denying of the divinity of Christ is still something that is an issue among those who call themselves Christians.  Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have a view of Christ that is contrary to scripture and to the tradition of the Church.  What would Christianity be like today if the bishops in Alexandria and Nicea not exercised the authority given to them by apostolic succession?

The infant Christian church would have experienced a sizable schism.  The Roman empire may have possibly collapsed and been thrown into utter chaos.  It would have been a disaster.  There were men who resisted the temptation, stayed faithful, and championed the cause of apostolic teaching.  That is the way the Christ set things up.  He established a Church with Apostolic Succession to help guide the flock in the way of the master.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI states, “Apostolic succession” is by its nature the living presence of the word in the personal form of the witness. The unbroken continuity of witnesses is derived from the nature of the word as authority and oral statement” (Benedict XVI, 31).

 

WORKS CITED

Benedict XVI. God’s Word: Scripture—Tradition—Office. Ed. Peter Hünermann and Thomas Söding. Trans. Henry Taylor. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008. Print.

Bokenkotter, Thomas.  A Concise History of the Catholic Church.  Image Books.  New York, NY:  2004.  Print.

Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church 2005 : n. pag. Print.

Denzinger, Henry, and Karl Rahner, eds. The Sources of Catholic Dogma. Trans. Roy J. Deferrari. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1954. Print.

Ferguson Everett.  From Christ to the Pre-Reformation.  Zondervan.  Grand Rapids, MI:  2005.  Print.

Fred Sanders & Klaus Issler.  Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective.  B&H Academic.  Nashville, TN:  2007.  Print.

Gonzalez, Justo L.  The Story of Christianity, Volume 1:  The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation.  HarperOne.  New York:  2010. Print.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ.  St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.  Crestwood, NY:  2002.  Print.

Norris, Richard.  The Christological Controversy.  Fortress Press. Philadelphia, PA:  1980. Print

Pelikan, Jasoslav.  The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition.  University of Chicago Press.  Chicago:  1975.  Print.

Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace, eds. St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters. Vol. 4. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series.

Schroeder, H. J. Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils: Text, Translation, and Commentary. St. Louis, MO; London: B. Herder Book Co., 1937. Print.

Shelby John.  Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. Harper Collins.  New York: 1991. Print.

Shelley, Bruce L.  Church History in Plain Language.  Thomas Nelson.  Nashville, TN:  2008.  Print.

Socrates Scholasticus. A History of the Church in Seven Books. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1844. Print.

William Carroll.  The Building of Christendom.  Christendom College Press.  Front Royal, VA:  1987.  Print.

Homoosios and Christology

Within Christian theology the term Homoosios holds a very important distinction.  The word itself was made famous at the Council of Nicea when the council fathers used it to defend Christ’s deity.  The word means “same essence” and was used to say that Christ was of the same essence of the Father.  Though all 318 bishops at Nicea defended the divinity of Christ, not all of them agreed with using Homoosios as a descriptor.  This is because the historical roots of the word were used by Paul of Samasota in defending earlier Christological heresies.  This made some bishops weary of its adoption.

The Council of Nicea met to combat the teachings of a priest named Arius who was teaching that Christ was a created being.  As previously stated, the council fathers used the term Homoosios in regard to the relationship between the Father and the Son.  Some bishops were weary of its usage because its links to Gnosticism.  This word had antecedents in Gnosticism, and Paul of Samosata used it to revive an adoptionist usage.  The adoptionist movement taught that Christ became Christ as a reward for his deeds on life, and as a result he was not always eternal.  It is obvious to see, and to appreciate, the concerns that some bishops had.

In response to the term some bishops came up with an alternative.  This alternative word was known at Homoiousios which is defined as “similar essence” (Lecture Notes).  The presence of that one extra vowel makes big difference in meaning.  Homoosios means of “same essence” and Homoiousios means of “similar essence”.  Was Christ the Logos or not?

The answer to the above question, according to Arius was a resounding no.  To the council fathers the answer was obviously that he was.  Richard Norris describes this as “The incarnation is and must be the incarnation of one who is fully and truly God” (Norris 19).  Some bishops wanted to be as far away from the term Homooosios because of its root in an earlier heresy.  In doing so, the council would have gained very little, if any, ground in defining who Christ was.  In defining the Trinity, we are taught that the three persons are separate persons but of one essence.  If he church would have went with Homoiousios it still would have held the door open to the teaching that Christ was somehow subordinate but a different essence altogether.

