THE FALL OF THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH: THE RISE OF THE TRINITY IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE
BY WILLIAM B. CHALFANT, Th. D.
Even though there has been more research into the roots of the apostolic movement in the last decade (and especially since the 1984 Harvard Symposium on the Oneness Pentecostal movement), not much investigation has been done in the area of ancient apostolic history.
There are, in my humble view, a number of misconceptions that need to be cleared from the air. First of all, the prevailing idea that the apostolic church collapsed immediately upon the death of the last apostle, John, in c. 101 AD. Secondly, the idea that all of the sub-apostolic fathers were trinitarian simply because we discover triadic concepts, or interpolations, in their surviving writings. We must point out that there are triadic concepts in the New Testament, but this does not imply ipso facto, trinitarian thought.
Another misconception is that, somehow, the trinitarian doctrine sprang fullblown, like the goddess Athena, from the heads of the trinitarian prelates at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Nothing could be further from the truth. The visible apostolic church, as we see it in the Book of Acts, had been in an outward decline for well over a century, and probably longer, when Nicea took place. Moreover, no apostolic bishops were present, insofar as history shows, at Nicea. Nicea was a dispute between trinitarians, that is, Athanasians and Arians. The importance of Nicea was the involvement of the imperial government as a secularly to the Catholic church, and, of course, the further refinement of the trinitarian creed.
And yet another misconception, in my opinion, is the denial of the place of the dynamic monarchians in the history of the apostolic movement. Without the dynamic monarchians, the link with the second century Alogi is lost. And the Alogi are the first, along with the Ebionites and the sub-apostolic fathers, to sound the alarm against the new trinitarian thinking that was emerging among the Christian Gentiles. More study and research must be done in this area before we can dismiss out of hand the dynamic monarchians.
Some also, I believe, have misconceptions about the Roman church, or what I would prefer to call the Roman district (there were actually a number of assemblies within the metropolitan area of Rome). The Roman church was actually apostolic up until about 222 AD when it became trinitarian and “Catholic”. With the fall of the Roman church in 222 AD we may then say that the ancient apostolic church had also finally outwardly fallen. This is not to say that the apostolic church as a visible entity on earth was gone. Indeed, it is my contention, which I hope to take up in future works, that the apostolic church existed down through the centuries in various parts of the world (particularly in Armenia, Russia, Asia minor, etc.) even up to the twentieth century. There have always been since Pentecost assemblies who were apostolic or monarchian.
The apostolic church today exists among the number of Oneness Pentecostal groups, among which the largest and best known is the United Pentecostal Church International. There are a number of excellent oneness groups who sincerely believe in this great Acts 2.38 message. More and more Christians are expressing concern over the doctrine of the Trinity.
-William B. Chalfant
June 1, 1989
I. AN ASSAULT ON THE MONARCHY OF GOD
In many of the metropolitan “nerve centers” of the Roman empire, the larger Christian churches, or districts, had developed “catechetical schools”, presumably for the proper training of ministers. Unfortunately, these very valuable learning centers seem to have fallen into the wrong hands.
By studying the writings of the men who taught in these schools, we are able to discern the type of Christian syncretism which produced the later, orthodox trinitarian theology.
Moreover, in our study of Christianity in the second century, we shall find four important historical theories to consider:
1) The catechetical schools, located in the large cities of the empire, were important in the introduction of trinitarian theology.
2) Montanism, basically a trinitarian heresy, served as a sort of “catalyst” in promoting the acceptance of trinitarian doctrine.
3) The “Quartrodeciman” councils, held throughout the empire, ostensibly concerning only the correct date of Easter, if we may believe Eusebius, actually reflect the unrest over the spreading trinitarian teachings.
4) Monarchians were not called heretics in the second century, indicating that they were in the majority and held the older, orthodox teaching.
In the second century, we also note the rise of opposition to the Logos doctrine. Unfortunately, only the writings of those who held the Logos teaching have survived. Those orthodox teachers and leaders who opposed the Logos doctrine, which postulated Christ as a separate, distinct Agent from God the Father, were called the “Alogi”, “Against the Logos”, or, “No Logos”. Those orthodox Christians who opposed the Logos doctrine were later to be called “Patripassians”, “Monarachians”, and “Sabellians”, by their trinitarian opponents, who espoused the Logos theology.
The opposition to the Logos doctrine was because it was a deviation from the faith that had been delivered to the Church. It “assaulted the Monarchy” of God; i.e., it attempted to state that God, a single, solitary, individual Being, or a “monarch” (meaning “one ruler”) could have His unique Personality duplicated in another individual; i.e., Jesus Christ. And this was blasphemy to the orthodox Christian.
Obviously, such a teaching would not find much acceptance among Jewish Christians, who, although they believed Jesus Christ to be God, did not believe Him to be a separate Person or Agent from God the Father. The factor behind the increase of the acceptance of the Logos doctrine, a key element in the trinitarian theology, was the growing number of “Gentile” Christians in the second century, who were entering the Christian faith. Moreover, those who had sat under the instruction of the apostles and their immediate disciples were themselves now passing from the scene.
There apparently began to be a concentration of those Gentile Christians, with a Greek education and a background in philosophy, in the great metropolitan centers of the Roman empire. This is how the Logos doctrine, with its classical pagan, philosophical undergirding, and yet constructed with the Christian Scriptures, began to win acceptance among the Gentiles.
For example, Charles Bigg has given us a clear insight into the mind-set of the Alexandrian teachers. They were against the fundamentalist Christian. Their speculations shrouded the simple message of the Gospel in mystery and philosophy: The (Alexandrians) regarded allegorism as having been handed down from Christ and a few chosen Apostles through a succession, not of Bishops, but of Teachers. They employed it boldly, as Philo had done before them, for the reconciliation of Greek culture with the Hebrew scriptures. And lastly, they applied the New Testament, not merely for the purpose of fanciful edification, but with the object of correcting the literal, mechanical, hierarchical tendencies of the day. 1
Bigg says that the Alexandrians of the catechetical school developed what is known as the “doctrine of reserve”. In this teaching, the belief of the “enlightened” Christian becomes a mystery that may be revealed only through transcendental philosophy. The simpler brother must be satisfied with what he is fed by such teachers from the letter of the Bible. 2
It was apparently the self-imposed task of the philosopher-Christian to integrate what he thought was the “crude” message of the Galilean Carpenter into a classical philosophical system that the ancient world could accept. This was more than merely attempting to use a philosophical method of interpretation of the scriptures, it was actually a new, hybrid theology. It was the theology of the embryonic Catholic Church. For without the doctrine of the Trinity, the Catholic Church of history would not have come into existence.
Actual Christian assemblies, espousing a genuine trinitarian view (and we do not hold mere triadic concepts in themselves to constitute a valid trinitarians theology), do not seem to be prominent in the empire until about mid-century, about the time of Justin. A trinitarian group led by one Quadratus of Athens is noted during the time of Hadrian (117-138 AD). When we do note these trinitarian groups, they are associated with the metropolitan areas and with the catechetical schools.
A groundswell of trinitarianism is seen in the decades following the death of Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna (c.156 AD). This crescendo of activity appears to have been precipitated by the appearance of Montanism, a charismatic movement of great strength and virility.
Montanism had the open, or at least tacit, approval of several of the Fathers of the Christian Trinity, including Irenaeus, Tertullian, and probably Justin Martyr. Tertullian later openly professed Montanism.
Montanus himself was a trinitarian. In his reported statements we may see the influence of Justin. The excesses of the Montanists in the areas of glossolalia and eschatology brought great reproach upon the proper use of spiritual gifts and the study of chiliasm. This has clouded the issue. More attention needs to be focused upon the connections between the Montanists and the trinitarian, especially in Gaul and Asia minor. Moreover, the defection of Tertullian to the Montanists affirm their trinitarianism.
The period circa 150-250 AD is a most critical time in the history of the Church. This seems to be a time of great theological struggle between the oneness (Monarchian) and trinitarian groups within the various districts of the empire. Divisions of doctrinal teaching naturally preceded divisions of fellowship. It is probable that “organizational” divisions on what we might call a district level began to occur in the various districts of the Church.
By taking Eusebius’ lists of district bishops or superintendents, and from historical statements identifying certain bishops as trinitarian, it is possible to develops approximate time frames indicating when the various metropolitan districts of the empire changed from the older Monarchian apostolic fellowships to the later trinitarian districts. This would mean that the district’s theological complexion changed from oneness to trinitarian. Undoubtedly, the election of a trinitarian bishop would suffice to show that there were enough pastors present in the district who believed in the Logos doctrine to change the overall theological orientation of the district. Those pastors who yet believed in oneness would have left the fellowship and formed another fellowship. The time frames below are approximate:
Athens 117-138 AD
Alexandria 153-167 AD
Antioch 168-189 AD
Smyrna 180 AD
Rome 217 AD
We have specific evidence of a oneness-trinitarian struggle in at least two districts, i.e., Smyrna and Rome. We even know the names and the theological positions of the ministers involved. We have no reason to believe that such a struggle did not similarly take place elsewhere in the empire.
Catholic and Protestant church history purports to show that this controversy in the second century (and overlapping into the third century) was merely the upsurge of some Monarchian heretics which the trinitarian fathers had to deal with. A closer examination of the history, however, will reveal just the opposite.
Eusebius, while maintaining that the Quartrodeciman issue was the only major issue necessitating the church conferences, or councils, of these times, does also acknowledge “certain heresies” that the aged Bishop Polycarp was concerned with in his final trip to Rome during the bishopric of Anicetus (154165 AD). Two ministers apparently left the fellowship of the Roman district at this time. One of them, Blastus, a man from Asia minor, has been described as a “quartrodeciman”, or a Montanist. The other, also from Asia minor, one Florinus, has been called a Monarchian. 3
It is possible that Blastus was connected with the same circle in which Justin Martyr moved. We know that Justin was a trinitarian and not a Monarchian as we believe the Roman bishops to have been in this period of time. 4
The early trinitarian writers, who were proponents of the Logos doctrine did not attempt to name Monarchians as “heretics”. No doubt this is because the trinitarian factions were a minority, many of them ostensibly under the fellowship umbrella of the ancient, apostolic Church at this time.
Justin Martyr (c.140 AD) in his First Apology (i,63) refers to those “who affirm that the Son is the Father”, and, while he claims them as fellow Christians and does not call them heretics, he condemns them for their Monarchian stand. He repeats this condemnation of Monarchians without naming them as heretics in his Dialogue w h Trypho (128) in c. 150 AD: The power which came from beside the Father of the universe to appear to Abraham and to Moses is called (the Logos) inasmuch as it brings to men the utterance of the Father; but this power can be neither separated nor cut off from the Father any more than the light of the sun upon earth can be cut off or separated from the sun which is in heaven; when that sun sets, the light disappears. Similarly, the Father can, so they say, project his power when he wills, and when he wills draw it back into himself; and their teaching is that it is in this way that he made the angels. 5
-Dialogue with Trypho (128.2,3)
Jean Danielou analyzes this by saying: “The opinion attacked is clear enough-that the Logos does not subsist as a separate entity, but is simply a manifestation of the Father”. 6 Various suggestions have been made as to whom these people were, some believing that they are the forerunners of Sabellius and the Modalists. Clearly, they are the Alogi or Monarchians.
The Paschal question, or the proper date for celebrating Easter, also arose in the second century. Eusebius reported that the whole controversy over when to celebrate Paschal began when Hermas of Rome (c. 50-120 AD) had a revelation that the annual date of Easter (Paschal) should be changed from the Jewish 14th of Nisan to the next Sunday after.
The half-brother of Hermas, Pius, later bishop of Rome (140154 AD), instituted the Sunday celebration in the Roman district, apparently causing a furor in Asia minor and elsewhere. 7 According to Eusebius, this was the main reason for the trip to Rome by the aged Polycarp in 154 AD. And some thirty-five years later, Bishop Victor of Rome was to request regional conferences throughout the empire to deal with the question of when to celebrate Easter.
