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The Mystery of the Trinity by Eugene A. Skilton 1901
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Since the primeval man was forced to fear the superhuman, in the raging of the elements, the mind of man has sought vainly, an intuition of the Idea of the Spirit that rules all.
The Hebrews grasped the idea of Unity, of Monotheism, and in the simplicity of their belief, there is much more to obtain credence, than in the incomprehensive tangle of dualisms and tritheisms. Yet all through the Hebrew theology there runs a vein of semi-polytheism, a mystic adoration of angels and archangels, a mysterious and innumerable host of heaven, also a dualism of Jahveh and Satan. Throughout the Psalms, Prophets and Talmud, there are many veiled references to these mysterious beings, and Christianity has assumed that many of these passages refer to the Hypostases or persons of the Trinity.
The Iranians saw two elements of divinity in the Universe and their theology partook of a dualism of good and evil, in eternal conflict. The many blendings of opposites, dualisms of contrasts in the laws of nature, all seem to token a di-theism of opposing yet dual forces—an I and a Not I, a Being and a Not-Being, a Law and a Not-Law, a Good and a Not-Good. Conditions force upon man the ideas of justice, recompense and punishment and in this system, it is a dualism that presents itself as the immutable condition of the Universe.
As to the triune idea, no one can trace its origin; we know that the Egyptians conceived of a trinity, of which the Theban was Amen-ra, Maut and Khousu, while the Hindu conceived of a Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. The Babylonian worship was to Anu, an abstract idea of Deity, Hea the God of the under-world and Bel—the demiurgus, or Lord of the visible universe. These conceptions, however, contain more tri-theism than unity. Plato, by some called "Moses atticising," conceived of a system undoubtedly more closely resembling the Christian Trinity than any other. He assumed a triad of Supreme God (PATHR) a divine understanding (LOGOS or SOFIA) and a world-soul. Though many assert this is the origin of the Logos doctrine, yet it notably lacks the ideas of unity and personality expressed in the Nicene creed.
Philo, an Alexandrian Jew, contemporary with, but probably not conscious of Christ's advent or teachings accepted the Platonic trinity. The Jews, dreading the mere mention of the awful name Jehovah, often designated Him by His attributes. Philo taking up the Greek cult blended it with these Hebrew expressions— "Word," "Wisdom," "Lord," etc., and personified Plato's Logos as the expected Messiah. Plato did not personify his abstract Logos while Philo did. Philo represented Him as a created being, yet creator of the worlds; an intermediate between God and his children. Thus the Platonism of Philo was, in the main, very similar to the heresy condemned at Nicaea, 325 A. D. Philo said, "This sensible world is the junior son of God; the senior is the Idea or Logos." "God is not to be grasped by human knowledge, but the Word is."
From its very inception, the Christian Church believed in the divinity of Christ. The disciples who walked and talked with Christ kept this impression above all others. The great question of the world's salvation and the kingdom of heaven overshadowed all else. No doubt some of the disciples may have had tritheistic ideas as well as trinitarian. They had little time to philosophize on the nature of God's substance; His mercy sufficed.
As the Church advanced (though still persecuted), the proselitizing influence reached the hearts of many of the Grecian philosophers and then the metaphysical minds began to search for the secret of the mystery. The word Triad was first used in about the middle of the second century in reference to the Christian Godhead. While the abstract word had been employed in the philosophy of Plato, yet it was not until this time that the mystic unity gave it an ambiguity that incented the whole Christian world to solve the mystery.
Various creeds had been promulgated before the full meaning of the word Trinity had been established. Irenaeus in Gaul 170 A. D., Tertullian in Northern Africa 200, Origen in Alexandria 230, Cyprian in Carthage 250 and Novatian in Rome, 250, all submitted creeds to their churches that their communicants might have a plain statement of their belief and confession; but these creeds contained no phrase of express unity and the confessor might be orthodox and yet be unitarian or tritheistic.
Many different sects, from the middle of the first century held various conceptions of the character of Christ. The Docetic belief was that Christ's advent was merely a phantasm, a deception of God. The Manicheaus, the Ebionites and all the various Gnostics, each held a different idea of the person of the Saviour— some believed him to be merely human, some, wholly divine, others that he was but a spiritual manifestation of the Deity, and very few of the early sects professed what we to-day would call an Athanasian belief in the Trinity. The general belief was in three distinct substances or Beings, or in only one Person, or two, but not in a unity of the Three.