What does the mean in regard to the council itself?  The council had the goal in mind of rendering an authoritative declaration on the deity of Christ, not to provide a thorough explanation.  This judgment of Christ’s deity reaffirmed the Christian belief that God is a community of three persons, and this was at odds with the Roman pagan religion.  Some saw the response of Nicea a good start but incomplete.  This is why other councils such as Constantinople (aka Nicea II), Ephesus, Chalcedon were called.  There were far more issues at stake in regard to the deity of Christ that Nicea had not been prepared to handle.  The council of Nicea had the goal of squashing Arian belief, and it was partly successful, but further definitions of Homoosios would come in 381 at the Council of Constantinople.  Nicea laid the groundwork for further discussion on the deity of Christ, and its implications on the community of Christians.

Image result for homoosios

Works Cited

Norris, Richard.  The Christological Controversy.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press.  1980.

 

Who was Arius?

Over the course of Church History there were many issues and false teaching that arose.  One such false teaching involved a priest by the name of Arius.  Arius was a student of Lucian of Alexandria and ordained around 311.  He started to make waves when he publicly denied the teaching of the Trinity which was being taught by his bishop Alexander.  He was able to do this because he was a brilliant orator, but also because he laced his verbiage with just enough orthodoxy that some bishops fell his teachings.  Through the whole Arian controversy, the Church was forced to clarify the relationship between the Son and the Father.

Arianism was a big issue that had the potential to rip the infant Church apart.  What was he teaching that was so bad?  In short, Arius was teaching that Christ was not divine, or more specifically not the same substance as the Father.  The Father existed first and created the Son who in turn created everything else.  He took passages of scripture, such as Matthew 28:18, and took it to mean that Christ was somehow less than the Father (Norris 83).

Arius’s bishop, Alexander, became very concerned about the teachings of Arius.  For time he ignored them and though they would just cease, but when it became apparent that Arius was becoming more influential Alexander had to act.  Bishop Alexander called a synod that publicly anathematized the teachings of Arius.  One of the ways that Bishop Alexander and the synod did this was interesting.  Alexander took Arius’s Christology to task by showing that Arius denied the immutability of the Father.  Arius did this because, in his view, the Father was not immutable until the Son was finally created.

Though this synod acted swiftly to defend orthodox Christology from Arius, his teaching would remain for a while.  This came to the attention of the emperor Constantine via his bishop Hosius.  As previously stated this issue had he potential to end in schism, and this would have had horrible consequences for a young church, and the entire empire.  The Council of Nicea was called, and in all 318 bishops were in attendance, and two papal legates were in attendance because Pope Sylvester was to elderly to make the long journey.

The council fathers heard what Arius had to say, but they also listened to what St. Athanasius has to say.  They defended the doctrine of Christ by declaring that he is of the same substance of the Father, but not the Father.  Since he is of the same substance he has always existed and is eternal.  The Logos knows all things before their origination, and St. Athanasius showed that this was an attribute of God since God alone can know all things (Lecture Notes).  The council declared that Christ was of the same substance by using the Greek word Homoousios which means “of the same substance”.

In Conclusion, the teaching of Arius regarding Christ forced the church to formally define the nature of Christ.  The council fathers used a combination of sacred scripture and sacred tradition to defend the deity of Christ.  The canons that they laid out at Nicea are still binding on the church and is what the church teaches today.  In fact, we recite the Nicean creed at mass as a statement of Christian belief.

Image result for arius and arianism

WORKS CITED

Norris, Richard.  The Christological Controversy.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press.  1980.  Print.

Two Looks at the Trinity

Gordon Fee and St. Gregory of Nazianzus both present the doctrine of the Trinity, but in different ways.  St. Gregory goes into a bit more theological depth, and this makes sense.  Just five years before St. Gregory’s birth the Council of Nicea met to discuss the Arian controversy.  During St. Gregory’s ministry Arianism was particularly strong, and as a result he used much more theological terms, and scripture to counterpoint those of his opponents.  He had to do this because his opponents were using scripture, but they were also guilty of eisegesis.  St. Gregory states in oration 31, “Look at the facts:  Christ is born, the spirit is his forerunner, Christ is baptized, the spirit bears him witness.  Is there any significant function of God, which the Spirit does not perform [1].”  Here St. Gregory is attributing, using scripture, that the Holy Spirit does perform some of the same functions as the Father and the Son.  This implies the Biblical teaching of the Trinity which states that there is one God in three persons.

Dr. Gordon Fee’s study on Paul is a very helpful resource, but a distinction must be made in regards to Paul.  When Paul was preaching and writing his letters his doctrine of the Trinity was not challenged.  In many places in his letters he mentions the Trinity, but it is never disputed.  One such passage is 2 Corinthians 13:14 which states, “May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Another is Acts 19:2 when Paul encounters believers baptizing in with John’s baptism.  They had no knowledge of the Holy Spirit, and after educating them they were properly baptized.  Gordon Fee describes Paul as expressing, “The Spirit, who reveals to us the ‘deep things of God’, does so because he alone knows the mind of God; and the Spirit is our intercessor, who prays through us in keeping with God’s own pleasure, precisely because the Spirit and the Father each knows the mind of the other [2].”

