History of the Trinity, Part 10

History Of The Doctrine Concerning The Nature Of God In The Early Centuries Of Christianity

Part 10

Arianism And The Council At Nicea

By the 4th century, THE WEST, THANKS TO THE WORK OF TERTULLIAN AND NOVATIAN, HAD REACHED PRACTICAL UNANIMITY REGARDING THE UNITY OF SUBSTANCE BETWEEN CHRIST AND FATHER (in a more or less modified or restyled “Logos- Christology”). [5] THE EAST, where MUCH MORE INTELLECTUAL ABILITY and INTEREST in SPECULATIVE THEOLOGY WAS TO BE FOUND, WAS DIVIDED. ORIGEN, who taught that Christ WAS A SECOND GOD, GENERATED by the Father, was very influential. SABELLIANISM WAS TO BE FOUND predominant IN EGYPT, and in numbers elsewhere. [5,6]

The Arian struggle BEGAN IN ALEXANDRIA, ABOUT 320, IN A DISPUTE BETWEEN ARIUS AND HIS BISHOP, ALEXANDER. MONARCHIAN INFLUENCES IMBIBED IN ANTIOCH LED HIM TO EMPHASIZE THE UNITY AND SELF-CONTAINED EXISTENCE OF GOD [5] — Yet his basic doctrine found its SEED in the LOGOS-CHRISTOLOGY teaching. [4] He also WAS A FOLLOWER OF ORIGEN, in that HE believed that CHRIST WAS A CREATED BEING, MADE OF NOTHING. CHRIST WAS A LOWER GOD than THE FATHER. IN THE INCARNATION, THE LOGOS ENTERED A HUMAN BODY, TAKING THE PLACE OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT. TO ARIUS’ THINKING CHRIST WAS NEITHER FULLY GOD NOR FULLY MAN, BUT A “TERTIUM QUID” BETWEEN. [5]

THE FIRST CHRISTIANS WERE ALL OF ONE MIND WITH REGARD TO THE DIVINITY OF JESUS CHRIST. “THEY SING HYMNS, SAID PLINEY, TO THE CHRIST WHOM THEY HONOR AS GOD.” [15]

BISHOP ALEXANDER WAS INFLUENCED BY THE OTHER SIDE OF ORIGEN’S TEACHING. TO HIM, THE SON WAS ETERNAL, LIKE IN ESSENCE TO THE FATHER, AND WHOLLY UNCREATED.

IN 321, ARIUS was CONDEMNED. ARIANS FOUND A REFUGE IN THE POWERFUL BISHOP, EUSEBIUS OF NICODEMIA. Both parties WROTE WIDELY TO FELLOW BISHOPS, defending their position. THE QUARREL THREATENED THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH THAT the new Emperor, CONSTANTINE, DEEMED ESSENTIAL. [5] CONSTANTINE ATTEMPTED TO RECONCILE THE PARTIES, BUT FAILING, CONVENED THE FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL AT NICEA (A.D. 325). [26]

THE ARIANS PRESENTED A STATEMENT OF THEIR POSITION, BUT THIS AROUSED VIOLENT OPPOSITION (chiefly because Christ was said to be divested of Deity prior to His baptism). EUSEBIUS OF CAESARIA, WHO TOOK A MIDDLE POSITION BUT WAS AGAINST ANY LEANING TOWARDS SABELLIANISM AND HENCE WAS INCLINED TO FAVOR THE ARIANS, SUGGESTED AS A STATEMENT TO WHICH ALL MIGHT AGREE THE CREED WHICH WAS IN USE IN HIS OWN SEE (church). [6] IT WAS, however, WHOLLY INDEFINITE AS TO THE PARTICULAR PROBLEMS INVOLVED, DATING FROM BEFORE THE CONTROVERSY. [5] THIS SEEMED TO WIN THE GENERAL ASSENT, INCLUDING THE ENDORSEMENT OF THE EMPEROR Constantine. IT BECAME, THEREFORE THE OF WHAT HAS BEEN KNOWN AS THE NICEAN CREED. THIS CAESARIAN CREED WAS NOW AMENDED MOST SIGNIFICANT [5] by a number of changes that rid the creed from wording which could be interpreted as Arianism and added elaborate definitions to support the new trend.