The Paschal question, or Quartrodeciman (fourteenth) issue, as it was called, became a controversy in Laodicea c.166 AD where Bishop Apollinarius of Hierapolis advocated holding the services on a Sunday, where certain other brethern, possibly Jewish, insisted on the fourteenth of the month Nisan, as they maintained that the Lord ate the lamb on the fourteenth and that He suffered on the great day of the unleavened bread (the fifteenth day of Nisan). They appealed to the Gospel of Matthew. 8 These brethern who opposed Bishop Apollinarius may have been Jewish Christians known as Ebionites, assemblies that were still primarily Jewish and not Gentile.
This dichotomy of Jewish and Gentile brethern over a date of religious celebration may well have included other issues, such as the important differences on understanding the divine Godhead. If the Greek Christians embraced the Logos doctrine, certainly the Jewish Christians would have continued to defend the Monarchy of God, His absolute Oneness.
In about 190 AD, Irenaeus described a list of 31 subversive Christian sects. Like Justin earlier, he made only veiled references to the Alogi, not daring to openly term them heretics.
Hegisippus (c.130-191 AD), a church historian who was a Jewish Christian, wrote c. 174-189 AD, and said that the great Corinthian district had fallen into the hands of heretics during the time of Bishop Primus (c.170-180 AD). We also know that the confrontation between ministers espousing the Logos doctrine and the Monarchian Noetus took place in the district of Smyrna c.180 AD. Now, we assume that Hegesipptus may have been Monarchian for two reasons: (1) he was most likely a Jewish Christian, and (2) he was in fellowship with the Roman bishops.
We also assume, using the time period of this upheaval in these districts, knowing for certain that the specific issue was the oneness Trinitarian controversy over the teaching on the divine Godhead in at least Smyrna and later Rome, and, furthermore knowing that the earlier bishops in the Roman district held to the Monarchian view and that the “replacement doctrine” was the Logos doctrine, we therefore are not too speculative in thinking, that the controversies in all of these major imperial cities were oneness-trinitarian. And so we may consider that Corinth, also, in c.175 AD became a Trinitarian district, although it was earlier Monarchian.
Yet, a mere ten years or so later, Irenaeus in his writings appears to say nothing about these historic events. 9 Later, in the third century, Hippolytus is bold enough to tell us that, in his opinion, Noetus of Smyrna was a heretic. The conclusion is inescapable: in the second century, Trinitarians were in the minority and did not dare to brand the orthodox majority, who were Monarchians, as “heretics”.
Otto Pfleiderer concurs, in part, with such a finding:
We must remember that…Sabellians were not originally heretics, but represented a tendency of faith and life which in the second century had been very prevalent within the Church itself, and which had only been branded as heresy owing to the development of the Church as a whole having left it behind. 10
Can we not say that the “development of the Church” (Pfleiderer) actually refers to the development of the Trinitarian view. Did the Church switch from a Monarchian view to a Trinitarian view? Because those who held the older, Monarchian view were later branded as “heretics” by those who adopted the Trinitarian view, does that mean that the Monarchians were no longer the Church? Shall we say, then, that those today who hold the more ancient Monarchian view are not the Church, just be cause those who hold the Trinitarian view are in the majority?
The Logos doctrine that is a key teaching in trinitarian theology considers the Prologue of the Gospel of John very important to its exegesis. Never mind that the assertion of Christ as a separate power or agent is a gnostic interpretation of this passage that was never intended by John.
When the orthodox Christians rejected their novel interpretation of John 1.1 concerning the logos (the word) of God, the proponents of the Logos doctrine accused the orthodox of being “Alogi”, or “against the Logos”. And since those orthodox Christians rejected their interpretation of John’s Gospel, the Logos doctrine proponents (trinitarian) began to accuse the orthodox of being against the Gospel of John. Hippolytus, for example, said that the Alogi “rejected” John’s Gospel. 11 We know that this is not so. Hippolytus admits that Theodotus was one of the Alogi, and we know that Theodotus accepted John’s Gospel, quoting from it extensively.
Rufus Jones calls the Alogi “an early protest movement against putting a mysterious metaphysical Logos in the place of the Christ of the synoptic gospels”. 12 In his view, the Alogi represent the “first specific revolt” against the “elaborate doctrine” of the Logos.13
At about this same time period, in the second century, Thyratira, in Phrygia on the border of Lydia and Mysia in Asia minor, which was early troubled by a self-proclaimed “prophetess” and possible gnosticism (i.e., the “depths of Satan”, Revelation 2.24), was said to have finally succumbed to the Montanists, who espoused the Logos doctrine, in c.170 AD. 14
In the second century, those of the Alogi party saw the Logos Christology as promoting Gnosticism or docetism.15 They apparently felt that the Logos doctrine was docetic in that it struck at the true humanity of Jesus in making Him some sort of a “demigod”, or “second divine person”. It was gnostic in that it postulated Jesus as a separate, distinct Person from God the Father.
Epiphanius of Salamis (c.370 AD) gives what he considers the Alogi’s criticism of John’s Gospel, but he actually reveals their criticism of the Logos doctrine, which the Trinitarians of that day claimed to have derived from John. 16
Harnack is sceptical of the charges made by Epiphanius, and notes, “…it is extremely surprising to notice how mildly the (Alogi) party was criticized and treated by Irenaeus as well as by Hippolytus”. 17 And this again buttresses the viewpoint of the orthodoxy of the Alogi, or Monarchians, who were apparently the majority of the Christians. We must note, of course, that while Irenaeus was reluctant to name the Alogi as heretics in c.190 AD, and even Hippolytus some 45 years later was also hesitant to identify them as heretics, Epiphanius, in about 370 AD (after Nicea) was quite certain that they were “heretics”. What this seems to indicate is that those who opposed the Alogi, who were the orthodoxy and the majority in the second century, later became the majority and the new “orthodoxy”. Hippolytus specifically identifies the church leaders of the Roman district in the third century as being “Monarchians”, but, in the fourth century, the Roman district leaders are identified as specifically being Trinitarians.
If we accept the Montanists as Trinitarian, then we must find that the Roman bishops were solidly lined up against the Trinitarians in the second century. Pre destinatus wrote that Bishop Soter (166-174 AD) penned treatises against the Montanists, and against Tertullian, the famous Trinitarian architect.18 Some say that the treatise against Tertullian may have been written by Soter’s successor, Eleutherus (174-189 AD), who was said to have been visited by a delegation from Lyons (c.178 AD) advocating a more lenient attitude towards the Montanists 19 Soter is also said to have supported the “rigorist” bishop Palmas against Dionysius of Corinth.20 As previously noted, we have estimated the fall of Corinth into the hands of heretics c.175 AD, and since we believe that Bishop Soter was a Monarchian, then this would strengthen the theory that Corinth fell from the hands of the Monarchians into the hands of the Trinitarians. It was Adolph Harnack’s theory that Bishop Soter was the actual author of Second Clement.21 This was a modalistic epistle completely divergent from the Trinitarian theology of the contemporary Justin Martyr, who is not shown to have had any contact with the Roman bishops.
It is true that there was evidently a “softening” of the Roman attitude toward the Montanists at the end of the bishopric of Eleutherus in c.189 AD. The new bishop, Victor, was apparently ill-advised in sending an offer of recognition and fellowship to the Montanist usurpers in Asia minor. But Victor withdrew his offer of reconciliation and recognition after the arrival of a senior minister from Asia minor, contemptuously called “Praxeas” (“Busybody”) by the trinitarian Tertullian in Adversus Praxeam.
Adversus Praxeam, or Against Praxeas, is not so much a defense of Montanism, as it is an assault on Monarchianism. Noting that Victor received “Praxeas” as a fellow minister and listened to his advice, we might consider the significance of the evaluation of Victor by later Trinitarians. Jerome, for example, the famous fourth century Trinitarian, who had access to Victor’s writings (which have since been “lost”), considered the works of Victor “very mediocre”. 22
We have mentioned the fall of the church at Thyratira to the Montanists in c.170 AD. Sardis, which lay to the south of Thyratira was also apparently threatened by Montanist teaching.
Melito of Sardis was an enigmatic Christian leader. Trinitarians even up through the fourth century highly admired Melito. He was quoted by such men as Tertullian and Caius of Rome, and was termed an “apologist” Yet his writings are strongly modalistic, and the few phrases that one finds which contradict modalism are possibly interpolations. Stuart Hal notes the possibility that Irenaeus did indeed “tamper” with some of Melito’s writings. 23
Melito, who opposed the advance of Montanism like Praxeas and Victor, was a medalist. He wrote of Jesus Christ in this manner:
inasmuch as He begets, Father;
inasmuch as He is begotten, Son;
inasmuch as He suffers, Sheep; inasmuch as He is buried, Man;
inasmuch as He is raised, God. 24
These writings are definitely not Trinitarian. Most likely, Melito was of the Alogi, in Asia minor, who opposed the Logos doctrine.
In Melito we may observe the strands of both dynamic and modalistic Monarchianism interwoven. The passage that we have just quoted above is quite obviously “modalistic”.
In another fragment of Melito’s writings, we may see Melito’s great emphasis, as in the Theodotians, on the milestone of Jesus’ baptism and the exaltation of the man Christ Jesus (cf. Ephesians 1.20 and Philippians 2.9, KJV).
Melito wrote that, in the 30 years before His baptism, Jesus proved His manhood, and that He had purposely hidden the signs of His Godhead because of His “fleshly unmaturity”, although He was “true God pre-eternally existing”.25 Then, says Melito, Jesus proved His Godhead through the signs in the three years after baptism: “For the same One being at once God and perfect man…proved His two essences to us”.26 Here, then, in Melito we may see a common wellspring of both “dynamic” and “modalistic” Monarchianism.
Carrington compares Melito to Ignatius, and says, “Melito…was an exponent of the high Monarchian theology like Ignatius…”. 27 And yet, we see also the Theodotian, the Ebionite, the dynamic Monarchian, in Melito.
The German historian, F.C. Baur, was most acute in connecting the Logos doctrine of Hippolytus with tenets of Montanism, even though Hippolytus himself opposed some of the teachings of Montanists. 28 As for Melito, he was not in the camp of the Logos theologians, but would rather be associated with the Alogi, standing against the spread of Montanism throughout Asia minor.
Clearly, however, a widespread attack upon the apostolic concept of the absolute Oneness of God was promulgated through the Logos doctrine in the second century.
II. CONTROVERSY AT ROME
It was inevitable that the struggle between the Monarchians and the Trinitarians should intensify in the Roman district. Not only was Rome the imperial city, but the Roman church was acknowledged by all to be foremost in matters of faith. The Apostle Paul himself admitted this.
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (c.150-230 AD), born of heath
en parents in Carthage, was educated as a lawyer and a rhetorician. The
time of his conversion to Christianity falls somewhere between 185-196
AD. 1 When he began his ministry, he spoke of the Roman district, while
it was under the leadership of Bishop Victor, a Monarchian, in glowing
Or if thou art near to Italy, thou hast Rome, where we too have an authority close at hand. What a happy Church is that whereupon the Apostles poured out their whole doctrine to gether with their blood; where Peter suffers a passion like his Lord’s, where Paul is crowned with the death of John
(the Baptist), whence John the Apostle, after being immersed in boiling oil and taking no hurt, is banished to an island.
T.H. Bindley estimated Tertullian to have broken with the Church and to have become a Montanist in c.203 AD. 3 The Jesuit scholar LeSaint believes the defection to have occurred later in c.213 AD at Carthage. 4 Another Catholic scholar, LeBreton, agrees with the later date, asserting that “Tertullian stifled the error of Praxeas in Africa while still a Catholic”. 5 However, the internal evidence of Against Praxeas would seem to verify the fact that Tertullian did not write the work until he had become a Montanist. It is not likely that Tertullian held the very strong trinitarian views that he espoused until after he had become a Montanist. In other words, it is very unlikely that he was ever a “Catholic” until he became a Montanist.