Both areas are very helpful as St. Gregory describes the Trinity via the actions of the Father, Son, and Spirit.  He vividly describes what each does.  Gordon Fee describes the Apostle Paul’s understanding of the Trinity in terms of an intricate relationship.  Each knows the mind of the other, and know how to interact because each only knows the mind of the other.  A problem of words arises as the same thing is being discussed, but there is a 1600 year gap in language.

It is very helpful to understand how Paul understood the Trinity because his words are sometimes twisted to mean something he did not mean.  From a purely theological point of view St, Gregory’s description was much more detailed.  It had to be to combat the heresy that was going on.

 

Works Cited

  1. Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ:  The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius.  (Crestwood, NY:  St. Vladamirs Press, 2002), 139.
  2. Gordon D. Fee. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. (Nashville, TN:  Baker Publishing Group, kindle locations 950-965), Kindle Edition

Trinitarian Language in the Early Church

The doctrine of the Trinity is not an easy doctrine to grasp, and from the beginnings of the church there have been groups who have attempted to deny its validity.  Though the word itself does not appear in scripture it is a term used to describe the manifestation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit[1].  Though the Arian controversy brought the doctrine to the forefront, we can see the doctrine being defended by the early Church Father Irenaeus.  During the time of Irenaeus the Gnostic heresy was, and in fact, he was the first to use the term specifically[2].

The Gnostics denied anything material, so as a result they rejected that Jesus was a physical person and was not preexistent.  In his work Against Heresies, Irenaeus, writes “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in 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[3].”  The Trinitarian language noted here would go on to appear in the Nicene Creed.

The church father Tertullian developed the term Trinitas, or Trinity[4].  Tertullian taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were of one substance.  One was not created from the other, but all preexisted as one being.  Another Church Father, Origen, attempted to describe the Trinity in a Philosophical way.  He stated that the Son was the Logos and was superior to all created creatures, and that the Holy Spirit dwelled within the saints.  In regards to this James Stevenson writes in regard to Origen, “The God and Father, who holds the universe together, is superior to every being that exists, for he imparts to each one from his own existence that which each one is; the Son, being less than the Father, is superior to rational creatures alone (for he is second to the Father); the Holy Spirit is still less, and dwells within the saints alone[5].”  From these two church fathers two Greek terms were used at the Council of Nicea.  Those terms were Homoousios which means “of one substance”, and homoiousios which means “of similar substance.”

These Greek terms were also philosophical and would be the basis for the Filioque.  Philosophical language was increasing in the church for a couple reasons.  For one it was a way to combat an attitude in the Roman Empire that Christians were ignorant atheists[6].  The romans claimed that Christians were atheists because of their denial to worship the Roman gods.  The Christian apologists, such as Justin Martyr, appealed to Philosophy and reason as a way of proving the Christian ideal.  This language was used throughout the early church and terms that were used previously were derived from that.  A second reason is that philosophers at the time of the early church believed in a supreme being.  Who that Supreme Being was a matter of debate, and Christians were up to the challenge.  This went a long way in evangelizing and spreading the gospel to a people who were told that Christianity was atheistic and dangerous to the empire.

Much more can be written about this topic, and many books have been written about it.  The early church dealt with a lot of false teaching and the early church fathers took them to task.  The Trinity is a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith, and must be defended.  I would encourage you to research the sources cited as well as Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective edited by Fred Sanders & Klaus Issler, and The Story of Christian Theology by Roger E. Olson.

 

God bless!

 

 

 

Bibliography

“Anf01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, accessed June 1, 2016 July 13, 2005, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.ii.xi.html.

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity:  The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York, NY: Harperone, 2010.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1994.

Stevenson, J., ed. A New Eusebius. London: Spck, 1987.

Water, Mark. Bible Teachings Made Easy. Hampshire, UK: Hunt and Thorpe, 1998.

 

[1] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 502.

[2] Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1994), 105.

[3] “Anf01. The Apostolic Fathers With Justin Martyr And Irenaeus,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, accessed June 1, 2016 July 13, 2005, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.ii.xi.html.

[4] Mark Water, Bible Teachings Made Easy (Hampshire, UK: Hunt And Thorpe, 1998), 44.

[5] J. Stevenson, ed., A New Eusebius (London: Spck, 1987), 1653.

[6] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity:  The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York, NY: Harperone, 2010), 182.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