These articles trace the development of the Trinity doctrine through the first about 500 years of the Church’s history, with the emphasis on the fourth century (the 300’s).
THE FIRST 300 YEARS
During the first three centuries, the church was persecuted by the Roman Empire. Did the Pre-Nicene Fathers believe in the Trinity?
IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH
(c. 35-107) described the Son as our God, immortal and being life. But he also described the Father as the only true God, unapproachable and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.
(c. 69–155) made a clear distinction between God and the Son, identified the “Lord God Almighty” as the Father alone and described the Father as Jesus’ God.
(c. 100–165) said that God begot Jesus “before all creatures a Beginning.” “Through the Word, God has made everything.” Justin proposed that Jesus was “born of the very substance of the Father,” but still distinct from and subordinate to the Father.
(c. 115-190) identified the Father as the only true God. He alone is Almighty and He is the Head of Christ. Using Irenaeus as a norm, the early church fathers did not believe in the Trinity.
THE MEANING OF THEOS
The pre-Nicene Fathers describe the Son as “our God” but the Father as “the only true God.” This confusion is caused by translations. The ancient writers did not have a word that is equivalent to the modern word “God.” They described the Son as “our god” (small “g”) and the Father as “the only true god” (small “g”).
THE “ORTHODOX” WHEN THE ARIAN CONTROVERSY BEGAN
What is regarded today as the orthodox view of God was developed during the fourth and fifth centuries, but what was the traditional Christology when the Arian Controversy began early in the fourth century?
Was Sabellius (fl. c. 217-220) the first Trinitarian? Literature usually refers to Sabellius as a heretic for teaching modalism, but Von Mosheim made an in-depth study of the Christianity of the first 300 years and interpreted Sabellius’ theology very differently, namely that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three portions of the single divine essence. Although this is very different from the later developed Trinity doctrine, it also represents a significant movement away from the Logos-Christology of his day in the direction of Trinitarianism.
Nicene Creed of AD 325
The Nicene Creed is the most famous and influential creed in the history of the church (Justin Holcomb).
Eusebius’ explanation of the Nicene Creed – Eusebius of Caesarea, perhaps the most respected theologian at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, afterward wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain certain “objectionable expressions” the Nicene Creed. That letter explains the proceedings at the council and how these “objectionable expressions” were understood at the time. However, the article concludes that the decisions of Nicaea were really the work of a minority. Due to the pressure exerted by the emperor, the formulation presented by the party of Alexander was accepted and became adopted as the Nicene Creed.
The real dispute and main meaning of the Nicene Creed
It is often said that the Council of Nicaea was called to determine whether Jesus is God. But that does not accurately describe the dispute prior to Nicaea or the meaning of the creed. This article analyses the development of Christology from the Bible to the Nicene Council and concludes that the delegates at Nicaea held to Logos-Christology. Therefore, the creed must be interpreted accordingly.
Why the creed uses ousia and hypostasis as synonyms
Contrary to the Trinity doctrine, the original Nicene Creed used the words hypostasis (person) and ousia (substance) as synonyms, saying that the Son of God is the same hypostasis (Person) as the Father. This implies that the Nicene Creed teaches Sabellianism (Modalism). It was explicitly to neutralize the objection that the creed teaches Sabellianism that Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, about 50 years after the Nicene Creed was formulated, proposed a change in the meaning of the word hypostasis.
Fourth Century Arianism
After the Nicene Creed was formulated in 325, the church soon rejected it and returned to the views it held during the previous centuries. In the year 380, emperor Theodosius made an end to the Arian Controversy. These articles explain the intervening period:
- The church returned to Arianism after Nicaea.
- What did Arianism church believe?
- Long Lines Creed – one of the creeds during the Arian period
The end of Roman Arianism
- Emperor Theodosius made an end to Arianism in the Roman Empire through the Edict of Thessalonica (AD 380)
- Why Theodosius was able to end the controversy (Stack)
- Was the creed of AD 381 an update of the Nicene Creed of 325?
Authors on the Arian Controversy
These are extracts from the writings of some authors that themselves analyzed the ancient documents:
- RPC Hanson
- Edmund J. Fortman, The Triune God – Nicene Creed
- Millard J. Erickson, God in Three Persons
- William Boyd, The Ecclesiastical Edicts of the Theodosian Code
Fifth Century Arianism
Trinity – General
What is the difference between the Trinity theory and modalism?
While some people put the emphasis on the three-ness of God, often resulting in tri-theism, in the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, the emphasis is fully on the one-ness of God. Consequently, I fail to see the difference between the three Persons.
Is the Athanasian Creed consistent with
the “Monarchy of the Father?”
In the Athanasian Creed, the “one God” is the Trinity, existing in one substance and one mind. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the “one God” is the Father, and the trinity has three distinct substances and wills. Furthermore, while, the Athanasian Creed only allows relational subordination, in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Son is ontologically, functionally, and relationally subordinate to the Father.
A response to GotQuestions’ article.
The Trinity concept is a humanly devised theory and we must test it against the Bible. This article shows that the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself.
Elohim, translated God, is plural.
Is God more than one Person? Hebrew pluralizes nouns when it desired to express greatness. Ancient translations always translate elohim with the singular theos.
An Eastern Orthodox view of the Trinity – Fr. Thomas Hopko
The Eastern Orthodox Church reflects the theology of the ancient church. The one God in whom we believe is not the Holy Trinity but the Father of Jesus Christ. The Son is divine with the same divinity as God.
Articles I must improve
For a discussion of the major role which Caesar Constantine played in the formulation of the Nicene Creed of 325, listen to Kegan Chandler on the term “homoousios” The famous church historian Eusebius tells us that it was the emperor Constantine who suggested using the word homoousios. Chandler ventures an educated guess as to what Constantine was thinking… and it has something to do with Egypt!
For a discussion of the church fathers, showing that they all believed that Jesus is subordinate to the Father, and that the idea of Christ being equal to the Father only developed during the Middle Ages, see the discussion by Dr. Beau Branson on the Monarchy of the Father (Trinities 240).