Carpenter says of Tertullian that he “…was led to formulate his views on the Trinity and the Person of Christ in controversy with Praxeas…”.6 Tertullian was upset with Praxeas, the Monarchian, because Praxeas had convinced his fellow minister, another Monarchian, Victor, to continue to hold the Montanists in Asia minor in question.
The initial waivering of Victor, after he became bishop of Rome in c.189 AD, indicates the increasing power of those holding the Logos viewpoint even in the Roman district. The fact that the subject of the Godhead became a central issue in a controversy involving Montanists and Monarchians ought to make the reader suspect that two conclusions may be drawn: (1) the Montanists were Trinitarians even though Trinitarians, or Catholics, may have repuduated some of their more extreme views on the New Prophecy and eschatology; and (2) the subject of the Godhead was probably involved in other parts of the empire involving Montanists, and we cannot therefore automatically assume that those who were antiMontanists were Catholics. It is more likely that they were orthodox Monarchians, as in the case of the leaders of the Roman district. This supports our theory that the controversy throughout the empire was one involving Monarchians and Trinitarians.
Tertullian went to great lengths to portray Christ as a separate, distinct individual from God the Father, and so to advocate the Logos doctrine.
In reference to John 1.1, he wrote, “There is one who was, and another with whom He was”.7 To Praxeas, his unnamed Monarchian opponent, he wrote, “To you, the Word (Logos) is what you will, a flatus vocis, a syllable”.8 Here we see clearly the issue between the Jewish Christians’ use and understanding of the Johannine logos, and the Greek pagan Logos, with Tertullian choosing the Philonic Logos, and the Monarchians holding with the Hebrew definition, being careful not to try to duplicate the divine Monad.
Tertullian went so far as to declare that even if the holy Scriptures asserted that there had been a visible appearance of God the Father, he himself would not personally believe it. 9 He was so persuaded by the Greek philosophical thought that God the Father was impassible and so aloof from the physical world that it could not have been the Father who was incarnate.
According to Tertullian, Praxeas maintained that the Father “co suffered” with ‘the Son. If this statement is true, it represents a refinement of the earlier Patripassianism, which reputedly held simply that “the Father suffered”. What is likely, is that Praxeas was careful to make a difference between the Spirit and the flesh in describing the passion of Christ, but without admitting two divine Persons. In other words, although he still believed that Jesus Christ was God the Father manifested in the flesh, Praxeas could have admitted that it was the flesh that directly suffered, and, that in this sense, we may say that the Son suffered. However, Praxeas would also have been able to admit that the Spirit suffered indirectly and was grieved at the death of His darling, also experiencing the pain and the agony through the incarnation. This, however, does not mean that the unique Personality of the Spirit (God the Father) was duplicated in the Son so that we may say that there were two divine Persons. But, rather that the Son was the “express image” of God the Father (see Hebrews 1.3), and that the unique, individual Personality of God the Father was declared, or shown forth, in the Son. The Son, however, was not merely a shell or empty receptacle for the Spirit, but the Son was a true human being with a genuine human spirit, soul, and body, but nevertheless, while the Son possessed two natures, human and divine, and He had a human spirit and a Divine Spirit, a human body, and later a glorified, or divinised body, He did not have two Personalities. He was (and is) able to think as “divinity” (God the Father), and as “humanity” (not God the Son, which is unscriptural, but rather as the Son of God, or the Christ).
It does not seem possible to understand the incarnation unless one is willing to admit that Jesus Christ is both God and man. Jacob saw the Lord standing at the top of Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28.12,13), and it appears that Jesus revealed the Lord (Himself) standing at the bottom of it (John 1.51). Whether we see Him standing at the top in all of His glory, or whether we see Him standing at the bottom as the Christ come to save us, we need to realize that it is the same Lord.
When we study the incarnation, we find those who become confused by concentrating on only one end of the ladder. The same One who stood at the top of the ladder was the One who descended into this world to take His stand at the bottom of the ladder.
For example, it is my belief that many of the supposed “differences” between “dynamic” Monarchianism and “moralistic” Monarchianism can be explained by realizing that Jesus Christ was, indeed, both God (the Father) and man (a true human being), while yet remaining one, individual Person.
In commenting on Praxeas’ belief that the Father “cosuffered” with the Son, J.N.D. Kelly has astutely observed, “It is curious to observe how close at this point modalism came to Theodotus’s adoptianism. Although starting from opposite poles, they reached rather similar conclusions about the Savior as a man inspired by the Deity”. 10
By starting from “opposite poles”? Might we not also say by starting “from opposite ends of the ladder”? Let us remember, then, that both Praxeas and Theodotus were essentially “Monarchians”. And if both were “Monarchian”, then what were the actual differences between their so called “dynamistic” and “modalistic” positions?
Rufus Jones states that the term “monarchian” first appears in Tertullian, who uses it as though it were an already familiar term for those who maintained the absolute Oneness of God. 1l
According to Jones, “The Monarchians recognized the danger, which always threatened Christian theologians, of falling into the pagan habit of admitting a plurality of divine beings”. 12 And this is precisely the effect of the Trinity doctrine, although Jones himself might not hold this view.
Following Loofs and others, Jones holds that the “earliest form” of Monarchianism was the “humanitarian view of ‘the Adoptianists’, who were so named from the fact that they held Christ to have been a man whom God adopted to be His Son”. 13 We must here quickly insert, however, that the ancients did not so name them this.
In fact, most of the fairly reported teachings of the Theodotians are understandable by Oneness scholars today, especially when they are viewed in the context of the Oneness-trinitarian controversy.
Carpenter wrote that Theodotus of Byzantium accepted the “rule of faith”, and upheld the virgin birth. 14 Obviously, then, we must, in all fairness, look more closely at the charges of “adoptianism”. For if one accepts the virgin birth, then he can scarcely be holding to “adoptianism” in its heretical sense.
Another charge against Theodotus was that he denied that Jesus was in any way “a pre-existent heavenly being”. 15 This is easily understood in Oneness (Monarchian) theology, which denies a preexistent second divine Person, insisting that only the Spirit preexisted, and that the man, the human, Christ Jesus, did not exist until He was born of the virgin Mary. This is a familiar charge against Oneness theologians in the fourth century particularly, and in no way specifies a peculiar adoptianist theory, which is “Theodotian”. The tenets of the so-called “adoptianist” theology of the Theodotians are apparently, after close scrutiny, actually an emphasis upon the true humanity of Christ in opposition to the view of Christ as a “demigod” come down from heaven.
As LeBreton has said, “Adoptianism is made known to us mainly by Hippolytus…”. 16 Realizing that Hippolytus was an avid proponent of the Logos doctrine, it is not unreasonable to speculate that he might excessively magnify the differences among Monarchians.
According to the Philosophumena, or, Refutation of All Heresies, Theodotus taught that all things (the “universals”) came into being by the true God. When Christ appeared, He was a man akin to all, but He differed in that “He by the will of God was born from a virgin, who had been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit”. 17 Here Hippolytus tacitly admits that Theodotus held to the virgin birth, but then writes that Theodotus taught that “(Christ) was not incarnate in the virgin”. 18
But, Hippolytus continues, Theodotus held that “at the baptism, Christ descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, whence they say He did not before then exercise powers”. 19 This teaching, if it is correctly reported by Hippolytus, is certainly a far cry from the assertion that Theodotus did not hold to the virgin birth, and that he believed that Jesus was a mere man whom God “adopted” to be His Son. It does raise some questions as to what Theodotus did hold about the incarnation. Did he believe that the incarnation did not take place until the baptism of Jesus (the epiphany), or was he merely disputing that a second divine Person was not incarnate at the virgin birth?
The beginning of the ministry of Christ, and hence the exercising of “powers” at that time, is an old Christian teaching, and has a solid scriptural background. The infancy gospels, which assigned supernatural powers to the baby Jesus, are spurious writings from the second century with trinitarian origins. We find one scriptural instance of the precocious mental knowledge of Jesus before His baptism (see Luke 2.47). The ministry of Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) did not actually begin until He was baptized. If the baptismal scene has any meaning, and it does, it was here that the Spirit came down upon Him and rested upon Him, remaining, as John said. We can well understand the importance that Theodotus attached to this, although we cannot understand the imlications of all that he is accused of having taught from this.
Hippolytus also accuses Theodotus, “(Theodotus) will not have Christ to be God”. 20 And we might ask for further explanation. As a man? As a man, Christ was the Son of God. There is an important dichotomy of Spirit and flesh that must be maintained.
Even Hippolytus admits that the Thedotians held Christ to be God, for he later says that “some will have it that He did not become God on the descent of the Spirit, and others that this took place on the resurrection from the dead” (Philosophumena, VII.23). 21 It is probable that the Theodotians were considering the exaltation of Jesus from the standpoint of His humanity, and they did not thereby intend to deny His deity as Spirit at any time.
Another point on which trinitarian historians have attacked the Theodotians as “dynamic Monarchians” is their “bizarre speculation” about Melchizedek, whom they are accused of having regarded as a “Supreme Power”, “superior to Christ”, possibly equating Melchizedek to the Spirit, which descended upon Jesus. 22
Hippolytus wrote that some of the Theodotians, “accept Melchizedek as some very great power, declaring him to exist above every power, after whose likeness they will have Christ to be”. 23
This is not a bizarre speculation at all in the eyes of Oneness students today. It is indeed a quite familiar teaching about Melchizedek (see Genesis 14, Hebrews 7, and the Psalms), who is considered by some to be a theophany of God the Father, who appeared to Abraham, and established the divine order of the Melchizedekian priesthood.
Therefore, we must be cautious in accepting at face value the criticism of those who oppose them, and would divide into two completely separate theologies “dynamic” Monarachianism and “modalistic” Monarchianism, especially when there are no such terms used by the ancients.
Moreover, it is difficult to understand such a vast gulf fixed between these two forms of Monarchianism in view of the reported previous close relationship in Rome between Victor, an identified proponent of “modalistic” Monarchianism, and Theodotus of Byzantium.
Theodotus, who was, according to history, “supreme in Greek culture, very learned in science” 24, and highly respected in his native city of Byzantium, came to Rome c.193-196 AD. He came to Rome because, it is alleged, of the persecution of Caecilius Capella, commander of the garrison at Byzantium, who executed Christians who would not bear arms during the siege of Severus. 25
Apparently, because he escaped alive to Rome, Theodotus, a leather merchant by trade and possibly Jewish, was accused by proponents of the Logos doctrine, of “denying Christ” through cowardice. Obviously, this charge should be given little credence.
As we have mentioned, Jones regarded Theodotus’ Monarchianism as “the earliest form”, 26 and Harnack has noted that Hippolytus regarded Theodotus as a “remnant” of the Alogi. 27 And so we may surmise that the source of the Monarchians, “dynamic” and “modalistic”, are the Alogi, springing from the old guard Jewish, apostolic Christians, rising up in Asia minor against the new Logos doctrine, and having a remaining stronghold in the Roman district, which was still Monarchian under Victor. It is also interesting to note that Hippolytus attached Theodotus to the school of Cerinthus (not the Gnostic Certinthus) and the Ebionites. 28
Eusebius, the Catholic historian, tells us that Victor later “excommunicated” Theodotus. Eusebius relies on an anonymous (but possibly written by a trinitarian, Caius of Rome) work entitled Against Artemon (Artemon being a later Monarchian with “Theodotian” views), in which the author states that Victor axcommunicated Theodotus, “the leader and father of this Goddenying apostasy, who first affirmed that Christ was a mere man”. 29
The interesting point about Against Artemon is that the author, of the party of Hippolytus obviously, admits that the Theodotians, or Monarchians, were appealing openly to the former teachings of the Roman district under Victor and his predecessors as being the same as theirs; i.e., Monarchian.