THE BISHOPS KNEW THAT THE TEST for orthodoxy presented WAS NOT IN SCRIPTURE, THAT IT HAD A SUSPICIOUS HISTORY IN THE CHURCH. BUT THE FATHERS WERE REMINDED OF THE PREVIOUS unresolved DISCUSSIONS AND OF THE FUTILITY OF THE SCRIPTURAL TESTS. WITH A GREAT REVULSION OF FEELING THE COUNCIL CLOSED ITS RANKS AND SIGNED. EUSEBIUS OF NICOMEDIA SIGNED EVERYTHING, EVEN THE CONDEMNATION OF HIS OWN CONVICTIONS, JUSTIFYING HIS SIGNATURE BY A MENTAL RESERVATION. SECUNDUS AND THEONAS refused to SIGN and were EXILED. [27]

Constantine, ESSENTIALLY A POLITICIAN, NATURALLY THOUGHT THAT A FORMULA THAT WOULD FIND NO OPPOSITION IN THE WESTERN HALF OF THE EMPIRE (Northern Italy, the Balkans, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Bohemia, etc.), AND WHICH WOULD RECEIVE THE SUPPORT OF A PORTION OF THE EAST, MORE ACCEPTABLE THAN ONE WHICH, WHILE HAVING ONLY A PART OF THE EAST IN ITS FAVOR, WOULD BE REJECTED BY THE WHOLE WEST. (The East comprised southern Italy, Greece and Asia Minor – the areas that Paul labored most in.)

THE ADOPTION OF THE NICEAN Creed DEFINITELY WAS DUE TO CONSTANTINE’S INFLUENCE. THAT HE EVER UNDERSTOOD ITS SHADES OF MEANING IS MORE THAN DOUBTFUL: BUT HE WANTED TO UNITE EXPRESSION OF THE FAITH OF THE CHURCH to cement his Empire together. [5]

(The original Nicean Creed had one predominate purpose: to defend the Deity of Christ against Arianism, and does not demand a Trinitarian concept, unless the phrase “God from God” is intended to imply an eternal generation. The formula adopted is as follows):

WE BELIEVE IN ONE GOD, FATHER, ALMIGHTY, MAKER OF ALL THINGS VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE; AND IN ONE LORD JESUS CHRIST THE SON OF GOD, BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER, ONLY-BEGOTTEN, THAT IS FROM THE SUBSTANCE OF THE FATHER, GOD FROM GOD, LIGHT FROM LIGHT, TRUE GOD FROM TRUE GOD, BEGOTTEN, NOT MADE, OF ONE SUBSTANCE WITH THE FATHER, THROUGH WHOM ALL THINGS WERE MADE, BOTH THE THINGS IN HEAVEN AND THINGS OF EARTH: WHO FOR US MEN AND FOR OUR SALVATION CAME DOWN AND WAS MADE FLESH, WAS MADE MAN, SUFFERED, AND ROSE AGAIN ON THE THIRD DAY, ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, AND COMETH TO JUDGE QUICK AND DEAD; AND IN THE HOLY SPIRIT. BUT THOSE WHO SAY ‘THERE WAS ONCE WHEN HE WAS NOT’, AND ‘BEFORE HIS GENERATION HE WAS NOT’, AND ‘HE WAS MADE OUT OF NOTHING’; OR PRETEND THAT THE SON OF GOD IS OF ANOTHER SUBSISTENCE OR SUBSTANCE, OR CREATED OR ALTERABLE OR MUTABLE, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ANATHEMATIZES. [12]

CONSTANTINE BANISHED ARIUS and those who would not SIGN the creed.

ARIUS PRESENTED TO CONSTANTINE A CREED CAREFULLY INDEFINITE ON THE QUESTION AT ISSUE. TO CONSTANTINE’S UNTHEOLOGICAL MIND THIS SEEMED A SATISFACTORY RETRACTION AND A WILLINGNESS TO MAKE HIS PEACE. HE DIRECTED ATHANASIUS TO RESTORE ARIUS TO HIS PLACE IN ALEXANDRIA. Athanasius refused and so was BANISHED TO GAUL. ARIUS was to be restored, but died THE EVENING BEFORE THE FORMAL CEREMONY.

THE NICEAN FAITH WAS PRACTICALLY UNDERMINED WHEN CONSTANTINE DIED ON MAY 22, 337, SHORTLY AFTER HE WAS BAPTIZED.

DOCTRINAL DISCUSSIONS THAT EARLIER WOULD HAVE RUN THEIR COURSE WERE NOW POLITICAL QUESTIONS OF THE FIRST MAGNITUDE now that THE EMPEROR HAD ASSUMED A POWER IN ECCLESIASTICAL AFFAIRS. [5]

THE ORIGINAL NICEAN SUCCESS HAD BEEN MADE POSSIBLE BY IMPERIAL INTERFERENCE. THEODOSIUS, IN 380, ISSUED AN EDICT THAT ALL SHOULD HOLD THE FAITH WHICH THE HOLY APOSTLE PETER GAVE TO THE ROMANS, WHICH HE DEFINED MORE PARTICULARLY AS THAT TAUGHT BY THE EXISTING BISHOP, DAMACUS OF ROME, AND PETER OF ALEXANDRIA. HENCEFORTH THERE WAS TO BE BUT ONE RELIGION IN THE EMPIRE. ONLY THAT FORM OF CHRISTIANITY WAS TO EXIST WHICH TAUGHT ONE DIVINE ESSENCE IN THREE PERSONS. Arianism and Sabellianism were forbidden.