The sect that first commanded the attention of the Church Fathers and caused them to build their doctrine around the theology or Logos doctrine of John, was the Monarchians or Unitarians. They were first called the Alogi. Theodotus, however, was the first to give the theory a systematic exposition. He denied Christ's divinity and claimed that Jesus was influenced by the Holy Spirit just as others were. Tertullian called Praxeas the first Patripassian, because he denied the Godhead of the Three; according to Praxeas, the One God became incarnate in Christ voluntarily; the flesh, he called the Son and the Son thus enveloped the Father; Christ was at the same time Father and Word. When Praxeas was accused by Tertullian of having crucified the Father, he referred him to Isaiah 45:5, John 10:30 and 14:9.
Sabellius believed in the Three, but as different manifestations of the One God. He held the essence of the Monad Father evolved Himself in the Son and Spirit; while Pope Calistus I., 218-223, called trinitarians ditheists, saying "The Father took flesh, made it God and uniting it to Himself becoming one God, and therefore cannot be two." Paul of Samosata believed the Logos merely a power of God, more developed in Christ than in any other human prophet, evolving through its help, his divinity and thus becoming by his own effort the Saviour of the world. It was the opposition to these Monarchian theories that developed the tritheism of the Arians and compelled the Church to promulgate the Nicene creed of the Trinity.
Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria, was the originator of a theory which, in the early part of the fourth century, was generally accepted by the laity of the whole Christian Church, and even many years after the council of Nicaea, about 361, was almost universally accepted. Arius believed that there was one God, who was truly God and God alone, uncreated, unoriginate, alone everlasting, eternal and unchangeable forever. At one time, He was the Sole Essence, all else was non-existent. Before all the ages and the worlds, Christ was created by the Father, the first of all creatures and all things, but not as other creatures. His glory was immeasurably above the archangels, who worshipped him. He was perfect God, but of a substance like the Father's, but not the same, therefore not one with the Father; the only begotten Son, the Saviour of the world; perfect visible image of invisible Deity, but not Supreme.
This doctrine aroused the fiery spirit of Athanasius a very young but brilliant ecclesiast of Alexandria, and the influence of the Arian heresy was brought to the attention of the Bishops. The emperor Constantine, endeavoring to concilliate both factions called a council at Nicaea 325, to forever make plain the authorized belief of the Church and anathematize all other heresies. It was wise to call a convention in the incipiency of the heresy while all the Bishops accepted the Eternal Logos doctrine of John.
Athanasius, though only twenty-nine, assumed at the very beginning, the leadership of the session, both in offensive operations against Arianism and in defending the unity of the Trinity. Arius asserted that "Christ is not God by Nature, but merely by Adoption and Participation." Athanasius replied by quoting Isaiah 40:28, "The everlasting God, the Lord Creator of the ends of the earth." When Athanasius said "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God," Arius finished the quotation, "And the Word was with God," laying special emphasis on "with." In quoting Hebrews 1:3, "The express image of His Person," and John 8:58, "Before Abraham was, I am," Athanasius did not controvert Arius. Arius had as much foundation for his belief as Athanasius could find in the Old Testament in justification of his own. In all of Athanasius' authorities, there was a subtle mystery, which Arius could as well use himself. Thus nothing in Jeremiah 1:5, even if applicable to Christ could establish his co-eternity with God; nor would Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day and forever" be asserted by Athanasius with more vehemence than by Arius.
Thus Arius, by agreeing to so much, was considered deceptive in what he did believe. Yet when Athanasius cited Isaiah 7:14, why should Arius object? Many of us to-day will think that Athanasius anticipated Arius in quoting Hebrews 1 :3, "When he had by himself purged our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, being made so much better than the angels, as he hath, by inheritance, obtained a more excellent name than they." Athansius declared the foundation of the Trinity in John 14:10, "I am in the Father and the Father in me." To this Arius could not voluntarily subscribe, as he maintained that the Logos was homoeusion, like in substance, but not homoousion, the same substance, and here the controversy waged the fiercest. There was only the difference of one letter, yet on that one letter depended the belief in the unity of the Trinity.
Athanasius asserted that Christ was "Very God of very God;" "The Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." "'He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.'"