Calus, if he is indeed the author as Photius thought, writes that the Monarchians (Artemonites) maintain “that from (Victor’s) successor Zephyrinus (198-217 AD) the truth was falsified. And perhaps what they allege might be credible…”.30 And then he goes on to argue that such a statement cannot be true because Victor “ax-communicated” Theodotus.
This statement in Against Artemon is very significant for several reasons: (1) Here we have “dynamistic” Monarchians appealing to the apostolicity of the teaching of “modalistic” Monarchians, (2) We have Monarchians stating that the Roman district was Monarchian up until the time of Victor (189-198 AD), thus placing the “fall” of the Roman district into the hands of those who maintained the Logos doctrine in this time period. I might add that this agrees with the internal evidence that we have from Hippolytus, who speaks of Oneness-trinitarian difficulties beginning in the time of Zephyrinus also.
Harnack, perhaps because the ancients did not call the Theodotians “Monarchians” as such, does not feel that they were Monarchians, and so he dubbed them “adoptianists”. 31 Harnack admitted, however, that in the case of Victor’s allegedly axcommunicating Theodotus, it is “the first case of which we are certain, where a Christian who took his stand on the rule of faith was yet treated as a heretic”. 32 Moreover, Victor’s successor, Zephyrinus, another “modalistic” Monarchian, supposedly reconciled “mast of the Adoptionist followers” of Theodotus. 33 This does not seem likely if there were such vast differences between the theology of the “dynamic” and “modalistic” Monarchians.
The Theodotians are important in the history of this controversy on the Godhead because of their links with the earlier Alogi and the Jewish Ebionites, and because of their influence upon Paul of Samosata and the Paulinians, whom we find during later centuries. The opposition of the Logos proponents to the Theodotians becomes clearer when the Theodotians are properly identified as Monarchians.
Fred Conybeare, a student of “adoptianist” history, has written:
Bearing in mind the vogue which The Shepherd of Hermas enjoyed in the earliest Roman Church, we are not surprised to learn from Eusebius (HE, v.28) that the same teaching was still popular, though already condemned as heretical, in the third century, under the teachers Theodotus and Artemon. 34
Here we have Conybeare telling us that Theodotus and Artemon were teaching the same doctrine that Hermas, half-brother of the Roman Bishop Pius, taught.
Deferrari holds that the Christology of Artemon was the same as that of Hermas, and that it was a “popular belief” in the second century. 35 Does this sound as though the Christology of the “dynamic” Monarchians was a heresy?
Hermas was early accepted as quite orthodox by the Christian churches in the ancient world. The Muratorian fragment, written c.170-180 AD, says, “But The Shepherd was written quite recently in our own time by Hermas, while his brother Pius, the bishop, was filling the chair of the church of the city of Rome”. 36 Indeed, even Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, calls The Shepherd “scripture”.
It is not until Tertullian, an openly avowed Montanist and Logos proponent, that we learn that Hermas was an “apocryphal” writer. If we can accept that Hermas was within the pale of the older Roman orthodoxy and there is a connection between his teachings and the teachings of Theodotus, then how far outside the pale of Roman orthodoxy does this leave the Theodotians?
As Rufus Jones has written, “(After Adoptianism) the next step is Modalism…a new form of Monarchianism”. 37 We need not agree that Modalism is a “new form” of Monarchianism, but rather a different approach, and a different emphasis upon the unity of the Godhead Itself, rather than on the monadic purity of the incarnation and an “anti-docetic” view of the true or real humanity of Christ, as the Monarchian “adoptianists” seem to have insisted upon.
Jaroslav Pelikan, the eminent church historian, has written, “Taken as stands, that is, as Hippolytus and Tertullian have reported it, this (Modalist) doctrine of the relation between Christ and God turns out to a systematization of popular Christian belief”. 38 The historic doctrine of the Trinity does not, then, preserve the “popular belief” of the earl Christians. That belief was Modalism or Monarchianism. Were “Christendom not saddled with such an onerous belief as the Trinity today, it would naturally gravitate toward the absolute monarchy of God, given the pure Judaeo background of our belief system. And as Klinger has said of modalistic thinking: “It probably forms the great temptation of modern thought”. 39
Trinitarian dogma, however, is convoluted in a kaleidoscope of various words with slightly different shades of meaning. In its essence, Trinity formulations are, of a necessity, reactionary in their nature, having taken place in the heat of dogmatic controversy.
Philo, the Jewish priest turned philosopher in Alexandria, had substituted the Greek word logos for the Greek word nous, “mind” or “understanding”, in Aristotle’s triad. 40 In the third century, Tertullian makes the differentiation of the Logos more sharp and definite than earlier writers by insisting on using the Latin word persona both for God and for the Logos. 41
So intent on affirming the distinction in persons was Tertullian that, like Justin who said that the Son was heteron ti “something other” from the Father, he affirmed that “Filium et Patrem esse aliud ab alio”. 42
The conclusions of Patripassianism were naturally repugnant to men educated in the Greek schools. As Claude Welch has noted, “Part of the objection to patripassianism was undoubtedly that it offended the sensibilities of men dominated by a Greek concept of the immutability of God”. 43
And thus we say that Trinitarian theology was developed in a reactionary atmosphere. Tertullian designed his trinitarian formula, designed to exclude all Monarchianism, with una substantia, tres personae, “one substance, three persons”. The words persona, hypostasis, must properly be considered, says Welch, in terms of analogy. In Tertullian’s formula, the word persona was drawn from “the law courts and the stage, where it refers to a particular in a dispute or a role in a drama”. 44
But, according to Welch, the formula of the trinitarians in the East, tended in the “opposite direction”. Mia ousia, treis hypostaseis. Hypostasis here means “concrete independence”, or “actuality”, as contrasted with mere appearance or attribute, and the “illustration offered by the Cappadocian fathers was of three men, bound together in the unity of essence, manhood”. 45
Robert Paul Roth, a Lutheran professor, has recognized the intratrinitarian “dispute” stemming from two views, one emphasizing the distinction of the divine Persons, while the other emphasizing the relative unity, even to the point of admitting to “modes of being”. 46
This co-existence of the popular Cappadocian view, and the historically triumphant Athanasian view (of the relative unity) has permitted the common trinitarian masses to uphold or entertain a “social Trinity”, with its blatant polytheistic implications, while paying homage to the relative unity of Athanasianism, without so much as a blush.
While Roth might not subscribe to my interpretation above, he is asking questions about the consequences of the historical formulation of the Trinity:
While the biblical revelation provides the materials for the doctrine of the Trinity, the actual formulation was a Church product. Consequently, we must ask: (1) whether the words of the historical formulation mean the same today as they were intended at the time of their origin, and (2) whether the intended meaning can be supported by Scripture. 47
This is the kind of honest self-examination that could become the means of an open dialogue between trinitarians and those who are anti-trinitarian. Understanding will never come about when Trinitarians insist upon hiding behind some nebulous “mystery” of the faith called the Trinity, and when they continue to call those who oppose the doctrine of the Trinity “heretics” on that basis alone, and hurl the epithet of “cult’ at those who do not understand the philosophical refinements of the historical formulation known as the Trinity.
Roth agrees with Arnold Come that it is indeed misleading to refer to the “three Persons” of the Godhead today, as the English word “person” in modern times “designates the unique, discrete, self-determining subject” 48
These gentlemen argue that the early Latin persona, or Greek prosopon, designated a theatrical character or a function and “not a subject or an agent”. 49 Roth wants to preserve God’s “unity as a Person in the modern sense of discrete subject”. 50 Nevertheless, Roth is careful to remain an orthodox trinitarian, as he says, “(God) comes to us on all three levels of relationship as Person, wholly Person, in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. 51
Perhaps, says Roth, “this will point the way to a satisfaction of the Cappadocian concern for the personal quality of the three functions of the Godhead, while at the same time retaining the Person of the God who is a wonderfully multifarious Unity”. 52 Barth is also said to affirm that the One God is “Person” in the “contemporary use of the term”, while Father, Son and Spirit are related as “modes of the divine existence” 53
Such recent obfuscation is scarcely intentional, but it is nevertheless puzzling. The difference in the meaning of terminology such as “person” and the Latin persona is openly acknowledged, but then the same theological theory is merely restated. If God does not (and He does not) subsist as three discrete subjects or agents, then the Logos doctrine with Christ as a separate creative and redemptive Agent falls to pieces.
Moreover, “three levels” of relationship do not ipso facto presuppose three distinct divine Persons, or even the necessity of separate, distinct Persons. Trinitarians are seemingly moving to agree Tertullian’s term persona has fallen into disfavor, but his faulty theological reasoning is retained. Moreover, the various meanings which Tertullian in his argumentation gave to persona make Tertullian’s persona quite readily identifiable with the modern understanding of the English “person”.
Barth’s “modes of being”, or “modes of divine existence” is an equally unsatisfactory replacement so long as one continues to postulate “separate, distinct” persons or personalities without the same terminology, and the Godhead is still seen as three divine “somethings”.
To be fair to Trinitarians, it is indeed difficult at best to attempt to describe Someone who is divine, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Marianka Fousek has said this: “There is no adequate vocabulary for the triune character of God”. 54 But this difficulty does not give us license to develop extra-biblical theologies, or hybrid quasi-Christian doctrines.
In “A Cloud of Witnesses”, Frances Young, of Birmingham University, wrote about the desires of intellectual men and women concerning the Logos doctrine: Logos-theology and Trinitarian doctrine made it possible for God to be involved. The impassible, transcendent One, beyond Being, was intellectually adequate and mystically inspiring, but could not elicit faith and devotion of most ordinary mortals. The doctrine of the Logos and the Spirit made it possible to believe in a God who was both transcendent and immanent, however paradoxicaly that might seem to be. We cannot afford to lose this element in our understanding of God, and it is interesting that prior to reaction against Christianity, Judaism was itself developing a theology of divine hypostases to preserve this aspect of belief in God. 55
Young has identified the attraction of the Greek or Western mind to the Trinity in a very succinct way; however, this very attraction goes against the grain of monotheistic Judaism and Christianity. The impossibility of God was a pagan concept that caused the Greek philosopher-Christians to reject the Patripassians. Moreover, it is not the Logos doctrine that made it possible to believe in God, but the doctrine of the incarnation.
The Judaistic “theology of divine hypostases” would have been anathema to the orthodox Jews, although those in the diaspora may have taken up such thinking.
There is no valid biblical evidence that the pious, dedicated Jew ever had any imminent relationship with anyone other than the solitary Monad as his God. If we say that Judaism, as a whole, was developing such a theology of more than one divine hypostasis, then we would expect to see it in the accepted body of their sacred writings.
Hippolytus (c.160-236 AD), a contemporary of Tertullian, and, according to Photius (Bibl. 121), a disciple of Irenaeus 56, was engaged in the heighth of the Oneness-trinitarian controversy in the Roman district during the early third century.
In his Philosophumena (XIV), we find Hippolytus using the word triados to describe God, a word that can be traced back to Theophilos of Antioch (c.180 AD), “…the Father willed, the Son made, (and) the Spirit manifested. It is by this Trinity (triados) that the Father is glorified”. 57 Notice here, however, that Hippolytus is attempting to use separate divine functions to establish separate, distinct Persons, as though each mode required a separate Person. This is a common error of trinitarians throughout the history of their doctrine.
Hippolytus, who opposed the ministers Sabellius and Callistus in the Roman district, withdrew from the fellowship when Callistus, instead of Hippolytus himself, was elected to succeed Zephyrinus as Bishop. To what degree he openly professed the Logos doctrine, or trinitarianism, at the very time of the controversy (which culminated in his withdrawal in c. 217 AD), we do not know. That he wrote some 20 years later openly as a trinitarian is a matter of history.