YET EVEN WHEN THE SYNOD OF 381 MET, THE NICEAN CREED ADOPTED IN 325, FAILED TO MEET THE REQUIREMENTS OF THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE VICTORIOUS PARTY. A new CREED CAME INTO USE, AND BY 451 WAS ADOPTED BY THE GENERAL council.  KNOWN AS THE “NICEAN” TO THIS DAY.> [6]

(The new creed adds several clauses which make it definitely Trinitarian, namely):

1. To the original clause: “The only-begotten Son of God” was added: “who was begotten of the Father before all the ages.”

2. To the clause: “the Holy Spirit” was added: “the Lord, the life-giver, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshipped and glorified.”

The amended creed is as follows:
WE BELIEVE IN ONE GOD FATHER ALMIGHTY, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH AND OF ALL THINGS VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE; AND IN ONE LORD JESUS CHRIST, THE ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD,  AGES, LIGHT FROM LIGHT, TRUE GOD FROM TRUE GOD, BEGOTTEN NOT MADE, OF ONE SUBSTANCE WITH THE FATHER, THROUGH WHOM ALL THINGS WERE MADE; WHO FOR US MEN AND FOR OUR SALVATION CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN AND WAS INCARNATE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND MARY THE VIRGIN, AND WAS MADE MAN AND WAS CRUCIFIED ON OUR BEHALF UNDER PONTIUS PILATE, AND SUFFERED AND WAS BURIED, AND ROSE ON THE THIRD DAY ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, AND COMETH AGAIN WITH GLORY TO JUDGE QUICK AND DEAD, OR WHOSE KINGDOM THERE SHALL NOT BE AN END; AND
IN THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE LORD, THE LIFE-GIVER, WHO  FATHER, WHO , WHO SPOKE THROUGH THE PROPHETS; IN ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH. WE CONFESS ONE BAPTISM FOR REMISSION OF SINS; WE EXPECT A RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD AND THE LIFE OF THE AGE TO COME. [12]

IN THE STRUGGLE THE IMPERIAL CHURCH CAME INTO EXISTENCE, AND A POLICY OF IMPERIAL INTERFERENCE WAS FULLY DEVELOPED.  HAD BECOME A CRIME.

CYRIL, BISHOP OF ALEXANDRIA, 412-444 APPLIED TO THE VIRGIN MARY “THEOLOKOS”, “GOD BEARING”, OR AS USUALLY TRANSLATED, “MOTHER OF GOD” A TERM WHICH WAS TO BECOME AS SHARP AND BITTER A THEOLOGICAL CONFLICT AS THE CHURCH HAD KNOWN. IN 340 A SYNOD AT ROME ORDERED NESTORIUS, bishop of Constantinople, EITHER TO RECANT OR BE EXCOMMUNICATED for saying “Mother of Christ” instead of “Mother of God”. NESTORIUS WAS PUT IN EXILE, OFTEN IN GREAT PHYSICAL DISTRESS. [6]

IF THE STOIC METAPHYSICS HAD BEEN DOMINANT INSTEAD OF THE PLATONIC, AND THE IMMANENCE OF GOD, OR THE ONENESS OF THE DIVINE AND HUMAN NATURE, HAD BEEN RECOGNIZED BY THE NICENE THEOLOGIANS, THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY WOULD HAVE BEEN UNNECESSARY; THE RELIGIOUS INTEREST — TO FIND GOD IN CHRIST – COULD THEN HAVE BEEN CONSERVED, AS IT WAS BY THE MODALISTS WITHOUT DISTINGUISHING THE PRE-EXISTENT SON OF GOD FROM THE FATHER.

THE NICENE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY CONTAINS BOTH A RELIGIOUS AND A PHILOSOPHICAL ELEMENT, THE FORMER ROOTED IN CHRISTIAN FAITH, THE LATTER THE PRODUCT OF METAPHYSICS. [12]

(Is there any question that our only hope of recovering the truth rests in the Word of God, alone? All post-apostolic traditions contrary to the Bible must be cast aside if we wish to know the God of the scriptures.)

DIONYSIUS POINTED OUT THAT IN OPPOSING SABELLIUS, MANY DIVIDE AND CUT TO PIECES AND DESTROY THAT MOST SACRED DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH OF GOD, THE DIVINE MONARCHY, MAKING IT AS IT WERE THREE POWERS.

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