Arius could not answer Hebrews 10:11, "Creations shall perish," and if created, then Christ shall perish, except to say, "Then all men shall perish." Nor could he reply to Athanasius' citation of John 1:3, "All things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made," except to feebly assert that Christ was the First Creation and all else was the second creation. While Arius could reconcile his belief to Genesis 1:26, "Let us make man," Proverbs 8:27-30, "When he prepared the heavens, I was there" * * * "I was by him, disposing and adjusting as a Master Workman;" yet there were some extracts that Athanasius could not confute, Isaiah 45:8, "Salvation have I brought forth. I have created it;" Isaiah 45:11, "Thus saith the Holy One of Israel and His Maker." Arius maintained that Son implied birth, the only-begotten then had an origin of existence; therefore once the Son was not; therefore He is created out of nothing. Some of Arius texts were Proverbs 8:22; Matthew 19:17; 20:23; Mark 13:32; John 5:19; 18:28; 1 Cor. 15:28; Col. 1:15; Hebrews 1:5; Romans 1:4.
Of the 318 Bishops at the Council of Nicaea, 325 A.D., but five or six were with Arius and these were compelled to publicly recant, while Arius was banished. Though since, the Creed of this Council has been declared infallible, it was not until the fifth century that the heresy of Arianism was effectually stamped out. The Athanasian Creed is now almost universally accepted by all Christian denominations, with very few exceptions, but to show that it was not always so, a short account of the rise and fall of Arianism follows.
In 326, Athanasius was elected Bishop of Alexandria; two years after, Eusebius was in favor with Constantine and two years later Constantine recalled Arius from exile, but Athanasius declined to restore to Arius the communion of the Church. In 334, sixty Bishops, the Council of Caesarea, condemned Athanasius who refused to attend. In 335, at the Council of Tyre and Jerusalem, Athanasius and Arius were both admitted. Athanasius was deposed from the See of Alexandria and Constantine banished him to Treves.
The Council of Constantinople, in 336, recognized Arius and on the same day that he was to take communion, he died. His opponents claimed his death a miraculous punishment, although Gibbon suggests that those who press the narrative of his death might find that orthodox saints contributed more efficaciously with poison (his bowels suddenly bursted) than by their prayers to rid themselves of their most formidable rival.
In 337 Constantine died. Constantius, a semi-Arian, became Emperor of the East and Constans, an orthodox Christian, Emperor of the West. The following year saw Athanasius recalled from exile. The Council of Alexandria, 340, defended Athanasius and the Council of Rome the following year proclaimed him innocent. In the same year the Council of Antioch, over ninety Bishops, superseded Athanasius with an Arian, condemned consubstantialists and adopted a great many creeds antagonistic to the Nicene.
In 345, at the Council of Antioch, the word homoousion was suppressed in the Macrostich Creed, while in 347, the Council of Sardicia vindicated Athanasius. The Council of Sirmium, 351, dropped the all-important controversial word homoousion and the Council of Aries, two years later, condemned Athanasius, while only one Bishop stood up for Nicene Creed and was banished for so doing. In 355, at the Council of Milan, three hundred Bishops of the West, almost unanimously condemned Athanasius. In 357—359, Arians and Semi-Arians drew up creeds at Sirmium. In 357, Hosius, the President of the Council of Nicaea, held communion with Arians. In the same year Liberius, the Pope, condemned Athanasius. In 357, the Creed of Ancyra against homoousion was signed by Liberius. In 358, Liberius signed the Third Sirmium Creed (Semi-Arian). The Council of Constantinople, 359, and the Council of Antioch, 360, were both anti-Athanasian. Jerome, in 361, said "Nearly all the churches of the world, under the pretence of peace and of the Emperor, are polluted with the communion of Arians." The edict of the Council of Constantinople, 381, however, killed Arianism forever.
During the fourth century, almost every city and village of Christendom was either a fortress of Arianism or Trinitarianism. It was not an uncommon occurrence for a stranger to be halted and challenged as to his belief, whereupon, after a short discussion, the mob would divide and a pitched battle would ensue.
With all these varying assumptions of Councils, the Christian of the twentieth century, though mainly believing in the Athanasian Creed, may well believe as he interprets; that Christ is very God of very God, one with the Father, that the Godhead is One in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, or as we wish. But if we assume that there is efficacy in Christ's life and death and that He is divine, it would be judicious to believe that Christ is not a created being, but co-eternal with the Father, not of like substance with the Father, but the same substance, He in the Father and the Father in Him. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
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