Hippolytus was probably the pastor of a suburban church in Portus. 58 He has also been accounted an adherent of Novatus, another trinitarian, and was implicated in that minister’s schism by Pope Damasus. 59 Earlier, he was reportedly a friend of Origen, who fellowshipped with him in Rome c.211 AD. 60 Milman calls Origen “a stranger (in Rome) without rank or authority”. 61 Origen is said to have attended one of Hippolytus’ services where Hippolytus was preaching a message entitled “On The Praise of The Lord’s Salvation”, and was recognized formally by Hippolytus. 62 Clearly, these proponents of the Logos doctrine, were not in harmony with the bishop of the Roman district at that time, Zephyrinus, who was a modalistic Monarchian. And yet, oddly enough, it is they who are today, by most historians, accounted as “fathers” of the Christian faith.
Hippolytus, in his defense of trinitarianism, shows the same predilection for the later tenets of Arianism, that most other pre-Nicene Catholic Fathers show. As F. Schleiermacher has written: Let us now turn to Hippolytus, and inquire how he defended a plurality of persons against Noetus. In him we see the same strong leaning to the Arian schism, and anon the same approaches to tritheism, as in Tertullian. 63
Hippolytus, by any stretch of the imagination, must be termed a rebel eccleisiastic. The Catholics, in history, call him the first “anti-pope” He had a low opinion of his own bishop, Zephyrinus, calling him “an ignorant man, unlearned and unskilled in the Church’s rules”. 64 Hippolytus felt that the elderly bishop’s chief advisor, Callistus, wrongly persuaded Zephyrinus by “gifts” and “extravagant demands”. 65
Hippolytus, among other advocates of the Logos doctrine, was attempting to brand those who held to the old, apostolic Monarchian view as “patripassians”, or, as those whose doctrine actually made the Father to suffer on the cross. The bishop, Zephyrinus, reportedly responded to these charges circulating by stating publicly, “The Father did not die, but the Son (did)”. 66
Zephyrinus had also reportedly stated, “I know one God, Christ Jesus, and beside Him I know no Other, begotten and susceptible of suffering”. 67 Hippolytus, and the Logos doctrine proponents, had wanted Zephyrinus to clearly distinguish two Persons. But, as J.N.D. Kelly wrote, “Zephyrinus …viewed the new talk of ‘Persons’ of the Godhead with unconcealed suspicion”. 68
Optatus (fl. 370 AD) tells us that Zephyrinus refuted heretics in his writings, and left a work “exposing their errors”. 69 But, like Victor’s works, these important writings are evidently no longer extant. They would undoubtedly shed much light upon the controversy at Rome, and, indeed, upon the history of the early Church.
When Zephyrinus died in 217 AD, Callistus, who had opposed Hippolytus, was elected the next bishop of Rome.
But Hippolytus still apparently wielded much influence in the Roman district, and he wrote:
Thus after the death of Zephyrinus, Callistus, thinking that he had succeeded in his pursuit, put away Sabellius as one who does not hold right opinions. For Callistus was afraid of me, and deemed that he could thus wipe off the charge against him before the churches, just as if he held no different opinions from theirs. 70
The “churches” that Hippolytus is referring to here are probably those whose pastors held opinions leaning toward the Logos doctrine. And, it seems apparent that what Hippolytus is inferring here is that Callistus, even though he himself was a modalistic Monarchian, as was Sabellius, broke with Sabellius, who was symbolic of the modalistic Monarchians, in order to ingratiate himself with those churches leaning toward the Logos doctrine, so that he might consolidate his power as a leader.
Such a charge might not be fair to Callistus. Moreover, we do not really know what “right opinions” are involved here. It is not self evident that they involved the doctrine of the divine Godhead. Indeed, they may have concerned matters such as how to proceed against Hippolytus.
Although we do not know to what extent Hippolytus voiced his viewpoints earlier, we read that he later openly taught a Trinity: “For the Father is indeed One, but there are two Persons, because there is also the Son; and then there is the third, the Holy Spirit”. 71
The Logos, a “separate Person from the Father”, according to Hippolytus, came down from Heaven and entered into the holy Virgin Mary. 72 The Logos, the only-begotten of the Father, was generated prior to the incarnation. To prove this, Hippolytus quoted Psalm 110.3, “From the womb, before the morning star, I have begotten thee”. However, as anyone can see, this is a disputed translation.
Speaking of this supposed prior generation of the Logos, Hippolytus wrote:
And thus there appeared Another beside Himself. But when I say Another, I do not mean that there are two Gods, but that it is only as light of light, as water from a fountain, or as a ray from the sun. 73
The phrase, “light of light’, a common one among early trinitarian, is also found in Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Methodius, and Athanasius, among others. Such a phrase might do well in explaining the incarnation, and the appearance of God in the midst of His creation, but it is very inept in attempting to show the distinct, separate Persons of the Godhead.
Larson is of the opinion that Hippolytus must bear the primary responsibility for the split in the Roman district: The Monarchians had entrenched themselves so thoroughly in Rome by 225 that their teachings had become official dogma. Hippolytus thereupon entered the lists against Sabellius over the question of hypostatic Christology with such vigor that the Church was torn into factions. The practical Pope Callistus thereupon excommunicated both disputants, and devised a compromise which he hoped would pacify all factions. 74 Note, however, that Larson is apparently unwilling to admit that the Monarchian teaching was the original, apostolic doctrine. He will have it to be a “dogma” that became “entrenched” in Rome. In his version, Hippolytus is defending “hypostatic Christology”, which, we are led to believe, is rather the ancient, apostolic teaching. Notice, too, that Hippolytus was “ax-communicated”, but he is not the “heretic”. Tertullian left the Roman church, but he is not the “heretic”. The truth of the matter is that Hippolytus indeed bears a great deal of responsibility for the “split” in the Roman district, and it is the “hypostatic Christology”, or the Logos doctrine of trinitarianism, that was the heretical doctrine being introduced into the district of Rome.
F. Baur has insisted, however, that Monarchianism was the received and “prevalent” doctrine of the Roman church, and that this is confirmed in Hippolytus’ Philosophumena. 75 In commenting on the struggle between Sabellius and Hippolytus, Baur notes: “All this shows plainly enough how doubtful and unfixed the doctrine of the Trinity still was at this time in the Roman church”. 76 We might add that in the Roman church we do not have church leaders defending the Trinity against Monarchian heretics, but rather we have the church leadership defending the Monarchy of God against Trinitarian heretics. This may seem rather perplexing to those who today defend the Trinity as the orthodox truth, but it must give them somewhat to consider.
The Roman struggle, as should now be apparent to the reader, was not an isolated incident, but reflected a “worldwide” doctrinal division.
In the period 189-198 AD, as previously noted, conferences were held throughout the Roman empire, reportedly only on the date to celebrate Easter (Paschal). In the East, meetings were held at Osrhoene, in Palestine, and in the Pontus in Asia minor, on the Black sea, as well as elsewhere. In the West, conferences were scheduled at Corinth, in Gaul, and in Rome.
According to Eusebius, almost all bishops agreed to celebrate Easter on Sunday, in the Roman fashion, as Bishop Victor advocated. Only the bishops of Asia minor, led by Polycrates of Ephesus, disagreed, and insisted on the Jewish Quartrodeciman (the 14th of Nisan) custom. 77
It is indeed difficult to imagine worldwide conferences on the date of Easter alone. It may have been an item on the agenda. Both Euseblus and Socrates, the historian, insist that the Romans withdrew fellowship from the Asia minor churches because of their stubbornness on the issue.
Merely over the correct date of celebrating Easter? That is rather doubtful. We may recall the charge of Tertullian that Victor of Rome sided with his Monarchian advisor, Praxeas, against fellowshipping the Asia minor churches who had embraced Montanism. This happened at the beginning of Victor’s episcopate. Are we, then, to consider that Montanism was not an issue at these conferences? Noting Tertullian’s heaviest attacks, after he became a Montanist, were against Monarchian theology, can we also rule out that the Oneness-trinitarian controversy was not an issue at these worldwide conferences? Why would those who later wrote trinitarian history wish to cover up the extent and the importance of these controversies, if they have indeed done so?
If we admit that the Roman controversy cannot have been an isolated incident, and that the controversy on the divine Godhead was widespread throughout the church, we are able to better understand the circumstances in which the church in history, which was originally Monarchian, or Oneness, became Trinitarian. By stating this, we do not mean to imply that the Monarchian Christian Church, or the Apostolic Church, has ever ceased to exist, but rather that those assemblies who professed Monarchian doctrine were forced to leave the fellowship of those assemblies who had adopted the Logos doctrine. The two could not exist side by side in Christian fellowship. Not only was the original understanding of the divine Godhead rejected by the teachers of the Logos doctrine, but they also changed the original formula for water baptism from calling out the Name of Jesus Christ over the candidate to calling out the titles of “Father”, “Son” and “Holy Ghost”, because they had assigned these three divine titles to each one of their three separate and distinct, divine Persons.
This worldwide dispute can be tracked never so clearly as in the Roman district, where it came to a head in the first quarter of the third century.
Zephyrinus, for example, in the Liber Pontificalis , if we may believe the statement, is said to have ruled that all ordinations of ministers must be public. 78 This might indicate that the bishop was concerned about factions ordaining their own ministers without his permission.
Burton Easton says that the followers of Hippolytus were “not numerous” 79 We know that they were not numerous enough to elect Hippolytus bishop of Rome in 217 AD, and so he left the Roman fellowship.
Callistus, who was elected bishop, obviously as the “heir apparent” of Zephyrinus, accused Hippolytus, and his followers, of being “ditheists”, or “worshippers of two Gods”. It is the Logos doctrine that Callistus is referring to here. Sabellius, whom we know to have held the modalistic Monarchian viewpoint, made the identical charge against Hippolytus. In spite of all this, Sabellius was to later term Callistus a “turncoat”. 80
The original teaching of Bishop Callistus seems to have been
I will not speak of two gods, the Father and the Son, but of one alone. For the Father, who rested in the Son, having assumed flesh, divinised it in uniting it to Himself, and made it one with Himself, so that the names of Father and Son apply to one and the same God. The personality of God cannot be duplicated; consequently, the Father suffered with the Son. 81
The reader will notice that Callistus has used the same argument that Praxeas, the friend and advisor of Victor, had used, which is that the Father “co-suffered”, or suffered with the Son. Then we must state, that, if the Praxeans were Patripassians, then so was Callistus. He was not a Trinitarian.
It is interesting to note that Noetus, some thirty-seven years earlier, had simply stated outright that “the Father suffered”. This would be a pure “patripassian” viewpoint. We find this subtle difference in teaching even today among Oneness believers today. Some do not like to say that “God suffered”, or, that “God died”, while others, reckoning that Jesus Christ was God, reason that when Jesus died, then it was God who died, or when Jesus suffered, it was God who suffered. Although none, when closely questioned, would admit that the Spirit could die, or that the Spirit could suffer, except in the flesh vicariously.
To say, however, that God did not experience death in the flesh is also to say that He was not in all points tempted as we are. We would not say likewise that God does not know what hunger, thirst, or weariness is. He has experienced all of these things in the flesh. Understanding, of course, that in His omniscience, He already knows what all of these experiences are, perfectly. Nevertheless, it is better to say that the Father suffered “in the Son”, and this is what Callistus was saying in the Greek.
Callistus held to the absolute Oneness of God. He wrote:
…that there is only one God, the Father and Creator of the universe; He is Son inasmuch as He is so named, and receives this appellation, but in essence (ousia) there is only one Spirit. 82
Notice the element of “dynamic” Monarchianism in the above statement by Callistus that the Father “divinised” the flesh of Christ, uniting it to Himself, and made it “one” with Himself. In Callistus, as in Melito, we may indeed see both elements of “dynamic” and “modalistic” Monarchianism.
In fact, Hippolytus alleges a relationship between the teaching of Noetus (modalistic Monarchianism) and Theodotus (dynamic Monarchianism) in his statement on Callistus:
He (Callistus) says, God is not a spirit other than the Word (Logos) nor the Word (Logos) other than God: there is therefore only one single person, distinguished in name but not in essence (ousia. He says this Word (Logos) is the sole God, and that He was incarnate. And he will have it that the one we see and touch in the flesh is the Son, and He who dwells in Him the Father, now being wrecked on the doctrine of Noetus, and at other times on that of Theodotus…83
This teaching of Callistus, on patripassianism and Monarchianism, is seen in the older Asiatic modalism of such men as Ignatius, a disciple of the apostles:
Be on the alert for Him who is above time, the Timeless, the Unseen, the One who became visible for our sakes, who was beyond touch and passion, yet who for our sakes became subject to suffering, and endured everything for us. 84
Here Ignatius has attributed the suffering to the same One who was beyond touch and passion. He does not credit the suffering to a second, divine Logos, or Person. His statement is pure patripassianism. This same patripassianism is manifested in the teachings of the Roman bishops and the Monarchians. It is a strong argument in favor of the superior credentials of Oneness theology. If we study the Roman controversy in depth we shall soon come to the realization that the first true Roman Catholic Pope, who succeeded to the chair of St. Peter, was Bishop Urban (222 AD). This has tremendous importance for the student of church history.
Tertullian, in his polemic against Praxeas, the Roman bishop Victor’s friend and advisor, admitted that the majority of Christians in that day did not accept trinitarian theology: “The simple people…who are always in the majority of the faithful…shy at the economy (the distinction between Father and Son)”. 85
The restraint of the Roman district is admirable. It seems to have been the last major church district to officially fall into trinitarianism. 32
Other areas, such as portions of Libya, Galatia, and Syria (and later, possibly Armenia), remained isolated strongholds of Oneness believers for centuries, but the last great bishopric of the ancient, organized apostolic Church to remain Monarchian appears to have been the Roman district.
With the demise of Bishop Callistus, reportedly killed in 217 AD by rioters, and his body thrown into a well near the church that he founded in Trastevere, a suburb of Rome, there are no more Monarchians ever found at the head of the Roman district. 86
Nevertheless, even after it became trinitarian, the Roman church remained sensitive to charges of ditheism or tritheism.
Dionysius of Alexandria, whom Fairweather has called, “…the most learned and certainly not the least enthusiastic of Origen’s disciples” 87, who was the president of the Alexandrian Catechetical School, and the presiding Bishop of Alexandria until his death c.265 AD, found himself at odds with Bishop Dionysius of Rome because of his strong subordinationism teaching.
Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, in controversy with Monarchians of Libya, had written:
The Son of God is a creature born of God, and not identical with Him in nature. In substance, He differs from the Father as does the husbandman from the vine, and the shipwright from his boat. 88
Furthermore, as a creature, Dionysius reckoned, the Son did not exist before His creation.
For these, and other similar statements, reported to Dionysius of Rome by certain Libyan ministers, Dionysius of Alexandria received some sharp rebukes from the Roman prelate for drifting toward “tritheism”.
Sabellius, who had apparently left Rome for Libya, was very active in northern Africa during this period (248-265 AD). Bigg says that during this time in Alexandria, the trinitarian rules of faith, or articles of faith, were worded as to exclude “Noetians”, or Monarchians. 89
Schleiermacher believed that opposition to Sabellian teaching “pulled a split” in the Alexandrian school, which formed the Arian and Athanasian parties. 90 Moreover, George Gilbert has noted that, “The Alexandrian type of exegesis dominated in the West as in the East, and through the great theologians it affected statements of faith which are still held in the church”. 91 Of course, the Arian and the Athanasian viewpoints were at the center of the stage at Nicea. And Arianism and Athanasianism has dominated trinitarian theology for centuries.
This tendency to “Arianize”, as Schleiermacher called it, is a major symptom of trinitarian theology. Chapman has succinctly arrived at the problem:
The theologians were thus defending the doctrine of the Logos at the expense of two fundamental doctrines of Christianity, the Unity of God and the Divinity of Christ. They seemed to make the Unity of the Godhead split into two or even three, and to make Jesus Christ something less than the Supreme God the Father. This is eminently true of the chief opponents of the Monarchians, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Novatian…92
Chapman would undoubtedly feel that Catholic church councils have corrected these glaring trinitarian excesses, nevertheless he has been quite honest in identifying them. Moreover, he also writes:
…Monarchianism was a protest against this learned philoshophizing, which… to the simplicity of the faithful looked too much like a mythology or a Gnostic emanationism. 93
Even though Chapman himself, a fine historian, would certainly deny such notions, are we, then, so wildly speculative after all in alleging that the roots of trinitarianism are to be mainly found in Greek philosophy and gnosticism rather than in the original Jewish Christianity?
Edwin Hatch believes that one of the chief vehicles used by trinitarians to establish their doctrinal supremacy was “the Greek method of allegory”, the description of one thing under the image of another.
This method of allegory, at first rejected by Christians, was initially spread through the influence of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in Egypt. According to Hatch, the allegorical method was originally applied to Christianity by the gnostics. 94 Most trinitarian arguments, even today, are built around this method.
Adolf Harnack maintained that the primitive gospel “had been obscured and distorted by its early contact with Greek thought”. 95
What effect have these Greek and gnostic influences had on the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity? What part of trinitarian teaching is Greek philosophy? What part is gnosticism? What part is truly scriptural in thought and in origin?
The controversy at Rome gives us an opportunity to study at close range the relatively early outbreak of the Oneness-trinitarian doctrinal dispute.
The student of history must surely note that the Monarchian, or Oneness Christians, have a superior, or, at least, an equal claim to the antiquity of their doctrine. Moreover, the Monarchian, or Oneness Christian church, has a claim on the chair of St. Peter, which was usurped from it in 222 AD by trinitarian Christians. The successor of Callistus should probably have been Sabellius, not Urban’
And while the reader may not agree with the above observation, it would at least be profitable for the reader to carefully re-examine the Oneness Trinitarian controversy during these early centuries, with the idea of discovering the real truth.
III. THE NICEAN TRINITY: SCRIPTURAL OR CONCILAR?
Concerning the development of trinitarian doctrine, Adin Ballous wrote:
But in spite of all external and internal opposition, the new Platonic Christology and theology gradually prevailed. After long, rancorous and complicated controversy, it became the orthodoxy of the general church, by decree of the Council of Nice, AD 325. 1
Actually, however, we know from history that the Nicean Council was attended only by Trinitarians; i.e., Catholics, and that it was not attended by Monarchians, of whom there were still great numbers throughout the empire. Therefore, it would be more correct to say that the viewpoint of the Athanasian party of the Catholic church (i.e., the Trinitarians, including both Athanasians and Arians) prevailed among Trinitarians.
Nicea was a milestone in trinitarian theology, or, as Ballous calls it, “Platonic Christology”, but Nicea was not a milestone in Monarchian theology.
However, the first council at Nicea condemned the “errors” of Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Photinus, and their followers. 2 Canon 19 of the Council was specifically aimed at Oneness Christians, stating that the followers of Paul of Samosata, on “returning-” to the (Catholic) Church, were to be re-baptized into the Trinity (thus indicating, of course, that Paul baptized believers into the Name of Jesus Christ), and that Oneness ministers were to be re-ordained if they desired to be clergymen. 3
Nicea was truly a black day for Monarchian Christians. For the first time, the power of the Roman empire, at the instigation of the Catholic Church, was focused specifically against them.
G.P. Baker calls Nicea the beginning of a Christian revolution. 4 And Rufus Jones calls the Emperor Constantine a “decisive factor” in the controversy at Nicea. 5 And he writes of Constantine, “…having joined the Church, at least partly, for the sake of unifying his vast empire, he could not quietly sit still and see it shatter itself to pieces over an impractical mystery”.6
Marvin A. Larson is less kind to Constantine, labeling him a ” paranoic” who murdered many of his nearest relatives”.7 The Catholic Church, in return for material benefits, according to Larson, “beatified this royal ogre” 8
Although he reportedly demonstrated an amazing amount of insight, it is doubtful that Constantine entirely understood the theological issues enjoined. However, he knew the results that he desired for the empire. No doubt he was used by certain Catholics who also used his authority to press their views. Paul Goodman has written:
…it was…by the authority of this pagan ruler (Constantine), and not by the free influence of the Holy Spirit, (that) the precise nature and essence of the Christian Deity was fixed. 9
If this be so, then we must understand that the Nicean theology, which is still upheld today by the Catholic-Protestant theologians is not the product of the Holy Spirit, but was rather forced upon the empire through the auspices of a pagan emperor, who desired political and religious unity. Of course, we know that the precise nature and the essence of the Christian Deity cannot be “fixed” by man.
And, although Constantine has received Catholic sainthood for his role at Nicea, it seems to have been a priest of Egypt who was the man of the hour. Harnack has written of Athanasius:
…a very great advance was arrived at, when Athanasius, by his exclusive formula of Logos homoousios (consubstantial Logos), negatived both Modalism and subordinationist Gnosticism, but the Hellenic foundation of the whole speculation was preserved, and for the rational observer a second rock of offense was merely piled upon a first.10
It was Athanasius who wrote, “The Lord founded the faith of the Catholic Church on the Trinity”. 1l It is strange, however, that the apostles of the Lord did not express their faith in a Trinity.
The term homoousios has an interesting theological history. It seems to
have first been used by Noetus of Smyrna to defend the absolute unity of God. It was apparently used by Sabellius and Paul of Samosata for the same purpose. Thus it was rejected at the Council of Antioch (264-272 AD) by the Catholics, since Paul was interpreting homoousios as of “one person”. 12
Martin Werner believes homoousios to be of gnostic origin. 13 This is rather doubtful, however, in view of the gnostic’s predilection for polytheism. Homoousios is a phrase that emphasizes unity rather than distinction.
Lamson states that homoousios was used by Athanasians to exclude the Arians:
…the orthodoxy discovered a letter of Eusebius of Nicomedia (stating that) the Arians objected to saying that Christ was consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father, so they used it to exclude the Arians. 14
Thus, the phrase of the Monarchians, homoousios. And while the Monarchian would say that the Father and the Spirit (one could also say Father and Son, but in order to simplify matters and avoid a side discussion of the incarnation, let us say Father and Spirit) are the same substance, or homoousios, and therefore the same Being or person. The trinitarian, or Athanasian, however, would say that Father and Spirit are the same substance (spirit), but that they are two distinct persons.
Hagenbach supports the argument that trinitarians expropriated Oneness terminology, when he writes: “Sabellius made use of…such expressions as were afterword transferred to the terminology of the orthodox church”. 15
Thus, the trinitarians, who had linked their fortunes with the Roman imperial government, were willing to expropriate a Oneness theological term, which they had earlier banned in the Councils of Antioch (264-268 AD) in opposition to Paul of Samosata, the legitimate bishop of Antioch.
As Fousek has written:
The Nicaean side finally won the empire by a combination of hard theological work, shrewd politics, and the arrival of the theologically well-informed, pro-Nicene Theodosius upon the imperial throne in 380 AD”. 16
Of course, we realize that when we are discussing these church councils, we are talking about councils that were only open to Catholics of trinitarian persuasion after 313 AD.
It was the “ecumenical” council summoned by Theodosius in 381 AD that adopted the Nicene faith in its present credal form. 17 This credal form has survived basically intact for 1600 years.
However, it must be admitted that Trinitarians have accepted this formula on faith and have not been successful in working out the theological particulars. In other words, the formula will not stand up under intense scrutiny of the scriptures.
For example, Nicea was reviewed at a unique meeting between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Trinitarians at the Council of Florence (in 1439 AD). It was one thing, these scholars found, to simply state the utilitarian formula, una substantial, tres personae (or, using the word hypostasis, in the case of the Greeks), but it was an entirely different matter to enter into a detailed discussion of distinctions.
The Catholics at the Council of Florence believed that the “individuating marks in the Trinity” are the relations that “obtain between the Persons”. The Father is “He-from-whom-the-Others-come”, as a source. The Son and the Holy Spirit are “Theywho-are-from-Another”, one (the Son) by “generation” (birth), and the other (the Holy Spirit) by “procession”. 18 Giovanni Montenero, a Roman Catholic theologian at the Council, said, “the one essence (substantia) is communicated between the Persons of the Trinity, but the properties are not”. 19 And Gill identifies the properties of each Person thusly: “To generate, to be generated, to proceed”. 20 The reader might well protest that these properties are not distinctions of personhood, but rather distinct activities or manifestations. We might ask how it is that the essence is communicated but that the properties cannot be in view of the theory of co-equality? Montenero also maintained that “…the nature, not the person of the Father, is communicated to the Son”. 21 Where is the scripture for such a dogmatic statement?
According to Quasten, one of the early Catholic Fathers, Gregory, had made an “advance” in the trinity doctrine with “a clear definition of the distinctive characters of the divine Persons”, when he wrote:
The proper name of the Unoriginate is Father, and that of the Unoriginately Begotten is Son, and that of the Unbegottenly Proceeding, or Going Forth, is the Holy Spirit. 22
Again, the reader may well desire to know what kind of an “advance” is this in a “definition of distinctive characters of the divine Persons”? Once again, the trinitarian has given only a distinction in divine activities and not in personhood. Notice also, that in defining the “Father” as “Unoriginate”, he has given this unique aspect of true divinity to Him, and he awkwardly attaches the adverbs “unoriginately” and “unbegottenly” to the other two “Persons” to attempt to obviate their quite obvious status of derivation. Someone who is begotten has an implied “derivation”. Someone who proceeds from Someone else has an implied derivation. All of this is unecessary when we realize from the scriptures that it was the selfsame Unoriginate, who was begotten in time of the Virgin, and it is He Himself that proceeds from Himself as the Holy Spirit when He indwells us. Thus, we do not have separate, distinct Persons at all, but rather distinctive activities or manifestations of one divine Being. The Bible tells us that Christ is the “express image” of God’s person (hypostasis) (Hebrews 1.3). Where, then, is the personal distinction?
Of course some maintain that the distinctive difference is simply that one divine Person is “Father”, while the other is “Son”, and the third is the “Holy Spirit”. The maintenance of these distinctives becomes so desperate that some have resorted to hairsplitting. Athanasius, one the architects of the Nicean dogma, for example, continued to use the terms ousia (“substance”) and hypostasis (“being”) as synonymous even after the Council in 362 AD. However, Basil (born c. 330 AD), in his Epistle 214 (370-378 AD), said:
ousia has the same relation to hypostasis as the common has to the particular…hypostasis is contemplated in the special property of the Fatherhood, Sonship, or the Power to Sanctify. 24
If I understand this statement correctly, then hypostasis could be successfully differentiated by the property of “Fatherhood”, “Sonship” or the “Power to Sanctify”. If this analogy is true, then, as one becomes a “father”, his “being”, or hypostasis, changes. Here, however, we must point out, this analogy fails in the realm of creation. The property of “fatherhood” cannot be used to differentiate between two human beings who are both fathers. Furthermore, “fatherhood” is not a property of individuality as it applies to being.
The trinitarian can only find a solution to the dilemna of the synonyms ousia (substantia) and hypostasis by inventing new meanings to old terms. As Gill has written in his study of the Council of Florence: “How then to turn hypostasis, which purely on principles of derivation was the same as substantia”? 25
But Gill gives us the real reason for the use of such metaphysical sleight of hand:
Neither Greeks nor Latins involved themselves in these intricacies of metaphysical thought just for its own sake. It was forced upon them by the need to defend Christian doctrine first against the Jews who accused them of polytheism- they had to assert the unicity of the divine essence-and then against erring Christians who, stressing too much the oneness of God, denied the divinity first of the Son, and then of the Holy Spirit. 26
In reply let it be said that it was indeed the Jews, through divine inspiration, who gave us the Christian message. It was not the Jews, nor the Jewish apostles, who compromised the “unicity of the divine essence”, but rather it was in truth the Catholics who compromised the Christian message by postulating two other divine Persons.
Secondly, there were “erring” Christians (adoptianists, Arians, Unitarians) who denied the divinity of the Son and the divinity of the Holy Spirit. There are those today who refuse to recognize the divinity of Christ or the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Admittedly also, these groups, for the most part, base their actions on their defense of the oneness of God.
Uniquely set apart from these groups, however, are those Monarchians today, who, while rejecting the Trinity, still accord full divinity to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. I am, of course, speaking of oneness Pentecostal groups such as the United Pentecostal Church International.
The trinitarian doctrine did not evolve as an effort to defend the divinity of Christ, but rather as an effort to defend the distinction of Christ from the Father. In defending this distinction, the trinitarian dogma subordinates Jesus Christ to the status of inferior deity.
This subordination of Christ (which can in actuality only refer to Jesus as a human being) brought about the Arian heresy, which, in turn, precipitated the Nicean compromise.
Gerald O’Collins, Catholic teacher, has recently written:
Of course, it took some centuries before the full and explicit church teaching on the trinity developed. The New Testament 27 does not state the doctrine of ‘three persons in one nature’.
Not only are trinitarians forced to admit from such councils as Nicea and Constantinople that their doctrine is a developed, or evoluted, teaching (evolving with the assistance of both scriptures and philosophy), but they have had to engage in, and still must engage in, dogmatics to properly defend and define their teachings. As Geoffrey W. Bromley does in this example:
Although not itself a biblical form, the trinity has been found a convenient designation for the one God self-revealed in Scripture as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It signifies that within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three ‘persons’ who are neither three gods on the one side, nor three parts or modes of God on the other, but co-equally and coeternally God. 28
This is concilar rather than biblical. This is dogmatic rather than doctrinal. A true trinitarian rejects tritheism, but he cannot logically escape the tritheistic tendencies of his own doctrine.
There are distinctions when we come to the sacred incarnation. There is a distinction between Spirit and flesh. There is a distinction between divine and human wills, and between divine and human natures, but there can be no distinction of being or person when it comes to Divinity. If this sounds “dogmatic”, it is from the insistence of the scriptures. The substance in the scriptures is Spirit, and the only subsistence is the flesh associated with the sacred incarnation. We cannot find the scripture that states “three persons” in reference to the titles “Father “Son” and “Holy Spirit”. We cannot find the passage that predicates of God more than one hypostasis. Those passages that reveal the Son as the Father (e.g., John 14.7-9), and the Son as the Holy Spirit (e.g., 2 Corinthians 3.17), when He is considered as God, cannot be superseded by the “co-equality” and the “co-eternality” of Nicea.
The origins of the Trinity lie outside the holy scriptures. And yet, in the Garden of Eden in Genesis, we may see the beginning of the Trinity when Satan deceives Eve. For the Trinity doctrine, as beloved and as sacrosanct as it may appear to some, involves satanic deception. False religion sprang from the deception of Eve, and the disobedience of Adam. These are not mythological bemusements, but they are archetypes with widespread spiritual applications.
As we leave the eponymous family of Adam and Eve, and descend in history to the founding of Babylon, we leave a family who knew the true religion, or worship of God, and come to the foundation of false religion, and false religious systems, epitomized in Babylon. Triadic patterns associated with polytheism are first noted in the ancient Babylonian system. There is a difference between paganistic triads and the triadic patterns noted in the New Testament. The former refers to separate, distinct divine persons, while the latter refers to offices or manifestations of the one true God. A misunderstanding of this led to the Trinity doctrine.
The Logos doctrine, which is also shown to be of pagan or Babylonian origin when its roots are traced, is evident in the pagan pantheons centuries before John wrote his Gospel. The Logos of John is a Hebrew concept, identified as Praxeas wrote as a flatus vocis, God projecting Himself into His creation, or speaking creation into existence, and is in actuality God Himself (John 1.1), and not some separate, divine Person, as in the Greek Logos, messenger-god concept, interpreted as an “arch angel” or “second god” by the Jew Philo.
This Jewish-Greek concept of the Logos gave the Catholic Fathers the opportunity of making Gentile Christianity more palatable to the heathen. Moreover, we have seen that the gnostic centers of learning were the perfect vehicles to formulate and disseminate this Trinitarian persuasion.
It was indeed the educational centers of Athens and Alexandria where the architects of the Christian Trinity exerted such widespread influence during the first two centuries following the establishment of the Church at Jerusalem.
These teachers were able to capitalize upon the opposition to Judaism in the Christian movement among the Gentiles. That which became “suspect” because it was “Jewish” was not just the dietary laws and circumcision, but, after the death of the apostles, even the pure monotheism which they had espoused. We may perceive the truth of this when we note the earliest enemies designated by the Catholics were predominantly Jewish.
Those who were later termed “monarchian” because of their strong insistence upon the full divinity of Jesus Christ and the absolute oneness of God were given such names as “Ebionites”, “Alogi”, and “Theodotians”, “Noetians”. Many of these seem to have strong Jewish connections. Therefore, it is indeed ironic that Philo, the “godfather” of the Christian Trinity, was a Jewish priest.
The Catholic Fathers of the Christian Trinity were actually men who functioned upon the perimeter of the Christian Church, with a few notable exceptions. Justin Martyr, for example, was not even, apparently, an ordained minister.
Although these Catholic Fathers have been made posthumously famous in Catholic and Protestant history, there is little or no evidence that they were accepted by the contemporary leaders of the apostolic Church, who still maintained the monarchian teaching of oneness, and baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ.
A study of the lists of the district leaders (bishops), particularly the Roman district, will confirm that these architects of the Christian Trinity, or the Logos doctrine, were not noted among the bishops of the Christian Church. Many historians have noted the probable differences between these intellectuals (the Catholic Fathers) and the bishops, particularly the Roman bishops, and the fact that the Christian masses of that day neither understood nor desired this “Christian Trinity”.
The critical events of the second century reveal the fall of the various church districts throughout the Roman empire into the hands of Trinitarians. We are able to trace this transition by assuming from the scriptures, and from specific remarks reported by the Theodotians, and from various aspects of the oneness-trinitarian controversy, especially in the Roman district, that the districts were originally oneness apostolic in theology.
Eusebius is especially helpful in this with his lists of bishroprics and their bishops. When we find from historical statements the times that the first patently trinitarian statements were attributed to these various bishops, an interesting pattern developes. Most districts are shown to be under the leadership of Trinitarians during the period c. 150250 AD. This represents undoubtedly a time of great upheaval and change in the Christian church.
As we have specific evidence of the internal oneness-trinitarian struggle and the subsequent fall of the Roman district into trinitarian hands in the writings of Tertullian and Hippolytus, unfriendly to the apostolic oneness as they are, we are able to understand that this was not just an isolated incident, as some would have us to believe. We are also able to perceive the involvement of Montanism thanks to Tertullian, and others.
We also know from Eusebius that there were a series of empire-wide councils during this time period. One of the subjects involved the Paschal dispute. We suspect, but cannot yet prove, that another subject, far more important, involved the discussions on the Godhead.
In the Roman district (217-222 AD), one of the last districts to fall into trinitarian hands, we have been provided a rather detailed (as much as we could hope for, possibly, from this time) scenario of how the districts changed hands (theologically speaking). Many of the oneness ministers apparently left the Roman district during the episcopate of Callistus (217-222 AD), who, from direct quotes of his statements surviving, remained oneness, or monarchian, in his beliefs. In his successor, Bishop Urban (222-230 AD) we may see the first Catholic bishop of Rome, sitting in the “chair” of St. Peter. While the succession is shown from the apostle, the Roman district was no longer “apostolic” in its teaching on the Godhead.
That there was undoubtedly collaboration in the fall of the Roman district we may be assured from the writings of Tertullian and Hippolytus, also noting the visit of Origen to Rome, where he preached in the church pastored by Hippolytus. The final upshot of these district upheavals during this period of time was that those who believed in the absolute oneness of God were on the outside of the leadership of the visible Christian church, and -thus Catholic churches in the various cities, as well as apostolic oneness churches. The Catholic church steadily grew in influence with the peoples of the empire until it was crowned with civil legitimacy in the fourth century by Constantine.
Oneness apostolic churches have continued to exist down through the centuries, although they have been hunted down and persecuted, particularly in the Slavic states.
It is this writer’s belief that the apostolic oneness church was still existing in Armenia in the 19th century. Just about when it seemed to be extinguished in the old world, God poured out His Spirit in the new world and a worldwide revival has begun.
It is time for those of Catholic and Protestant persuasion to reexamine the teaching on the Godhead. Sincere Christians everywhere need to know that they have been baptized correctly, and that they truly understand who Jesus Christ is.
I. The Assault On The Monarchy of God
1. Charles Bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria,
Oxford Press, 1913, p.57
2. Ibid, p.58
3. Henry Milman, History of Latin Christianity, NY: A.C. Armstrong,
4. Ibid. See also my Ancient Champions of Oneness, Word Aflame Press, 1982, p.72
5. Jean Danielou, History of Early Christian Doctrine, Vol. II, Phil., Westminister Press, 1973, p.355
7. In John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, Vol. I, NY: AMS Press Inc., 1965, pp. 160,161
8. Philip Carrington, The Early Christian Church, Vol. II, Cambridge University Press, 1957, p.179
9. Martin A. Larson, The Story of Christian Origins, Wash. DC: Joseph Binns/New Republic Book, 1977, p.498
10. Otto Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity, tr. by W. Montgomery, Vol . III, NY: G.V. Putnam’s Sons, 1911, p.225
11. Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, Vol. III, London: Williams & Norgate, 1905, p.14
12. Rufus Jones, The Church’s Debt To Heretics, 2nd Impression, London James Clarke & Co. Ltd, 1924, pp. 68,69
13. Ibid, p.68
14. Harnack, Vol. III, op. cit., p.14
15. Ibid, p.19
16. Ibid, p.1
18. William Smith & Henry Wace, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Vol. III, NY: AMS Press Inc., 1967, p.938
19. Berthold Altaner, Patrology, tr. by Hilda C. Graef, NY: Herder & Herder, 1961, n.p. (from Eusebius, HE 5,3; 44,21
20. W.H.C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution In The Early Church, Anchor Books, 1967, pp. 279,280
21. Ibid, p.111
22. Liber Sacramentoriam, tr. Ildefonso Schuster, London: Burns, Oates, Washburne Ltd., 1929, p.382
23. Melito of Sardis, On Pascha And Fragments, tr. by Stuart G. Hall, Oxford at Clarendon Press, 1979, p.82
24. Ibid, p.7, fragment 9
25. Ibid, p.57, fragment 102, see John 10.30
27. Philip Carrington, op. cit., p.178
28. F.C. Baur, The Church History of The First Three Centuries, 3rd ea., tr. by Allan Menzies, Vol. II, London: Williams & Norgate, 1879, p.104fn.
II. Controversy At Rome
l. Tertullian, On The Prescription of Heretics (Ch. XXXVI), tr. by T. Herbert Bindley, London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, NY: E.S. Gorman Pub., 1914, p.x
2. Ibid, pp.84, 85
3. Ibid, p.x
4. Tertullian, On Purity, tr. by William P. LeSaint, SJ, Ancient Christian Writers, ed. Johannes Quasten & Joseph Plumpe, Wash. DC: Catholic University, Newman Press, Westminister, 1959, p.115
5. Jules LeBreton, SJ, & Jacques Zeiller, The History of The Primitive Church, Vol. III, tr. Ernest C. Messenger, London: Burns, Oates & Washburne Ltd., 1949, p.601
6. J. Estlin Carpenter, The Early Phases of Christianity, London and NY: Knickerbocker Press, 1916, p.110
7. Tertullian, Adversus Praxeam (C.18), tr. in LeBreton & Zeiller, op. cit., p.85
8. Tertullian, Adversus Praxeam, tr. in Bernard Pialut, NY: Hawthorne Books, 1963, p.99
9. Tertullian, Adversus Praxeam (16), tr. in Martin Werner, The Formation of Christian Dogma, Boston: Beacon Press, 1957, p.214
10. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, NY: Harper & Row, 1960, p.121
11. Rufus Jones, op. cit., pp.69,70
14. Carpenter, op. cit., pp.26, 134
16. LeBreton & Zeiller, op. cit., p.593
17. Hippolytus, Philosophumena, tr. F. Legge, Vol. II, London: Society For
Promoting Christian Knowledge, NY: Macmillan, 1921, p.167 (X.15,16)
21. Jones, op. cit., pp.70,71
22. J.N.D. Kelly, op. cit., p.117
23. Hippolytus, Philosophumena, op. cit., p.167 (X.15,16)
24. Harnack, op. cit., p.20fn, quoting from Hippolytus in the Syntagma
25. Burton cited in Joseph B. Light, The Apostolic Fathers, Part II, Vol. I, London: Macmillan & Co., 1885, pp.510,511 .70 134 cit
26. Rufus Jones, op. cit., p 27. 28. 29.
27. Carpenter, op. cit., p.134
28. LeBreton & Zeiller, op. cit., p.549fn.
29. Caius of Rome, Against Artemon, Ante-Nicene Christian Library
(ANCL),Edinburgh: T&T Clark, Vol. IX, 1880, pp. 155,156
31. Cited in Carpenter, op. cit., p.134
32. Harnack, op. cit., p.20fn.
33. Eric John (ed.), The Popes, NY: Hawthorn Books, p.53
34. Fred Conybeare, The Key of Truth, tr. by Fred Conybeare, A Manual of The Paulician Church of Armenia, London: Oxford University at The Clarendon Press, 1898, authorized facsimile, Xerograph Univ. Micro films International, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1977, p.xii
35. Roy Deferrari, Eusebius H.E., tr. by Roy Deferrari, Wash DC:
Catholic University Press, p.342fn
36. Shotwell & Loomis, The Popes, NY: Octagon Books, 1965, p.243 (from the Muratorian Fragment, composed c. 170-180AD)
37. Rufus Jones, op. cit., p.76
38. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Vol. I, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972, p.179
39. In Sacramentum Mundi, Vol. 4, Karl Rahner, SJ, (ed.), et al, NY: Herder & Herder, 1969, p.89
40. Harry A. Wolfson, Philo, Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Vol. I, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948, p.230
41. Rufus Jones, op. cit., p.67
42. Tertullian, ANCL, Vol. IX, op. cit., p.62fn.
43. Claude Welch, “Faith and Reason In Relation To The Doctrine of The Trinity”, Journal of Bible and Religion, Carl Purinton (ed.), National Association of Biblical Instructors to Foster Religion in Education, Vol. XVI, No. 1, January, 1948, p.24
46. Robert Paul Roth, Christian Faith and Modern Theology, Carl
F.H. Henry (ed.), NY: Channel Press, 1964, p.299
52. Ibid, p.300
53. Ibid, p.301
54. Marianka S. Fousek, The Church In A Changing World: Events and Trends From 250-600 AD, St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1971, p.67
55. Frances Young, “A Cloud of Witnesses”, The Myth of God Incarnate, John Hick (ed.), Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1977, pp.41,42
56. Lightfoot, op. cit., Part II, p.435
57. LeBreton & Zeiller, op. cit., p.606fn.
58. Liber Sacramentorium, op. cit., p.442
59. Ibid, p.444
60. Milman, op. cit., p.73fn.
62. LeBreton & Zeiller, op. cit., p.606fn.
63. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Theologische Zeitschrift, 1822, drift. Heft, s.295, reviewed by Stuart, The Biblical Repository and Quarterly Observer, Vol. V, No. 8, B.B. Edwards (ed.), Andover: Gould & Newman Pub., 1835, p.10
64. Hippolytus, Philosophumena (IX.ll), tr. F. Legge, Vol. II,~London: SPCK, NY: Macmillan, 1921, p.124
68. J.N.D. Kelly, op. cit., p.124
69. Liber Sacramentorum, op. cit., p.74
70. Hippolytus, Philosophumena (IX.12), op. cit., p.129
71. Hippolytus, Against Noetus, ANCL, Vol. IX, op. cit., p.64
72. Ibid, p.68
73. Ibid, pp.61,62
74. Martin A. Larson, op. cit., p.542
75. F.C. Baur, op. cit., p.104fn.
77. E.G. Weltin, The Ancient Popes, Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1964, p.95 (from Eusebius, HE 5.24)
78. Ibid, p.96
79. Burton Easton, The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, tr. by Burton Easton, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Archon Books, 1962, p.22
80. LeBreton & Zeiller, op. cit., p.602
81. Ibid (from the Philosophumena 1X.16-19)
82. Ibid (from Ibid, X.26)
84. Ignatius, The Epistle To Polycarp (3.2), in Early Christian
Fathers, tr. and ed. by Cyril Richardson, Philadelphia: Westminister Press,
85. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, in Jaroslave Pelikan, op. cit., p.177
86. Liber Sacramentorum, op. cit., p.176
87. William Fairweather, Origen and Greek Patristic Theology, NY: Chas. Scribner’s Sons, 1901, pp. 215-217
89. Charles Bigg, op. cit., pp. 192,193
90. F. Schleiermacher, op. cit., p.78
91. George Holley Gilbert, “Interpretation of The Bible By The Fathers”, Biblical World, Vol. 38, No. 3, p.155
92. John Chapman, “Monarchians”, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, NY: Appleton, 1907, p.450
94. Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas On Christianity, NY: Harper Bros., 1957, pp.75-83
95. Quoted in Kenneth Scott Latourette, Christianity Trhough The Ages, NY: Harper & Row, 1965, p.249
III. The Nicean Trinity: Scriptural Or Concilar?
1. Adin Ballous, Primitive Christianity and Its Corruptions, Boston: Universalist Pub. House, 1870, p.46
2. LouiseRopes Loomis, The Book of The Popes (Liber Pontificalis), tr. by Louise Ropes Loomis, NY: Octagon Books Inc., 1965, p.45
3. Dean Dudley, History of The First Council of Nice (7th ed.), NY: Peter Eckler Pub. Co., 1915, pp. 106,107
4. G.P. Baker, Constantine The Great and The Christian Revolution, NY: Barnes & Noble Inc., 1967, n.p.
5. Rufus Jones, op. cit., p.94
7. Larson, op. cit., pp. 505-507
9. Paul Goodman, The Synagogue and The Church, NY: E.P. Dutton, 1910, p.165
10. Harnack, op. cit., pp. 72,73
11. Athanasius, Epistle Ad Serapionem, iii.6,7, The Early Christian Fathers, (ea. and tr.), Henry Bettenson, London: Oxford University Press, 1963, n.p.
12. A Catholic Dictionary (3rd ed.), Donald Attwater (ed.), NY: Macmillan Co., 1962, p.236
13. Martin Werner, op. cit., p.221
14. Alvan Lamson, The Church of The First Three Centuries, Boston: Walker, Wise and Co., 1860, p.238
15. K. Hagenbach, A History of Christian Doctrines, Vol. I, Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 1895, p. 349
16. Marianka Fousek, op. cit., p.64
18. Joseph Gill, The Council of Florence, Cambridge, 1959, p.193
19. Ibid, p.196
20. Ibid, p.196fn.
21. Ibid, pp. 197,198
22. Johannes Quasten, Patrology, Spectrum Pub., 1960, p.250
23. John S. Romanides, in G. Konidaris, “The Inner Continuity and Coherence of Trinitarian and Christological Dogma In The Seven Ecumenical Councils”, Part I, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Fall 1968, Hellenic College, Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, Mass., pp. 269,270
24. Quasten, op. cit., p.229
25. Gill, op. cit., p.192. See also my Ancient Champions of Oneness, p.143
26. Ibid, p.193
27. Gerald O’Collins, SF, US Catholic Magazine, Vol. 46, February 1981, p.6
28. In paker’s Distionary of Theology, Everett Harrison (ed.), Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1972, p.531
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